Lately Viktor Orbán has been making one, sometimes even two speeches a day. First of all, there is his Friday morning interview on MR1. Second, every time a new business opens Orbán makes sure that he is there. After all, not too many new enterprises have been opening their doors of late in Hungary. The rate of investment hasn’t been so low for decades. But with Orbán’s ribbon cutting the less politically savvy portion of the population will most likely gain the impression that the economy is booming in Hungary.
Then there are the unveilings of statues that certainly wouldn’t need the presence of the prime minister, but Orbán seems to grab every opportunity to be seen and heard. Finally, his foreign trips–mind you, mostly to places like Azerbaijan or Georgia–also give him an opportunity to say something about foreign trade and foreign policy.
I just heard from a well informed journalist that arranging a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel was not exactly easy. But it gave Orbán the opportunity to grant a long interview to Handesblatt, a well respected German newspaper dealing mostly with finance and economics. His trip to Berlin also allowed him to arrange an appearance at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation where he delivered a speech that I already touched upon. And we mustn’t forget about his joint press conference with Angela Merkel and his comments on his trip on the Hungarian public radio Friday morning.
Here I would like to write a little more about the interview with Handelsblatt. First of all, the interview is not available in its entirety online. In fact, I managed to find only a couple of paragraphs summarizing the very long interview which appeared only in the print edition of the newspaper. Fortunately, Galamus has a contributor who is able to translate from German, English, and French, and therefore the readers of this excellent Internet paper can read about news on Hungary in the western press. Something that is very much needed given MTI’s often less than adequate reporting.
Speaking of MTI’s reporting on foreign news, I have to share a funny story with you. Normally on October 9 the city of Leipzig celebrates its “Festival of Lights.” Under the heading of “Overcoming Borders,” the focus of this year’s content was the historic events that took place in Hungary in 1956 and 1989 and the effects they have had on Germany and Europe. This year commemorated the 20th anniversary of the signing of the German-Hungarian friendship treaty. The invited speaker was György Dalos, a Hungarian writer living in Berlin. But Zoltán Balog was also there representing the Hungarian government.
Boris Kálnoky of Die Welt mentioned the presence of Balog which was then translated by MTI as “The minister, who is not a member of any party, is one of the most glittering and most independent personalities of the conservative Hungarian government. ” Well, Balog as glittering is quite something, especially since the original went like this: “eine der schillerndsten und unabhängigsten Persönlichkeiten der konservativen ungarischen Regierung.” There are all sorts of alternative translations for ” schillern,” from “non-transparent” to “hypocritical,” but my German-English dictionary offers the English word “colorful” which sounds appropriate to me given the context. Indeed, one must be careful with MTI, and not just because of their translations.
As I said, Orbán’s interview was very long and here I will mention only those points that I found significant. According to Orbán, for Hungary’s very poor economic performance of late, especially since he took office, “the forty-five years of communism is responsible.” Let me reiterate that Hungary was always behind the West in economic development. When a journalist inquired about his proposed economic policies, he claimed that “the example for Hungary is Great Britain” where the economy is barely growing but employment is on the rise.
When the conversation moved on to energy, Viktor Orbán said that until now the natural gas that supplied 85% of Hungarian households “came only from Russia.” But he “promised that he will free Hungary from this dependence. Very soon we will be buying natural gas through Slovakia. That pipeline will be ready next year and we can already import gas from Romania.” And, I ask, where does that gas come from? From Russia, of course. The journalists also asked about Nabucco: “Are you not interested in Nabucco?” Answer: “Exactly the opposite. We want to import natural gas from Azerbaijan and there are other alternatives that interest us. For example, a factory in Georgia that makes liquefied natural gas.” Again, he didn’t answer the question head on, so I assume that he is no longer interested in Nabucco, perhaps for the same reasons that Ferenc Gyurcsány was not wholly committed to the project.
Another interesting part of the interview dealt with leadership. According to Orbán, hard times require strong leadership “and we try to be equal to the task.” At this point a journalist interjected: “Your leadership style is controversial, putting it politely.” Answer: “Only the people who don’t like me say that.” The journalist: “It seems that there are quite a few of them. Why?” Answer: “That has something to with my political views and my character.”
So, the conversation moved on to his character. According to Orbán, he has very decided views and some people don’t like that, but “this behavior also often solicits admiration even from those who hate me.” Another embarrassing question followed that exchange: “Do you like yourself in the role of a polarizer?” Answer: “I admit that sometimes it may look that way, but this is part of my job and I cannot run away from conflicts.”
This was not the first time that Orbán expressed his doubts about the “leadership structures of democratic regimes, especially under the present circumstances.” We should remember his admiration of the Chinese model as well as of the country’s economic growth. Here he expressed his conviction that a “presidential system of government is much more suitable for times that require the implementation of far-reaching reforms.” However, Hungary has a fairly solid foundation as far as the parliamentary system is concerned–the arrangement set up in 1848 and again in 1867–but none in presidential or half-presidential systems. But who knows. Perhaps six months before the elections Orbán will introduce a half-presidential system and make himself president for seven years!
Orbán is certain that his “political style suits Hungary’s political culture,” which I’m afraid doesn’t reflect well on Hungarian society. He sees himself as “the man of the people.” He even had the temerity to say: “My message to the Hungarian people is that I never lie to you, I will never betray you, and I will fight for you.”
Finally, Orbán was asked about his plans concerning the introduction of the euro. Hungary had pledged to switch over to the euro once the country met the eligibility requirements for admission to the eurozone. Even though not explicitly, he seems to have rejected the idea of Hungary’s joining the seventeen countries currently using the euro. He claimed that when Hungary signed the agreement the situation was very different and that today adherence to the zone cannot be automatic. “No decision was made whether Hungary will ever join the eurozone.” I would like to call attention to the fact that after his conversation with Angela Merkel Orbán was less feisty. He simply said that the time is not here yet–and indeed it isn’t–but when the circumstances are such that the introduction of the euro will be beneficial it will be done.
And finally, an important Orbán quotation from his speech given at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. It concerns the constitutional court and the rule of law. According to him, Hungarians respect the institution of the constitutional court “but they are a bit ambivalent” toward it because, after all, this body can annul decisions of the representatives chosen by the people. “The Hungarian way of thinking, the Hungarian stomach finds this more difficult to swallow than the people of Germany seem to.” An incredible statement. Practically a negation of the rule of law, which is the foundation of democracy.