Self-delusion and reality in Hungary

If it’s Friday there must be another inspiring speech from Viktor Orbán. In fact, today he overachieved and delivered two of them. First,  there was the regularly scheduled Friday interview on Magyar Rádió (MR1) designed to lift the flagging enthusiasm of the pro-Fidesz forces.  The second speech was delivered at the meeting of the Slovak-Hungarian Economic Forum of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The meeting was also attended by Robert Fico, who seems to be Viktor Orbán’s latest best friend.

There are days when one has the distinct feeling while reading Hungarian political news that one has just walked into a lunatic asylum. Today was one of those days. Only yesterday we learned that the Hungarian economy is definitely in recession and that several universities must close for two weeks because they don’t have enough money to pay for heating fuel. Today’s news is that Hungary’s cost to insure debt with credit-default swaps rose to the highest in five weeks. Yet, what did the Hungarian people learn this morning from their prime minister?

Orbán gave an upbeat report on Hungary’s financial health. Although until now we were told that the IMF had had enough of Orbán’s “peacock dance” and that negotiations had stopped, the prime minister asserted that Hungary is very close to signing an agreement with the IMF. And even if there is no money coming from the EU-IMF  funds “Hungary can stand solidly on its own two feet.” His government managed to make Hungary one of the most successful countries in Europe.

The Orbán government hard at work

But what is the truth? Hungary is in very bad financial shape. One hears a lot about Greece, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus and Spain being in recession but Hungary is right up there with them, tying with Spain at -1.6% GDP growth.  On the other hand, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovakia are doing just splendidly given the current economic situation in Europe. Another piece of economic news today is that in September industrial gross output declined by 3.8% in volume compared to the same month in 2011.

Despite all these hard facts Orbán had the temerity to call his government’s performance outstanding. Practically the best in Europe. A country that should be imitated by others. He is handling the present financial problems differently from other heartless European countries that placed the entire financial burden that accompanies the economic crisis on “the people.” He is defending the interests of the common man and demanding that the banks and large companies assume their “fair” share of the financial hardship. Indeed, the banks have been taxed to death until by now they have ceased to be profitable. The result? Credit is hard to come by and investment has dropped to a level that hasn’t been seen in decades.

He showered praise on his own government’s performance by emphasizing the allegedly excellent grade the European Commission gave Hungary last week. Not everybody thinks that the opinion of Olli Rehn, commissioner in charge of the EU’s finances, was that unequivocally positive. The Hungarian government’s prediction of a deficit of 2.7% was adjusted by the experts in Brussels to 2.9%, and although they accepted the 2013 figures over all, the year 2014 looked less promising in their eyes. They predicted a return to a deficit that would be over 3.0%, in which case Hungary would once again be under the excessive deficit procedure. The message was, in my interpretation at least, that come December Ecofin will not change Hungary’s status as far as excessive deficit spending is concerned.

Orbán ignored all this and assured his listeners that because of the excellent report his government received from Brussels there will be no need for another austerity package. Well, that’s not an accurate translation since the word “austerity” cannot be uttered in Orbán’s Hungary. Only those horrible socialists and liberals introduced austerity packages that burdened “the people.” No, the Orbán government simply makes “adjustments.” There have been two “adjustments” since October, but there will be no third one because it is “unnecessary,” he claimed.

So, great was the surprise when a couple of hours later Orbán announced a third “austerity package” amounting to another 60 billion forints worth of “adjustments.” It is becoming evident that the government is so eager to avoid the excessive deficit procedure that it took Brussels’ criticism to heart. It no longer insists that without further changes to the budget it can hold the deficit to 2.7%. Whether that will be enough to convince Ecofin on December 4 to lift the excessive  deficit procedure against Hungary remains to be seen.

During his second speech Orbán claimed that the economic problems of the European Union are so great that “fixing one or two parts of the whole system is no longer enough because the whole thing is dead … We mustn’t just fix the car, we must build an entirely new one.” Orbán used a slang word (bedöglött)  for describing the state of the EU which means something like “dead as a doornail” or ” finis, kaput.”

It is surreal that the prime minister of the country says earlier in the morning that there will be no further “adjustments” while three hours later he announces exactly the opposite. But there are other signs that something is very wrong with this government. The final vote on the new electoral bill was supposed to take place on November 19 but, oops, it was discovered today that the vote must be postponed because of some parliamentary rule that had been ignored. Then Zoltán Balog, minister of national resources who is also a Calvinist minister, said that the teachers are threatening a strike because they don’t want to work. Au contraire: Hungarian teachers are miserably paid and haven’t received a raise since 2006. After he realized that he had made a very stupid mistake he apologized, but the leader of one of the teachers unions doesn’t seem to be in the mood to forgive.

Adding to the circus atmosphere in the country there is the latest joke about György Matolcsy who, while negotiating with the city fathers of the much indebted Hódmezővásárhely, said a few interesting things about the common ancestors of the Japanese and the Hungarians. According to Matolcsy, turning toward the East is something that comes naturally to Hungarians. He heard from Japanese scientists that 30% of all Japanese and Hungarian babies are born with a “small red dot on their bottoms” which after three months disappears. So, Japanese-Hungarian economic cooperation is even genetically determined.

Soon enough the country was full of people who seem to know a great deal more about those “red little dots” than Matolcsy. First they are not red, not small, and not round. Instead they are blue, can be quite large, and are of irregular shape. They are called Mongolian spots and are congenital birthmarks that usually disappear by the time children are three to five years of age. They are common among East Asians, Southeast Asians, Polynesians, Native Americans, and East Africans. But not among Hungarians.

But what can one expect from György Matolcsy, who about a year ago made the claim–referring to unnamed Persian and Byzantine sources–that our ancestors couldn’t be rivaled in gastronomy and in brain surgery? Yes, brain surgery! I’m sure there are many people in Hungary who think that a brain surgeon should be hard at work trying to straighten out those responsible for the country’s economic policy. Those of you who know Hungarian should take ten minutes and listen to Matolcsy’s speech which includes the red little dots. This man gets under my skin. His pomposity is unrivaled and it is accompanied by colossal ignorance.

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33 comments

  1. Quote from OV…

    “Over the past two months we have made huge strides towards an IMF/EU agreement. It is now obvious that Hungary’s budget for 2012 and 2013 is in order. […] The main obstacles have now been removed, we are very close to the agreement,”

    Now who should we believe, OV or the IMF officials…. 😉

  2. Eva I am happy that you posted the Matolcsy’s speech link. Without looking at the wording of this article, but only looking at the pictures, especially the last one. What is going on there? Both shaking hands (Lazar and Matolcsy), each try to be on top, and each hold their free hand, apparently their wallet? Look at their faces. Great lunacy picture.

  3. Ron :

    Eva I am happy that you posted the Matolcsy’s speech link. Without looking at the wording of this article, but only looking at the pictures, especially the last one. What is going on there? Both shaking hands (Lazar and Matolcsy), each try to be on top, and each hold their free hand, apparently their wallet? Look at their faces. Great lunacy picture.

    This is the first time that I had the opportunity to watch this man for a longer period of time. Before that I had seen only snippets from him in parliament. I’m convinced that one doesn’t even have to know the language to notice that something is not quite right here.

    Actually, I’m planning to ask a non-Hungarian speaker to take the trouble and watch that performance. Or, really some of you people could do the same and report.

  4. OT, but at the same time, not…

    I’ve just been watching the first part of a BBC three-parter on The Dark Charisma of Hitler. I don’t think you can access the BBC iPlayer outside the UK, so few on here will be able to watch it, but if you can do so, I recommend that you watch it.

    It’s rather over dramatic and relies too much on rather pointless visuals, like so many TV documentaries, but it still has some interesting things to say. It’s basic theme is to ask how someone as odd and socially dysfunctional as Hitler got to be such a charismatic and successful leader.

    And the answer they give is that he told the people what they wanted to hear. Those who didn’t agree with him didn’t find him in the least charismatic, but those who did regarded him almost as a prophet or saviour. And as events turned in his favour (particular the economic crash in Germany in the 30s) more and more people came to find him charismatic. The programme’s argument is that Hitler’s charisma was a two-way process – he told the people what they wanted to hear, so they thought he was telling them the truth. (Sound familiar?)

    The programme is worth watching for that alone (and some very interesting footage from the period which you don’t see very often), but where it strikes a chord with our ‘situation’ is where it analyses Hitler’s speeches. They are always very short on policy and specifics, they dwell at length on the wrongs done to the Germans, and how the German people can make Germany great once again. And they constantly have two related themes – that Germany can’t trust outsiders and must do this on its own, and it must first rid itself of those who worked for the destruction of Germany and who are to blame for everything. Guess who? The Jews and the Communists.

    Thankfully, Orbán is no Hitler, and Hungary is not Germany in the 30s, but some of the parallels are quite frightening.

  5. Éva, I’m afraid Matolcsy doesn’t come across as quite as barking as we know he is if you don’t understand Hungarian. But he does look quite odd, and any non-Hungarian speaker would be left wondering how someone as strange in their looks and mannerisms as him got to be in his position.

    But the video itself is fascinating. For a start there’s the body-language of the two people sitting next to him, especially the one on the left. Although he goes out of his way to support and assist Matolcsy when needed, the rest of the time he looks like a man who wishes strongly that he wasn’t having to publically support someone who is plainly crazed! Then there’s the shots of the audience – who mostly look like they’ve just walked off the farm, or possibly from a Jobbik rally. Again and again we see people staring almost catatonically (if not actually asleep), looking around them, chatting to each other, looking anywhere but at the speaker – one guy is even texting!

    Were the director and cameraman trying to subvert the speech? They were certainly doing a good job of it, if they were!

  6. Paul: I do not know if he is barking mad. But according to me he believes what he says. With regard to Lazar I fully agree with you analysis. As to the audience I am not certain whether we see a raw video or an edited one.

    Regarding your previous comment. You can receive BBC, ITV and other UK programs via the torrent sites, such as TheBox.bz and TVchaosUK.com.

  7. I just saw the Matolcsy film. Two things about it: one, Lazar can barely keep from laughing out loud as he listens. The other thing was…as the camera panned the crowd of aged, quizzical-looking crowd, I focused on one rotund, countrified gent who seemed to be thinking: “When are they serving the pig hocks.”

  8. Matolcsy and this 2/3 nonsense is what people get when they ‘play’ at constitution making…(a la 1989). Hungaricum ad absurdum. God forbid that people might have had the temerity and good sense to consult with some American or British constitutional experts back then….So, naturally, this begs the question: will Bajnai et al have the smarts to consult in the future?

  9. OMG that video is something else. Lazar can hardly contain himself. He keeps laughing. It looks to me that Lazar is in the Orban Club. It is very clear that he is the know, and he does understand that Matolcsy is total goof. THis video confirms that Matolcsy is a puppet. He has nothing to say, and whatever he does say is from a very confused man. He sounds like that he has no idea what is happening with Hungary’s economy. Matolcsy is in the group with Hoffman and Szalay. They are puppets.

  10. Éva, when reporting on OV’s speech, you say that “During his second speech Orbán claimed that the economic problems of the European Union are so great that “fixing one or two parts of the whole system is no longer enough because the whole thing is dead …”

    In fact he talked about the eurozone.

  11. Personal attention Éva. The three Hungarian radio stations recently dropped the use of letters and numbers and reverted to the old names of Kossuth Radio (ex MR1), Petófi Radio (ex MRS) and Bartők Radio (ex MR3). Mr Otban thus gives his Friday talks (or rants?) on Kossuth Radio. Peter

  12. If someone were to judge the doings of Orban’s government ‘from a distance’…wouldn’t the import of all the shenanigans be to confuse one and all?

  13. Certainly under the heading of self-delusion, and delusions of various sorts, shouldn’t we include the present “KONGRESSUS” of LMP?
    Now I ask you, what on earth is the big fuss about?
    Shouldn’t joining Bajnai be a natural if what one’s primary concern is the freeing of the country from Orban?
    ….But in these nether regions of civility, who knows? I’m starting to get a hint of the stale odor of
    Draskovitch’s ‘grand maneuver in Belgrade in the autumn of 1996…

  14. Source free Hungary:
    Apparently ther is a “conspiracy”. I mean, is this guy real?

    Source Freehungary:

    Matolcsy also said an “expansive offensive” has been launched against “the forint, the exchange rate, government securities, the Prime Minister, the government, the Fidesz faction, a few members of this faction,”and the President of the Republic, he added at the suggestion of an audience member.

  15. Peter Haley Dunne :

    Personal attention Éva. The three Hungarian radio stations recently dropped the use of letters and numbers and reverted to the old names of Kossuth Radio (ex MR1), Petófi Radio (ex MRS) and Bartők Radio (ex MR3). Mr Otban thus gives his Friday talks (or rants?) on Kossuth Radio. Peter

    One cannot keep track of all these changes. It was only a few years ago that the new president of MR, György Such, changed the names of the different channels to MR1, MR2, MR3, etc. I applauded that move because I consider naming radio stations after 19th historical or literary figures ridiculous. Moreover, Kossuth Rádió got its name from a Moscow-based Hungarian language station ran by Hungarian communists who managed to survive the purges of the 1930s. So, I simply don’t understand that attachment to the name. Using numbers is neutral and more appropriate.

  16. P. ter Wal :

    Source free Hungary:
    Apparently ther is a “conspiracy”. I mean, is this guy real?

    Source Freehungary:

    Matolcsy also said an “expansive offensive” has been launched against “the forint, the exchange rate, government securities, the Prime Minister, the government, the Fidesz faction, a few members of this faction,”and the President of the Republic, he added at the suggestion of an audience member.

    I really don’t think that the guy has all his marbles. Or one could say that he is missing a few screws. Or as they say it in Hungary “not quite complete.”

  17. In case anyone has any doubt about the state of Hungarian democracy here is a quotation from an expert, Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus. Straight from the Belarus Telegraph Agency:

    “Lukashenko: Western society changes views on democracy and market economy

    16.11.2012 16:47

    MINSK, 16 November (BelTA) – President of the Republic of Belarus Mr Alexander Lukashenko believes that people living in western countries are changing their attitude to democracy and market economy. The President made this statement while appointing new ambassadors to France and Hungary on 16 November, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian head of state.

    “Hungary used to be a socialist country. We used to be good friends with them. We used to have very close relations. After they became fed up with “democracy” and market economy (everything that is going on in Europe right now), they got sober,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “The same happens in France. Surprisingly enough, today mass media call France “a time bomb in the center of Europe”. They say that France will follow “the problem countries”, the Belarusian leader said.

    “All this brought some politicians and the western society down to earth. Therefore, not only in Hungary, but also in France we will expand our contacts because people living in these countries will be able to understand Belarus better through processes going on there,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “Hungary is Hungary. We cannot lose this country. We should build relations with it, just like with Poland, Bulgaria, the Baltic states. These are the countries we used to be good friends with. Therefore, no matter if we want it or not, we should build relations with them. And we do want it,” the head of state said.”

    http://news.belta.by/en/news/president?id=699207

  18. I envision a summit of the “great dictators”:

    Lukashenko of .by, Aliyev of .az and Orban of .hu

    The unbreakable triangle of the lost pills.

    PS
    When will Iran take over .az ?

  19. Turkmenbasi :

    Éva, when reporting on OV’s speech, you say that “During his second speech Orbán claimed that the economic problems of the European Union are so great that “fixing one or two parts of the whole system is no longer enough because the whole thing is dead …”

    In fact he talked about the eurozone.

    It is not at all clear that Orbán was talking only about the eurozone. He was talking about the European crisis. Hungary is not in the eurozone and yet it suffers from the crisis. So is the UK, the Czech Republic, or Romania.

    I checked the statement in several papers, including Heti Válasz, and the wording is the same in all. Here is the original:

    Orbán Viktor megerősítette azt az álláspontját, amely szerint az európai válság még jó ideig velünk marad, mert “nem egy vagy két alkatrésze hibásodott meg a rendszernek, hanem úgy, ahogy van, az egész bedöglött”, és “nekünk nem az autót kell megjavítani, hanem egy új autót kell szerkeszteni”.

  20. Interestingly Mr. Such is said to be joining Mr. Kövér at the Parliament’s intermal administration (by the way they now have a special security force of 380 troops, while from 2014 there will only be 200 MPs – at least according to current plans). Please also spend time watching Mr. Lázár. He is also a lawyer (althougth if you are not one, it is difficult to explain this epistemology) and every bit as agressive a SOB and completely without scruples as Orbán who chose him as a counter weigth against Antal Rogán and other potential contenders.

  21. Prop :
    Interestingly Mr. Such is said to be joining Mr. Kövér at the Parliament’s intermal administration (by the way they now have a special security force of 380 troops, while from 2014 there will only be 200 MPs – at least according to current plans). Please also spend time watching Mr. Lázár. He is also a lawyer (althougth if you are not one, it is difficult to explain this epistemology) and every bit as agressive a SOB and completely without scruples as Orbán who chose him as a counter weigth against Antal Rogán and other potential contenders.

    “Chosen as counter weight…”–I think not. If there were any ‘counterweights’, their intended opposition would be sunk by O the M (Orban The Magnificent).
    Similarly, there are no contenders–they’ve long ago been weeded out.

    But I would agree that the young guns–Lazar and Antal–are hungry and totally without scruples.

    Kover is a nervous breakdown waiting to happen; and Matolcsy is whistling while the padded bus has a flat tire repair job…

  22. Does anybody know a supplier of good quality straight jackets?
    There’s going to be the demand of a lifetime, pretty soon in Hungary!

    They should have get geared up already a while ago, but you know, how is it there over – all the time something more important ‘pops’ up.

    Right now is the ‘little red dots’ season rules, so, it’s quite understandable that they’re pretty busy to count and compare all those dots, but hey, the time is ripe for these ‘clothes’, so it should be available on a short notice!

    Any information appreciated!

  23. This is really funny …

    We just returned from a visit to my wife’s relatives. On Friday evening we/they watched ATV, Kálmán Olga was interviewing someone and she showed that “speech” by Matolcsy …

    Everybody in the room started to laugh and this happened again when the same speech was shown again some time later under the heading “no comment”.

    I didn’t understand much except for the “little tigers” but the speech itself and the reaction of the family and also the attendants of that speech felt very strange.

    Later we talked about inflation and spending – luckily for them the relatives have good pensions it seems and also their own houses (without any loans that have to be repaid …).

    This morning I looked at the Sunday paper with the headline: Third Package (of austerity measures …) and also some statistics that tell you that prices and costs in Hungary are really low compared to Germany etc (about two thirds of the EU average) – but what isn’t in the story (of course) is the much larger difference in income.

    It all would be really funny – if it weren’t so sad!

  24. Wolfi: “Everybody in the room started to laugh and this happened again when the same speech was shown again some time later under the heading “no comment”.

    As I said the man doesn’t seem to be quite normal. By the way, the little tiger is Hungary and that little tiger is playful and lovable.

  25. @Wolfi: I just read the English version of Matolcsy’s … er … well, let’s call it a “speech”.

    Maybe I’m just losing my patience with all this now, but it made me angry more than amused me. Why aren’t people seriously – and I mean, *seriously* – looking into this man’s medical condition? Why isn’t someone saying “OK Mr Matolcsy, you need to take a long holiday”? Or, if (and this is a very big ‘if’) he’s somehow talented at economics, then for god’s sake get someone sane to give him some basic media training?

  26. Bowen :
    Maybe I’m just losing my patience with all this now, but it made me angry more than amused me.

    I understand this. But unfortunately you will have to take these many ideas and approaches seriously. By which I do mean specifically this speech of Matolcsy but this strange melange of political ideas from monarchism, nationalism, elitism, socialism, exceptionalism to outright confusion and nonsense, while the main ideas dominating in the better functioning modern democracies such as e.g. Britain are not properly understood, and if in some abstract sense then not how these could fit into the specific Hungarian situation and “experience”. Which leads to this specific “humour” and the statement that “all was already said in The Witness”. (Including that nothing useful can be done about it.) This is what ultimately makes me sceptical about an urgent need to forge some alliance between the oppositional groups to replace OV in 2014. For me the most urgent task appears to get some ideas straight. And that needs time and patience, and all support that it can get from outside. I consider foreign political foundations operating in Hungary and providing some room for debate nearly equally important as “Hillary” or Viviane Reding.

  27. Whenever my husband shows me HU news which he finds it funny, my first reactions is usually speechless and then anger. It just baffles me that Hungarians stand by and let their country be ruined.

    —-

    Paul,
    are you talking about “The Dark Charisma Of Adolf Hitler” ? I think I’ll have access to it. Thanks

    —-

    Éva,

    Am way behind reading your posts but very glad you’re back 🙂

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