Viktor Orbán’s twenty-year plan: empty promises

Perhaps “narancsblog” was right when he announced that it really doesn’t matter what Viktor Orbán said yesterday in front of invited guests about the state of the country. He is right. It makes no difference. It is also immaterial what the adoring fans of Viktor Orbán thought of the speech. Népszabadság‘s reporter was there, microphone in hand, and asked the same questions he asked a year ago, starting with: “What did you think of the speech?” Not only were the questions the same but the answers were as well: “Everything is wonderful, everything is going in the right direction.” They feel richer than ever and how nice that they will have to pay 10% less for natural gas. Nothing could change their minds. “What about the GDP? What about the drop in real wages? What about unemployment? What about the almost half a million Hungarians who live and work abroad?” The answer: statistics cannot be trusted.

As for the commentators, they couldn’t come up with anything terribly new either. Many labelled Orbán’s speech a pack of lies. They pointed out that Orbán again mixed up two famous Hungarian writers, Géza Ottlik and Sándor Márai, and that he recycled his jokes. They also emphasized that instead of talking about the present that is, let’s face it, unpleasant and even painful, he decided to look back over the past one hundred years and look forward to what will happen in 2030.

Viktor Orbán came out with a most ambitious “twenty year plan” (presumably already being implemented). Even Nikita Krushchev, as we were reminded by Endre Aczél, dared to plan for only seven years when in 1959 he promised that the Soviet Union’s GDP per capita would surpass that of the United States. And then came 1966 and no one remembered his boasting any more. Not only was the plan forgotten, Khrushchev himself was gone.

The slogan that was plastered all over the podium read “Hungary is performing better.” As it turned out in the course of Orbán’s address, this means that in all respects Hungary is doing better now than at any time since 1990. A quick look at economic indicators, however, reveals that actually the opposite is true: Hungary’s economy is in shambles. But then I guess these are just more untrustworthy statistics.

Ferenc Gyurcsány summarized Orbán’s performance in a single phrase: “empty head, empty speech.” Others were even less charitable. A blog writer called him “the national bullshit generator.” Klára Ungár, Orbán’s former friend and colleague in Fidesz, made a witty remark in which she quoted from Erzsi Gazdag, a poet who often wrote children’s verse. One of her best known poems is “A mesebolt,” a store that sells tales:

Volt egyszer egy mesebolt,
abban minden mese volt.
Fiókjában törpék ültek,
vízilányok hegedültek.

I’m not going to try to translate it, but basically in that “tale store everything was a tale.” So, in Orbán’s speech there was not word of truth.

Another truckload of political promisesBy les mois de l'année / Flickr

Another truckload of political promises
By les mois de l’année / Flickr

In his brief reference to the last one hundred years he compared Hungary’s situation to an old folk ballad about Mrs. Kelemen Kömíves. A fairly gruesome story about twelve bricklayers who are hired to build the walls of the Fortress of Déva (Deva, Romania). Whatever they build during the day collapses overnight. So, they decide that the first wife who comes to visit will be killed and her ashes will have some miraculous powers to keep the mortar strong. According to Orbán, whatever “our great-great grandparents built was taken away by World War I and the peace (békerendszer) that it brought; what our great grandparents built was taken away by World War II and the system of peace created afterward; what our grandparents and parents built was taken away by the communist system.” The message is that, considering everything, Hungary’s situation is not at all bad. (I don’t know who the sacrificial lamb is supposed to be in this analogy.) I think I should also point out that from Orbán’s grandparents and parents nothing was taken away by the communists. The opposite is true. The Orbán family was a beneficiary of the socialist system.

After spending only a little time on his accomplishments he quickly moved on to his grand design, his “master plan” as he called it. Miracles will take place. By 2030 Hungary will not be financially dependent, although I’m not quite sure what he means by financial independence. The central government will not have to borrow money? Will not have to issue government bonds? Hard to imagine. No country works that way and the country that tried it, I have Romania in mind, had a sorry end. “We will end our energy dependence” by that date. Furthermore, everybody will be saved from “the slavery of indebtedness in foreign currencies.”  The population will stop decreasing. Everybody will find work who wants to live in Hungary. Hungary will be among the thirty most competitive countries in the world. From these sentences it is clear that Viktor Orbán envisages himself as prime minister of Hungary at least for another eighteen years because he and his team will carry out this master plan.

“By a reindustrialization of the country Hungarian industry will be linked to the German industrial complex (a magyar ipart összeépítjük a némettel)…. We will build up ten thousand middle-size companies that will be competitive in the export business. Fifteen to twenty large Hungarian multinational companies will strengthen the global expansion of the Hungarian economy…. Four to five percent of the country’s GDP will be spent on research and development. Several of our universities will be among the top 200 in the world…. The living standards of Hungarian families will surpass the European average. We will achieve all this with carefully prepared plans, with a reorganized state, with committed experts, and with a society that wants and is able to work.

Shortly before Viktor Orbán delivered his speech came the news that the European Commission has its doubts about Hungary’s ability to hold the deficit under 3% in 2013. Commentators tried to guess what the prime minister would say about this piece of news. Would he say anything? Well, he did. Let me quote:

You shouldn’t be troubled by the European Union’s economic prognosis. For example, as far as the budget is concerned not once did they manage to guess it right. We keep fingers crossed that perhaps this time they will manage. We will help them because this year the deficit will again be under 3%.

Of course, what Orbán neglected to tell his adoring audience is that during 2012 the budget had to be rejiggered time and again to remain below the magic 3%. And surely, he didn’t want to tell them that most likely the EU prediction for 2013 is correct and that to remain under 3% new austerity measures will have to be introduced.

But Fidesz supporters can hang on to those twenty-year dreams and sleep unencumbered by the realities of today.

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62 comments

  1. petofi :

    Paul :
    pefofi – the key word there is ‘apple’. Jobs’ one goal in life was to NEVER under any circumstances allow his products to work with anyone else’s!

    Maybe, but he built quality and the price be damned–you have to respect that.
    There’s a bakery in Budapest that imported a French baker who makes bread with all French products including the grain. The bread is delicious, however it
    costs nearly a 1000 forints. For a while I thought it was ridiculous but it isn’t really. The owner made a huge gamble bringing the baker and opening the shop. All power to him. I now pay the price willingly. And the owner should be alright…that is, until Jobbik come to power (along with Fidesz) in the near future and start painting star-of-davids on his windows…

    Hmmm. He certainly developed some very pretty products and conned a lot of people into buying them because they looked so nice and were so expensive.

    But as for ‘quality’, I’m not so sure. The word ‘quality’ in this context implies ‘fit for purpose’, and Jobs’ products were arguably rarely that – they often had key components/functions missing (e.g. cameras in the early iphones), they often developed faults which other manufacturers would never have been allowed to get away with (catching alight, disc drives failing, etc), and they were hardly ever (especially in the early days) compatible with the rest of the products on the market (i.e. those owned by the vast majority of users).

    Perhaps the phrase that best sums up Jobs and the Apple myth is ‘MP3 player’ – because, of course, the one thing the ipod didn’t play was the (industry standard) MP3 file!

  2. And (finally) getting back OT:

    An interesting article from Budapost:

    A young conservative blogger has noticed that left-wing leaders in neighbouring countries tend to emulate PM Viktor Orbán’s “unorthodox” economic policies.

    On Mandiner, Bence Földi, a young blogger who publishes his writings on several conservative websites, contends that the economic philosophy of the Hungarian government is becoming surprisingly popular among left-wing leaders in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.

    The shadow finance minister of the Czech Social Democratic Party (now in opposition, but leading the opinion polls) told Bloomberg news agency that he would follow a Hungarian-style economic policy in case his party wins the next elections. Ján Mládek said he would tax big business, rather than laying the entire burden on the population and would impose special taxes on certain segments of the economy. He also praised Hungary’s move to re-channel compulsory private pension funds into the sphere of public finances.

    Robert Fico, Slovakia’s left-wing Prime Minister, Földi continues, has imposed a special tax on banks and multinational enterprises, encroached on the private pension-fund contributions and is planning to nationalise the natural gas provider. On the other hand, he has also abolished the flat tax system which was recently introduced in Hungary, and is carefully avoiding confrontation with Brussels. Nevertheless, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Mr Fico did not hide the fact that he has been borrowing ideas from his Hungarian counterpart.

    Analysing statements by Romania’s left-wing Prime Minister, Földi also finds elements which remind him of Hungary’s “unorthodox” economic philosophy. PM Viktor Ponta announced a plan to impose a special tax on “giant enterprises” in mining and in energy production, to increase the special levy on tobacco and raise the minimum wage and old age pensions. In response to German critics who compared him to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr Ponta said, however, that they had nothing in common – apart from their first names.

    http://budapost.eu/2013/02/orban%e2%80%99s-left-wing-followers/

    No link to the original on Budapost, I’m afraid.

  3. Paul :

    LwiiH :

    Paul :
    pefofi – the key word there is ‘apple’. Jobs’ one goal in life was to NEVER under any circumstances allow his products to work with anyone else’s!

    Fortunately the world had other plans

    It seems that indeed you can’t fool all the people all the time…

    Well, I dare to say that it isn’t the Mac, but the user.
    Probably if you don’t use the ‘return’ (line-break) at the edge of your space, but let the text ‘flow’ , you won’t see this problem anymore.
    By the way I using a Mac too – an Apple, if you wish – soon some twenty years now, and I have no problem to write on a few different languages with diacritics, even Hungarian (őŐűŰ!) using a single American keyboard.

    Otherwise from early on the Mac was able to handle a wide variety of file-formats, even without the need of using file-name extension, (.txt, .doc, etc.) by design, normally only a few obscure proprietary formats needed to be converted.

    The rest is rather the question of the way of thinking, I guess.

  4. Paul :
    And (finally) getting back OT:
    An interesting article from Budapost:
    A young conservative blogger has noticed that left-wing leaders in neighbouring countries tend to emulate PM Viktor Orbán’s “unorthodox” economic policies..

    Nothing really strange in it, really.

    We better get used to the fact, that the character of our beloved PM deep down has much more common feature with the communist leaders of the former Soviet Union, Romania and DDR as with any civil(ized)western statesman.

    Let me remind you, that a few months back he declared loud and clear in the Hungarian Parliament, that he did not fought against the ‘socialist’ system, but the leaders of it!
    You don’t even need to stretch this, it fits nicely, any way you look at it.

    God save our one and only Bolshe-Viktor!

  5. @Spectator:

    “God save our one and only Bolshe-Viktor!” – you almost made me spill my beer right now …

  6. Paul,

    “However, I am a young and vigorous, if not entirely truthful, (nearly) 60…”

    Well, you certainly have come across as young and vigorous to me.
    On learns something new every day…
    (What I still don’t understand is WHICH country you live in? It appears that you live in Britain and have done so for a long time. But last year I had the impression you had been living in Hungary for a few years. Or are a you zig-zagger family?)

  7. spectator :
    have no problem to write on a few different languages with diacritics, even Hungarian (őŐűŰ!) using a single American keyboard.

    Sorry I missed this … How do you enter the double acute characters on a Mac from the US keyboard?

  8. Mutt :

    spectator :
    have no problem to write on a few different languages with diacritics, even Hungarian (őŐűŰ!) using a single American keyboard.

    Sorry I missed this … How do you enter the double acute characters on a Mac from the US keyboard?

    Never mind. Got it. Needed to switch to US extended layout.

  9. cheshire cat :
    Paul,
    “However, I am a young and vigorous, if not entirely truthful, (nearly) 60…”
    Well, you certainly have come across as young and vigorous to me.
    On learns something new every day…
    (What I still don’t understand is WHICH country you live in? It appears that you live in Britain and have done so for a long time. But last year I had the impression you had been living in Hungary for a few years. Or are a you zig-zagger family?)

    cc – our original intention was to live in both countries as close to 50/50 as we could get. We have a flat in both countries, and, with our ‘work’ situation at the time we got married, and the (then) low air fares, we could travel back and forward almost at will, and often stay for long periods. But when we started a family, we obviously had to choose one country over the other by the time the eldest started school. We were originally thinking of moving to Hungary, but the more I understood of the Hungarian school system, the more I thought twice about this. In the end Orbán’s election made my mind up for me.

    And now of course we have to face the reality of the school timetable. When my daughter first started school, we often took her out a few days early (a week or two in the summer), so we could maximize her time in Hungary – assuming that the school would appreciated that the educational advantages of time in Hungary outweighed the ‘loss’ of a few end-of-term school days. Unfortunately, a change of head teacher means that we now have the school attendance Gestapo to deal with…

    And the crazy rise in air fares has also taken its toll. A few years ago we had to stop going over at Christmas because we simply could no longer afford it, and now it’s beginning to affect out Easter and Summer trips (Easter is costing us £600+ and we’re looking at well over £1,000 for the summer flights). So, we have gone from the idealistic vision of raising our children (both dual citizens) equally in both cultures, to almost just having ‘holidays’ in Hungary. (We are in the ironic position of spending 2 months a year in ‘another country’ but not actually being able to afford a ‘proper’ holiday!)

    It’s not quite as bad as that (yet), because at least our work situation allows us to spend the full holidays there, and having a flat over there and plenty of relatives and friends in the area, it genuinely does seem that we live there when we’re there (which is why my posts sound confusing, I guess, although it isn’t intentional). I am as much at home in Hungary as I am in England, and find I can switch effortlessly from one existence to the other. My wife says the same – once the nightmare of the journey is over (11 hours door-door!), the cases go away, and it’s as if we’ve always lived where we are. (One minor downside of this is, because the layouts of the flats are different, I sometimes wake in the night and can’t remember which way the bathroom is!)

  10. “Yes, we’re a zig-zagger family” might have been an easier answer!

    By the way – why Finnish? I know it’s distantly related to Hungarian, but I have it on good authority from some Finns I was on a Hungarian language course with that that doesn’t make things any easier!

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