Europe fights back: Viktor Orbán may be in real trouble this time

When on April 9 I wrote about the verbal duel between Tibor Navracsics, Hungarian minister in charge of administration and justice, and Viviane Reding, EU vice-president and commissioner responsible for justice, fundamental rights, and citizenship, I should have known that this would not be the end of the story. Members of the current Hungarian government don’t have much sense about when to stop. Just as they doggedly pursued their domestic opponents and used all sorts of unacceptable methods to destroy them, they are employing exactly the same methods on the international scene: personal insults, insinuations, blackmail, lies, half-truths, and the practice of “divide and rule.” The Fidesz government’s strategy worked well at home. Just think of the trade unions and the student associations. So why not try it with the European Commission? Perhaps setting José Manuel Barroso against his vice president, Vivien Reding, both members of the European People’s Party, would bear fruit as well.

First, Navracsics questioned the integrity and impartiality of Reding. Then he said that she was not qualified. A day later Magyar Nemzet came out with a new theory. Next year there will be a new European parliamentary election and perhaps a new president of the European Commission. Reding has a chance to replace Barroso, but in order to be elected she will need the help of the European liberals and socialists. That’s why she is so tough on Hungary. It’s a career move, according to Magyar Nemzet.

On April 10 an op/ed piece by Tibor Navracsics appeared in the European Voice. Up until then these distasteful and totally counterproductive exchanges had appeared only in the Hungarian media. But now they were spread far and wide via an English-language weekly dealing with the politics of the European Union. Navracsics leveled the same accusations against Reding in the European Voice as he had in the Hungarian media. He questioned her neutrality and predicted that any decision about Hungary in Brussels will not be fair. It will be a “purely political decision.” Moreover, Navracsics challenged Reding’s authority “to question the right of a democratically elected government majority to change its own constitution.” If we take this last sentence literally, we must conclude that the Hungarian government categorically refuses to abide by the laws of the European Union. But in this case why do they bother about the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe? After all, it was Foreign Minister János Martonyi who asked the Commission to render a legal opinion on the most recent amendments to the new Hungarian constitution.

Following Navracsics’s lead, Magyar Nemzet inquired “in whose name Reding speaks.” Surely, the implication is that whatever this woman is saying cannot possibly be the opinion of the European Commission. The answer came swiftly after the appearance of Navracsics’s article in the European Voice. Newspapers rushed to Pia-Ahrendkilde Hansen, spokeswoman for the European Commission, to ask her what the real situation was. They were told in no uncertain terms that “President Barroso and Vice President Reding are in complete agreement” over the amendments to the Hungarian Constitution. So that old trick didn’t work.

But the wheels of the Hungarian campaign to discredit Viviane Reding were already in motion. The decision was apparently made that next Tuesday the government will use its very large parliamentary majority to pass a resolution condemning Viviane Reding for her statement about the Tobin case, which involved a car accident that resulted in the death of two children in Hungary a few years back. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Francis Tobin returned to Ireland and refused to go back to Hungary to serve his sentence in a Hungarian jail and the Irish Supreme Court backed him by refusing his extradition. On this occasion, Reding in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said: “I’m personally not surprised [about the decision] because lately Hungary has enacted a number of  laws that cast doubt as to the independence of the Hungarian judiciary.” Although the Tobin case will be discussed in parliament on Tuesday, details on the planned resolution are still not available. Perhaps they never will be. The government may decide that passing such a resolution against Vice President Reding a day before the Hungarian question is discussed in the European Parliament might be counterproductive.

Barroso, in order to make clear that he backs Reding 100%, decided to write another letter to Orbán. In the letter Barroso reiterated that the Commission has serious concerns over the compatibility of the Fourth Amendment to the Hungarian Constitution with Union laws and with the principle of the rule of law in general. Barroso also indicated that once the ongoing legal analysis is carried out by the Commission, it will have “to take the necessary steps in order to start infringement procedures where relevant. I strongly appeal to you and to your government to address these concerns and to tackle them in a determined and unambiguous way.”

Orbán immediately answered Barroso‘s letter and assured Barroso that Hungary is committed to European norms and pledged full cooperation with Brussels. “I will certainly pay full attention to the points you raised and I should like to inform you that I have already initiated the necessary legislative steps to follow them up.” The same meaningless stuff Orbán reiterates every time he is trouble only to renege on it at the earliest opportunity. Navracsics weighed in later, saying that one doesn’t have to take Barroso’s letter very seriously; it’s simply an empty threat.

Meanwhile a six-member delegation arrived in Budapest from the Venice Commission. The members of the Commission are internationally renowned legal scholars. The Venice Commission already tackled the problems of the original constitution. Some of the criticized sections were very reluctantly rewritten by the Hungarians, but now the Venice Commission is confronted with an entirely different document that most experts consider to be unacceptable for a member country of the European Union.

Again, it was Magyar Nemzet that learned from government sources that the Venice Commission will meet József Szájer (Fidesz EP member and allegedly the author of the original new Fidesz constitution), Róbert Répássy, and Bence Rétvári (both undersecretaries in the Ministry of Administration and Justice). The members of the Commission also wanted to talk to the party leaders of the opposition parties represented in the Hungarian parliament. Attila Mesterházy insisted that other opposition parties–DK, LMP, and Együtt 2014-PM–also be present.

The meeting with the government officials took place in the morning and by noon it was all over. Clearly, the talks didn’t go well. Répássy announced that “the members of the delegation showed partiality”; “they arrived with preconceptions.” The government had a 50-page defense of the constitutional changes but “one could hear from members that they will read it but it is unlikely that they will change their minds.” Considering their very careful  prior analysis of the text, I don’t know what the Hungarian government expected.

In the afternoon the members of the Commission met with the opposition forces. According to Attila Mesterházy, the visitors seemed to be extremely well informed but they mostly listened. I’m sure that the members of the Commission didn’t hear anything from the opposition leaders that they didn’t already know.

Maybe it is a good idea that Viktor Orbán will not attend the session of the European Parliament Here he is after his debate in the European  parliament / Reuters Vincent Kessler

Maybe Viktor Orbán is wise not to attend the session of the European Parliament.
Here he is after his last debate in the European Parliament. / Reuters Vincent Kessler

A few days ago Orbán was still not sure whether he should attend the European Parliament’s Wednesday session on Hungary. By now the decision has been made. He will not. Instead he will attend the funeral of Margaret Thatcher on April 17. Looking through the list of  invitees I could find no non-British Commonwealth prime ministers on the list. For the most part countries will be represented by their ambassadors to the Court of St James’s. But I guess he had to come up with some “obligation” to justify his absence from the European Parliament.

He is, however, supposed to attend the meeting of the European People’s Party parliamentary caucus the day before, on April 16th. Even here we may find that Orbán has another urgent meeting somewhere else on the globe because if the information coming from Dubrovnik, Croatia is correct, support of the EPP caucus for Orbán and Fidesz has evaporated.

Here are the details. Currently, the EPP caucus is holding a meeting in Dubrovnik. No Fidesz EP member was in attendance. As it turned out, the caucus made a critical decision about Fidesz during a dinner meeting last night. A reporter from Új Magyar Szó, a Hungarian-language newspaper in Romania, learned from anonymous sources present at the meeting that EPP decided to give the Hungarian government party one week to accept the resolutions of the European Union. If it does not, Fidesz will be removed from the EPP caucus. Apparently the decision was made by an important trio: Joseph Daul, the leader of the caucus, Viviane Reding, and Antonio López-Istúriz White, secretary-general of EPP.

Poor Orbán. First it was all those foreign capitalists and speculators who conspired against Hungary. Then the left-wingers and their international allies went on the attack. And now Orbán’s own conservative EU caucus is threatening him. The noose is tightening.

97 comments

  1. Wonderfully sketched, Prof Balogh. Thank you. May I offer the emendation of “Court of St James”?

  2. …and, to my embarrassment, the further emendation of “Court of St James’s”? Antique orthography trips me up far too often — fossilised conventions on use of the apostrophe…

  3. I wonder what’s up with Navracsics. He used to be a smart person. Is following the party line made him totally lose his mind? Or, maybe, he has a secret plan to destroy Orban by following the party line to the extreme:-) If it’s the latter, it seems to be working.

  4. Pssst, Viktor, it’s the JEWS!

    Dammit, they just have it in for noble Hungary. And this conspiracy against the good name of heroic Hungary after you, Viktor I, stood out against the anti-semitic motorcycle hordes! Can you believe it?

    Why did you ‘save’ them? Why do you support those filthy, commie trash? Oh Viktor, what have you forsaken us????

    Those jews are just not to be trusted…

  5. Eva: If Fidesz will not accept EPP’s request, and they are removed from the caucus, does this result in less money, speakers time, etc. in the EU parliament, as they did with DK when they split from MSZP in Hungary?

    By the way I can imaging Fidesz answer to this request from EPP: Of course Fidesz accept the resolutions of the EU, it is all a misunderstanding, people do not understand Hungarian.

  6. The rumors concerning the possible personal configuration of the next leadership of the EU were very interesting given that almost everyone supposed to have an influential position is already in open conflict with Orbán. (Schulz, Reding, Verhofstadt etc.) I would very much enjoy if Reding and Schulz would be the two candidates for EC president. Maybe the whole fuss is not about avoiding action at the moment, but to undermine Reding as a candidate. Anyway, Fidesz would be needed to campaign on her behalf in case she would be nominated as the EPP candidate at the next EP elections and it is less harmful for Fidesz to try to avoid her nomination than to camopaign against her as EPP member party.

  7. Czech PM Necas will also attend the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps no heavyweight, and yet not a country of the Commonwealth. Perhaps OV also hopes for some support from the British Conservatives.

    Gabor: “Maybe the whole fuss is not about avoiding action at the moment, but to undermine Reding as a candidate.”

    As the EPP already starts to distance itself from Fidesz, these accusations will have just the opposite effect.

    Eva, you write that some newspapers are describing this farce in no uncertain terms. Are there other reactions about how this is received by the people?

  8. London Calling!

    And then there is Helsinki – and the OSCE.

    I debated with Kirsten recently about how Viviane Reding was a lone voice – but that a momentum was gaining traction.

    The EU appears to be getting a move on – before Helsinki – so that they can be seen to be in control of their brief.

    Not sitting on their hands any longer. (And sooner than I expected.)

    For all of us ‘Hungarian-watchers’ there is a feeling of long slow inexorable revenge about to be pronounced on two-faced Orban.

    Of course it shouldn’t be revenge – or mustn’t be seen to be revenge – but it is.

    The EU have had enough – and so have some of us.

    That Hungary’s democracy is a rancid democracy – and József Szájer must take joint blame with Orban – is finally being recognised.

    (Just an RIP note to our recently departed (again!) Johnny Boy – So you don’t think outsiders have a stake in Hungary’s democracy? Think again sunshine.)

    Yes – bye bye voting rights, bye bye EU funds.

    Orban will have to make significant changes – and he will be hobbled before his next election power-fest.

    The EU (and we) know he will still win.

    But his power and Hungary’s slide will be slowed.

    Maybe to the blessed relief of the poor and powerless underclass of Hungary.

    Maybe, just maybe.

    (And just a codicil about the Tobin case: If anyone has any doubts about how ‘johnny foreigner’ might be treated in Hungary then this recent case will add to their concerns:)

    Regards

    Charlie

    http://www.euronews.com/2013/04/11/romania-calls-for-answers-in-case-of-suspected-police-brutality-in-hungary/

  9. No trouble, no such luck. And Fidesz knows it.

    But even if there was trouble Fidesz would not care. And that is the greatest asset in politcs, that gives you the greatest freedom and power: that you just don’t care (and you can afford not to care or at least make people believe that you can afford it) about the consequences. Orbán cannot be defeated politically from abroad. And at home he made it impossible for anyone to win against him.

    The problem is that Orbán and his power network think and plans 3 steps ahead (at least with respect how to keep their power). Always. That is how lawyers think, you prepare for the contigency of a contingency.

    Mesterhazy and his minions or Bajnai, they don’t care to think because they cannot even be sure that they will be in politics in 2 years time. But even in that was the case, they think differently, they just don’t get the power politics of law. And worse they don’t get politics. It’s not about elaborate tax regimes and policies and what not, it’s about capturing the hearts and minds of the people. Present a world, prepared to last tiny bit, in which voters would want to transported to.They will lose and blame the election system, which is true, but not really true. But they will never get it why they lost.

  10. Charlie: “But his power and Hungary’s slide will be slowed.”

    Hopefully.
    Hungary can also end up isolated, sliding further and people still apathetic. The EU will have acted and for democratic Hungary, not much will be won.

  11. Maize: ” Orbán cannot be defeated politically from abroad.”

    Exactly my thoughts. But this continues to amaze me: ” it’s about capturing the hearts and minds of the people.” What exactly is it that must “capture the hearts and minds of people”? In the current Hungarian situation my guess is that it is the nation, unity, historical rights and historical size of Hungary. All of that is used to support an authoritarian system. Democracy stresses individual rights, participation, and the problem that all leaders can fail and therefore mechanisms should be in place to deal with such a situation – hence not an authoritarian approach to power. It is so sad that democracy is understood in Hungary as some cold system that knows nothing else than “elaborate tax systems” and that is unable to approach the “hearts and souls”.

  12. “Perhaps OV also hopes for some support from the British Conservatives.”

    Not beyond the realms of possibility as some in that party sould be happy to align with satan himself, if he were to declare himself “EU-sceptic”. They (the Cons) left the EPP voluntarily and set up their own anti-EU grouping within Brussels and the addition of Fidesz would strengthen that group’s voting power. Alternatively Fidesz could join the fascist grouping (Jobbik, BNP, the French NF etc) where they would probably feel more at home.

    I tend to agree with Maize; from a political point of view Orban has nothing to lose and everything to gain from a concerted EU attack against his regime. Builds up the “no on likes us, we don’t care” ethoc internally. However…. the EU does hold the purse strings to the continuing dosh which keeps the evil dwarf and his corrupt cronies in the lap of luxury. Removing the regime’s speaking rights at Brussels, absolutely no effect at all. Cut the Euro pipeline then I think we’ll see Orban very quickly on his knees begging.

  13. I quote the above article: …” ‘President Barroso and Vice President Reding are in complete agreement’ over the amendments to the Hungarian Constitution.” which of course is a “trick” (a lie?) of Hungarian spectrum for the original wording of Pia-Ahrendkilde Hansen’s statement goes like this: “… the President and the Vice President are in full agreement about the approach that we are taking to the situation in Hungary.” So their full agreement is about the “approach” not about the “judgement” over the amendments to the Hungarian Constitution… The rest of the article plays the same game of mixing true statements with own interpretations. Journalism…

  14. “Cut the Euro pipeline then I think we’ll see Orban very quickly on his knees begging.”

    I am thinking about this. Perhaps there is some expert on the balance of payments and its link to the government budget here reading the blog. In 2012 according to my reading the current account was in surplus even without the EU funds. For me this implies that without EU funds there might be less (or more likely: other types of) money that can be distributed between OV’s buddies but I am not yet convinced that this alone can break his neck. For that we need a split in Fidesz into two (or more) nearly equally strong groups, competing for the money (and for the “hearts and minds”).

  15. It turns out that some of the transfers are recorded in the capital account. Still, it is 10 % of all export earnings, not to speak of the direct investments of the foreign companies active in Hungary, so I doubt that EU money is the only source of income that can be distributed between the Fidesz inner circle.

  16. Orbán will not beg. He knows he does not have to. Noone in the EU dares to be tough. Not in this issue, not in other issues. Forget this.

    Those supposed taskmasters are weak European burocrats who love their coffe breaks and paid language courses and tax free life and so on. They are not particularly agressive or dynamic people. They want to capture a life in the burocracy and keep it no matter what.

    And you know what: this is why the Fideszniks hate these people empathically. While their life was tough in the country (Kövér, Áder, Orbán etc.), and people criticize them for being corrupt for trying to build what is in the EU is considered a middle class life (I don’t mean Simicska or Nyerges here), all they see is that relatively uneducated administartors are planning their Bali vacation on their latest Iphones. Fidesz politicians instantly know that these EU guys will be no match to their toughness. Note that Fidesz has only one issue to concentrate on (the EU), while the EU has dozens of ‘priorities’.

    If push comes to shove, Orbán will settle the issue quickly, after all Reading and Barroso also want to have a free weekend once in a while. Orbán settled the media law (noone even mentiones it, it is settled law now, not subject to contastation) and he will do so again. Meanwhile nobody in Hungary will even realise because this is an esoteric issue of which media will not talk (or rather will sell it as another triumph).

    Orbán will only be defeated if a charismatic politician comes along. All the more so, because it is obvious from the press (and from personal accounts) that you cannot have activists in the country (except for pensionsers, who will not have to worry about their or their family’s job, but pensioners are just being coopted by Orbán). Everbody is afrad, but without a national network of hard charging and loyal activists the election is hopeless. The thought of Mesterhazy of Bajnai cannot fire up the spirits of these activists who will have to consider the situation that should they lose, retaliatiuon will come immediately (perhaps before). They will only take the risk if they can be enthusiastic. And they are people so they cannot be enthusiastic about a new trade policy or a draft constitution. They will need passion and dreams. You just can’t get that from Socialists.

    Let me translate you a poem to think about: A víz nem szomjas, a nép nem demokrata, az Isten nem vallásos. The water isn’t thirsty, the people isn’t democratic, God isn’t religious.

  17. Wondercat :

    …and, to my embarrassment, the further emendation of “Court of St James’s”? Antique orthography trips me up far too often — fossilised conventions on use of the apostrophe…

    Thank you, I was in such a hurry that I wasn’t proofreading the final text very carefully. I repeated a word, wrote government instead of parliament but thanks to the careful readers by now all is fixed.

  18. What is this about “passion”, “dreams”, “enthusiasm” that has been stressed here in the past days and that apparently is something that Fidesz is managing in raising in people currently? How does “dreams” etc relate to this sentence of Felix: “Everybody is afraid” ? How confused can people be? Are these dreams about Gulags? Really something that one can get “enthusiastic” about??

    And all this talk about the charismatic politician that needs to come along. For me a proof of that an authoritarian political system is currently well reflecting the priorities of a large part of Hungarians.

    And lastly to help you combine this: “And they are people so they cannot be enthusiastic about a new trade policy or a draft constitution.” and this: “people criticize them for being corrupt for trying to build what is in the EU is considered a middle class life”. As it has turned out, not only in the EU, a normal middle class life needs some level of overall economic productivity and an income distribution that allows a middle class to emerge and to survive. A relative more equal income distribution will be achieved if a relatively large share of people DEMAND equal opportunities, and do not wait for the gracious leader to provide it. That is why a draft constitution, in which the rights of the individuals are laid down, and the way how such a constitution works in reality are so important for the economic well-being as well. Can you recall any situation when in Hungary the gracious leader provided people with a normal “middle class life”? (Please do not say: Kadar years.)

  19. Ron :

    Eva: If Fidesz will not accept EPP’s request, and they are removed from the caucus, does this result in less money, speakers time, etc. in the EU parliament, as they did with DK when they split from MSZP in Hungary?

    I don’t know about that but expulsion also means that the EPP caucus wouldn’t support Fidesz in the future as it did in the past. The Christian Democrats always stood up for Orbán. Now, if on Wednesday they don’t, Hungary is in big trouble. The recommendations against her will pass.

  20. “…so I doubt that EU money is the only source of income that can be distributed between the Fidesz inner circle.”

    Yes, anyone remember a certain
    axe-handlerer from Azerbajian?

    Now that’s what I call a limitless resources…

    Is there any further wonder why the little ducks stay all in a row?

  21. @ Felix

    “Noone in the EU dares to be tough. Not in this issue, not in other issues. Forget this.
    Those supposed taskmasters are weak European burocrats who love their coffe breaks and paid language courses and tax free life and so on. They are not particularly agressive or dynamic people. ”

    Can you tell us – WHO do you mean?
    Commissioner Reding?
    The EPP MEPs?
    Or EPP member prime ministers, like Merkel?

    Reding is tough, influential and is of high seniority in the Commission. Navracsics totally misjudged the situation when he started to attack Reding in the usual aggressive Fidesz way of dealing with critics, for her Tobin comment. The Commission lined up in her defence, Barroso has now taken over all issues concerning Hungary. I saw Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen’s answer during the Commission’s press briefing on Thursday. She was inpatient, very firm, almost aggressive. I have no doubts somebody is very determined at the background.

    Some MEPs are indeed only interested in their coffee breaks and in catching the earliest flight back home for the weekend. But not all of them, and EPP MEPs have found Orban increasingly embarrassing lately.

    I saw a group photo of the EPP Prime Ministers summit a few weeks ago. Orban was totally isolated, he was standing alone at the side, staring icily towards the camera, as other PMs were chatting, laughing with each other. Nobody looked at him. Finland’s PM stood next to him, but he avoided even looking at Orban.

    Yes, the EU often avoids confrontation and tries to find peaceful compromises. Also, for many decisions you need the vote from all member states and that often slows down decisions and policy making.
    But when the EU REALLY want to do something, they will do it – see Cyprus. Now that the euro-crisis have somewhat settled, they might pay more attention to the democracy problems in Hungary.

  22. @Kirsten
    “all thall this talk about the charismatic politician that needs to come along. For me a proof of that an authoritarian political system is currently well reflecting the priorities of a large part of Hungarians.”

    How true.
    The difference between democracy and dictatorship is not that dictators are nasty and stupid, whereas in democracy leaders are moral and clever. The difference is that in democracy you can speak up against and get rid of a nasty and stupid “leader”.

    Orban has charisma galore.
    It’s the people who lack what it takes to be a democrat. And the will to learn it.

  23. I wouldn’t take the EU way to seriously at this point. Am I disappointed in the EU? Yes I am. WE are speculating what will, could, should happen, but in reality the EU so far did not put any real pressure on Hungary. Some would/will argue that it takes time to do what the EU plans to do, but the problem is that the damage is done. WHile Fidesz is moving wit the speed of a bullet to embed itself for the long term in the Hungarian justice, political, monetary, information, and cultural systems, the EU moves with the speed of a snail. If and when finally they will move, the consequences of their actions would only take course when Hungary would require support, in case a new government would come to power in 2014. Fidesz already spent all the money and stocked its card on away that they will survive a year, does not matter what. A year what they need in fact, and they are on their way. THey will be cut off from 2014? So, what? It was never about the people, it was about the power that can serve their personal gains and interests, and they will have it ten folds.

  24. Kirsten :

    Gabor: “Maybe the whole fuss is not about avoiding action at the moment, but to undermine Reding as a candidate.”
    As the EPP already starts to distance itself from Fidesz, these accusations will have just the opposite effect.

    Well, but if there will be a nominee of every European party for the EC president’s position before the election it implies that the parties should nominate someone in adavance. I don’t know who the nomination will be hzandled, but it doesn’t seem to be a long shot to expect that member parties also will have a say. Fidesz is probably alone, but still they could hope that if they clash head on with Reding they can legitimize a veto that would be otherwise almost impossible and get a more lenient candidate.

  25. Lili Csokonay :
    I quote the above article: …” ‘President Barroso and Vice President Reding are in complete agreement’ over the amendments to the Hungarian Constitution.” which of course is a “trick” (a lie?) of Hungarian spectrum for the original wording of Pia-Ahrendkilde Hansen’s statement goes like this: “… the President and the Vice President are in full agreement about the approach that we are taking to the situation in Hungary.” So their full agreement is about the “approach” not about the “judgement” over the amendments to the Hungarian Constitution… The rest of the article plays the same game of mixing true statements with own interpretations. Journalism…

    Here is the original video. It’s not a verbatim quote, I think it was translated back to English from the Hungarian papers, but IMHO it is true. The spokeswoman said “they have very serious concerns” and “they are in full agreement about it”. In your clever skewing you forgot to mention the first part …

    http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/player/streaming.cfm?type=ebsvod&sid=227436

  26. The court’s decision in the Tobin case commenced in late 2002.
    How on Earth can you agree with Reding on that THAT decision is not reliable because the government from 2010 enacted bad laws?
    How is this reasoning acceptable? In what kind of twisted and sick logic is a 2002 decision bad based on law changes from 2010?

  27. “Navracsics weighed in later, saying that one doesn’t have to take Barroso’s letter very seriously; it’s simply an empty threat.”

    This is an outright lie. He did NOT say this.
    He said: “since there are no checkable facts in Barroso’s letter, one cannot argue against it by refuting the factual claims, so this can only be taken as a threat”.

  28. Johnny Boy :
    “Navracsics weighed in later, saying that one doesn’t have to take Barroso’s letter very seriously; it’s simply an empty threat.”
    This is an outright lie. He did NOT say this.
    He said: “since there are no checkable facts in Barroso’s letter, one cannot argue against it by refuting the factual claims, so this can only be taken as a threat”.

    Same thing. Sorry, Johnny …

  29. BTW, the EPP refused the claims that they want to expel Fidesz (really, how can you believe that such “information” will get leaked to a small Romanian paper???), so your uncritically believing anything you like has failed again.

  30. Mutt :

    Johnny Boy :
    “Navracsics weighed in later, saying that one doesn’t have to take Barroso’s letter very seriously; it’s simply an empty threat.”
    This is an outright lie. He did NOT say this.
    He said: “since there are no checkable facts in Barroso’s letter, one cannot argue against it by refuting the factual claims, so this can only be taken as a threat”.

    Same thing. Sorry, Johnny …

    How is it included in Navracsics’s statement that one does not need to take Barroso’s letter seriously?

  31. Johnny Boy :
    How is it included in Navracsics’s statement that one does not need to take Barroso’s letter seriously?

    Stop this word play, Johnny. Professor Balogh is political commentator. I don’t see why can she summarize Navracsics’s statement like this. That’s what it means.

    You can argue if you will, that despite of his statement, by your opinion, Navracsics does take Barroso seriously. Well, maybe.

  32. 1. Laszlo Bito sponsored a Music Department Building to Bard College.
    Grand Opening of the László Z. Bitó ’60 Conservatory Building Sunday, April 14, 2013
    3 p.m. Open house with chamber music performances in studios
    4 p.m. Celebration in performance hall
    2. Csaba Fazekas pubished a book on the web in 2008:
    http://mek.oszk.hu/06400/06410/
    Deák Ferenc egyházpolitikája a reformkorban

  33. Chesire Cat: There is one “thing” (long process) people in mature Western democracies can’t get. You can read about it as much as you want, but you can’t actually get it. People in Hungary are deep down anxious, disillusioned, lethargic, angry, ignorant (among others). Readers of this blog are not. Now these depressed, unsatisfied people want to believe and be enthusiastic once again, in/about whatever they can. Time runs, everybody is getting older and not only that, every years is worse than the previous (it is not even stagnation). It’s existential, its not political and it’s not rational.

    Please don’t tell me that you have not heard about Obama. His second campaign was also mostly about his persona rather than about policy achievements (for whatever reason, even Democrats could not or did not dare to be proud of the health care reform).

    There are a lot of “thinking” people, sure. But in times of crisis (continuing decline) you need to provide a hope that a profound change (a better life after a long continuous decline is a profound change) is possible (realistic). People (the plurality, which counts in this new system) cannot relate to dry policy papers (dah!), so the only way you can make them believe that the opposition candidate is (may be) the real thing is that you present a person. Sure, the incumbent could be stupid and make mistakes (like Aznar who was sure to win, but lost because he blamed the Basques) and a non-charismatic person can also win. It happens often. But.

    [I am not an expert of Hitler, but my take is that Germans felt they were humiliated by the WWI defeat, the compensation, the restrictions (which of course the victors thought were completely justified and just) and they had a financial crisis and had a very quick and dramatic modernisation which not everybody could digest, but they had a hope, a vision in which they could believe, stick to and reinvent their very individual selves, wanted to be part of the community and the feeling of power and respect. I do believe that for a substantial portion of Hungarians these issue, respect of the self, community, being able to feel pride again are far more important than democracy, however defined, and if those are coupled with lower electricity prices, well it’s a pretty good combination.]

    But when you have a terrible election system like the Hungarian one which makes it impossible (try to get this: impossible; you just can’t win with only Budapest and the bigger towns) to win without a national network of activists and the national network is not possible because opposition supporters are afraid, you need someone charismatic. A politician, especially in times of crises, needs, I agree with others, a world view, something that can inspire. Politics is about people, they are not machines. And the worst thing is to blame people and arrogantly question why are they not smart enough to realise that democracy is good, and civil rights are important. That is what SZDSZ did, they always told other that you should have learned it in school and gotten that this is how democracy and capitalism work. True, all true, but if you are a politician you do not do that. But they wanted to remain the smart guy as opposed to the successful guy. People, the voters cannot be blamed, that is rule no 1. But the thing is that the plurality will not think in big concepts like democracy (most, including educated, people would not be able to define it properly), will not deliberate consciously, they react to more primordial urges. Fidesz is a master in catering to these urges and the left is always afraid to do so.

    So I just don’t get why people question the need for a charisma in the present day Hungary, especially against Orbán.

    Re the toughness of EU leaders. No, I guess there are various understandings of toughness. The EU will never prevent Orbán from do anything in Hungary. Like it was mentioned, at the very best the EU will indentify one or two minor issues on which Orbán backtracks and they will close down the process and issues the stamp of approval. The EU can look tough, Orbán can look compromising everybody is happy. By the way the European People’s Party can’t wait to welcomes Fidesz chairman Orbán in Dubrovnik (according to the press release). Plus, get this: Orbán does not care if he is hated in Brussels and that everybody shuns him like an untouchable: Orbán is elected in Hungary, under the system he created, under laws he wrote with the led of the most sophisticated and strongest election machinery in Europe (after Putin’s perhaps) and the voters could not care less about Brussels.

  34. Mutt :

    Johnny Boy :
    How is it included in Navracsics’s statement that one does not need to take Barroso’s letter seriously?

    Stop this word play, Johnny. Professor Balogh is political commentator. I don’t see why can she summarize Navracsics’s statement like this. That’s what it means.
    You can argue if you will, that despite of his statement, by your opinion, Navracsics does take Barroso seriously. Well, maybe.

    Play with words? The “Professor”‘s statement’s core is that Navracsics, arrogantly, said that Barroso’s letter shouldn’t be taken seriously.
    Now you do show me how his real words (which I posted here) mean this.
    Do it. Do not try to evade.

  35. Also, you are free to reply on how Reding can be right in stating about a 2002 court decision that it is not reliable. Do it. Reply.

  36. Maize :
    No trouble, no such luck. And Fidesz knows it.
    But even if there was trouble Fidesz would not care. And that is the greatest asset in politcs, that gives you the greatest freedom and power: that you just don’t care (and you can afford not to care or at least make people believe that you can afford it) about the consequences. Orbán cannot be defeated politically from abroad. And at home he made it impossible for anyone to win against him.
    The problem is that Orbán and his power network think and plans 3 steps ahead (at least with respect how to keep their power). Always. That is how lawyers think, you prepare for the contigency of a contingency.
    Mesterhazy and his minions or Bajnai, they don’t care to think because they cannot even be sure that they will be in politics in 2 years time. But even in that was the case, they think differently, they just don’t get the power politics of law. And worse they don’t get politics. It’s not about elaborate tax regimes and policies and what not, it’s about capturing the hearts and minds of the people. Present a world, prepared to last tiny bit, in which voters would want to transported to.They will lose and blame the election system, which is true, but not really true. But they will never get it why they lost.

    “…Mesterhazy…cannot even be sure (to) be in politics in 2 years time…”

    Maize:

    I don’t think you have grasp of the Hungarian political reality: Mesterhazy and MZSP still has a 30% stake in the ‘winnings’ of
    the Fidesz party. This has been the understanding for many years…probably since the changeover in 1990 (or soon after, anyway). Gyurcsany wanted to do away with that corruption that’s why the long knives in his own party came out. To his credit, Gyurcsany fights on. On the other hand, Bajnai, who I think similarly opposes graft, may leave politics after defeat in 2014.

    The pickings are probably so rich presently that Mesterhazy may just be secretly satisfied to maintain the status quo. Certainly, his last speech before a huge crowd (all MSZP-ers…?) can easily be seen to undermine Bajnai as he hardly mentions him. Match that fact up with the recent poll showing Mesterhazy’s lack of popularity, and you can see that his speeches claims about ‘victory’ are certainly empty. And he knows it.

    The point is that very few politicians of MSZP or Fidesz want a reform of the political culture were self-interest trumps the needs of the nation. I can think of only one: Angyan.

  37. Petofi:

    I am sorry to dissapoint you but I can assure you that it is a myth the Fidesz gives 30% to MSZP. MSZP has not gotten a dime since 2010 (in addition Fidesz’ companies are much more loyal whereas MSZP’s corruption is much more decentralised and haphazard). They naively hoped that things will go as before, but Fidesz figured why give if they have all the power (economic, prosecutorial, judicial) since 2010. Simicska alone took upwards of 300bn, they have given 1-2 bn of business just to tease MSZP and lough at them. Fidesz of course loughed at MSZP, the forever loser, that MSZP gave anything when they (MSZP) were in power. But MSZP is always a sucker for Fidesz’ tricks and always will be. They are not smart, they are divided into cliques, and in any case could be purchased for small amounts if needed (as it is rumoured that L. Puch has been controlled by Fidesz). There is no party discpline (or real leadership) so at any given time various MSZP individuals are open to be Fidesz’ inside people and Fidesz uses every trick in the book to influence MSZP from within.

    Mesterhazy does not own MSZP as Orbán does Fidesz and could not in practice evenof he wanted to given his different habitus, so Mesterhazy cannot be sure that he will be there if he loses too badly in 2014. In any way, he and the young people he brought into positions at MSZP are lighweights compared to the Fidesz top cadres and these rookies simply don’t look too determined compared to the complete sacrifice of life top Fidesz politicians do. But most of all, the passion and a clear vision are missing. Just craving power is not enough.

  38. @ Dedip:

    Ok, so perhaps they cut the percentage back, but the totals are probably still significant.

    I don’t know what to attribute Mesterhazy’s troubling performance in his big speech: to me, he seemed to have departed from the notion of joint action with other parties (“We are strong and will win the next election.”) Surely, Mesterhazy has seen popularity polls where he’s far behind both Orban and Bajnai…so I can only attribute his speech to some preliminary spadework in undermining any future coalition..

    Btw, Orban is too smart not to keep Mesterhazy and some of the MSZP under control by judicious payoffs, if for no other reason than that he craves control.

  39. gal gal gal :
    1. Laszlo Bito sponsored a Music Department Building to Bard College.
    Grand Opening of the László Z. Bitó ’60 Conservatory Building Sunday, April 14, 2013
    3 p.m. Open house with chamber music performances in studios
    4 p.m. Celebration in performance hall
    2. Csaba Fazekas pubished a book on the web in 2008:
    http://mek.oszk.hu/06400/06410/
    Deák Ferenc egyházpolitikája a reformkorban

    Why does X X X keep posting about deak deak deak?

  40. Here are the FACTS. Interviewer: Barosso… wrote a letter again to the Hungarian Prime Minister. In it he expressed his concerns about the details of forth changes in the Hungarian Constitution.[….] I would like to say that I am a ‘bit bored of it…”
    Answer of Navracsics:
    ” Hat, ez most nekem egy fenyegetozesnek tunik a jelen pillanatban. Tenyek nelkul, egy ugy most egy aggaly kifejezese, amikor aztan semmi konkretum nem kovetkezik a levelben.
    Bar, en is a hirugynoksegi hirrel talalkoztam egyenlore.”

    I honestly do not know how to translate Navracsics’ incoherent blahblaha, and trust me that is exactly what he says. http://mno.hu/?v=70070 from minutes 2.
    At any case, the translation of the first sentence is this: “At this very moment this seems to me as a threat.” then Navracsics goes on to say that there is nothing concrete in the letter
    “although, I have only came across only with the news agency news so far”.
    Fidesz politics in a nutshell. He accuses Barosso for not mentioning anything factual, but Navracsics only knows this from the MTI report.

  41. dediP

    thank you for your reply.

    “There is one “thing” (long process) people in mature Western democracies can’t get. You can read about it as much as you want, but you can’t actually get it. People in Hungary are deep down anxious, disillusioned, lethargic, angry, ignorant (among others). Readers of this blog are not. Now these depressed, unsatisfied people want to believe and be enthusiastic once again, in/about whatever they can.”

    I’m also Hungarian (although have lived in England for a while) and I think I know what you mean and agree with you.
    When I said the problem is Hungarians want a charismatic leader – the problem is not that they want charisma, but that they think a LEADER is the answer. A different leader.

    I also understand that it is somewhat illusionary to expect Hungarians to publicly protest now, people (rightly or not) are worried about losing their jobs if they do, simple as that.
    And yes, many people are desperate to believe in something and that’s what makes them support the “creative, confident Orban” (this includes my family members and some friends back home, so I know).

    There is no easy way out. You can’t expect Hungarians to behave like someone from a “mature democracy” as you say. But 15 years ago, Hungarians seemed much more open to Western values and democracy, much keener to catch up and consider free market economy as a model. It’s worth looking at Poland or the Baltic states – where is Estonia 20 years after it broke away from Soviet Union? It’s one of the healthiest, most stable economies in the EU!, they have been using the euro for 2 years. Their democracy and social-political values, though not mature Western, are far ahead of Hungary. Or Latvia, who in 2008 found itself in a very severe economic crisis, much like Hungary, but went through HELL as they reformed their economy and they are now striving.
    How can they do it and why can’t Hungary?
    What’s happened to Hungary?
    While these – once so behind – countries were catching up and progressing, Hungary got stuck and started to go backwards.
    Why?

    (I don’t know.)

  42. dediP
    re EU toughness

    I agree, if by toughness you mean the EU will remove Orban from government, they won’t do that. By and large, the EU will be as tough with Orban as the EU’s prestige is weakened by not putting right such a member state. There is a tendency in many member states to protest against the EU’s growing influence and power, just as it is trying to build a stronger economic and political union, so they won’t risk being seen as intervening with national politics more than necessary.

    Whatever we think or hope, Hungary is far from being important in the EU.

    They noticed the need to prepare for similar developments in the future (= a member state turns against the core values of democracy) and they will cater for it as they design the “new” EU. How they deal with this specific case, is not clear, I don’t think.
    But they will not take over the job of not voting for Orban at the elections.

  43. The Hungarian people must produce a few, maybe even a few dozen Deaks to restore some sanity.

  44. I feel like I am running in circles.I understand that EU will not remove Orban. I do not want them to remove Orban. It is the INFORMED Hungarian public’s job to not vote for him.
    Does the Hungarian public is fully informed?
    Does the Fidesz manipulates, withholds information that may alter the outcome of an election?
    Does Fidesz creates an environment where the voice of oppositions are threatened?
    Does the Fidesz enhances or respects the chances for fair election?
    If any of your answers above unfavourable for Fidesz, then the EU should interfere, since uninformed people will make uninformed decisions. Manipulating information is a crime. Fidesz will not be voted out until the democracy is restored. To say that informed Hungarian people would not remove Fidesz is ridiculous, and undermines the IQ of Hungarians.

  45. Chesire Cat: I do it as well, but I think we make a serious mistake if we compare Hungary to Slovakia or to Estonia or to Poland. It is an optical illusion of sorts: they seem similar because we all lived under socialism and entered the EU at the same time.

    But we feel that there is a huge difference between Spain and Denmark, why would Hungary be like the Baltic states whose (like Sweden’s and Finland’s and Poland’s) absolute top priority is to get a protection from Russia and so they will do immediately whatever the EU or NATO or the US asks from them. In a way, hey depend on these institutiona much more than Hungary does. This inadvertabtly helps the citizens of those people, because being “independent”, pursuing our “own way” (rather than fuller integration) is probably a very bad idea for a host of reasons.

    The Czech Republic given its geography (it looks as if it as a Land of Germany) is completely integrated (not just expotrt/import-wise, but in structural aspects like level of industrialisation, consumption patterns/prefernces, base line inflation, contractual practices etc.) into the EU economy, so much so that many multinational companies treat the CR apart from the rest of CEE. Slovakia is also close to Czech Republic both in culture and economic integration.

    Hungary, in fact, has nothing in common with the Nordic former Communist Bloc, or rather the existential issues are different. We are much more like Romania and Bulgiara, hard as it is to face. We were Visegrad countries juct because in the nineties there was a generation at the politics including Antall, Horn, Sólyom, Göncz etc. who wanted integration into the EU and wer more like the EU standard in politcial cooperation.

    Fidesz’ top politicins are completely peerless in their agresiveness and cynism and unscupulousness in the current EU. But they are powered by the demands of the people. And there is no overriding interest chich would protect non Fidesz believers from Fidesz’s crazyness and excessive, I would call sick power craving, which by the way has been competely and fully internalzed by Fidesz politicians.

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