Viktor Orbán’s ongoing fight with the European Union. It’s time to end it!

Yesterday I reported on two speeches that Viktor Orbán gave last Thursday and Friday. I didn’t mention his usual Friday morning interview on the state radio station. But this interview was certainly important, perhaps more important than his ruminations about a “work-based” society or likening his government’s economic policies to building a Lego structure full of fantasy and inventiveness.

It was more important because the better part of the interview was about the European Commission’s objections to the Fourth Amendment to the Hungarian constitution.

As far as the Hungarian prime minister is concerned, there is nothing wrong with the Hungarian constitution or any of the new laws passed by his two-thirds majority. The alleged legal objections are no more than “pretexts.” The real reason is a disapproval of his government’s economic policies. And he doesn’t beat around the bush. “Hungary stepped on the toes of [the western countries]. This is clear. Every time in the interest of the Hungarian people we introduce, for example, bank levies or we tax multinational companies, attacks on Hungary come immediately. Now that we have decreased the price of utilities, these attacks intensify.”

So, the western countries of the European Union are putting political and legal pressure on Hungary in defense of the economic interests of their own capitalists. The pressure must be kept up because “the multinationals, especially some of the largest ones in the world, cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that they have to give up their extra, luxury, and guaranteed profits. They don’t want to accept the fact that we, meaning the current Hungarian government, will not resign ourselves to a situation in which people in Hungary should spend more for basic services than these firms charge in their own countries. This is unacceptable.”

In case some of you don’t know what Viktor Orbán is talking about when he mentions “luxury profit,” extra profit, and guaranteed profit, don’t worry. He doesn’t either. “Luxury profit” doesn’t crop up too often in Hungarian texts, but it seems that Fidesz politicians created this new “concept.” I found references to it from 2005 when Lajos Kósa and others used the word. I guess it means high profit. “Extra profit” is a hangover from the earlier socialist times when Marxist economists talked about a kind of ceiling on profit; any profit above that was a sign of capitalistic excess and exploitation. Unfortunately, one can still hear the term far too often.

Another comment I would like to make here is that utility prices are not really higher in Hungary than in other countries. In fact, they are a tad below the European Union average. The profit margin of foreign utility companies is pretty low. After all, prices are set by the government. Yes, the average Hungarian family spends a larger portion of its income on utilities, but not because the prices are extraordinarily high but because Hungarian wages are very low. So much for the tirade against foreign owners of utility companies.

The journalist who conducts these Friday interviews is well trained. He formulates his questions in such a way that Viktor Orbán has total freedom to talk about whatever he wants.  So, there was plenty of opportunity for the prime minister to express his total astonishment that there are no reasoned arguments on the part of the European Commission. Moreover,  “there are no concrete criticisms.”

A little later, however, Orbán forgot his contention that there was nothing concrete in either José Manuel Barroso’s letter or in Viviane Reding’s  speech in the European Parliament. Orbán admitted that  he knows “about three concrete questions mentioned by Mr. Barroso…. Two of them have no significance, so we are quite ready to accept his–in my opinion, wrong opinions.  But in the third question, we don’t want to engage in any discussion [with the Union].” The first two questions address the very severe limitations on political advertisement at election time and the transference of certain court cases at will from one court to another. If you recall, the Orbán government was willing to change these two laws slightly. There would be no limitation on advertisement for the European Parliamentary election and cases that involve European Union law would not be transferable.

Viktor Orbán at a press conference after his 2912 debate in the European Parliament  Reuters, photo  Vincent  Kessler

Viktor Orbán at a press conference after his 2012 debate in the European Parliament
Reuters, photo Vincent Kessler

Let’s see what Viviane Reding said about these two newly worded paragraphs. On the issue of restrictions of political advertisement she said: “Whilst limitations may be acceptable in some cases, they would only be lawful if they are duly justified and proportionate. It should be noted that the audience share of private media where the restriction would apply represents almost 80% in Hungary.” As for the amendment enabling the president of the National Office for the Judiciary to transfer cases from one court to another, she said: “If applied to a case concerning EU law, it could raise issues of incompatibility with the EU obligation to provide for remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection and to the right to a fair trial as foreseen by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The third concrete issue mentioned in the Barroso letter was Article 17 of the Fourth Amendment that deals with fines for infringement of European Union laws. Reding argued: “The implementation of this provision would mean that Hungary would introduce an ad-hoc tax on Hungarian citizens should Hungary be fined for breach of EU law. Is it really sensible to make citizens pay for a tax whenever the state would fail to be in compliance with EU law? In practice citizens would be penalised twice: once for not having had their rights under EU law upheld and a second time for having to pay for this. This could undermine the authority of the Court of Justice and could constitute a violation of the duty of sincere cooperation in Article 4 (3) of the Treaty on the European Union on the part of Hungary.”

Orbán refuses to budge on this third point. If Hungary has to pay a fine because its government violated European law, the government has a right to tax the people because otherwise the deficit might not be kept under the magic 3%. And Hungary can’t afford this. “This is a rule that is perfectly compatible with European efforts to keep the deficit low. This is an important limit on overspending. We will not retreat on this point. If necessary we are ready to go to the European Court of Justice on this issue.”

This is where Viktor Orbán stands at the moment. Let’s see where the European Commission stands: “As for the rule of law. Hungary will also need to take due account of the opinion that the Council of Europe/Venice Commission will deliver in June, in full accordance with both European Union and Council of Europe principles, rules and values. The Commission expects a responsible answer from Hungary to this opinion. “

I assume that by now the politicians of the European Union fully understand whom they are dealing with. Orbán is cunning, combatative, and ruthless. He might alter a word here or there in the constitution, but fundamentally nothing will change. He is standing firm. I don’t think he would even care very much if Hungary were stripped of its voting rights in the Union. What he cares about is EU money. Practically every penny that Hungary receives from the European Union in one way or another ends up in the pockets of his cronies and/or is spent on useless frivolities. EU subsidies help keep this man in power. And that’s a crime against the Hungarian people.

64 comments

  1. I have just written this to the previous thread:

    I find it quite alarming that more and more Hungarians believe that “Europe” has gone down the drain. (By Europe, they mean the West, of course.) Democracy, market economy, “excessive liberalism”, welfare states, Western culture, secularism etc. have failed, the West is looking for new directions economically, socially and politically.

    This, for Hungarians. also means that the model they wanted to take over, the West they wanted to catch up with has failed, and there is no point trying any more. The best thing is to get independent, get our sovereignity back, chase the Western “colonizers” out of the country, get rid of the financial vultures, let’s just support ourselves.

    Orban of course feeds this, because it justifies his freedom fight and “unorthodoxy”.

    But the average Hungarians need to realize that “democracy” and “market capitalism” has not failed. There is a global financial crisis, yes, quite severe in some countries – but the “West” has had economic crises before, and sooner or later they recovered. And they were rarely caused by “excessive democracy”…

    At the beginning of 2000s, Germany was the “sick man” of Europe economically. In the early 1990s, Finland and Sweden nearly went bust. All three countries are doing very well at the moment, and they did NOT have to give up democracy in order to recover.

    In fact, there are people who think that welfare systems in many countries have in fact performed very well, and have been able to stop masses of people becoming hopelessly poor. Some reckon that without the EU some countries might even already be at war.

    I’m worried that Hungarians are being totally mislead. They are frustrated because 20 years after communism failed and almost 10 years after they joined the EU they are still not there where the Austrian and the Germans (economically, socially and politically).

    I understand the frustration – but I’m afraid the failure partly comes from not doing it well enough, and this needs to be recognized. Otherwise all this is going to end in tragedy: they could turn into a terribly isolated, “angry and ridiculous country”, as Bokros has recently put it.

    (Deep down, many Hungarians know that Western culture hasn’t failed – otherwise they wouldn’t try to send their kids to the West to work, to university, they wouldn’t like to find work and settle there themselves. But people seem to be very confused.)

  2. “I assume that by now the politicians of the European Union fully understand whom they are dealing with.”

    Oh, I think they have known it for a long time! 😀
    The question is: how do they prove it, and what are they going to do about it?

    It is not in the EU’s interest for a member state to leave. For various reasons. Orban knows this, so he knows he has space to manuevre for some time.

    Orban never really planned to leave the EU, and Hungarians don’t really want it to happen. But what with all the propaganda, more and more people are beginning to believe that they would be a heroic, brave nation to carry on fighting with the EU – or even to loosen up the membership.

    I have read somewhere on a blog that “we stood out from the previous camp, we stand out from this camp – who had a better life then? its going to be the same case now.”
    They referred to goulash communism, but they failed to see the difference that being an EU member is voluntary. If you don’t want to keep the rules, you don’t stay and start a freedom fight – you leave.

    A small country like Hungary can lose its good reputation painfully easily. It might be offensive to see Orban being shown as an angry little clown on German TV – but what did he expect? That he can attack, provoke and call everybody an idiot – and the Europeans will not eventually withdraw their good-will?

  3. I can’t believe my ears hearing the same things as in my mandatory “Pol Gaz” (Political Economics) in college in the 80’s. This is the mirror image of communist brain wash rhetorics. Evil capitalists in cylinder hats, sitting on big sacks with a huge dollar sign on them, taking you money in form of extra-profits. The luxury profit is pretty funny. I think the breakdown is like expenses/profit/extra-profit/luxury-profit/orbans-bank-account.

    Now knowing how well this works on the average Joe and Mary in the Land of The Goulash I began to think that the country believed in Janos Kadar and the greatness of the socialism the same way. That 800,000 members of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party (MSZMP) were real believers not capitalists after all. Probably the same people.

  4. “… real believers not capitalists”. Make it “real believers not careerists“.

  5. Orbán feeds on the combat with the EU. In Hungary, intellectually he does not have a similar fight with anyone, so he gets bored. He loves to fight and attack and create strategies.

    In Hungary the opposition is full of conformist bores, intellectually no match to him. Try to remember what he did during opposition: one action, another, every day agressive carpet bombing of the media with condemnation of this and that, attacking on various fronts (national referndum, demonstartion, media attacks what have you).

    Currently for him It’s like playing chess with a four year old. For a great player it’s not very exciting. With the EU, it’s better. It does not matter if he has to retreat in minuscule issues, he will sell it as a proper compromise all wise person has to enter into. His upporters will just love hime more. He just can’t lose.

    The EU could only win this war if it was not the EU.

    But like in the tale with the frog and the scorpion, the scorpion says that he just can’t help it that is his nature, the EU also can’t help it, it is just its nature to be ineffective, divided, beholden to dozens of other interests, bound by cumbersome procedures to name a few overt issues.

  6. Actually EU ‘s frustration is not with Orbán (I don’t think they specifically care about Orbán that much, any more than about Ponta), but rather with itself, that the EU is so incapable to discipline a rogue member state, and try as they might , the EU is a loughing stock of impotency.

    The funniest thing is that there are these new positions like Rompuy’s and that lady’s in external relations (I seriously can’t remember her name, but who can?) or what, during the last two years I don’t think I even read their names in the FT or the Economist, that is how effective they and the EU are.

  7. Hypothesis: now that foreign investors have been sufficiently deterred, it would make ‘sense’ to organize the takeover of a number of big companies by some national friends, through junk loans blessed by a puppet MNB. Wouldn’t Hungary become more Hungarian? Obviously it would also be bankrupt before the end of the decade, Argentinian style. At that point, amidst critical civil unrest, just blame everything on the damn külföldiek and get out of the EU.

    Now, to achieve this you need to control a significant part of the banking sector. Watch out for the next step.

  8. Eva: “any profit above that was a sign of capitalistic excess and exploitation. Unfortunately, one can still hear the term far too often.”

    Exactly. Across the political spectrum. This is what I mean when it say that there is a problem if transition is managed by ex-Communists. Most of them, even with undoubted leanings towards the West, have come too close to Marxist, politically cynical and power driven thinking.

  9. Marcel, I guess all foreigners would be happy to leave in an instant if they were offered some kind of money (like EON was), some would leave for much smaller amounts.

    Essentially no energy and service assets are saleble except to the Russians, who at least have the gas and oil and enriched uranium so they can always protect their investments in Hungary and elsewhere.

    I know it for a fact that many international investment banks don’t even bother to put together a slide show if they get a RFP (request for proposal) from a multinational investor hoping to unload Hungarian assests (bank, energy company etc.), as very simply no Hungarian asset can be sold separately (only if the entire CEE-package is sold and the Hungarian assets are part of the package; even in that case there are efforts to handle the Hungarian assets separately).

    Contrary to Russian investors, investors from Western countries have the EU’s procedures after procedures to protect them. Thank you very much.

    With Fidesz, always follow the money and you can figure what they want in every policy idea.

    Rest assured that MNB’s cheap loans will be used for building yet another bunch of hotels. I guess the new ones will be health-related hotels intended for Kuwaiti patiets, whereas before it was wellness hotels with giant pools. It does not mater, all this is just marketing bullshit, the aim is to build anything (steal half of the budget) and let someone manage the resulting hotel, it does not really matter once they have half the budget. Also the loans will be used by certain companies to purchase others (so that certain investors of the target companies could exit their current investments).

  10. Eva: “I assume that by now the politicians of the European Union fully understand whom they are dealing with. Orbán is cunning, combatative, and ruthless.”

    The most direct way how to replace OV and Fidesz is still – at the voting booths. Arithmetically this is possible. People would have to appear and to vote accordingly. So, some EU officials have doubtless learned their lesson up to now (others will have had no doubts already in 2010, because there were numerous people warning, btw also warning Hungarians and getting as an answer: Be not afraid, Orban will not dismantle democracy.), but that does not change anything in the assessment who has to move the most (if that is too cryptical: the Hungarian voter).

    But as regards the EU, my impression is that there are several aspects mixed up. The first is: the EU and all its limitations. That is a serious problem, and to remedy this, Europeans (in all member states) should be more willing to think about potential avenues of how to make the EU more potent. The general experience is that most people are sceptical of more integration (not only in Hungary), and they do not believe that workable solutions can be found for integration of the heterogenous European nations. This is very much a problem (remember the EU constitution), but stating the obvious without being willing to transfer more rights to Brussels (but which ones, is that not “dictatorship” etc.) does not contribute much to a solution of it.

    Another aspect of the uneasiness with the “EU” does not appear to be related exactly to the EU but more to how Western democracies function currently and about the role of big business in running the economies and the state. It is easy to understand that some people feel that participation, democratic decision making or the quality of public infrastructure have been less important than “verdicts” of the financial markets, pressures towards austerity, savings of banks and so forth. But as Cheshire cat also wrote, “democracy” and “market coordination” can take a number of forms, and it is seldom heard that protestors in the West would – because of their criticism of the too large role of some businesses for running the state or too little consideration for the needs of the broad public – discard democracy, participation and ask for even more power in the hands of a few (politicians in this case). So I would concur that there is a crisis of the specific shape of the market or “capitalism”, but not in the general idea of that democracy, participation, decentralised decision making, rule of the law, and rule by the people as the most appropriate form of government. Unfortunately, OV is exploiting uneasiness of people with some aspects of the current economic and political system for strengthening his personal power. (And people appear to believe that this is a “solution”.)

    And last point: I have no doubts that deep down Hungarians are still quite Western oriented. The comparison is still being made with Austria, Germany etc., so until I hear: “When will we finally have Russian or Kazak living standards”, I trust this confusion about where Hungary belongs will be worked out eventually.

  11. I have lived here for ten years. Amongst my current circle of acquaintances I know almost nobody who doesn’t have an (at least mildly) xenophobic worldview. I know no-one who is not planning to vote Fidesz or Jobbik at the next election. And I know nobody who is not rabidly against the European Union (and ALL Hungarians, ringmastered by the ‘traitor’ Imre Kertesz(!), who have LEFT Hungary) .

    What does this tell us?

    Two things.

    One, that non-Fidesz voters now feel utterly unable to honestly express their political views in public.

    Two, that brainwashing (especially with a monolingual population) seriously works.

  12. There is an argument by Nancy Bermeo in her book “Ordinary people in extraordinary times. The Citizenry and the Breakdown of Democracy” that is as follows: “I show that…mass defections to extremist parties are rare. Where support for extremist parties does rise, it is often the result of either an expansion of the franchise or the mobilisation of nonvoters. Those who have attributed the breakdown of democracy to popular defections have mistaken changes in the composition of the electorate for changes in mind and heart.” And also: In countries where “public polarisation ran high, the responsibility for democratic breakdown lay with elites as well. Sometimes, their own democratic convictions were so weak that they used public polarisation as a rationalisation for creating their own authoritarian regime.” (The cases that are studied are interwar Europe and South America after WWII).
    From that I am confident that even if people do not say so in public, there are still sufficient people who could be mobilised against OV and for a return to democracy, and second, that the most important thing is to gather those people who want change in NEW organisations and not in those where democratic convictions have also been (demonstrated to be) also quite weak.

  13. Ivan, I guess your friends are happy and like what they live in. Good for them. Ther are a lot of such people, it seems.

    And the nice thing is that people voted for the left because of the money they received in the form of increase pensions etc. (not because of any enthusism for ideology), with the right they get the votes even if people are altogether much worse-off and even then more so. The worse the situation is, the more nationalistic and more anti-capitalistic peopel get which is just great for Fidesz/Jobbik Fidesz deep down is also a nationalistic and strongly etatist party, if somewhat less so than Jobbik, which is outright Nazi, Fidesz is a tad, just a tad less socialistic). It is a win-win for Fidesz.

    In fact, I would say that the default ideology/politics in Hungary is a strongly right leaning position (especially in election systems where Budapest cannot compansate for the conservatism and backwardness of the country) and any leftist government must be seen as an anomaly.

    Why does Hungary have to like Germany, Austria or France, where government of differing ideology change places regularly. Hungary may be like the one-party states like Alabama or California or Japan or Mexico (sure there were very short periods with other parties, but not for long)?

    I agree with your consequences, though.

    Brainwashing works. The left always thought that the media does not matter and that they have it anway, now they lost it for 20 years and the problem is that you can’t go back to the point where you left it, you may change the situation only in the future where even more people will hold crazy views; and it will be yet another 20 years just to get back to where people were 10 years ago re EU, democracy, market economy etc.

    The lack of vision and foresight on the left are nothing short of astonishing.

    I am pretty sure that a lot of voters – who would normally like to vote for the left – simply want to punish the left for their absolute political incompetence and being an unmitigated wuss without any imagination and charisma.

  14. @Hetman, I think you’re right 100 %!

    I just asked my wife – she is sure that no one in her family voted for Fidesz and most of them are not in Budapest but mostly live in a small town in the East …

    But probably several family members didn’t vote at all in 2010 because they were so disappointed with the left – including SZDSZ and LMP.

    Their frustration is obvious when they talk about politics (which doesn’t happen too often) – last time was while we were watching one of those political broadcasts on ATV. I really like those though my wife has to explain what they’re talking about – the minister with that “red/blue spot” thing was really funny …

  15. Oh, and lest you think peole will vote for Fidesz because of cheaper chimney sweeping fees and/or electricity prices. No.

    But this sustained campaign on utility fees reinforces people’s view that Fidesz is on the side of the average joes and not on the side of big bad corporations. And that it is Fidesz and not MSZP which cares about the little people.

    It is an image campaign and not direct voters’ purchase campaign (although I guess we will see that one too, when they will increase the salary of teachers or the pensions; after all 70% of the polled think it would be absolutely justified to increase the pensions, as people deserve it).

    So, MSZP or Bajnai will have a long way to persuade people that it would be better than Fidesz or Jobbik for the average people.

    There is a well-known behavioral effect in play here. The price reductions are very concrete and very easy to imagine. You get the yellow invoice (you imagin the chimney or the flowing water) and the figure is smaller. At least you have that. But to imagine that the “economy” as such will get better and that you may perhaps find a new job is just too vague and diffuse to imagine. People naturally prefer something concrete.

    Hungary is a country of poor people. They are uneducated too. You can write libraries about policy issus like Bajnai does on his blog, but that will not make a lick of difference.

  16. Mechanist:

    “there are these new positions like Rompuy’s and that lady’s in external relations (I seriously can’t remember her name, but who can?) or what, during the last two years I don’t think I even read their names in the FT or the Economist, that is how effective they and the EU are.”

    I think you mean Catherine Ashton? 🙂 Ashton is a commissioner (or “high representative”), the commission is the executive arm of the EU. The civil service, if you like. They are politicians but they simply draw up policies, then supervise the member states. The decisions are mostly made by the Parliament and the Council.

    Rompuy is the president of the council, and I have read his name in the Economist 🙂

    What we often don’t realize is that the most important decisions are made by the council of government members of member states. Prime ministers or financial ministers etc. So it’s not “Brussels” who makes decisions, it’s the prime ministers of 27 countries who meet IN Brussels.
    Of course, in every member state, politicians like to pretend that “Brussels” is the evil law- maker, who dumps stupid legislations on their heads, out of nowhere.

    Orban also mentioned the EU’s “otletecskek” (little ideas) about Hungary’s economy. People will not remember the country-specific recommendations that the financial ministers, among them Matolcsy voted for and promised to carry out, which then the EP also voted for – no, we have absolutely nothing to do with those silly little beaurocrats over there.

  17. punish the left for their absolute political incompetence and being an unmitigated wuss without any imagination and charisma.

    Sounds like a call for a Hollywood blockbuster or a hyped fad brand product that everyone can be demagouged into wanting, instead of competent, honest, democratic governance. So if this is not just Carpathian Basement Barbarism then maybe it’s the harbinger of the death-knell of democracy in the pervasive media age.

  18. @Hetman
    Fascinating possible explanations.Thank you. There is certainly an innate conservatism, set up by the educational system, that understandably only the right is able to tap into. Enforced patriotism, for example. Glazed-eyed standing for the anthem at New Year, for example, is not actually powerful at all, since one is not allowed to dissent.
    One of the stranger commonly-held beliefs is that the media is left-wing, which is palpable nonsense, but not palpable here. If one wants to dissent, therefore, it is towards Barikad and its increasingly large stable of rival far-right publications.

    @Kirsten
    Certainly, closer in time to the start of democracy, some actively and openly supported other parties (SZDSZ in particular). But they have learned ‘the error of their ways’ and are now more ‘patriotic’.
    For British people in particular, with a social tradition of respectfully disagreeing with their circle of friends (but not taking it personally) it’s all very weird. Maybe Hungary just lack a Wollstonecraft, a Godwin (or even a Mandela) in their history? Maybe it’s as simple as that. But pluralism is certainly not seen as a good thing.
    I think it’s all to do with the 2002 election – when symbols, such as the rosette, were seized by Fidesz as party symbols. It was decreed an unpatriotic act to even think of voting against Fidesz. Viktor lost, but the seeds were sown. There’s a documentary movie, I believe, about how families and marriages were ripped apart by this. I can certainly testify as to the truth of that movie. It’s all immensely sad.

  19. Ivan, I continue to believe that people actively desire and expect a community (ie. more or less nationalism) in times when they are anxious and have personal time to be anxious (are not preoccupied with consuming stuff, building houses etc. — as they lack jobs and loans).

    I think it’s a consequence of capitalism in general (so most people are actually anxious most of the time), and as it currently affects Hungary in particular. To these challenges the leftist/liberal side in Hungary has no real response whatsoever. In fact there is no leftist ideology at all in Hungary. Leftism perhaps appears as a middle of the road pragmatism as an approach to the world, but other than that there is nothing (and this is absolutely insufficient for people to get enthusiastic about it).

    Jobbik’s politics (and the very emergence of the party) is as much anti-capitalistic as it is nationalistic (which anti-capitalism in pre-WWII-Hungary manifested itself in a direct desire to obtain the wealth and assets of Jewish Hungarians, through the killing of them if need be; these days it appears as the desire to take wealth from the multinationals, as there is no indigenous, identifiable class of capitalists, enterpreneurs; happened also with the Chinese diaspora in South-east Asia or with the Muslim minorities in South-Asia). So the two are intertwined and sold as a package.

    I do believe that the statement “to be a democrat means not to be afraid” (demokratának lenni mindenekelőtt annyit tesz, mint nem félni) as Hungarian thinker István Bibó said holds true. However I would interpret it (even against Bibo’s words, as the above reference is only a first part of his statement) so that people can only be a democrat and embrace democracy if he/she is not afraid (anxious) about the world (capitalism, his/her personal future in a declining Hungary). Can stand up as a someone who can (dares to) face the world as it comes to him/her. Democracy is itself a diffuse state with competition, elections with uncertain outcomes and consequences, which is contrary to the human nature which, these days at least it seems to me, seeks reassurance and protection. Since most people cannot be strong and self-assured enough, people will continue to seek protection and power from the (imagined) community which nationalism and weird subcultures (like rovás-írás writers etc.) provide for them. Thus Fidesz and Jobbik are inherently better positioned to grab people’s world than the left is. All this would not be a huge issue in Western-Europe where I don’t see much ideological contests between mainstream parties, but it is certainly a huge problem in Hungary where even a mainstream party (like Fidesz) is in fact a radical, national-socialistic party, in a system in which the ruling party itself is the most important state organisation (instead of the branches of government).

  20. I understand that it is tempting currently to stress all the influences that make Hungary structurally conservative. And yet, as it is true also that MSzP won three elections after 1989 and lost after a personal and political disaster, perhaps explanations that focus on the actual failure of the left should be taken seriously also. And only because now OV seems to be so powerful, does not mean people will remember they are ‘structurally conservative’ when the economic miracles will fail to materialise. So instead of searching for further explanations why Hungarians might prefer to fall behind their neighbours in terms of living standards, I think it makes sense to think about how democratic alternatives to Fidesztan should look like and how cooperation between the democratic opposition should be brought about.

  21. I think I wrote it implicitly, but write it explicitly also: think about democratic alternatives that are attractive for the voter also. Because who values democracy, would typically not stress the ‘insecurity’ stemming from changing governments but quite on the contrary the ‘security’ stemming from the trust that individual rights are respected and that ‘bad’ governments can be routinelly replaced (not only after revolutions or other mass mobilisation). So whatever ‘security’ people believe to feel in an autocracy, I believe this is very much related to the insecurity they feel because so few people from the ‘elite’ are able to responsibly work towards broad majorities, balancing of interests etc.

  22. Dear Eva I agree with the title”Viktor Orbán’s ongoing fight with the European Union. It’s time to end it!”.

    The questions is how and when, but mainly how. I did not see or hear ideas, which in my opinion would work.

  23. Ron :

    Dear Eva I agree with the title”Viktor Orbán’s ongoing fight with the European Union. It’s time to end it!”.

    The questions is how and when, but mainly how. I did not see or hear ideas, which in my opinion would work.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. I think EU should stop cut the convergence subsidies. Or stop them altogether. Orbán doesn’t understand anything else.

  24. To all those people wondering how Fidesz pulled off wins in those two by-elections….the answer is not readily available to the modern mind. Simply, it comes from Fidesz’ success
    in totally brow-beating (also try, ‘intimidating’, and ‘outright threatening’) the populace. Fidesz (Orban) has succeeded in making people aware that if there’s opposition at the local level, it transforms itself into a myriad of problems for their schools, their sanitation, in the form of local developmental funds, or lack of it, from the central government. This is the reality that has come home to the average Hungarian wherever he lives in the country.

    Esztergom has served its purpose. By golly, it might be embarrassing in western Europe, but in Hungary, it has driven fear into the hearts and minds of the people. Kafka’s world.

  25. Addendum..

    Opposing the very real threats of Fidesz, we have the political promises of the opposition…of ‘democracy again’…Problem is, it has been made abundantly clear the Orban has filled government positions with Fidesz members for NINE YEARS and that aboslute mayhem will follow an opposition victor. ‘Who wants that? Better to stay with Fidesz…’

    Now try and find a way to fight out of that little trap that the wiley coyote, Orban, has constructed…

  26. “I think EU should stop cut the convergence subsidies. Or stop them altogether. Orbán doesn’t understand anything else.”

    I agree that the EU should do something radical soon.

    If they had done something like that 1-2 years ago, most Hungarians, even most Fidesz voters would have sobered up, because they didn’t want to leave the EU.
    But as his anti-EU propaganda strengthens, more people will think that they’d rather leave the EU than “being treated like this”.

    The EU’s opinion is that the more radical steps they take, the stronger the anti-EU sentiment grows in Hungary.
    But the anti-EU sentiments are growing by the day anyway – Orban stirs it because while Hungarians are busy critizising the EU, they are not noticing the dangers of his politics.

    I’m not sure Hungary will not end up leaving the EU one way or another, eventually.

  27. We must not only consider the direct EU money to Hungary (every day when we go for a walk we see a lot of signs: financed with a grant from the EU …)

    Leaving the EU and its economic system would be surely terrible for Hungary’s economy. I just read somewhere that one quarter of Hungary’s exports is to Germany alone (can’t remember the amount in € though) – for most of these products we could find other suppliers in the EU. So where would Hungary sell their products if they no longer have the EU advantage in taxes, duties etc ?

    I’m sure German companies would think twice about buying from a “renegade country” …

  28. Sorry it’s in Hungarian, but the Council of foreign ministers made a decision today on giving the green light to the idea by the Germans, Finns, Danes and Dutch, and asked the commission to establish new legislation by which members states can be punished for breaking the Copenhagen Criteria (about basic values of democracy).

    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130422_EU_kulugyminiszter_Reding_ertekek

    I have heard from Finns that in their opinion this is all quite simple: you either keep the rules about democracy as an EU member state – or you don’t. If you don’t, you have to leave. So their foreign minister at least is representing them.

    By the way Wolfi – I know every town centre is full of these signs in Hungary: “funded by the EU”. But strictly speaking, the EU is not too happy about using the money for infrastructure, especially not for town infrastructure.
    They would prefer to see it used for education, research and innovation, things that will bring money later in return. No doubt Hungarian town dwellers are happy to see new fountains and statues on the main square, but that’s like investing money into buying a new car instead of financing your studies or start a new business. The fountains will need constant looking after and renovating, so the money will lose its value without “giving birth” to more. I know for a fact that people in some well-informed net contributor member states are losing their patience with the Hungarian “main squares”.

  29. Wolfi, the strong involvement not only of German firms, and the general openness of Hungary regarding foreign trade and tourism for me makes it unlikely that there will be an outright exit from the EU. (German companies in particular will think twice to leave in my impression. Only think of how costly it would be for Audi to withdraw from the investment in Györ, and that very recently a German firm announced new investment in Kecskemet.)

    But anyway, how should this look like in practice that a country completely surrounded by EU countries will all of the sudden cut all ties? Do you expect OV to re-introduce visa and send the army to the borders? Send foreigners home? Perhaps I lack imagination but for me everything that goes beyond suspending voting rights and stopping EU projects appears to be even more madness than leaving OV in place. He has taken his country hostage and he is annoying the EU immensely, but he will fail with all his crony feudalism. For me the greatest shock is to what extent people believe in OV’s almightiness. He is also only a man.

  30. Eva S. Balogh :
    Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. I think EU should stop cut the convergence subsidies. Or stop them altogether. Orbán doesn’t understand anything else.

    Yeah… Stop the money flow, regardless if Hungary abides by all EU laws… stop it because I don’t like Orbán. How democratic.
    (For those who claim that Hungary violates EU laws, please show which one. Because the EU has so far failed to do so. “Dismantling democracy” and the likes are pure political statements, not legal.)

  31. cheshire cat :
    I know for a fact that people in some well-informed net contributor member states are losing their patience with the Hungarian “main squares”.

    Sure. Those people are not worried about the billions of Euros sent to the Greek, the Portugese, the Cyprian… no. They are worried about a few fountains in Hungary.

  32. Ivan :
    I have lived here for ten years. Amongst my current circle of acquaintances I know almost nobody who doesn’t have an (at least mildly) xenophobic worldview. I know no-one who is not planning to vote Fidesz or Jobbik at the next election. And I know nobody who is not rabidly against the European Union (and ALL Hungarians, ringmastered by the ‘traitor’ Imre Kertesz(!), who have LEFT Hungary) .
    What does this tell us?
    Two things.
    One, that non-Fidesz voters now feel utterly unable to honestly express their political views in public.
    Two, that brainwashing (especially with a monolingual population) seriously works.

    This will come as no surprise to regular readers, but my experience in Hungary pretty much matches what Ivan reports.

  33. cheshire cat :

    Sorry it’s in Hungarian, but the Council of foreign ministers made a decision today on giving the green light to the idea by the Germans, Finns, Danes and Dutch, and asked the commission to establish new legislation by which members states can be punished for breaking the Copenhagen Criteria (about basic values of democracy).

    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130422_EU_kulugyminiszter_Reding_ertekek

    I have heard from Finns that in their opinion this is all quite simple: you either keep the rules about democracy as an EU member state – or you don’t. If you don’t, you have to leave. So their foreign minister at least is representing them.

    That is a very important step.

  34. Kirsten :
    Johnny, the EU is a political club.

    Wrong. The EU grew out of the European Coal and Steel Community, what was purely an economic federation, later called European Economic Community. An overwhelming majority of EU legislation is about money. Why not get familiar with that we’re talking about in the first place?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_European_Union
    And here we’re talking about EU funds after all. It is all about a common market, to bond states together by economic interest to, among some other secondary reasons, prevent war.
    And it is a very ignorant claim that “Orbán wants money, he should bow.” No. Convergence funds are not alms. Hungary, in return, agreed to abolish toll and open its own market to EU products. Convergence funds are common EU interest.
    To suspend funds granted by law, on some extremist political reasons, are not more than ridiculous ramblings.

  35. Johnny, I learned from OV that Hungary has so many resources on its own that the EU money is certainly not necessary to build fountains.

    To Cheshire cat: What also makes me believe that the Western orientation of Hungary is still there is that Johnny, but also OV are trying to explain to us and to the EU that it is actually “democracy” that they created.

  36. Johnny, if you wish to indulge in twisting of words and thoughts, I am sure you will find grateful listeners in all those people in Hungary who are so taken by “original Hungarian thought”.

  37. @Johnny Boy ” Stop the money flow, regardless if Hungary abides by all EU laws… stop it because I don’t like Orbán.”

    Don’t make yourself ridiculous. For months now we have been talking about all the laws in the new amended constitution that are incompatible with EU laws.

  38. Johnny, go and tell lies to someone stupid, not me.

    The EU has made it very clear, in fact many times in the past 3 years, what exact laws Hungary has been breaking. The EU Commission has won legal cases against the country. What other proof do you need?

    “To suspend funds granted by law, on some extremist political reasons, are not more than ridiculous ramblings.”

    Suspending funds is perfectly in line with EU legislation, eg as part of the six-pack legislation. Orban’s government not only voted for and accepted the six-pack legislation, but actively and openly FOUGHT for it during the Hungarian presidency. Look up the recording of the press conferences when Matolcsy vehemently argued for it.
    The EU have been doing nothing but complied with the rules that Orban’s government wanted.

  39. “But anyway, how should this look like in practice that a country completely surrounded by EU countries will all of the sudden cut all ties?”

    Interestingly, Hungary is not completely surrounded by EU countries.
    If you look at the map, from the Ukraines, Serbia and Croatia, Hungary stands rather exposed. (Croatia is going to join now.)

    “Do you expect OV to re-introduce visa and send the army to the borders?”

    I guess he will have to!
    It’s not that unimaginable, about 15 years ago that was the norm.
    Just as 15 years ago, if someone said that once in, Hungary will want to consider leaving the EU and turn away from the West, it would have sounded rather mad – but here we are.

  40. CC, are you right on the geography of course. Serbia has candidate status, but the Ukraine is an argument I cannot dismiss. Very tempting example to follow.

  41. Hungarian people would vote for leaving the EU if given the option in a referendum.

    They may regret it later and punish those who raised the issue in the first place, but people are like that, they are not consistent.

    People are very discontent and at present they would express this discontent not against Fidesz, but against the EU or the left.

    I think it would be good to leave, probably people would want to get admitted again (when they realised the problems) within 10-20 years, but the EU would be tougher during negotiations.

  42. London Calling!

    There’s hope yet! Johnny Boy step-by-step educates himself by researching his responses!

    And he surely has to modify them before the final version?

    Surely he can’t believe his skewed idea of what EU membership involves.

    Slowly slowly the blind Fideszian sees the light. Real slow though – extremely slow!

    I’m encouraged that the ‘Copenhagan Commission’ is slowly forming after a long slow gestation – but quicker than Johnny Boy’s (Girl maybe? As we discussed?) understandings.

    Regards

    Charlie

  43. London Calling!

    O/T 100%

    Can you help please?

    I really resent paying Matolcsy’s transaction tax – I’d rather donate the two quid to charity. I’ve been quite successful in limiting the 27% vat by purchasing outside Hungary of course, but the transaction tax is unavoidable.

    Surely, if it is unavoidable in Hungary – then it must be illegal according to EU rules – after all you don’t pay it when you change currency elsewhere in Europe.

    All the currency changers in Gyor offer the same exchange rates – there is NO competition! It is surely a cartel. You may get .5 of a forint for larger sums – but it is clear they all move together and its a stitched up cartel in Győr at least.

    The Banks clearly make a nice slice in the difference between the currencies – the Transaction tax just gets up my nose!

    Is it possible to avoid it?

    On my way to Hungary – I pass through Germany and Austria. Is it viable to change GBP for HUF there?

    Where do you buy your currency – if you do?

    I’d be most interested in by-passing this iniquitous tax – however small.

    Regards

    Charlie

  44. Charlie, the banking transaction tax is payable by the bank. That is the trick, most people already forgot about the whole thing.

    You pay higher bank fees because the banks obviously increased their fees charges to customers to compensate for these new taxes.

    But then you blame the foreign banks hell-bent on exploiting the poor Hungarian custumers, increasing their fees, brrrr. We need cheap Hungarian banks. Yes.

    You should have a foreign account and corresponding foreign bank cards with which you can pay in Hungary in almost every legit business (and paying by credit cards usually does not incur fees on a per transaction basis at your foreign issuer bank). But then you pay more because of the fx exchange.

    There is no real way to avod the tax other than to leave Hungary altogether or pay and receive payment in cash (if you receive to an account and then you want to take it out, the bank is liable to pay the tax, so they all increased their ATM and cash take-out fees).

  45. London Calling!

    Kcroo – you are wrong. Have you changed currency lately?

    On my last recent transaction it’s shown as ‘Tranzakcios dij HUF Magjar Forint 695.00’ – and is added after the transaction workings.

    If it’s not meant to be added – it certainly is!

    And I like the precision – 695.00 forint – as if fillér are still used!

    Thanks for the information – I’m not giving up yet!

    Regards

    Charlie

  46. and btw – on each exchange ‘window’ is displayed a tiny square of paper – telling you that you have to pay a transaction tax!

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