Hungarians are not happy with the Putin-Orbán agreement on the Paks reactors

Well, it seems that for perhaps the first time in almost four years Viktor Orbán may be running into serious political difficulties on at least two counts. One is the government’s handling of the Memorial Holocaust Year, which has caused an international outcry by Jewish organizations as well as historians of the period. The second is his decision to make a deal with Vladimir Putin for the Russian state-company Rosatom to build two new nuclear reactors in Paks.

The Russian government will provide a loan of 10 billion euros which Hungary will have to pay back in thirty years. Although we know nothing of the details, we are supposed to believe János Lázár’s claim that the agreement just signed in total secret “is the business deal of the century.” In fact, the deal was so secretive that even László Kövér learned about it only after the fact. And to make sure that no one will know any of the details for at least a decade, Sándor Pintér, minister of interior,  immediately declared the negotiations and their accompanying documents a state secret.

Not everybody is happy on the right. Kövér, perhaps the best known anti-communist in the bunch, was apparently disgruntled but, being a good soldier, kept his anger to himself. Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, “the independent” political scientist at Nezőpont, initially said that many of Orbán’s supporters were surprised that the two reactors will be built from a massive Russian loan “because Viktor Orbán for a long time used anti-Russian rhetoric.” But since Kövér said nothing publicly, soon enough Mráz was writing articles supporting the brilliant idea of cooperation with Putin’s Russia.

Heti Válasz wasn’t exactly taken with the deal and rightly pointed out that “Paks is not a simple business deal.” Building the two new reactors “is a geopolitical concern.” And András Lányi, a faithful supporter of Fidesz and adviser to Viktor Orbán, thinks that Paks is “bad business and poses an unacceptable risk.”

At last we also know what Hungarian citizens think because Medián’s poll, taken between January 24 and 28–that is, about two weeks after Viktor Orbán’s visit to Moscow, was just released. The first surprise for me at least was that 82% of the population knows about Paks. One might say that, given the importance of this piece of news, the figure is not all that high. However, given the total lack of interest of the Hungarian population about anything political, I think this is not a bad result and shows the concern of Hungarians over a questionable decision that was thrust upon them.

Half of the population (51%) agrees that new reactors are necessary as a supplement to the existing ones. However, the Russian connection is controversial. Those who oppose it are in the majority (56%); only a third of the population supports it. As shown in diagram #1, half of the Fidesz voters support the Russian deal. (In the summer of 2012 only 25% of them supported a reactor built with Russian technology, which demonstrates the power of government propaganda.)

Paks abra1Diagram #2 shows the results of a question about receiving news of the Putin-Orbán agreement. Were people very, somewhat, or not at all surprised hearing the news? Seventy percent of even Fidesz voters were very or somewhat surprised. By contrast, all of LMP’s (I supposed one could call them naive) supporters were surprised; none thought that such Russian-Hungarian cooperation could possibly occur. Another interesting figure concerns those who are undecided voters (elkötelezetlen;  second from the bottom). Their figures are closer to the responses of the opposition parties than those of Fidesz-KDNP voters, which strengthens my conviction that the majority of the undecided voters leans toward the opposition rather than toward the government party.

Paks abra2Diagram #3 is the most important one. Here Medián asked whether people would support holding a plebiscite on the future of Paks and the further use of nuclear energy. The answer is clear: 59% the population as a whole supports holding such a plebiscite. Even Fidesz voters.

Paks abra3In light of these figures I have the feeling that Viktor Orbán miscalculated the effect of his “business deal of the century” and made a big mistake in forcing it through before the election. He rather cockily told Professor John Lukacs that “I would bet a lot that on the question of Russian relations the day after the election there will be perfect agreement.” Of course, that is, if Fidesz wins the election. But given the significant rejection of the Russian connection and the even larger demand for a popular vote on the subject, the quickly signed agreement might have been a serious mistake from Fidesz’s point of view. The election might turn on the question of Paks. Some observers are already comparing the situation to the Horn government’s decision in 1998 to go ahead with the controversial Slovak-Hungarian treaty that obligated Hungary to build waterworks at Nagymaros after Hungary lost the case at the International Court of Justice. Without going into details, suffice it to say that the treaty originally signed by Czechoslovakia and Hungary played a large role in the political unrest in 1988-89. Some people claim that Horn’s decision to go ahead with the project played a  major role in the socialists’ defeat in the 1998 election. Orbán might find himself in a similar situation, which is largely due to his ever-growing self-confidence. In the last four years he managed to get away with everything and therefore abandoned all caution. But he might be running out of luck.


  1. Re: GW comment 32. I have my doubts whether the IMF would provide additional credits to Hungary without its standard oversight process, which many, many nations are very unhappy with. Especially as they relate to containment of social welfare spending. The IMF for example back in May said it found that Greece was making progress in overhauling its public finances and competitiveness. Then in the same report the IMF stated: “Very little progress has been made in tackling Greece’s notorious tax evasion, . . . the rich and self-employed are simply not paying their fair share,”

    Overall the IMF is not a great fighter against corruption as long as the bills are paid and spending is contained.

  2. Istvan,

    I agree entirely that, historically, the record of the IMF is blemished with regard to overlooking corruption. However, the oversight of the IMF is done at the will of the contributing states; the present unhappiness of many nations comes because, in recent years, those contributors are demanding higher standards of transparency which the IMF is now successfully demanding. The remarks you cite about Greece only highlight this and no doubt the Fidesz government feared precisely such oversight. But the basic facts remain clear: in terms of pure financial conditions, IMF loans are preferable to seeking credit on market terms, and the transparency that the IMF now not only requires on paper but follows through on, is a good thing. There is no fiscally responsible argument that can be made against those facts and the argument that going around the IMF is an assertion of sovereignty is not convincing: it is only a way of hiding corruption and incurring unnecessary additional debt due to more costly credits. This is really very much the difference between taking a loan from a bank and taking a loan from the local loan shark. Fidesz evidently prefers the loan shark.

  3. Mr. Paul :

    Jean P :
    @Mr. Paul: They can fire Áder as well.

    What do you mean? This could be interesting, please explain.

    All employments contracted by Fidesz can be retroactively cancelled.

  4. Paul: “come up with a watertight ‘proof’ that what Orbán has done is unconstitutional, or undemocratic, or against the EU treaty…”

    Unconstitutional could be difficult given the current constitution and the national creed, the other two points could be shown more easily but you need people who find that outrageous, and by that I mean outrageous to the point that they start to think about how to end this illegitimate state of affairs in very practical terms. You know from own experience that there are still enough people who consider what OV does completely legal, legitimate and admirable; I know from my experience that people who dislike what it going on prefer to just not care about politics (at least pretend to do so). The moment the tide turns, you will not need a proof of the unconstitutionality of what OV has done as people will “know”. The bigger problem then will be how to clean up the mess when people will demand “immediate change” which will be impossible precisely because of the mess, and because too many people have somehow been involved in it. For me the existence of an alternative agenda, including how to bridge the divisions in the society, is the basis of change. To declare the system “illegal”, which somehow implies that too many people were engaged in illegal actions, is no basis for a more open and balanced society. You will start to divide once again.

  5. Paul is right – only a major annulment of post-2010 legislation would break the dominion – what is so terribly worrying is the response this would provoke on the Right, looking at the situation in the Ukraine as an example of what can happen when democracy breaks down. I really wonder what Jobbik’s role is in all of this… their permeable relations with Fidesz, the way their party locks down a Right majority *even though* a majority of voters want a change. Worrying times.

  6. Paul, whoever, you are delusional.

    No leftist politicians would ever dare to do such an annulment. You have no idea how these people think. Both Gyurcsany and Bajnai have been consistently saying that they would live with the current Basic Law, the constitutional court made up of almost without exception loyal fidesz party commissioners (they will hand a nice present to the government just before the election on the forex mortgage contracts) and the whole constitutional structure of the Fidesz regime. Because that is dictated by the respect for the rule of law, you see.

    MSZP has even less legal acumen, they are extremely conformist and always shy away from conflicts. In addition, they just do not have the embeddedness in the legal community to carry out such a thing as most lawyers are conservative by nature and support Fidesz or Jobbik anyway (whether they work at the universities or with the courts or as attorneys). And MSZP knows that. MSZP, in addition, is forever afraid that they will branded as ‘communist revolutionaries’ (i.e. the same old commies, nothing changes) as they are even now in rural places where MSZP has zero traction. Communists are not welcome in small Hungarian towns. MSZP cannot ever proudly be leftists as deep down they have thoroughly internalized the blame for communism. Fidesz knows this and uses this against the left all the time.

    This has been talked about here, but I repeat that the left does not have the legal intellectual capabilities to carry out such an annulment and the related legal changes and secondly they would never have the bravity. You totally misunderstand them if you think that they even entertain such an idea.

    Leftists care about their professional and general reputation. E.g. Bajnai would do nothing which would diminish his stature in front of his American university pals, he is too afraid.

    Fidesz’ strength exactly comes from the fact that they do not care about their reputations abroad or in Hungary. Other EU conservatives will anyway need their votes in the EU Parliament, but in any case it is irrelevant what the Europeans think or say because they have no legal power to influence Fidesz. Fidesz long ago realized that what matters only is what happens in Hungary and there they own (i) the media, (ii) the legal infrastructure and (iii) the security services. Check-mate. In addition their voters base is not as the squeamish as that of the left so the right wing can always do whatever it wants because its support base will support it anyway. The leftists over-analyze everything and always lose confidence halfway because it is too ‘controversial’.

    Forget anything even remotely radical from the left, they are the most conformist people in the world. And that is exactly why they have lost: people are generally unhappy with the world and demand radical changes and they know that only Fidesz will delivere those to them. The left is incapable of daring and people see this weakness.

  7. Mendoza, a small correction. Bajnai indeed that he could live with the current constitution. Gyurcsány never said that. In fact he said exactly the opposite. The first thing is to get rid of the current constitution.

  8. Well, if Gyurcsany was alone he might dare to do it. But even he indicated in an interview that any potential governance would be zsákbafutás for the left and that they as well as Együtt and MSZP have thought of ways to circumvent the constitutional system. But I find these ‘ways’ implausible. Even during the Gyurcsany/Bajnai era the constitutional court made life very difficult for the government and now the court is nothing more than a fidesz local party branch, not to mention other issues in the system.

    In any case, it seems that all this is just a dream. Fidesz’ campaign is extremely effective so far and it has not even been campaigning that much (only through CÖF and the government). Needless to say Fidesz, the government and the local governments control all media. But the number of undecided voters is getting smaller and smaller and meanwhile Fidesz seems to be getting stronger and they are just getting started. More than a majority says according to Median that they would never vote for the left. If Fidesz repeats its result of 2010 (some 51% on the party list), it would get 75% in the Parliament.

  9. Eva: I’m just not sure how Gyurcsány would do that. Unfortunately, it is in granite legally without 2/3 which, let’s face it, not going to happen, especially not without Jobbik. You can try such an annulment if the country is in a revolutionary phase with let’s say 90% of the people in favor of it. That is also not the case. You can try maneuvers like having a referendum on the desire of the people to replace the constitution, but the outcome of such an act is also very questionable to say the least.

    At this point we haven’t talked about the opposition needing something to replace it with. I would except a spectacular show in trying to agree on such a fundamental thing and not in the good sense. Not to mention that the only way it could gain any legitimacy is to have a referendum on the new constitution and by the time that happens, their support helping them to victory in the first place might not even be there anymore. (Plus people really don’t like changing the constitution, there is a reason why Fidesz never even tried)

  10. Mendoza, the point I was making related to how hard it would be to go for annulment even if the ‘left’ had the bottle (and of course they don’t). I remember the response to the election in 2002 which the Right lost *fair and square* despite pumping the state media full of blatant propaganda. What’s at stake here is the potential for peaceful political change in Hungary… what is most likely is a situation similar to the Spain of the 1930s where one side just simply doesn’t show up. In this light, the next step after the election could be a Bethlen-Peyer pact where the Loyal Opposition are thrown the occasional scrap for being Good Dogs. You’re absolutely right – the lock that Fidesz has on domestic politics is dead tight, but it is control of a country which in certain regards can be considered a failing state. Events elsewhere will make or break Hungary as they did in the 30s, and for the first time in consecutive terms of office, Fidesz will encounter the consequences of its own actions. The party’s anally retentive grasp on power will enter a final phase of conflict with the need to absolve itself of responsibility. It will be ugly.

  11. Just wanted to add quickly – the current opposition, one way or another, make Fidesz look better than they actually are. One way this has happened has been an adherence to the ‘centre’ of politics which has ceded so much traditional ground to Fidesz on the subject of public ownership. Another way is through strategic incoherence. They should be promising a new election in the autumn (or next spring at latest) combined with a referendum on a new constitution.

  12. whoever, good points, I agree almost entirely. Perhaps the new constitution I am not so sure about, I feel that people want peace not further upheaval, so you cannot win many points with that in any election. Fidesz did not say a word about its constitutional plans either, if you have the political power to do it, you do it, if you don’t, don’t. But the left would not do it even if it could.

    Just yesterday I was reminded by Gen. Franco, but I do not really know the era well, so I am still planning to read about it.

    I think Fidesz’ plan is the to step away just prior to the economic collapse so that if the opposition ever comes to power it will be forever blamed for the necessary austerity and tough decisions — especially as the media will continue to be owned by Fidesz, probably even more so than now, as they are planning to purchase all media to be sold in the coming years such as (and they can always make an offer the seller can’t refuse). But they can always blame the EU or the Americans, and carry out an Iranian-style election if necessary.

    If Fidesz does austerity (as it did) it can always sell it somehow, if the left does it it is “bloody restriction’, another “Bokros-package skinning the little joes’ and the leftists just stands there looking embarrassed. Leftists cannot do what the Fidesz spokespeople can. Which also means that the left always has to spend their political capital on economic issues, which means that they do not want to spend it further on issues like the rightist rewriting of history, they will never dare to touch that movement. They also ceded all issues symbolic to the right wing, which slowly but surely takes over the minds of the people. In fact already now right-wingers who never would vote for left are the majority. Only if the right is divided enough can a united left possibly win.

    I do agree that the issue for the next decades is not how Hungary will catch up to the West, as it cannot possibly do it, in fact it will lag further behind even its supposed CEE peers, but more like how to deal with this quasi failed state situation, like Southern-Italy which will be soon clear. In that sense Fidesz is a new system which successfully supplanted the ideal of a Western style state administration/political system. (This is not to say that I support the Mafia-analogy, because it does not go to the roots of the problem.)

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