An unusual debate on the new Hungarian nuclear plant: János Lázár and Benedek Jávor

The news from Russsia and Ukraine  is frightening. The major question now is whether Russia will be satisfied with the annexation of the Crimea or whether the Russian army will march in and occupy further territories at the “request” of the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Ukraine’s eastern provinces. I wonder what the Hungarian public will think if Russia manages to cut Ukraine in half and the Russian bear ends up quite a few kilometers closer to the Hungarian border. In addition, there are threatening Russian talks about Ukraine and its supply of natural gas, which naturally would affect the Hungarian energy supply. All this is happening in the wake of Viktor Orbán’s top-secret negotiations with Vladimir Putin about the expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant in Paks, which will increase Hungary’s energy dependence on Russia.

Viktor Orbán was in a great hurry to close this deal, most likely because he wanted ensure that it was voted on while he has a guaranteed two-thirds parliamentary majority. But then came Vladimir Putin’s gambit, which casts the Paks deal in a different light. As it is, the majority of the population doesn’t want to build another power plant and a whopping 75% of them are against the Russians building it. The couple of months spent by the Orbán government trying to influence public opinion in favor of Putin’s Russia didn’t manage to erase the negative feelings Hungarians have when they think of the country’s almost fifty-year occupation by the Russians. With the events in Ukraine these fears have received a new impetus, which makes Viktor Orbán’s situation concerning Paks even more difficult. According to some observers whose opinions I trust, “Paks is dead in the water.” But for the time being the government is sticking to its guns and Viktor Orbán is acting as if nothing has changed. They even agreed to a debate on the expansion of Hungary’s nuclear capacity built by Rosatom on money lent to Hungary from the Russian state. It is about this debate that I would like to say a few words.

As we know, there was no debate whatsoever on Paks prior to the signing of the agreement although there is a great deal of interest in the issue. So a student organization of law students at ELTE called Joghallgatók Önképző Szervezete (JÖSZ) organized a post-signing debate. The law students active in the association invited János Lázár, representing the government, and Benedek Jávor of Együtt2014/PM, who is a staunchly anti-nuclear Green, to have an open debate. How did the students manage to convince such an important man as Lázár to participate? Gáspár Orbán, the prime minister’s son, is one of the leaders of JÖSZ. He was among the students who were busily arranging the podium just before the actual debate.

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The interest was great. The large lecture hall was completely filled half an hour before the debate began. What was strange, and it says a lot about Hungarians’ attitude toward transparency, is that the debate was closed to the media as the result of a last-minute decision by the dean. Of course, reporters from several Internet news sites in addition to a journalist from Népszabadság managed to sneak in with fake IDs. Moreover, the whole debate, lasting longer than an hour, was recorded and is available online. But for those who don’t speak Hungarian here is a brief description of what transpired.

While Fidesz leaders might look very confident and can overwhelm their audience when delivering speeches, when they are supposed to engage in real debates they run out of steam. This is what happened to János Lázár.

Let’s start with the structure of the debate. There were three distinct parts. In the first part the topic was the circumstances of the agreement; in the second, questions concerning Russian-Hungarian relations were addressed to the participants; finally, in the third, the economic aspects of building a new power plant were discussed.

The debate began with Lázár, whose position was that nuclear capacity must be expanded because the old power plant will not be able to function beyond a certain date. This is true, but that date is far in the future. It would be quite enough to start to build the two new reactors in 2020. While he claimed that there will be no added capacity he did announce that in the government’s estimate in the next few years the need for electricity will grow by 1,000 megawatts. So, is there or isn’t there a need to produce more electricity? To give you an idea of the simplistic view Lázár and his friends entertain concerning this issue, for him the choice is “either a power plant or no Hungarian electricity.” No other options are available.

Jávor insisted that Paks II, the two new reactors, are additions to the present capacity. In addition, he listed the following objections: (1) the majority of Hungarians reject building the new reactors especially if it is done by the Russians; (2) the details of the agreement are not transparent; (3) the new investment will increase the price of electricity and will not add to the growth of the Hungarian GDP; (4) there will be too much energy when all four reactors are operational; (5) the building of Paks is too much of a geopolitical commitment to Russia; (6) the reactors will create fewer than the 10,000 jobs the government is talking about; (7) there are environmental concerns; (8) with interest the debt will be more than the government’s figure of 4.6 billion dollars. Jávor compared the deal to an especially deadly version of Russian roulette in which only one chamber in the revolver’s cylinder is not loaded.

When the moderator asked Lázár whether the government acted in such a way as to ensure the “democratic minimum,” he completely lost his cool. He interrupted the moderator and brought up a procedural question in order to avoid answering the question. He reduced the argument to: “either a power plant or no electricity.” From here on he talked about the fallacy of his opponent’s arguments but couldn’t come up with any arguments of his own. When he exceeded the allotted time he ignored the moderator and kept going. When the moderator inquired from him about the government’s refusal to make the details of the negotiations public, he told him and Jávor that they “should turn to the Russians with their requests.”

When it came to the price of electricity produced by Paks II, Lázár kept saying “atomic energy produces the cheapest electricity prices.” Yes, answered Jávor, the electricity Paks currently produces is inexpensive because the original initial investment has already been paid down. But the energy produced by Paks II will have to reflect the price of the new investment, which will be very costly. Lázár called this argument nonsense.

They moved on to national security issues. Jávor maintained that Hungarian dependence on Russian energy will increase after building Paks II while Lázár argued the opposite. In his opinion there is nothing to worry about because “the Russians have been here for sixty years and they are here today because they were the ones who built Paks.” So, nothing will really change. For Lázár nuclear energy means “independence.” Having only natural gas imposes energy dependence. To the question of why the Hungarian government asked for a Russian loan and why they didn’t turn, for example, to the IMF, Lázár’s answer was simple: “No one else would give a loan to Hungary except Russia.”

The debate naturally led nowhere. But there is also a good possibility that the grandiose Orbán plan for a Russian-built nuclear plant in an EU country will also lead nowhere. The Czech minister of defense already made it clear that Rosatom will never be in the running to build the Czech nuclear reactor. I can’t believe that the European Union could possibly let Putin’s Russia get close to an atomic power plant in Hungary.

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75 comments

  1. Eva S. Balogh :

    Paul :
    What is Orbán’s son doing organising a debate which is almost certainly going to make his father’s government look silly?

    Good question. Maybe he has a mind of his own. Or he is tired of being a football player at which he is no good.

    So, the kid also on his way to politics, after failing on the soccer fields?
    Daddy’s boy, is he?

  2. Paul re comment #46 Thanks for posting the link to Ambassador Matlock’s blog post, I think I met him when he was Director of Soviet Affairs in the US State Department in the late 1970s when I was a young officer. He is very knowledgeable about Russia. I have at least two disagreements with him (1) that Russia’s fear that the Ukraine might become part of NATO (his point 4) as a high motivating factor in the invasion. It is certainly possible that the new government in the Ukraine would try to join NATO and abrogate the existing agreements on the use of the naval base, but wouldn’t that be a much more defensible basis for the invasion than the current theory of the defense of Russians living in the Ukraine? So why pull the invasion trigger so quick? (2) The Ambassador argues: “Obama’s warning to Putin was ill-advised. Whatever slim hope that Moscow might avoid overt military intervention in Ukraine disappeared when Obama in effect threw down a gauntlet and challenged him.”

    Ambassador Matlock is sophisticated enough to know that the CIA/NSA knew the invasion was in the works, Obama’s warning was a bluff because he had no other cards to play. Obama knew the Germans and other northern European NATO members would not authorize even moving the NATO rapid deployment units to the Polish border or providing air cover for Ukrainian bases. From everything I am reading the Polish government supported NATO doing that and the Poles in my opinion are the real heroes in supporting the sovereignty of the Ukraine within NATO. The Poles understand the real threat of Putin and where all this could be going in the future. Besides, I have always held their military establishment in high esteem personally even during the Warsaw Pact days. Again thanks Paul for the link it was very informative reading and I also found Matlock’s book on the fall of the USSR to be very interesting, but it is massive.

  3. Marcel, You said it yourself, that there was no attack by “Berkut forces” despite earlier reports to the contrary. In another comment you said Ukranians are just eager to direct attention… To what, to the non-existent attack? Note that Berkut was disbanded by the Kiev government. You simply cannot come up with a coherent explanation as to what happened, but you started a big argument about essentially nothing. I was ready to close this long ago, but you kept pushing and pushing for some reason, including repeated insults.

  4. In response to Stevan Harnad:

    Unfortunately Stevan Harnad has a completely broken moral compass. He thinks it is acceptable to manufacture any lie as long as it serves his purposes. How do I know this? I can see his postings and the things that he writes about me. As happenstance would have it, I do have information about myself, so I happen to know for a fact when someone lies about me. Stevan Harnad lies and lies without hesitation, I know this for a fact. I happen to know I don’t have handlers(his earlier claim), and I happen to know I am not a Team but a person. I have maybe written here on this blog 0.0000001% of the amount of text, what Éva wrote in form of blog posts and comments. Which shows just how insane the “you write a lot on the internet = you must be a team and not a person” accusation.

    And besides completely ignoring the fact that many comments I am forced to write to respond to the rediculous and insane lies that for example Stevan Harnad is spreading about me. The apparent fact that he is capable of lying without hesitation to gain advantage in an internet discussion is especially frightening event that I am forced to point out. As an example of despicable behavior.

    I am sure he will use this comment that he forced me to write as an example of “see this is a team, they are writing too much”. Completely 100 percent ignoring his own role in forcing this very comment into existence.

  5. “Unfortunately Stevan Harnad has a completely broken moral compass. He thinks it is acceptable to manufacture any lie as long as it serves his purposes.”

    Classic Fidesz troll-speak, they give themselves away every time.

    You’d really think that something as well-oiled and successful as the Fidesz black propaganda unit would be better at this sort of thing.

  6. @Paul: He may be more of a Jobbik guy than Fidesz. Who knows. He is definitely here to disrupt and divert the discussion.

  7. Unfortunately I was telling the truth about Stevan Harnad. He is willing to lie without hesitation to gain an advantage, exactly as I explained. I provided examples of this despicable behavior and I happen to know for a fact that he lies.
    I have to say An, you are not in his category, at all. In all the comments I’ve seen from you, you are honest even if you use a few insults here and there. But using insults as far as internet discussions go, they are quite common. Stevan Harnad is a whole another category, unfortunately.

  8. Stevan Harnad: “(Alert: the usual strategy at this point is for the “Mr Paul” consortium to do a very personalized and plaintive posting, proclaiming his individuality, innocence, independence, and love for only the truth, and appealing to your open-mindedness. Please don’t believe them. It is a cynical ploy.)”

    Well Mr. Harnad, judging from Mr. Paul’s latest comments, it seems that you do indeed know their hymn sheet!

  9. ‘Mr Paul’ – unfortunately (for you) you miss the key point of my comment, which is the use of the word ‘lie’. This immediately gives you away for what you are – it is only used (certainly with any frequency) by Fidesz.

    People may be mistaken, may believe something that is correct, may accidentally say the wrong thing – it happens, it’s normal. But in Orbánisztán everybody lies.

    There is Orbán’s view, and there are lies.

    And, yes, it is as childish as it sounds.

  10. “yes, it is as childish as it sounds.”

    I have to agree, it sounded very childish. Unfortunately the same could be said in other cases as well. Let’s take an example:

    “use of the word ‘lie’. This immediately gives you away”

    What you do here is an extreme example of guilt by association, except you really took it to the extreme in a big way by going after the use of words. Let me illustrate what you do by another exemple. Let me stress that I don’t think this about you I am just illustrating the absurdity of your tactic. You said:

    “This immediately gives you away for what you are”

    People trying to hide “what they are” was a common accusation during Nazi times. During this time certain people in Nazi leadership professed of being to “see through” and unmask the true identity of the “enemy”. They often said that they can recognize the enemy by simple things such as the enemy using certain words, that true germans would never use.
    Exactly as you are doing. You also have this same power to “unmask the enemy” by the smallest of signs. You are doing what they did, therefore you are similar to them.

    Once again I wrote this only to make a point about your chosen tactic of guilt by (non-existent) association.

    Your case versus Stevan Harnad is a prime example of the difference between lie and being mistaken. Harnad was indeed lying not about any political topic which is a matter of opinion, but about me having handlers for example. A lie that is so over the top that it cannot be a mistake. You for example are simply mistaken when you say

    “the word ‘lie’ … is only used (certainly with any frequency) by Fidesz.”

    Let us take just the most famous example for the use of this word in recent Hungarian memory. Who said this? “Hazudtunk reggel, éjjel meg este”. Since you are talking about “frequency” just check this one sentence (with the qoutation marks) in google. How frequent is this sentence over the internet, and who said it. Was it Fidesz?

    So my guess is in this case you are mistaken because you know very little about the Hungarian language and what words are used with which frequency. I would guess you do not follow the Hungarian press maybe don’t even understand Hungarian to be able to follow it. So that is a possible reason for a mistake. In Harnad’s casd however there is no mistake, he simply lied and there is no other possible explanation. It also happened more than once in the case of Harnad. In my opinion you were simply mistaken due to lack of information. So In fact I do know the difference between a lie and a mistake.

  11. Mr. Paul :
    In response to Stevan Harnad:
    I happen to know I don’t have handlers(his earlier claim), and I happen to know I am not a Team but a person… I am forced to write to respond to the rediculous and insane lies that for example Stevan Harnad is spreading about me.

    Spreading lies about you, “Mr Paul”? Who are you, “Mr Paul”? Maybe you feel your fake-name is being defamed? But nobody knows who or what that fake-name is the fake-name of! Get a hold of your selves…

  12. Oh but this is where you are wrong. The important part is that you lie. And now you do not even deny it. You could have done it about historical events, statistics, politics aynthing else it is all the same. I only wish I could see your defense then. I guess it would go something like:

    “I only lied about history, who cares, it is not even a living person how can I defame it?”

    Do not address me any more. I already know all that I need to know about you. I do not wish to learn more.

  13. Mr. Paul would be a minor problem if nobody responded to his insincere comments. He should not be banned because he is opinionated but because he is insincere. Stop the jamming.

  14. “he is insincere.”

    How am I insincere, can you explain, what do you mean by this. It is a completely new and surprising accusation I have not yet encountered here.

    “Stop the jamming.”

    I’m afraid this makes no sense in English or else my English is not good enough to understand it. I mean in this context on the blog. I did a google search on the phrase but it gave nothing usable in this context.

  15. I only call two statements lies, both of them from Stevan Harnad said on this blog. They are not opinions in the least. So in fact I call 0 opinions lies and not “all opinions”.

    The two lies are as follows, both said by Stevan Harnad:

    1. “Mr Paul has handlers” was what Harnad said. Others sometimes add some KGB reference working together to strengthen Harnad’s lie.

    2. “Mr Paul is a Team” and not a person. Harnad employs this lie to further dehumanize me.

    I know these statements said by Stevan Harnad to be lies. They are false statements of fact by him and not opinions. In fact this is so much the case that even Harnad himself did not try to use this defense that they were “only opinions” because he knows all too well they were statement of fact. To me this speaks volumes.

  16. By the way when the first case happened I let it go essentially. I used only very mild criticism that time because then I thought it might have been non-deliberate. But by the second time it happened, it became clear. It was simply an arguing tactic. This is what I found so lowly and despicable. To stoop so low simply to gain advantage in a simple internet argument. It was completely unnecessary and at the same time unexplainable. It is downright frightening to think that such an unbalanced and morrally corrupt person is interested to learn my “coordinates” as he put it. It is just unimaginable to me what use he would have for those. And why does he seem obsessed with coordinates only in my case. There are at least a hundred on an off contributors on here and so far this is the only such demand he made, that I witnessed. It would be interesting if he did this in the past or is this the first time?

  17. petofi :
    “Russia denies forces in Ukraine”
    Why is it easier for Russian politicians to lie than to tell the truth?
    They have more practice at it.

    A recent comment by Petofi, posted not long ago. I don’t bring it here to criticize it, in any way. Simply to show that the word is in fact common in usage, even here on this blog had to wait only a short time for an example to arise in the middle of this discussion. It is not a word of taboo. It is not a word capable of “revealing what you are”. It is fairly common word in the Hungarian language and people will use it where appropriate.

  18. Ultimatum to Mr. Paul. If once more you use the word, lie or any of its variants you are out. I am getting tired of your labeling the commenters of Hungarian Spectrum who are my long-time friends “liars.”

  19. London Calling!

    Mr Paul.

    Stop your juvenile reasoning here – for a lie to be a lie the perpetrator must knowingly state it as not being true.

    Stop bleating and stop clogging up Eva’s blog – or go.

    Just go.

    Regards

    Charlie

  20. Back to the nightmare of the real world and not the world of Mr Paul. The tragedy taking place in the Ukraine and the EU/NATO near total paralysis in the face of it serves as a real warning to the Hungarian people. As we all have learned today the Russians have moved forward the vote in Crimea to incorporate it into Russia, it will now take place in just 10 days. The Russians are now claiming the “gunmen who took over power in Kiev were trained in Poland and Lithuania”. (Statement made by the vice-president of the Russian Federation Council)

    It is clear Putin’s minions are now trying to portray to the Russian public that some former client states of the USSR are the enemy, not Hungary however. Given the now total rout of the EU and it’s pointless attempts to negotiate a withdrawal of Russian forces from the Crimea the logic of Orban’s Russian orientation seems perversely brilliant. The failure of Germany and other EU economic powers to aggressively respond to the Russian incursion increases the credibility of Orban’s Russian orientation.

    The left in Hungary is still running as the pro-EU coalition, what does that mean in the current context? It has become rather obvious that the economic interests of the predominate nations of the EU over rule everything else. Orban fully grasps this and plays the EU/NATO alliance for what he and his supporters can get out of it.

  21. I’m certainly open to suggestions if you so dislike the word. For example if Harnad said to you what he said to me, how would you respond, for example suppose he says “Éva stop listening to your MSZP handlers so much”, when you in fact know : you do not have any handlers. What would you say in that case?

    It was a mistake I don’t have handlers? Is mistake the correct word for this case in your opinon?

  22. Istvan :
    The failure of Germany and other EU economic powers to aggressively respond to the Russian incursion increases the credibility of Orban’s Russian orientation.

    Back to the future: “The failure of Great Britain and France to aggressively respond to the German incursion increases the credibility of Horthy’s German orientation”.

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