Viktor Orbán on the campaign trail

I have to admit that Viktor Orbán is doing an excellent job at promoting the idea that “Hungary is performing better.” His efforts are especially admirable considering how badly the Hungarian economy has in fact been doing under his stewardship. How does he manage to convince people that all is well?

The state television stations (MTV and Duna Television) are key weapons in the government’s arsenal of misinformation, but by now there is a whole media empire at the disposal of Fidesz. With its change of ownership TV2 now rivals MTV in servility toward the present government. The old stand-by HírTV is always at the disposal of the government. Széles Gábor, active in the Peace Marches, has his own newspaper and television station that cater to those whose political views lie at the convergence of the two rightist parties, Fidesz and Jobbik. In addition, most of the municipalities are in Fidesz hands and practically every bigger city and town, or in the case of Budapest every district, has its own newspaper freely distributed. All of these are full of government propaganda.

A few days ago I read an article about the political mood in Pécs where apparently the opposition has a real chance of winning. Even so, an older woman told the reporter that she will vote for Fidesz because everything is going splendidly in the country. She sees Viktor Orbán opening one factory after another. In addition, she now pays less for utilities.

And here we arrive at one of the Viktor Orbán’s campaign strategies. In the last few weeks Viktor Orbán has criss-crossed the country. Everywhere he goes he is greeted by adoring crowds. No one demonstrates against him, in contrast to the regularly televised demonstrations against politicians of the opposition. The choreography is carefully crafted by the Fidesz campaign staff. Local Fidesz politicians gather a sizable crowd before the arrival of the prime minister. Whether they are paid or not, no one knows. It is possible that they are all dying to meet Viktor Orbán although we know from past experience that Fidesz is ready to pay people if need be. And why can’t we see any demonstrators? The solution is simple. While opposition candidates announce their schedules way ahead of time, Orbán’s campaign visits are kept secret until the last moment.

Orbán also makes sure that he personally cuts the ribbon on every new business or infrastructure project, even small additions to already existing structures. Some of these projects have been in the making for years, but the cascade of these events gives the impression of an economic boom. Some official “openings” border on the fraudulent. For example, the Slovak and Hungarian pipeline that was connected yesterday. The pipeline will be functional only from January 1, 2015  on, if all goes well. But both the Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, and Viktor Orbán were only too happy to celebrate the event months in advance. After all, both countries will hold elections soon. This whole affair reminds me of stories from the Rákosi era when unfinished factories had to be opened on the date specified by the five-year plan. In order to make things look real, workers started a fire inside so that smoke would be billowing out of the chimneys.

Robert Fico and Viktor Orbán "connect" the pipeline between Slovakia and Hungary Source: Zsolt Reviczky /Népszabadság

Robert Fico and Viktor Orbán “connect” the pipeline between Slovakia and Hungary
Source: Zsolt Reviczky /Népszabadság

Then we have stories that can only warm the cockles of proud Hungarian hearts and demonstrate the great genius of Viktor Orbán himself. One of these is the acquisition (mind you, for the tidy sum of 15 million euros) of part of the Sevso/Seuso treasures, a fantastic collection of late Roman silver tableware from the fourth century. Seuso was a high Roman official in Pannonia who most likely because of the coming “barbarians” hid all or some of a set of silver dishes, which experts estimate might have consisted of more than 200 pieces. The whole story is so interesting that I am planning to write about Seuso’s treasures at a later time. Here it is enough to mention that the man who discovered the priceless silver dishes sometime in the middle of the 1970s died under mysterious circumstances. He was most likely murdered. His murderers smuggled the treasure out of the country. It ended up first in England and from there half of it went to the United States. The upshot is that all Hungarian governments, starting with József Antall’s, have been trying to get the stolen goods back. By Hungarian law they belong to the Hungarian state. Interestingly enough, it was a week before the election that the acquisition of  seven of the known fourteen pieces was announced yesterday. This was deemed such an important event that the noon news on Hungarian Radio, which masses of Hungarians listen to, was interrupted to announce the arrival of the Seuso treasures. And naturally, it was the prime minister himself who announced the great success of his government. The pieces will be exhibited in Parliament for the next two months.

And there is the opening of the new metro line. All of Budapest is excited; after all, the metro line came into existence amid great difficulties, mostly because Viktor Orbán did everything in his power to shelve the project and, once the work began, to stop it. But the closer the project got to completion the more the Orbán administration came to the conclusion that opening Metro 4 might be a useful instrument to convince the people of Budapest that this government cares about them after all. Today Viktor Orbán talked about Budapest as “the capital of the nation.” We all know that Orbán doesn’t really like Budapest because he suspects, not without reason, that the majority of its inhabitants normally support those who would like to unseat him.

Add to all this the charges of corruption against MSZP politicians, like the case of Gábor Simon, former vice-chairman of the socialist party. There are already signs that the case, which seemed straightforward at the beginning, might not be so simple. Simon might even have been framed. This wouldn’t be the first time that trumped-up charges have been brought against members of the opposition.

All in all, it is a beautifully constructed campaign. It is carefully crafted and, if we can believe the polls, it is working.

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67 comments

  1. @Bowen “Good for you. It should be easy to find out which is ‘your street’ then. It must be the shiniest, sparkliest street in the city. ”

    Somewhere in the 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 13th districts as many of the streets are being cleaned there. ( we know no one cares about the 8th where you live 🙂 ) Good luck hunting me down. You gonna do an ol’ fashion lynching for having a difference of opinion? 🙂

  2. spicoli :
    You gonna do an ol’ fashion lynching for having a difference of opinion? 🙂

    As it happens, no. What an odd thing to say.

  3. “!Compared to what I had to deal with in the 2000s? It is a great improvement. My sidewalks get washed a few days a week. They need it. I see Hunyadi ter and lizst ferce ter being scrubbed and cleaned regularly.

    the playgrounds are being kept cleaned as well as the various ters. In the 2000s you just did not want to enter into the various city ters as they were disgusting. Now kids play in them”

    Well, then, I guess you are a lucky man/woman and are more than likely not living in a working-class area of the city.

    My area, in contrast, has quite possibly too many Roma and “non-Caucasian (if you get my drift) immigrants.The local Fidesz politburo will not worry too much about this in the short term but don’t bank on the fact that their inaction now re street cleaning and stealing their green areas won’t have an effect in the future.

  4. Spicoli = Mr Paul.

    Exactly the same tone and arguments, exactly the same instant access to ‘facts’ to support his POV.

  5. spicoli is right, in a way.

    In the centre, shrubs and turf have been placed, concrete has been put down and polished, glass-fronted plazas abound, endlessly empty. Austere, clean and characterless echoes of the thirties have been restored and rebuilt. Streets of shops that only 0.01% of the population can even dream of patronising have replaced anything remotely practical or real. It’s rather disturbing actually, brutal, almost a vision of the future from the past, and clinical. The homeless, meanwhile, have been cleaned away, criminalised and driven into hiding.

    The financial centre is faux-elegance now, all fountains and VIP strip shows and new statues and expensive tasteless coffee points. But turn a corner, and that’s where all the detritus of the city remains, a forgotten and rotting indictment of the ‘new’ city.

  6. Spicoli: “And he inherited an incredibly bad economy from the Socialists. High inflation, high taxes, high interest rates, high deficit spending, rapidly growing debt, high unemployment, a deflated currency, junk bond rating.”

    Has Hungary in the meantime left the junk bond rating? I believe not: “S&P Affirms Hungary Junk Rating, Warns of Debt Vulnerability”, containing also this analysis: “Hungary’s creditworthiness remains constrained by its poor growth outlook, limited monetary policy room, and mounting public as well as private-sector debt, it said.” That is from an article in the Wall Street Journal from last October.
    Also with the deflated currency you could be more careful. Forint towards euro in March 2010: 265, currently 309.
    Employment growth is only because of government intervention. Number of employees in the private sector was slightly lower in 2013 than in 2009.
    http://www.ksh.hu/docs/hun/xstadat/xstadat_eves/i_qli002b.html
    Investment rate of national economy: 18 % in 2013 (with all stadiums and Magyarorszag megujul of any kind) compared with 21 % in 2009.

  7. Any new “refurbishing”, rebuilding, beautifying I found in Budapest the last few years had huge posters on saying that it was financed by the EU. I would like to remind our visitors that the Peace March / Orban / Fidesz regularly attack the EU. THey want independence from the EU. Orban not long ago told the EU that “Brussels is not Moscow!” He was right, as he never sucked up to Brussels, but always did for Moscow!
    So all the beautification should be thanked to the EU, and if you like what you see, you should not vote for Orban as he actually against the EU! Simple logic.

  8. @Kirsten – Nice to see someone actually try to contrast facts here.

    “Has Hungary in the meantime left the junk bond rating? I believe not: “S&P Affirms Hungary Junk Rating, Warns of Debt Vulnerability”, containing also this analysis: “Hungary’s creditworthiness remains constrained by its poor growth outlook, limited monetary policy room, and mounting public as well as private-sector debt, it said.” That is from an article in the Wall Street Journal from last October.”

    You are posting old news. S&P upgraded Hungary’s credit rating on Friday. http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/sp_upgrades_outlook_on_hungarys_credit_rating_to_stable_from_negative.27567.html

    “Also with the deflated currency you could be more careful. Forint towards euro in March 2010: 265, currently 309.”

    You seem to forget Hungary almost went bankrupt in 2008. This was due to Socialist mismanagement and has had a lasting effect. Like the high interest rates to get institutions to buy Hungarian debt which in turn cause inflation and focred homeowners to turn to fx mortgages which caused a consumer debt crisis as well. Currently the HUF has been intentionally devalued like the dollar and pound to encourage investment and lower the cost of loans.

    “However as you mention
    Employment growth is only because of government intervention. Number of employees in the private sector was slightly lower in 2013 than in 2009.”

    Well of course there was this collapse in the Hungarian economy in 2008 which particularly affected property/construction and has not yet recovered. My point is it is improving and is not in the horror state that Eva likes to portray to the world. By the way it would be interesting to know how much Eva has potentially hurt the economic recovery by her negative portrayal of Hungary and Hungarians. I mean after reading her blog who would feel safe in investing in Hungary? Was this her goal in helping her Socialist friends?

    BTW most if not all western countries have helped employment during the downturn. But at least with Orban these are temporary work projects and not systemic job creation like the Socialists have done. You ever wonder why the “great” Demsky had not made BKV ticketing electronic in Budapest during his reign of power? Of course, government jobs and Socialist voters. But decades lost for reducing government costs and city modernization. And of course very high taxes to pay for the Socialists jobs schemes.

  9. ” By the way it would be interesting to know how much Eva has potentially hurt the economic recovery by her negative portrayal of Hungary and Hungarians. I mean after reading her blog who would feel safe in investing in Hungary? Was this her goal in helping her Socialist friends?”

    Our new troll is getting really aggressive – it’s almost funny …
    But it’s maybe a good sign that some people seem to be afraid of an “extremist left wing blog” as Fidesz is wont to say.

    Re taxes:

    Yes, Fidesz lowered some taxes – but mainly for the well off (or should I say rich?) by introducing the flat income tax while at the same time having a VAT of 27 % which mainly hurts the poorer people.

    Re utility costs:

    I can just imagine people like Spicoli laughing when they see that water, gas and electricity for their swimming pool and air conditioner now cost so much less – while retired teachers try their best to live off 80 000 HUF a month!

    Friends of my wife meet regularly at home for an afternoon of Canasta – and they always take some blankets with them, because those women can’t afford to heat their apartments to more than 18 degrees.

  10. @Wolfi

    “Re taxes:

    Yes, Fidesz lowered some taxes – but mainly for the well off (or should I say rich?) by introducing the flat income tax while at the same time having a VAT of 27 % which mainly hurts the poorer people.”

    Fidesz dramatically lowered income tax. Now many business and individuals are able to pay all their tax. It is critical to have a reasonable tax system or you enforce systemic cheating as occurred under the Socialists and their ridiculous tax scheme including supergrossing. of course Bajnai wanted to add an annual property tax to the mix as well. It is critical to remove cheating in the tax system and Fidesz has been steadily working towards whitening the economy.

    As for the VAT yes Fidesz increased it by 2% from the 25% set by the Socialists. Big deal. Fidesz also raised minimum wage as well to compensate

    Lowering the income tax also puts money into individuals hands to spend as they desire and not for the government to hold on to. It also stimulates the consumer economy. Creating small business opportunities and employment. you have seen the expolsion in retail in Budapest and people out and about? Not just tourists but Hungarians. And not oligarchs as ONeill likes to refer to people with more money than him but average Hungarians.

    And yes the VAT shifts where the tax occurs. It also encourages savings as well. Actually it makes savings possible.

    Re utility costs:

    “I can just imagine people like Spicoli laughing when they see that water, gas and electricity for their swimming pool and air conditioner now cost so much less – while retired teachers try their best to live off 80 000 HUF a month!

    Friends of my wife meet regularly at home for an afternoon of Canasta – and they always take some blankets with them, because those women can’t afford to heat their apartments to more than 18 degrees.”

    Global costs in energy have sky rocketed throughout the entire world. what is your point?

    But as you probably are not aware energy costs in Hungary will always be relatively high as Hungary has virtually no fossil fuels. It needs to import them. Now let’s have some fun. Where does 50% of the electricity in Hungary come from? Pacs. The reactors there are retired in 2030s. And while it takes like 10+ years to build new one Eva says “why not just wait until they are needed?” Well one needs to plan. Which is why her Socialist friends voted to replace the aging reactors. Of course she doesn’t mention this. And she doesn’t mention that nuclear energy while having a significant capex cost mostly fixes the cost of electricity which protects against rising fossil fuel costs and spikes.

    “while retired teachers try their best to live off 80 000 HUF a month!”

    But this is really the issues here with you and many others. You are on fixed incomes either from retirement or your work. Sadly that is life. Fixed income people suffer the most during recession or the “soft depression” we are having. Everyone is being hit but to punish people who are actually being productive during this period is foolish and let’s be honest here driven by jealousy as you obviously are by making statements such as “for their swimming pool and air conditioner”

    You may have imagined Hungary being this cheap place to live 10 years ago but things change and obviously you source of income has not. That is not something to blame Orban for or me for that matter.

    so Wolfi you retired? an English teacher? what gives? why so bitter?

  11. @ Spicoli: “you have seen the expolsion in retail in Budapest and people out and about?”

    Er … no. You really don’t live in Budapest, do you. Care to comment on the state of Rakoczi ut at the moment, or the third of places boarded up around Vaci? Or the permanently ‘Opening soon!’ Vaci 1 shopping plaza?

    Meanwhile, more Hungarians than ever before are living in poverty. http://budapestbeacon.com/public-policy/twice-as-many-hungarians-living-in-poverty-today-as-four-years-ago/

    Do you also freelance for the Turkish and Azeri governments?

  12. Bowen :

    @ Spicoli: “you have seen the expolsion in retail in Budapest and people out and about?”

    Er … no. You really don’t live in Budapest, do you. Care to comment on the state of Rakoczi ut at the moment, or the third of places boarded up around Vaci? Or the permanently ‘Opening soon!’ Vaci 1 shopping plaza?

    Meanwhile, more Hungarians than ever before are living in poverty. http://budapestbeacon.com/public-policy/twice-as-many-hungarians-living-in-poverty-today-as-four-years-ago/

    Do you also freelance for the Turkish and Azeri governments?

    Bowen, you are correct. Spicoli doesn’t live in Hungary.

  13. “Bowen, you are correct. Spicoli doesn’t live in Hungary.”

    Really? Then why am I being currently dis-convenienced walking downtown by whatever rally that is being held in front of the Opera House and has closed down Andrassy?

    But Eva we do know you are not living in Budapest. So where do you get your information from when you really have no idea what is happening here from a first person perspective?

    It is very easy for you to dismiss counterpoints that give a different point of view than the one you are trying to influence the world outside of Hungary with.

  14. Spicoli :
    “Bowen, you are correct. Spicoli doesn’t live in Hungary.”
    Really? Then why am I being currently dis-convenienced walking downtown by whatever rally that is being held in front of the Opera House and has closed down Andrassy?
    p>

    Oh wow! You’re in Andrassy! Me too! We should meet! (It isn’t closed off, to pedestrians by the way. People are on Segways and bikes and walking up and down in front of me. But you’d wouldn’t know that.)

  15. Spicoli :

    “Bowen, you are correct. Spicoli doesn’t live in Hungary.”

    Really? Then why am I being currently dis-convenienced walking downtown by whatever rally that is being held in front of the Opera House and has closed down Andrassy?

    But Eva we do know you are not living in Budapest. So where do you get your information from when you really have no idea what is happening here from a first person perspective?

    It is very easy for you to dismiss counterpoints that give a different point of view than the one you are trying to influence the world outside of Hungary with.

    Well, I never said (lied?) that I live in Hungary. You live in Florida. Or at leas that’s where your e-mails come from.

    As for your being on Andrássy Street. Were you also “dis-convenienced” yesterday?

  16. Spicoli, the moment I hear that wages in Hungary are going up not because of inflation but because of productivity growth, I will believe that Hungary is making real progress. What Orban is doing is making numbers look good, not making Hungary look good. That there is some improvement in areas of Budapest where tourists most likely will go and pay for, very interesting. But what about areas where people live who are not as wealthy as Orban and his closest allies? Why are so many people trying to find better paid jobs abroad? Why do some people NEED to accept even badly paid jobs on a temporary basis abroad to make a living? That the MNB is running a support programme for some firms, in other words money creation, is having an effect too, as does the devalued currency. You are saying that in earlier days, jobs were created in the public sector in a systemic way, now Orban is rediscovering state property in a systemic way but creates only temporary and nearly unpaid jobs in the process for some fostered workers, probably including you. So making state ownership a major factor in the principal economic sectors without giving people the opportunity to (at least) benefit from that also through a well-paid job, what type of economic system is that? I believe its Hungarian magic.

  17. “Fidesz dramatically lowered income tax.” – Yes, for rich people only …

    Spicoli is trying very hard – the typical US Republican’s bullshit that rich people should pay no taxes and about poor people deserving what they get …

    Of course no real discussion is possible with someone who is obliged to write at least once in every comment something like:
    “when you really have no idea what is happening here …”
    ” You are on fixed incomes either from retirement or your work. Sadly that is life.”
    That’s what we call in German “Raubtier-Kapitalismus”!

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