Viktor Orbán on the world stage and at home

Every second Friday Viktor Orbán spends about twenty minutes with a servile reporter from Magyar Rádió who asks the great leader about his achievements and plans. But before I cover the latest pearls of wisdom coming from the prime minister I want to share some thoughts about an unexpected private meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Viktor Orbán preceding the European Union Employment Summit held in Milan on October 8.

Critics and opponents of Viktor Orbán’s domestic and foreign policy initiatives were dismayed over news of the meeting. Just when the United States finally seems to be showing signs of greater resoluteness in its dealings with the Hungarian government, Angela Merkel rewards him with a private meeting. Hungarian opposition papers pointed to Merkel’s broad smile and assumed that the encounter had to be friendly. But this might not have been the case. Of course, we don’t know what transpired during the meeting, but there are a few signs that may indicate a less jolly encounter than Merkel’s smile would indicate.

The official government website republished the MTI summary of the encounter, based on information supplied to the news agency by the prime minister himself. What can we learn from that brief description? “First and foremost [they] talked about foreign affairs.” The second topic was energy policy. As far as foreign policy is concerned, I assume the topic was Hungary’s reluctance to support the common EU resolve concerning further sanctions against Russia if necessary. It is also possible that Merkel mentioned her disapproval of Viktor Orbán’s eastern orientation. When it comes to the country’s energy policy, I’m almost certain that Merkel brought up Hungary’s sudden decision to stop sending natural gas to Ukraine three days after the CEO of Gazprom paid a visit to Viktor Orbán.

How do I surmise that? A careful reading of this short report on the meeting makes that interpretation more than plausible. Let me quote the appropriate passage verbatim: “Hungary will be part of the common European efforts, but at the moment she must establish her own energy security. Thus, Hungary now is busy with feeding its own storage facilities.” After January 1, 2015, when the Slovak-Hungarian gas pipeline is functioning, “we will be able to send non-Russian gas to Ukraine, if our Ukrainian friends would like it.” I should call attention here to Orbán’s emphasis on the source of the gas intended for Ukraine. That strongly indicates that he agrees with the Russian position that selling Russian gas to countries outside the EU is illegal.

As for the possibility of a discussion between Merkel and Orbán on Hungarian-EU relations, my source is Viktor Orbán’s Friday morning interview. While until now we have heard only criticism from Orbán concerning the West, which is in decline and on the wrong track, during the interview Orbán praised German economic strategy. The German mentality of hard work and prudence is the basis of  successful economic policy. I might add here that praise of German economic strategy was somewhat ill-timed in the wake of dismal economic news from the country.

As far as future domestic policies are concerned, the Friday morning interview was singularly uninformative. There has been much talk lately about a new era coming, but Viktor Orbán refuses to provide any details. A careless remark by Mihály Varga a couple of weeks ago prompted speculation about the introduction of new austerity measures. Rumor has it that the government cannot hold to the 3% deficit, which may followed by the reintroduction of the excessive deficit procedure by the European Commission. And that would mean turning off the money spigots from Brussels. A government denial followed Varga’s remark, but people are not convinced that austerity measures are not in the offing. The budget that should already have been presented to parliament is still nowhere. According to Orbán, he and Varga will go through the numbers this afternoon.

There was only one topic on which Orbán was more expansive: his ideas about education. Specifically, producing skilled workers. He has big plans for something he calls “dual education,” which will produce a highly skilled workforce. After a student has been in school for eight years he would enter a course of study that would combine some academic study with hands-on work experience. It would be a kind of apprentice (inas) program. There is nothing new under the sun. Many of us still remember Nikita Khrushchev’s introduction of precisely the same type of education. We also remember that it was a huge flop and the experiment was abandoned. I guess Orbán thinks he can do a better job.

But if Khrushchev’s experiment was a bad idea in the 1960s, it is a terrible idea today. Who thinks that eight years of elementary education are enough to produce highly skilled workers who nowadays need higher math, computer skills, and–most likely in Hungary’s case–the command of a foreign language, just to mention a few requirements? The very word “inas” (apprentice) conjures up images of the little boy who was apprenticed to a master and who was terribly exploited by him. He lived with the master’s family and often did all sorts of things that had nothing to do with his future trade.  But in those days one didn’t need a lot of education to learn how to make shoes or to become a bricklayer. Today I would say that to become a skilled worker one should finish high school and have at least a two-year associate’s degree.


Back to olden days

I agree that training a skilled workforce is needed, but Hungary is unlikely to be a country where industry dominates. The service sector will most likely remain the mainstay of the economy, as elsewhere in western countries. Moreover, it is not true, as Orbán claims, that “the road to successful life is through crafts” because statistics prove that university graduates’ compensation greatly exceeds the salaries of non-graduates. I fear, however, that he will introduce his ridiculous ideas on education very soon. He promises such legislation this year. I wonder what impact such a reorientation of education will have on the current educational system, which has already gone through a very hard time because of the nationalization and centralization of all public schools. One could also ask where they will find teachers by the thousands to instruct students to become skilled workers by the age of 16 or 18. What will happen to those teachers who today teach academic subjects? The whole thing sounds not only crazy but injurious to the country.

This year was spent mostly on campaigning for three different elections, and therefore the Orbán government had relatively little time to come up with ever new ideas and proposals that become law in record time. I fear this legislative respite is over, and the prime minister will have quite a few surprises for us in the coming months.


  1. “I fear this legislative respite is over, and the prime minister will have quite a few surprises for us in the coming months.”

    I agree. The real nightmare is going to start after the local elections are over and Orban won’t have to cater to the electorate for another 2-3 years. There will be another 2-3 years of arrogant governance with outdated and harmful polices, while putting further squeeze on the working classes and giving more benefits to the well-to-do and to Fidesz cronies. And building of the illiberal state of course.

  2. I think you might be slightly off the mark with your suggestion that apprenticeship schemes are doomed. According to a 2013 European Commission study, “The effectiveness and costs-benefits of apprenticeships”, 24 Member States have apprenticeship-type schemes and “there is a general consensus on the positive effects of apprenticeships in easing the school-to-work transition. Cross-country evidence shows that in those European countries where the apprenticeship system is most developed young people have better labour market outcomes than in other countries (Van der Velden et al., 2001; Quintini and Martin, 2006; Quintini and Manfredi, 2009)”.

  3. Re: education, I agree that this scheme Orbán is promoting is unlikely to provide workers prepared for the jobs of the future.

    If there’s anything the government should be promoting, it’s jobs in computer programming. There is a critical lack of English-speaking programmers in Hungary but a large demand, especially in Budapest. Moreover, they make well above the national average and work in a generally comfortable office environment. It’s pretty much the only profession in Hungary where HR people cold contact people from their LinkedIn profile, rather than the other way around. The office where I work feels that the qualified talent pool is pretty much exhausted here and has recently turned to job seekers in neighboring countries to obtain programmers.

    And yet there seems to be nothing official promoting programming as a desirable career path. I could be wrong, but I doubt an “inas” program will be suitable for training anyone to work in this field.

  4. Generalplan Ost 1940-1944:

    To ensure obedience and keep them from rebelling, the Slavs would be denied all but the most basic education, things like simple math and being taught that it was their duty to obey their masters, the Germans.

    Generalplan Orban 2010-2014:

    To ensure obedience and keep them from rebelling, the Hungarians would be denied all but the most basic education, things like simple math and being taught that it was their duty to obey their masters, the Fideszmen.

  5. This conversation with Merkel went like this:

    Merkel: What’s up with this you not giving gas back to Ukraine thing?
    Orban: The Russians are not letting me.
    M: But you must give them something, something symbolic would be enough, just to show that you are complying with the EU decision.
    O: Well, I’m filling up for the winter now. After that I could give them a bit of non-Russian gas.
    M: OK, that will do. You can announce it. But you stop that German-bashing now, my voters are getting a bit fed up.
    O: OK.

    Merkel comes out grinning (“Orban is complying with the energy decision”), Orban goes into the radio and sucks up to the Germans.

  6. @Jeremy Wheeler

    I think it is quite telling that Orban was using the word “inas” (man-servant, valet) rather than “gyakornok” (apprentice).

    In the US I see that even colleges offer internships and coop programs … so being an apprentice does not have to mean having only an elementary education.

  7. I suspect that PM Orban when discussing apprentice related education reforms has in mind the German Dual Vocational Training System (TVET) This program, many supporters believe, is the reason why Germany has among the lowest jobless rate among young people of any industrialized nation in the world.

    The German concept is simple: After students complete their mandatory years of schooling, usually around age 18, they apply to a private company for a two or three year training contract. If accepted, the government supplements the trainee’s on-the-job learning with more broad-based education in his or her field of choice at a publicly funded vocational school. Usually, trainees spend three to four days at work and one to two in the classroom. At the end, the theory goes, they come out with both practical and technical skills to compete in a global market, along with a good overall perspective on the nature of their profession. They also receive a state certificate for passing company exams, designed and administered by industry groups in conjunction with trade unions—a credential that allows transfer to similarly oriented businesses should the training company not retain them beyond the initial contract.

    But the problem with implementing this type of a model in Hungary is the wage scale, the companies these trained and credentialed workers would enter into are built on a low wage framework that feeds the German industrial complex. So in my opinion all Hungary would be doing would be training skilled workers for emigration, just as now happens with college educated and other skilled Hungarians. Here is an article on doctors that have left Hungary , here is a broader article from the Budapest Business Journal on more skilled Hungarians migrating—hungarian-worker-migration-threats_64200 .

    None of this is a surprise to the readers of this blog, Eva has written about this before. A German modeled apprentice program for Hungary is worthless unless there are far higher wage jobs available to these workers once they are credentialed. Skilled workers themselves do not create a higher wage framework, it’s the overall situation of the market that drives that and Hungary is currently trapped in the low wage sector that heavily feeds German industry.

    I also doubt that trading with Russia will free Hungary from this trap because Russia has no significant finished product export business except in the arms sector. About 20% of all manufacturing jobs in Russia are military related and Russia ranks second in the world’s arms exporter.Of all Russian exports machinery only constitutes 1.7% , and Electronic equipment only 0.9%. The four most popular cars in Russia in were all AvtoVAZ models, none are sold outside of Russia due to pollution requirements I believe. The vast majority of Russian exports outside of the arms trade are for oil and raw materials. Clearly looking to the east will not help get Hungary out of its low wage trap with the EU and the west.

  8. I still couldn’t find anything on this “very important meeting” between Orbán and Mrs Merkel in the German media – only Pester Lloyd etc in Budapest reported on it.

    Re dual education:

    Istvan already mentioned many significant points – however one remark:

    The tradition of having two school days and three days of work is being abolished – now it’s usually a few months work and then back to school for a few weeks/a month.

    Also there are less and less “Lehrlinge” (apprentices) – the trend has been to also give them a “real higher education”. One of my brothers in law who started as an apprentice, then became an engineer and in the end director of a “Technical Gymnasium” is proof for the Durchlässigkeit (permeability?) of our German system – it’s not as rigorous as some people think.

  9. @cheshire cat

    Spot on.

    By the way the term nas is a ridiculously old-sounding term like Kúria etc. It’s part of Orban’s game to create a world of reassurance for those people who crave the days when there was order, gipsies knew their place and so on. It’s the re-invented world of Horthy, when things still felt natural and evolutionary (so think today’s voters), whereas now we have the EU, capitalism, too much freedom, gipsies claiming only rights, every day there’s something new we don’t like. Brrrrr. This creation is pretty successful. People think that at least those kids will learn a bit of discipline, the old masters easily gave them a huge slap on the face if they misbehaved, that’s not such a big deal, they probably need a few anyway.

    Whatever happens in the education doesn’t concern Orban who can only think in terms of votes and voters. These mostly white inas people – given their class position – will remain reliable Jobbik and Fidesz voters in any case, which means he will not lose them, so he can experiment with this system anyway he wants. Those people who can’t make inas and fall out of the system, the gipsies and similarly dispossessed, either just don’t vote or reliably sell their for about two pounds of potato, so they might as well not exist. But what will happen in the long term with Hungary if things will be like that, might one ask? The answer: we all know that from Keynes.

  10. wolfi: Also there are less and less “Lehrlinge” (apprentices) – the trend has been to also give them a “real higher education”.

    It seems smart. For as far as I can tell from my encounters with the French system many years ago, this was the weakness for low to medium skilled jobs. The State didn’t put enough money in the ‘school’ part (half general education, half professional training), hence a lot of the apprentices & former apprentices I met didn’t acquire the intellectual tools to deal with significant future changes in their trade, either in technology, organization, or business model. Changes that have been occuring at a fast pace in almost every line of business for quite some time now…

    So, while I agree that apprenticeship schemes are far from being a dead end, and that in many countries they extend far beyond high school, I think Dr. Balogh has a point.

  11. OT:

    The Hungarist movement holds an interesting conference commemorating the 70th anniversary of the october 15, 1944 Arrow-Cross takeover.

    Guess where it is held?

    In the Csepeli Munkásotthon, the Workers’ House of Csepel. Csepel of course used to be called Red Csepel due to its strong communist leanings.

    Working class people moved to Jobbik…The left wing lost them entirely.

  12. Budapest, district 21, Csepel

    April 2014 election. Votes for party list:

    Left Alliance: 37.1%
    Fidesz: 34.1%
    Jobbik: 17.6%
    LMP: 6.7%
    others: 4.5%

    Somebody insulted Gyurcsany today in the Csepel farmers’ market today.

  13. Merkel must see that the Hungarian regime has got one mission, namely to break up the unity of the European Union.

    She needs to work out an effective defense to block this threat.

  14. A high profile meeting of Orban-Merkel, just before the elections in Hungary. This could be easily considered an endorsement and will result in an even bigger victory in the municipal elections for Fideusz.

    But I have another theory. Could it be that Merkel wanted to send a message not to the Hungarian electorate but to the United States. A message like “I see many of your spies in Europe, I see your wiretapping and surveillance of Europeans, I see your meddling in European affairs, I see you trying influence politics within MY sphere of influence. And I don’t like it that much. Slow down a little.”

  15. Did anyone else noticed in Orbán’s speech a certain xenophobe attitude too, when he explained that “the hidden work-force of Europe as well as of Hungary is the Romany population” – or something at this effect?

    Right before the tirade he went into details regarding the “negative” effects of the migrating people altogether, particularly emphasising the “faulty way of thinking” of the Europeans when they will “import” workers. it’s wrong – according to him – to encourage people of other countries to come to Europe…

    From here he went on to announce the new program which supposed to turn all the Roma “skilled worker” – supposedly overnight.

    “Only” icing on this very cake that every (Roma) child who pass the age three must go to a daycare, “where he/she get feed” and learn the “basics” of the society, in order to became a “useful” member of it…

    I couldn’t help but imagine the reaction of the respective families when their infants will be taken to became a “useful member” of the orbanian society, and the potential conflicts which programmed into this.
    Not to mention that when Gyurcsány tried to introduce a system which would have provided a weekly stay in a – kind of – campus to kids from class five and up (or thereabout) there was a Fidesz supported uproar in line like “the communists will take away our kids, but we never let them!”…

    Times fly, won’t you say?
    Backward, mind you, but hey, you are in Hungary..!

  16. @spectator

    This was a ‘useful’ speech performed to (token) gipsies. Hungarian gipsies thereby can be felt appreciated at least more so than immigrants. There was an implicit promise of work too in the speech, which is good, the usual election BS, but you have to say something (you cannot promise money and it’s not money that people crave but a job, though a job ideally in which not much work is to be expected from the employee). Orban uses whatever trick he can. According to Orban, immigrants are a free target to hate, so why not?

    The problem with frustration – and believe me most people are frustrated and unhappy with their lives in Hungary – is that the left wing cannot address a very deep seated, fundamental human desire: to blame.

    The left can only direct frustration back to the frustrated person: you are not competitive enough, didn’t get good enough education, don’t speak languages etc. As if telling a person point blank that he/she is inadequate (aka a stupid loser) is a usually successful political strategy.

    The right wing knows that somebody (that is other than your very voters) have to be blamed. It can be the EU, the immigrants, the gipsies, jews, liberals, post-communists, whoever is the most practical enemy in the given context, to the given audience.

    Political correctness on the left wing prevents blaming, but the right wing fights against political correctness and is thus unconstrained. (To be “non-politically correct” is itself a politically correct way of saying that you’re a racist).

    So there you go. Guess who will win the elections?

  17. @K Troll P:

    Yes there was a meeting – but nothing serious …

    Or do you have any info on/from the German side? As I wrote – there is nothing online …

    Btw there is a lot in the German media on the meeting with the Polish Prime Minister, the Chinese Leader etc – but nothing about Merkel and Orbán, ain’t that strange?

    Here again, straight from Mrs Merkel’s office:

  18. @Good Defense

    “Merkel must see that the Hungarian regime has got one mission, namely to break up the unity of the European Union.

    She needs to work out an effective defense to block this threat.”

    There’s really not much merit in ‘I told you so’….but I’ve been saying this for over three years; also that Putin is the force in support of Orban, and the Hungarian currency, too.

    It’s time for people to realize that Orban’s brazenness has hidden supports…and dire ramifications, for the country and for the EU.

  19. @Uli Fichte

    Of course, you’re right in every aspect. This kind of crap sounds pretty reassuring from a person standing on some park bench while the crowd cheers, indeed.

    Actually I was curious that anyone else noticed a clear attitude change: there is no beating around the bush any longer. A real strong leader don’t even have to pretend compassion.
    Empathy typical of the “losers”, you know.

  20. Breaking news:
    The opposition candidate for the mayor of Alcsutdoboz, shepherd András Váradi has died from his injuries.

  21. Gloves off – Orbanistan belong to the Orbanians!

    I expecting a statement which explaining that András Várdy deliberately caused the “accident” just to put the blame on his opponents – or anything in this effect – just to discredit him on top of all!

    Anyone still remember the infamous “..oszt jónapot” case?
    It became clear that law doesn’t matter to Orbán a bit.
    Now it became clear that his henchmen following their sire to the extremes.

    Anybody still believe that this bunch can be unseated through election?
    How about Santa?

  22. Varadi Andras was just finishing putting up election posters on a narrow road tonight when he was ran over by a car from Austria. On the road to his home a ladder fell from his car. When he stopped to go back and get the ladder he was hit by the car. The car was driven by an Austrian citizen who stopped to give first aid but the wounds were too serious. The Austrian was arrested.

  23. Stupidity truly knows no bounds as Enstein said. András Váradi was ran over by a 84 year old man from Austria. This sad case confirms that people who are extremely old should not be allowed to drive cars.

  24. @Sütő, I guess it depends on the mental state of the older person. Moreover, we don’t know the details. Perhaps Várady’s car was not well lighted and it was dark. It can happen. Young people seem to run over pedestrians right and left in Hungary. So, it might not be the age of the driver.

  25. Tappanch: my first reaction was similar to yours. I even dubbed him Hunhary’s Giacomo Matteotti. But then it was Együtt themselves that rushed to bust any conspiracy theories, stating that Várady’s fatal accident was just that: an accident. It’s not like a black Volga appeared out of nowhere, hit the man, and drove away. Várady was hit by a car being driven by an 84-year-old Austrian, who stopped to help.

  26. what kind of subhuman would use an innocent person’s death for political propaganda and hate mongering? it is sickening to watch to comments on facebook and other sites. As if Varadi’s death is just an occasion to lob more mud and vitriol at each other.

    He was a valuable human being and his death is a great loss to Hungary.

  27. @carrot
    Nearly there!
    Me – for one.
    Except it isn’t “political propaganda” rather political (moral?) awareness.

    You see, if an organisation/gathering keep behaving like mafiosi then it shouldn’t come as surprise when they treated as mafia.

    If the shepherd wasn’t threatened numerous times before, if the very head of the clan, the “capo di tutti capi” wouldn’t be so ignorant of law as he is, if his minions wouldn’t be so zealous as they are – the whole issue would have been treated as accident from moment one.
    But, for the reasons I mentioned above it isn’t the case.

    As Hungary ruled by criminals – corruption is crime, you know – there is precious little room for tolerance when I form my opinion. Further difficulty along the lines, that I have no party -preference, but I have a kind of over-developed sense of moral integrity, regardless of the cause.
    In short, “the end justifies the means” has no place in my vocabulary, neither in my life.
    (I won’t ever say that is any way positive – this is how it is.)

    As you probably deducted so far my opinion isn’t tainted by party politics or loyalty to a certain group of people, it’s me. I never have been a fan of anything, let alone member, I really hate zealotry, I wasn’t ever interested of soccer, – somehow I couldn’t identify with a howling crowd for any reason, – so here we are.

    Perhaps this is why I hate honestly and passionately the people who turned my homeland into a bloody soccer field with only hooligans and supporters standing a chance to participate, rational human beings has no place in contemporary Hungary.

    So, yes, I can very well put the unfortunate demise of András Várady in context of the present days event of Hungary, even if it turns out that coincidentally the actual perpetrator was an over-age dual citizen, and nobody but.

    However, I have no problem if you count me among the “subhumans” as long as it does not include “Fidesz supporter” or “Orbán fan” status, as it usually does.
    Thank you in advance!

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