Possible trajectories for Hungary with or without Viktor Orbán

Today I’ll backtrack a bit and revisit the serious diplomatic crisis that developed between Hungary and the United States. When the news hit about the American decision to ban six Hungarians from entering the United States, some commentators were convinced that the alleged corruption was only a pretext, that the real cause was Russia.

These people were wrong. The Americans stressed that the widespread and systemic corruption that permeates every facet of Hungarian society is a serious problem in and of itself. But they added that there are many other policies Washington finds unacceptable from an allied country, several of them having to do with Russia. At his last press conference M. André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé d’affaires, underscored America’s disappointment in Hungary, once the the flag bearer of freedom. In the last few years the country has changed, and not for the better. Goodfriend was quite specific in enumerating some of the sore points in American-Hungarian relations. He mentioned the lack of transparency in connection with the negotiations with Russia about building the nuclear reactor in Paks. The United States is unhappy about Hungary’s far too accommodating behavior when it comes to the Southern Stream. Relying exclusively on natural gas is the wrong way to approach Europe’s energy needs. He mentioned the situation of the media in Hungary. Then there is Hungary’s self-serving behavior during the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. The United States realizes that autonomy for the Hungarian minority in Ukraine is an important consideration for Budapest, but this subject shouldn’t be brought up when Ukraine is fighting for its territorial integrity. The Orbán government’s behavior toward the European Union and the United States has been objectionable ever since June 2010, but Orbán’s pro-Russian policy at this particular juncture was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And finally, he brought up the Hungarian government’s attitude toward the NGOs.

On the same day a reporter from Index managed to get hold of Viktor Orbán in Brussels. Earlier, when asked about U.S.-Hungarian relations, he practically ran away. This time, from what he had to say on the topic, it was evident that he knows who the people are who have been barred from the United States. Yet he indicated that no investigation will take place because he cannot take responsibility for some other country’s assumptions. It is impossible to accuse someone without any proof. Clearly Orbán is stonewalling. No one demands that charges be brought against those who are implicated in the instances of corruption the U.S. reacted to. It is enough to investigate their cases. The Hungarian authorities had no difficulty ransacking the offices of the Ökotárs Foundation. Where was the proof then?

Orban in Brussels2

Meanwhile there are growing signs that the American move prompted quite a controversy in Fidesz circles. I already mentioned Válasz, a pro-Fidesz site, and Mandiner, an online news portal staffed by a group of young conservatives. Both publications were highly critical of Viktor Orbán. Péter Szijjártó let the cat out of the bag during his interview with a reporter from USA Today. He admitted that the dispute with the United States created “a large discussion” within Fidesz. Nick Thorpe, the British journalist who apparently has friends high up in the government party, also reported to the BBC that “there are growing divisions in the right-wing party over Mr. Orban’s steps to turn Hungary into an ‘illiberal democracy.'” According to Thorpe, “the mood in the corridors of power is wretched.” Moreover, the new pro-Russian foreign policy does not sit well with some of the fiercely anti-communist and anti-Russian politicians in Fidesz.

Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság was even more specific. She spoke with several “conservative” critics of Viktor Orbán’s policies who are worried about the prime minister’s double dealings: for example, one day he stands by NATO and the next he wants to build the Southern Stream. These conservative informers believe that if Viktor Orbán does not change his course “Hungary might find herself staring into an abyss.” I know that some people would like to draw the conclusion that after a couple of more missteps there might be a palace revolution by the more moderate and cautious members of the governing party. I, however, can imagine such an event occurring only if the European Union stops the flow of free money to Hungary. As long as Orbán delivers the goodies, his friends have no reason to abandon him.

Nonetheless, Orbán’s position is precarious. Let’s assume that the Americans have in their files several more corruption cases that will reveal that the government and power structure Orbán has constructed in the last few years is in fact a regime in which the essence of politics is blatant, all persuasive corruption–a true mafia state as Bálint Magyar describes Orbán’s system. If these cases reveal that the entire political leadership is deeply implicated, Orbán’s political edifice might crumble. It could also happen that the European Commission, now headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, will be a great deal less charitable toward the Orbán government than it was in the last four and a half years under the leadership of José Manuel Barroso. Let’s assume that the Commission becomes tired of the corruption that surrounds the European grants. I just read that 10% of all corruption cases that are being investigated by OLAF, the office dealing with corruption in the countries of EU, come from Hungary. We can further assume that the EU will be more willing to move against Hungary after the American initiative. I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington and Brussels would even coordinate their policies toward Hungary. More and more people talk  in Brussels about the possibility of invoking Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Orbán’s Hungary. These are real possibilities.

KAL cartoon from The Economist

KAL cartoon from The Economist

But let’s take seriously for a minute László Kövér’s vision of a gradual retreat from the European Union. Where would Hungary find the funds to keep itself afloat? Russia? China? I don’t think that Russia is in any position to become the rescuer of Hungary. Moreover, Botond Feledy, a political scientist, points out in today’s Index that for Putin Hungary is useful only as long as the country is part of the European Union. As far as China is concerned, its leaders are shrewd businessmen.

Charles Gati of Johns Hopkins University has an interview in today’s Népszava entitled “Orbán faces the hardest decision of his life.” In his opinion, it would take an enormous amount of time and effort to convince the United States that the Hungarian government has abandoned those policies that almost led to a break in American-Hungarian relations.”This will not be easy and it will not be accomplished without great personal sacrifice.” If Orbán continues with his old policies, he will surely fail but if he changes and “leads the country along western values, he may also lose. The first alternative is certain, the other only a possibility. That’s why it is still too early to bury Hungarian democracy.”

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83 comments

  1. Re: “Tu Quoque FUD”

    @Webber

    It was the Fidesz FUD campaign against Agnes Heller and the philosophers in 2011 that first awakened me to the abominations being perpetrated by Fidesz. See:

    http://news.sciencemag.org/2011/02/hungarian-academicians-blast-government-over-inquiry-research-funds

    http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/2011/02/summary.html

    Since then the pattern has been exactly the same, case after case. You can see it super-transparently in the mgs-troll post above, pretending to be one of us (“just concerned about preparing for the next elections”) and non-partisan (tossing in “KTP” [probably himself, a useless pseudo shell to be discarded, now that its days are numbered anyway] and Rev Kovacs the harmless American kook for “balance”), but of course simply bouncing back the “troll” call to try to protect his/her/their cohorts and probably his/her/their own pseudos from more decisive action by Eva).

    The signature Fidesz strategy is to ignore whatever valid criticism is being made of them and simply direct the self-same criticism back at the critic. 

    Terrific way to confuse everyone, to smear, and to evade all criticism: Norway accuses us of interference or non-transparency? Norway is interfering and non-transparent. The US accuses us of corruption? The US is corrupt. Horvath accuses us of crime? We seize Horvath’s papers, fire him, and charge him with crime. etc. etc. 

    There is a name for all this: Tu Quoque FUD — except even the Quoque is usually suppressed, to support the illusion that this is not even a tit-for-tat kopykat response, but a direct action, intended all along, from which any accusations against us are merely a smokescreen on the libdemcommy side (in other words, even the Tu Quoque itself is reflected back to make it look as if the opponent had been the one doing the tit-for-tatting!)

    Not clever. And can be detoxicated by reliably and relentlessly exposing the M.O. (Maybe that’s would be an even better way to deal with trolls — except that there are now far too many of them, and derailing discussion toward exposing their posts one by one would also be a victory for them. Which is why I think blocking and deleting upon detection is the best strategy.)

  2. Freedom of speech does not mean that a speaker (such as a troll) has the right to say his speech at the forum of his choosing, only that he too may set up another forum where he can speak too.

    It is thus nothing special to delete comments as this is the very definition of what an editor is supposed to do: he/she edits, rewrites or even entirely withholds publishing of texts written by professional journalist, let alone amateurs. The editorial function is not democratic at all, it is highly hierarchic, but this is how most of the media functions.

    As a result, I don’t think that the deletion of texts by people who knowingly spread already refuted BS or simple lies, could be criticized. In fact, hard work as that is, I would suggest such culling on a regular basis.

  3. bagoly, your view is a little narrow-minded on freedom of speech.Consider the Hungarian situation.

    MSZP can at any time “set up another forum where they can speak”. A website or blog or newspaper. Therefore they shouldn’t complain if they are unable to speak in existing forums? They should just take your view and chant loudly that there is complete and total freedom of speech because they could start a newspaper (if they had money)?

    I am not saying you are wrong but you should pick a different label to use, and not use “freedom of speech”, because others reading this discussion will misunderstand.

  4. @bagoly-ylogab. One is torn on the subject. Here is, for example “Robert” who believes that the Hungarian commissioner represents Hungarian interests in Brussels. Moreover, he states that “previously there was nobody in the Commission who could speak up for Hungary and correct lies, false information, distortions, defamation and libel about Hungary.”

    At this point what is the best strategy? To get rid of him or try to explain to him the facts of life because surely he does not seem to understand the job description of an EU commissioner. Moreover, he is totally convinced that only a Fidesz-appointed commissioner would be willing to “defend” the country’s interests. Thus, a non-Fidesz person is not a good Hungarian.

    Surely, one ought to tell him that he is not familiar with the most basic facts of EU laws and inform him of the job description. But is it worth one’s time to explain to him what kind of portfolio László Andor, the former Hungarian commissioner, had? That he was commissioner for employment, social affairs and Inclusion and in that capacity he fought valiantly against British attempts at restricting free movement of EU citizens. Thus, indirectly he certainly defended the interests of Hungarians just as he defended citizens of other countries who moved or planning to move to other countries seeking employment.

    Of course, if all these attempts fail and “Robert” keeps repeating the same falsehoods I would not hesitate to bar him from commenting.

  5. @Webber: I wonder if you could teach me about Russian involvements in Hungarian history.I appreciate every piece of new information.

  6. As I estimating, it came rather early to Orbán to face with such situation.

    You see, the castle isn’t ready yet, Áder still has some miles in him, Szijjártó just has made it to minister, so its all too early to him to move on to phase two, when he would taken presidency with a willing puppet installed as a PM without own thoughts, and the people just cheering all the way…
    Oh, crap..!
    It must be tough on him, poor Viktor, when it was all planned out so nicely.

    Because the whole scheme would work only with him, and only with him by the helm, there is no other way. He can not withdraw now, because the whole “empire” would fell apart overnight, going into a full-blown war alone would ruin his chances to deal with everyone at the same time, and without the financial means he would bleed out in no time, and who will back his “holy crusade” against both the EU and the US now?
    No, its not easy, you see.

    One more aspect: I don’t think, that his two-thirds of supporters would amount more than the MSZP today, if he would step down/aside. When there is no moral integrity, there’s only the self-interest rules. Loyalty would crumble within days, as normally happens in Hungary.
    Remember, the remainders of the Arrow Cross integrated nicely into the Communist Party, the members of the latter found their place in the MSZP, Fidesz and/or any other party which served their interest better, and it bound to happen the next time too.
    So, I don’t think that there would be significant voting power under Orbán’s disposal at the next election for the overwhelming majority what he possess today.

    Another question that there is no democratic power in sight, either. I’m afraid all of it means, the circle going to be complete again, the turncoats will find the “new” wardrobe rather familiar again…

  7. “Just because Fidesz-loyal Thorpe wrote something (I honestly have no idea where he could have gotten his info from), ”

    He has had many friends (not just “acquaintances” or “sources”) within Fidesz since before 89. He is regularly used by the regime to put out their propaganda when something erupts (eg the Red Cross evacuation of Roma from a village a couple of years ago). He was specifically praised by the racist ex-Brussels correspondent of Magyar Nemzet. His wife is (or at least certainly was) a lady of traditional conservative views.

    So, he could have got his info in an attempt at diversion from the very top of the regime (yet another cunning Orbanist plan_) or alternatively maybe, just maybe a genuine dissenter. But I can almost guarantee, it has come from someone within Fidesz.

    I am sure, as the article mentions, there are Fidesz oligarchs not at all happy at upsetting both the EU and US similataneously.

  8. @Spectator : You wrote about the Hungarian government (with nice sarcasm) “the people just cheering all the way…” Given the results of the local elections, I’m not entirely sure. Participation was just 44.3% of the electorate. That hardly seems like cheering. Fidesz-KDNP did take a majority of the 44.3% of people who bothered to vote, but in much of the country that majority amounted to scarcely 20% of the electorate (so few people voted, and so many votes were divided between opposition candidates).
    That follows on the parliamentary elections, when Fidesz took 44.87% of the 61% of people who voted. Unless my calculations are wrong, only roughly 27% of the entire electorate actually voted for Fidesz in that election. So, some people clearly are cheering, but they represent a shrinking minority of Hungarians.

  9. @Webber
    I agree with you, regarding the recent events.
    However, I tried to sketch a possible scenario from Orbán’s point of view – and cheering is necessary element of the Great Leader’s image, people “just adore” his unpolished machismo, as he “heroically” dealing out the appropriate “kokikat és sallereket”, like any other regular would do in the quarters pub.

    And now all of this is in grave danger, because some country just too rigid to accept a few “slight” bend of international rules, all in the “interest of the Nation”!

  10. D7 Democrat about Thorpe: “His wife is (or at least certainly was) a lady of traditional conservative views.”

    I am amazed to see repeated statements like the above, implying that conservatives are on Orban’s side. In my opinion (at least in the USA) conservatives would not support a government that has Orban’s policies for several reasons:

    – they are not market oriented
    – they spend taxpayers money on uneconomical investments and with Russia
    – they are warming up to Russia, Iran and other similar governments
    – they are weaseling out of NATO
    – they suppress the freedom of speech and the free press
    – they don’t have an independent judiciary branch

    And I am sure other reasons could be found.

  11. Webber, Orban got a nasty surprise when he attempted to make a speech at the opening of the Ferencvaros new stadium. He was given hearty jeers and boos as he was speaking, it was (needless to say) censored out of the regime’s loyalist media. Considering all the taxpayers’ money he directed to the new stadia they are all ungrateful sods;)

  12. @mgs

    “Instead of this dribble I would much rather read about the real issues.”

    And from earlier in the comment:
    “The blog would be better off without them for sure, the best solution would be to ban them all.”

    This is clever, advanced trolling at its best.
    a) Anyone truly involved with the problem in Hungary knows that it’s not a matter of ‘issues’–it’s
    a matter of corruption and abuse of power. Issues? Obviously, mgs knows not that the last
    election was run by Orban on NO ISSUES. When asked what he intends to do, Orban’s answer was simple: “We will continue.” Continue what? he was asked. “What we were doing before.”
    So, mgs, wipe your ‘issues’ in Pravda, and put them where the sun don’t shine.

    Racism: designating me as racist is nonsense, but accusing Harnad, a university professor
    in Montreal, is downright vile. Of course, both of us have been active in presenting the total
    illegitimacy of Orban’s government so hacking us down would be good work… worthy of a weekend in one of the cat houses of Sochi, I daresay.

    People, candidates, and issues: the populace cares not about who runs on what issues. The Lessons of Esztergom are these: support Fidesz or the town/city will get no financing. Simple.
    This is what elections have come down to in Hungary–“put your X for Fidesz and all will be right.” Everyone–every Hungarian–knows this, so where have you been lately, Mr. mgs?

  13. I just heard that the demonstrators attacked the Fidesz headquarters on Lendvay Street. ATV will have an extra news broadcast after the present program ends in a few minutes.

  14. @Webber:

    Sure. By my own Parisian standards, it was quite small… but compared with past anti-gov’t protests in Bp this was an honorable gathering, especially as it was quite spontaneous and not very organized. But so much younger than the ones I’ve crossed paths with those last years!

    Interestingly perhaps, while there were many anti-OV and anti-Fidesz slogans (some very funny), the crowd didn’t really take hold of them. I think most people were here to protest the absurdity of the tax, and that’s all. What was thrown at the windows of the Fidesz HQ was old computer hardware … (I’m not talking about the more politicized ones now shouting ‘Ruszkik haza!’, I left before that).

    However, should the law be adopted, these people will come back. The government is at risk of 1) being associated in many young people’s mind with total ‘uncoolness’ and 2) breaching the Hungarian social contract (public affairs vs private pleasures).

  15. @Eva S. Balogh

    The crowd was very good-spirited, but it was bound to happen: from the start of the protest I saw a few people carrying old hard drives, keyboards and such. They had to drop them somewhere, and the headquarters of the ‘digitalis analfabéták’ seems a good place to do so.

    That said, and though I left early, unless more radical elements joined the protest at the end, ‘attack’ seems too harsh a word.

  16. ATV report that some protestors are becoming violent – breaking windows. Is this the anti-internet group or the group of football hooligans that where protesting earlier?

    Some in crowd chanting “Diktátor! Elég volt” “Enough of the dictator” and “Ruszkik haza” “Russians go home” Others chanting “Dirty Jews”, seems like extreme right-wingers might be trying to stir things up.

    I am only reporting snippets from news sources. I am sure we will not know exactly what went on of some time. And it will likely be used by Fidesz as anti-left propaganda.

    If the violence is not just the hooligans, is a temporary letting off of steam or are things reaching a breaking point.

    Mobilokat elő

  17. Some of the protesters have hoisted the EU flag above Fidesz HQ….. Laszlo Kover’s head will explode at that wonderful sight!

  18. The opposition internet protest turned violent, some protesters beat up members of the media, silencing them with their fists. They also spit on members of the media reporting about the event. They also threw rocks at the building, breaking windows, and tore down a fence.

    This is unacceptable no matter how much you think you are right. Just imagine Eva Balogh is also a part of the media to some degree, how shameful would it be if something similar were to happen when she is in Hungary and goes to a protest. Everyone has the right to report on public events and say their opinions without fear of violence, beatings or spitting on.

  19. Kele at this point you have no idea who did these things. It could just as well be provocateurs.

    And if you are going to make such statements present some references/links, so people can judge the veracity of your comments.

  20. @Kele: your attempt to spin this is hilariously bad.

    People didn’t throw rocks, but obsolete computer hardware – but perhaps you can’t tell the difference, are you a member of Fidesz by any chance? And though I obviously do not condone vandalism nor aggression, only one TV crew was briefly assaulted, that of HirTV.

    Such things happen during real demonstrations (not the fake ones with the gov’t carrying people by bus), and as far as this one is concerned you can’t sum it up by referring to its last minutes.

  21. @Kele – I bet you were cheering when the opposition protests in 2006 attacked the t.v. headquarters seriously injuring policemen, set fire to things inside the building, and set fire to private cars in downtown Budapest. I’m sure you didn’t mind at all that part of those demonstrations were organized by a certain opposition party.

  22. @Elek. Thank you for the fantastic link. I would not be able to find it without you :-). However I would like to learn the truth and only the truth without ideology and financial interest. Unfortunately, that may not be possible.

  23. I know that Andre Goodfriend reads this blog. He has been having a Twitter argument with gov’t spokesperson, Zoltan Kovacs who seems to be insinuating something.

    http://444.hu/2014/10/26/ilyen-szorakoztato-amikor-a-magyar-kormanyszovivo-megprobal-emberkedni-az-amerikai-diplomataval/

    In case Zoltan Kovacs also reads this blog, I really recommend a proofreader for his Twitter posts. The English is really bad, and worse, makes no sense.

    E.g. “you really sure that’s the wisest thing in this histerically stirred-up atmosphere while you vindicate to be a key actor? Eh?!”

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