folk ballad

Viktor Orbán’s twenty-year plan: empty promises

Perhaps “narancsblog” was right when he announced that it really doesn’t matter what Viktor Orbán said yesterday in front of invited guests about the state of the country. He is right. It makes no difference. It is also immaterial what the adoring fans of Viktor Orbán thought of the speech. Népszabadság‘s reporter was there, microphone in hand, and asked the same questions he asked a year ago, starting with: “What did you think of the speech?” Not only were the questions the same but the answers were as well: “Everything is wonderful, everything is going in the right direction.” They feel richer than ever and how nice that they will have to pay 10% less for natural gas. Nothing could change their minds. “What about the GDP? What about the drop in real wages? What about unemployment? What about the almost half a million Hungarians who live and work abroad?” The answer: statistics cannot be trusted.

As for the commentators, they couldn’t come up with anything terribly new either. Many labelled Orbán’s speech a pack of lies. They pointed out that Orbán again mixed up two famous Hungarian writers, Géza Ottlik and Sándor Márai, and that he recycled his jokes. They also emphasized that instead of talking about the present that is, let’s face it, unpleasant and even painful, he decided to look back over the past one hundred years and look forward to what will happen in 2030.

Viktor Orbán came out with a most ambitious “twenty year plan” (presumably already being implemented). Even Nikita Krushchev, as we were reminded by Endre Aczél, dared to plan for only seven years when in 1959 he promised that the Soviet Union’s GDP per capita would surpass that of the United States. And then came 1966 and no one remembered his boasting any more. Not only was the plan forgotten, Khrushchev himself was gone.

The slogan that was plastered all over the podium read “Hungary is performing better.” As it turned out in the course of Orbán’s address, this means that in all respects Hungary is doing better now than at any time since 1990. A quick look at economic indicators, however, reveals that actually the opposite is true: Hungary’s economy is in shambles. But then I guess these are just more untrustworthy statistics.

Ferenc Gyurcsány summarized Orbán’s performance in a single phrase: “empty head, empty speech.” Others were even less charitable. A blog writer called him “the national bullshit generator.” Klára Ungár, Orbán’s former friend and colleague in Fidesz, made a witty remark in which she quoted from Erzsi Gazdag, a poet who often wrote children’s verse. One of her best known poems is “A mesebolt,” a store that sells tales:

Volt egyszer egy mesebolt,
abban minden mese volt.
Fiókjában törpék ültek,
vízilányok hegedültek.

I’m not going to try to translate it, but basically in that “tale store everything was a tale.” So, in Orbán’s speech there was not word of truth.

Another truckload of political promisesBy les mois de l'année / Flickr

Another truckload of political promises
By les mois de l’année / Flickr

In his brief reference to the last one hundred years he compared Hungary’s situation to an old folk ballad about Mrs. Kelemen Kömíves. A fairly gruesome story about twelve bricklayers who are hired to build the walls of the Fortress of Déva (Deva, Romania). Whatever they build during the day collapses overnight. So, they decide that the first wife who comes to visit will be killed and her ashes will have some miraculous powers to keep the mortar strong. According to Orbán, whatever “our great-great grandparents built was taken away by World War I and the peace (békerendszer) that it brought; what our great grandparents built was taken away by World War II and the system of peace created afterward; what our grandparents and parents built was taken away by the communist system.” The message is that, considering everything, Hungary’s situation is not at all bad. (I don’t know who the sacrificial lamb is supposed to be in this analogy.) I think I should also point out that from Orbán’s grandparents and parents nothing was taken away by the communists. The opposite is true. The Orbán family was a beneficiary of the socialist system.

After spending only a little time on his accomplishments he quickly moved on to his grand design, his “master plan” as he called it. Miracles will take place. By 2030 Hungary will not be financially dependent, although I’m not quite sure what he means by financial independence. The central government will not have to borrow money? Will not have to issue government bonds? Hard to imagine. No country works that way and the country that tried it, I have Romania in mind, had a sorry end. “We will end our energy dependence” by that date. Furthermore, everybody will be saved from “the slavery of indebtedness in foreign currencies.”  The population will stop decreasing. Everybody will find work who wants to live in Hungary. Hungary will be among the thirty most competitive countries in the world. From these sentences it is clear that Viktor Orbán envisages himself as prime minister of Hungary at least for another eighteen years because he and his team will carry out this master plan.

“By a reindustrialization of the country Hungarian industry will be linked to the German industrial complex (a magyar ipart összeépítjük a némettel)…. We will build up ten thousand middle-size companies that will be competitive in the export business. Fifteen to twenty large Hungarian multinational companies will strengthen the global expansion of the Hungarian economy…. Four to five percent of the country’s GDP will be spent on research and development. Several of our universities will be among the top 200 in the world…. The living standards of Hungarian families will surpass the European average. We will achieve all this with carefully prepared plans, with a reorganized state, with committed experts, and with a society that wants and is able to work.

Shortly before Viktor Orbán delivered his speech came the news that the European Commission has its doubts about Hungary’s ability to hold the deficit under 3% in 2013. Commentators tried to guess what the prime minister would say about this piece of news. Would he say anything? Well, he did. Let me quote:

You shouldn’t be troubled by the European Union’s economic prognosis. For example, as far as the budget is concerned not once did they manage to guess it right. We keep fingers crossed that perhaps this time they will manage. We will help them because this year the deficit will again be under 3%.

Of course, what Orbán neglected to tell his adoring audience is that during 2012 the budget had to be rejiggered time and again to remain below the magic 3%. And surely, he didn’t want to tell them that most likely the EU prediction for 2013 is correct and that to remain under 3% new austerity measures will have to be introduced.

But Fidesz supporters can hang on to those twenty-year dreams and sleep unencumbered by the realities of today.