Viktor Orbán’s speech in parliament, May 10, 2014

Viktor Orbán had a very busy weekend. He was in Berlin on the 8th where he had a brief conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel and delivered a lecture at a conference on the future of the European Union. Two days later, on the 10th, he was sworn in as prime minister of Hungary and delivered two speeches, one to the members of parliament and another to a sizable audience recruited by party activists.

I would like to concentrate here on the longest speech of the three, the one he delivered in parliament. In this speech he sought to portray himself as the prime minister of the whole nation. By contrast, the speech that followed, delivered only a few hours later, was entitled “We must go to war again!” It was an antagonistic campaign speech for the European parliamentary election. Such rapid switches in Orbán’s messages are by now expected.

Not that the first speech was devoid of military references. Orbán described Fidesz’s election campaign as a “military expedition” that produced fabulous results. Some people want to belittle this achievement, he said, by talking about the jarring difference between the number of votes cast for Fidesz and the number of seats the party received in parliament. But he considers the result a true expression of the popular will and a reaffirmation of his leadership. It reflects (perhaps in a fun house mirror) the Hungarian people’s centuries-long striving for freedom and independence.

After assuring his audience that he will be the prime minister of all Hungarians, even those who did not vote for Fidesz, he shared his views on the politics of the first twenty years of Hungarian democracy and outlined what he would consider a desirable state of affairs in Hungarian politics under his guidance. The upshot of it is that Hungarians had too much freedom between 1990 and 2010. After 40 years of silence, suddenly everybody wanted to discuss and argue and, as a result, “we didn’t get anywhere.” Hungarian politics didn’t find the right proportion between discussion, argument, compromise, and action. But now that the Hungarian people have overwhelmingly voted for his politics, “it is time to close the period of unproductive debates.” Since he won the election twice, “the Fundamental Law, a society built on human dignity, politics that couples freedom with responsibility, a work-based society and unification of nation are no longer the subjects of debate.” One can talk about details but “the basic questions have been decided. The electorate put an end to debate.”

Members of the democratic opposition are missing Source: MTI/ Lajos Soós

Members of the democratic opposition are absent
Source: MTI/ Lajos Soós

We know from his earlier utterances that Orbán values national unity above all, but here he admitted that the much coveted unity cannot be fully achieved. The culprit? Democracy. He recognizes that democratic principles preclude “complete national unity.” He quickly added, however, that “the forces that are striving for unity scored an overwhelming victory at the polls, meaning the central forces were victorious.”  He considers this huge mass of people the “European center, which rejects extremist politics.”

At the very beginning of the speech Orbán devoted a short paragraph to the importance of proper word usage. If the choice of words is wrong, the thoughts behind them are muddled. The implication was that his way of expressing himself is crystal clear with no room for misunderstanding. Unfortunately, his discourse on democracy versus national unity is anything but clear and logical. So, let’s try to unravel the tangle.

It seems to me that he is trying to show that democracy and national unity are compatible after all. Since Fidesz won a landslide victory and those who voted for him belong to the political center (a group that stands against both right and left extremism), they embody the notion of national unity. Extremists have no place in the nation because “they pose a danger to Hungarians.” A rather neat way of justifying a basically autocratic, non-democratic system within the framework of a supposedly democratic regime.

Who are these extremists? If you think that he was talking about Jobbik you would be wrong. He talked mostly about the liberals. People who defend the rights of the accused at the expense of victims’ rights are extremists. Extremists are those who “take money away from working people and give it to those who are capable of working but who don’t want to work.” Extremists are those who “want to support the unemployed instead of the employed.” An extremist is a person “who wants to sacrifice our one-thousand-year-old country on the altar of some kind of United States of Europe.” (A clear reference to Ferenc Gyurcsány.) For Orbán, it seems, the socialists and liberals are just as extreme as the politicians of Jobbik who “want to leave the European Union.”  In fact, he spends far more time on the sins of the liberals than on those of Jobbik, whose only offense seems to be their desire to turn their backs on the European Union. Of course, Orbán himself would be a great deal happier if he could get rid of the Brussels bureaucrats who poke their noses into his affairs, but he knows that without the EU Hungary would have been bankrupt a long time ago.

As for his “program,” we know that before the election Orbán did not offer a party program. Fidesz simply announced that they “will continue” what they did in the last four years. The guiding principles will remain the same: Christianity, family values, patriotism, and a work-based society. Orbán is against immigration from outside of Europe and instead wants to promote large Hungarian families. He makes no bones about what he thinks of same-sex marriages. We’ve heard these themes before; they’re not worth dwelling on here.

I would, however, like to point out one delicious “messaging shift”  in this speech. You may recall that Viktor Orbán time and again called the 1989 constitution, which was a thorough rewrite of the 1948 constitution, a Stalinist constitution. Fidesz politicians liked to say that Hungary was the only EU country that still had a “communist” constitution. So, what do I see in this speech? The following sentence: “The liberal constitution did not obligate the government to the service of national interests;  it did not oblige it to recognize and strengthen the community of Hungarians living all over the world; it did not defend the nation’s common property; it did not shelter the people from the indebtedness and the pillage of the country.”  Wow, so the problem was that it was a liberal constitution! Now we understand.

Viktor Orbán at Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad

I just finished listening to Viktor Orbán’s 56-minute speech at Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad in Romania. He had a large, enthusiastic audience despite the heat. Applause was especially loud and long when Orbán talked about his fight against multinational companies, banks, and the European Union.  In the audience one could see very young children who, though they most likely didn’t understand a word, were enthusiastic nonetheless. It seems, however, that not everybody was equally impressed. The camera stayed focused for a fairly long time on a man who seemed to have fallen asleep, and I heard later that a couple of men threw tomatoes at Orbán on his way out from the camp site.

Source: MTI / Photo László Beliczay

Source: MTI / Photo László Beliczay

Viktor Orbán made sure that his audience doesn’t forget about next year’s election. He began his speech with a reference to it and at the end stressed the importance of his staying in power and continuing the policies that will lead to a complete transformation of Hungary’s political and economic system.

It seems that once Orbán comes up with a pet theory about the political and economic functioning of the universe, and he has a large inventory of them, he simply cannot let it go. In fact, in every new speech that touches on one of these theories he ratchets up his rhetoric and makes increasingly indefensible statements. For instance, his original theory about the decline of the West has by now become a prediction of a political and military clash between the West led by the United States and Asia led by China. By now he makes no secret of his intense dislike of the United States and accuses it of “trying to prevent other countries from catching up with it.”

Or, a few months ago he talked about the dominance of larger member states over the smaller ones within the European Union. By now this observation has morphed into the conviction that the “great powers” actually exploit the small ones by siphoning financial and human resources away from the smaller countries. The chief culprit here is again the United States. Hungary’s goal is to prevent such an exploitation and brain drain. This is in fact the essence of Hungary’s national strategy. To stop the great powers and use this new world’s opportunities to Hungary’s advantage.

After a rather lengthy and debatable historical treatise starting with World War I, he reached his favorite subject, the present financial crisis which in his opinion cannot be solved by the European Union. The institutional framework of the Union, the Commission, the Parliament “are unfit to handle the historical challenges facing us.” Orbán’s remedy is to shift the locus of power to individual nation states because only they are capable of overcoming the present crisis.

Orbán rarely passes up an opportunity for double-talk. This time he quoted a line from Sándor Kányádi, a Hungarian poet from Transylvania who had a line referring not to clear to what that “the dog is the same, only the chain was changed.” Of course, he immediately added that the change that occurred then wasn’t as simple as “left the tanks and came the banks,” as István Csurka claimed in the early 1990s, but “there is something to it.”

Then came a rather confused explanation of the differences between the gross national product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI). GDP is the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time. GNI, a less familiar concept, consists of personal consumption expenditures, gross private investment, government consumption expenditures, the net income from assets abroad, and gross exports of goods and services after deducting gross imports of goods and services and direct business taxes.

Hungary’s GNI, Orbán claimed, is greater than its GDP. The difference, some two trillion forints annually, is moved abroad by banks and foreign companies. When national governments are in power, he argued, the difference between the two economic measures shrinks; when the socialists and liberals govern, the gap widens.

Let me stop for a moment. According to data published by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, this claim is inaccurate. The Budapest Business Journal  wrote in September 2010: “The gap between nominal GDP and GNI widened each year between 2003 and 2007, from HUF 871 billion or 4.6% of GDP to 6.9%, but has narrowed since, dropping to HUF 1,721 billion or 6.4% of GDP in 2008 and to HUF 1,303 billion or 5% in 2009, the figures show.”

Why the gap between the GNI and the GDP in Hungary? According to Orbán the explanation is simple: “We created this wealth and it disappeared” abroad. He admitted that Hungary couldn’t manufacture cars on its own and therefore if Mercedes Benz makes a profit and takes this profit out of the country it is legitimate. After all, they provide job opportunities. But the banks are different. They amassed unreasonably large profits and therefore the bank levies are justified. These banks as well as the utility companies are siphoning money of the country. Again, let’s stop for a minute. It is a well-known fact that the foreign banks have been pumping money into their Hungarian subsidiaries for a number of years. That is the reason they haven’t gone under yet.

After this harangue against foreign companies and banks he listed eleven accomplishments he is proud of. I do not have the space, nor is it even worth the effort, to list them all. However, a couple of points that he made in connection with these accomplishments are worth noting.

One is his belief that if a country’s national debt is 90% or more of GDP there can be no economic growth. This mistaken notion most likely comes from a since largely debunked study by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, two otherwise respected economists. The study, called “Growth in a Time of Debt,” claimed that economic growth slowed rather dramatically for countries whose public debt crossed the threshold of 90% of the gross domestic product.  Unfortunately, they made some errors in their calculations. The most serious was their failure to include years of data that showed Australia, Canada, and New Zealand enjoying high economic growth and high debt at the same time. More can be read about the Reinhart-Rogoff study here. It seems that whoever told Orbán about the correlation between national debt and economic growth knew about the study but not about its “Excel coding errors.”

Among the laundry list of accomplishments I found reference to an odd economic theory which even Orbán admitted was unique. As he put it, “as regards this question everybody is on the other side and we are the only ones on this side.” Well, that is frightening enough. So, what was Orbán talking about? Those on the other side claim that economic growth must come first and that this growth will then foster higher employment. But Viktor Orbán is convinced that exactly the opposite is true. First, one creates jobs, and this job creation will create economic growth. He claims that this is precisely what happened in the United States in the 1930s. Alas, it is a well known fact that it wasn’t Roosevelt’s public works program that managed to pull the U.S. economy out of the great depression. But Orbán is convinced that the same strategy will work in Hungary although even he has to admit that the two situations cannot be compared because the United States was rich enough to start building railroads and such while Hungary, being poor, can only employ public workers to dig ditches. How 300,000 ditch diggers can lead Hungary out of the economic crisis remains a well-kept secret.

We might think that these primitive economic notions are frightening, but Orbán received his greatest applause when he said that Hungary is following a road on which he is completely alone. Where that road will take the country I hate to think.

Official prizes for far-right neo-Nazis and members of the lunatic fringe in Hungary

I have been complaining for some time about the state’s meddling in artistic and intellectual life by awarding hundreds of decorations and prizes to “worthy” individuals. This practice began some time in the nineteenth century, albeit on a very limited basis. There was the Order of St. Stephen, established by Queen Maria Theresa, which ceased to exist after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In 1930 Regent Miklós Horthy established the so-called Corvin Chain. From the list of recipients it is clear that ideological commitment was an important consideration in the selection process. Viktor Orbán already during his first stint in office worked to revive the spirit of the Horthy era and reinstated the Corvin Chain. After the lost elections, the socialist-liberal government scrapped it. I wrote about these old and new decorations in November 2011.

In any case, if it depended on me there would be no state prizes given out to writers, scientists, actors, and artists because it is becoming evident that these twice-a-year (March 15 and August 20) awards are for the most part payback for services rendered to the party and government. This is bad enough, but what happened this year is beyond the pale. The Orbán government, in addition to rewarding its political favorites, decided to decorate far-right extremists and charlatans.

Viva stupidityBelonging to the extremist category is Ferenc Szaniszló, a reporter for Echo TV, whose program Világ-Panoráma was considered unacceptable even by the Media Council; the station was fined for broadcasting Szaniszló’s antisemitic racism. And now he has received the highest honor a reporter or journalist can get, the Táncsics Prize.

I watched a few of his programs and came to the conclusion that he is not only a political extremist, he most likely doesn’t have all his marbles. Because what can one conclude when Szaniszló stands in front of the camera saying that there was a Bulgarian fortune-teller whose prophecies have come true 80% of the time and who has foretold that in 2015 aliens will arrive from outer space who will seek out the Hungarians because they are the only ones who can solve the problem of communication between themselves and earthlings. The reason: Hungarian is an “ancient Ur-language.”

During the same tirade he goes on and on about the terrible liberals (he calls them “liberos” and the liberos are the Jews)  who wanted to destroy the country by insisting on a professional army whose members are mercenaries of globalization. Hungarian soldiers are sent far away from Hungary instead of being kept at home where they could fight “terrorism.” Here the word “terrorism” is a euphemism for “Gypsy crime.” So, Szaniszló, the democrat, would use the Hungarian army against the country’s citizens. Behind all this terrorism are the Jews who defend the Roma in order to destroy the Hungarians. In any case, the country is divided into three distinct groups: the Hungarians, the Gypsies, and the Jews.

Elsewhere Szaniszló talks about the garbage (szemét in Hungarian) that covers the entire country and plays fast and loose with the similarity in pronunciation between “szemét” and “szemita.” He is “anti-szemét” because it is the desire of these “szemetek” that everything should be theirs. But “we will clear them out of the country.”

It would take pages and pages to list all the nonsense this man can come up with. So, here is a video that will give those who speak Hungarian a glimpse into Szaniszló’s world.

Several earlier recipients of the Táncsics Prize renounced it in protest. Among them, Péter Németh (Népszava), György Bolgár (Klubrádió, ATV), Katalin Rangos (Klubrádió), Mátyás Vince, György Nej, Zoltán Horváth, to mention only a few.

But Szaniszló is not the only one whose contribution to Hungarian culture is questionable. Another awardee is Kornél Bakay, who claims to be an archaeologist. It is true that he was a student of Gyula László, a researcher into the early history of Hungarians, but eventually Bakay ended up in a far-right non-accredited “university” in Miskolc. According to him, runic writing is a variation of Sumerian; the Hungarians are the direct descendants of the Scythians and the Huns. He claims, very much like the “scientists” in Hitler’s Germany, that Jesus was not a Jew but a Parthian prince and that Jews in general were slave traders. He denies the very existence of ancient Israel. He even “proved” that the loss of Hungary to the Turks in Mohács (1526) was the work of Jews. Bakay’s knowledge of Hungarian history is so poor that even his facts are wrong. He goes so far as to suggest that ancient Greek culture is somehow connected to the Hungarians. In 2003 he organized an exhibition: “Soldiers of Horthy and Arrow Cross Men of Szálasi” that eventually was closed due to its obvious adulation of the Hungarian far right in the 1930s.

Varga Tibor, dr.

The founder of the Szentkorona Szabadegyetem,  Tibor Varga, a legal historian /

Another strange choice is Ajándok Eöry.  Apparently “Ajándok”  is an old Hungarian name that means “Gift of God,” the male form of Ajándék. It is a very rare name, and I have the suspicion that Eöry didn’t come into the world with it. If you want to be amused, you can listen to his lecture on YouTube about the fanciful theory that the Chinese learned acupuncture from the Hungarians. Proof? There is a slang expression in Hungarian “ennek lőttek,” meaning “that’s finished,” but its  literal  translation is “it was shot at.” Why? Because ancient Hungarians shot arrows into the dead lying in their graves in order to get “the evil spirit” out of them!

The lecture was delivered at the Szentkorona Szabadegyetem (Free University of the Holy Crown) whose founder is Tibor Varga, who calls himself a legal historian. It is worth taking a look at the website of Szentkorona országa (Country of the Holy Crown). According to the website, Hungary was at one time a country in the middle of which God lived!! All of the lectures that are listed are “way out,” and the speakers for the most part are charlatans who belong to the lunatic fringe. Even the qualifications of better ones, like László Bárdi of the University of Pécs, are questionable. He became a Chinese expert and began publishing on Chinese-Hungarian cultural relations via the Huns only in the 1990s. Prior to that he was a high school teacher and eventually a supervisor of teachers.

The guitar player János Petrás of Karpatia, a true neo-Nazi band, also received a decoration. Karpatia composed the official anthem of the Hungarian Guard.

What does Zoltán Balog, the minister who handed out these decorations and prizes, have to say to all this? He claims that he got the list from different committees and assumed that everything was all right. He didn’t check on any of the recipients’ credentials. He contends that he had never heard of Ferenc Szaniszló. Hard to believe. Instead, one must look upon this list of recipients as a gesture from the Orbán government toward Jobbik and the extreme right.