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Orban’s goulash less and less digestible

Published on January 20, 2012 by: in: Politics

A year ago Hungary was flavour of the month because of the controversial media law and nationalization of the pension system, this year authoritarian government, rushed change of the Constitution, manipulation of the central bank and breaking the civil laws are on everyone’s mouth. How do Hungarians react? They start to be impatient.

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Elections in April 2010 gave the conservative party Fidesz unprecedented victory leading to the 2/3 majority in the Parliament. Partly because of the economic crisis, mainly as a result of spectacular failure of the Socialists, Viktor Orbán’s slogans convinced over half of the Hungarian voters. Orbán presented his opinions and plans in a book “There is one homeland”, whose telling title basically sums up the content. Hungarian Prime Minister uses above all a slogan of big, powerful Hungary making references to long buried but still remembered historic sentiments, he speaks about independence of Hungary and about that they do not need anyone’s help. Speaking of Hungarian nation he always means also Hungarians living in the neighbouring countries, who were granted right to double citizenship right at the beginning of this Parliament’s term of office. All these slogans about restoring glory of Hungary combined with complete lack of trust towards Socialists secured Orbán a big victory.

Nobody could predict this, what is happening a year after the elections. After controversial media law and nationalization of the pension system situation in Hungary calmed down a bit a year ago, but not for long. The governmental actions became subject of heated discussion again a few months ago when facing the financial crisis government introduced possibility of paying back the credit in Swiss francs at the fixed rate, when paid in a lump sum. This solution was adopted without any consultations with the bank, which caused the first bigger storm in the financial sector. The next controversial step was rushing adaptation of the new Constitution which changed basically everything in the country, from the name of the state to competences of the Constitutional Tribunal. These competences were largely limited, which caused the voices of criticism accusing Orbán of the first coup d’etat. The second limitation comes down to the fact that according to the new Constitution the Constitutional Tribunal has no right to black budget bills until public debt reaches the level of 50% defined by the Constitution (currently it is almost 80%), which in theory is supposed to be a countermeasure against crisis, in practice gives the government unlimited freedom in the financial issues. Apart from the new Constitution the most controversial bill adopted by the Parliament was the one limiting independence of the central bank (president of the bank does not have right to appoint his deputies, who are nominated by the President after Prime Minister’s suggestion) and widening competences of the Monetary Council (increases number of its members up to 9, out of whom 6 are appointed by the Parliament).

Viktor Orban, in answer to international criticism and accusations of authoritarian methods, underlines deep need for change in Hungary. His main reason to carry out all these reforms and legislative changes come down to the idea that Hungary is still behind, still too much in the Communist era, for which he blames Socialists. This is why Fidesz is trying to take control over all the institutions possible – in order to make their dream of change possible, clearly they do not see any other, more democratic way to achieve it.

As expected in face of these events rating agencies lowered Hungarian rating to so-called junk status. This results in decrease in investors’ trust – not only potentially new ones but also those who already are in the country and who may start backing their capital. Hungarian economy is not big, without foreign capital there is virtually no chance to overcome high rate of unemployment and enormous public debt. Private debts remain a problem also, especially the ones in the Swiss francs. Hungary does not stand on the verge of bankruptcy yet but considering breaking the negotiations with the IMF and sanctions which the European Union threatens with, situation is becoming more and more serious. How do Hungarians react to all this?

Crowds on the streets of Budapest

A year ago, in spite of the controversial media law and wave of criticism towards Hungary in whole Europe, support for the Orbán’s government stayed at the exceptionally high level, exceeding 50%. At the beginning of 2012 signs of impatience are visible among Hungarians, especially in Budapest. There are regular protests against policy of the government in front of the Parliament which reached their climax in the enormous demonstration that took place on the 2nd January in front of the Opera where Hungarian dignitaries celebrated the new Constitution coming in power. According to various estimations demonstration gathered from 30 to 100 thousand people, even though it was peaceful all the way long it reflected the mood of many people in Hungary. People are fed up with Orbán and his more and more bold and less democratic decisions, they are fed up with the fact that against what was promised the economic situation did not improve at all. Slogans about powerful Hungary do not make any impression when forint breaks another record against euro, unemployment increases and the government carelessly breaks the negotiations with the IMF. It seems though that there will be no revolution in Budapest.

Intellectuals, oppositionists, students, all of liberals interested in the politics agree that undemocratic movements of Orbán’s government are worrying, to say the least. Demonstrations gather more and more government’s opponents but they are still far from the manifestations and riots from 2009 against Socialists. The Socialists still paradoxically contribute to big popularity of Fidesz. There is simply no alternative for Orbán in Hungary. After the scandal from 2009 when former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted that he was consciously and intentionally lying to his voters concerning the state of economy in order to win the elections, Socialists are still unpopular among Hungarian society that will probably distrust the Left for many years (their return to power is even more difficult now as the Communist Party and in theory also Socialist Party were declared to be illegal). According to the last polls anti-Roma, nationalist Jobbik was more popular than Socialists. At the same time Fidesz is also losing popularity – according to these surveys only around 30% of Hungarians would vote for Orban’s party.

Hungarians are in a very difficult situation – they have to choose between authoritarian Fidesz, radical Jobbik, discredited Socialist and liberals from LMP of no importance (not more than 5% of support in the last elections). On one hand Fidesz is losing popularity and has more and more fierce opponents, on the other hand there is no clear vision of change in Hungary. It seems to be a choice between bigger and lesser evil, but apparently Hungarians have not decided yet who is supposed to be lesser evil.

There will be no revolution, Orbán will rule until 2014?

It seems very improbable that Orbán’s government will be overthrown by the revolution on the streets, Prime Minister will rather not resign under the social pressure. The danger comes down to the fact that until the elections in 2014 Orbán seems to be out of voters’ control. Economic crisis is the most probable hope for the change of radical policy of the government or the alternation of power. Outflow of the foreign capital, lack of new investments, worsening economic situation and possible sanctions imposed by the European Union may force the Hungarian government to change its policy. And if not, then tragic economic situation and simple poverty can lead to the social revolution on a big scale, mentioned above and as for now not very probable. Limiting civil rights by introducing for example media law is criticized by intellectuals, high unemployment and huge public debt will provide bigger parts of the society with strong arguments against the government.

The latest events show the weakness of the international organizations in the situation of a crisis in one of the member states – neither European Union, nor Council of Europe has been able to do anything apart from presenting adequate reminders or recommendations so far. The European Commission’s sanctions’ results remain to be seen. A lot now depends on how the negotiations with the IMF will go and if Hungary will obtain financial aid from the Fund. If yes then it will be forced to fulfill the IMF’s conditions, which gives hope for the normalization of the situation in the country. However, if Orbán keeps stating that Hungary can deal with the problems on its own, then democracy and welfare might be in a serious danger.

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  1. avatar
    transylvanian
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Positive is that most of your information is correct. But there are a few mistakes in your article that slightly incline the balance to negative. Here is a major one: ” the Communist Party and in theory also Socialist Party were declared to be illegal”. Simply not true. Socialist Party has been declared successor in rights of the Communist Party – a fact that is hard to be deny – but never banned. See Art. VIII (3) of Hungary’s Constitution (2011): “The right to freedom of association shall allow the free establishment and operation of political parties”

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