Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Viktor Orban: We Do Not Subdue to Anyone

Adelina Marini, March 17, 2012

The populists lose a lot because they have nothing. Although populist is definitely not the right word to describe some leaders in some EU member states. Rather, they are windbags, the only purpose of whom is to maintain their rating, to focus media attention on themselves, without necessarily to feel the duty to do something worth mentioning. And as the welfare of the people always requires doing some serious work, the windbags are forced to resort to extremities in order to justify the lack of work being done. In Bulgaria we have learnt this very well in the past two years. In the European Union, however, Hungary has turned into an illustration of this phenomenon under the circumstances - last year it took the EU presidency for the first time and this was the reason why all spotlights were focused on the country and the then still new PM Viktor Orban.

His relations with Brussels did not go along well from the very beginning of the Hungarian presidency (the first semester of 2011), when preparations for a new media law started in the country and amendments to the Constitution were planned that blew the Hungarian and European public up, because of attempts for infringement of rights and freedoms. As a result, instead of investing efforts in implementation of the European priorities and the Hungarian contribution to them, Viktor Orban's government was forced to stay in a constant position of self-defence because of the frequent attacks in the European Parliament and the foreign media outlets in Brussels and Budapest.

There was no significant European event without Mr Orban to be asked why was he not doing well at home. We can hardly say that the Hungarian presidency was a failure but in any case it is hardly the thing the EU and Hungary itself would like to remember.

Aside from the domestic problems, which boiled over, the right-wing government of Mr Orban failed to tackle the financial troubles of the country too, which had to ask the IMF for financial assistance. Hungary was among the first European countries that asked financial assistance from the Fund after the breakout of the global financial crisis of 2008 and got 12.3 billion euros, additionally to the support of the EU, worth 6.5 billion euros. The purpose of the stand-by agreement was to help the treasury and the banking system. Under the conditions of the agreement, Hungary had to reduce significantly its budget spending and its debt, as well as to recapitalise its banks.

With its very joining the EU, Hungary violated the rules for budget deficit and entered an excessive deficit procedure (EDP). In 2003 the country registered a budget deficit of 5.3%. In spite of the excellent data before 2001, when the country given as an example to the other former socialist countries, with the coming to power of the left-wing government of Ferenc Gyurcsány begin the problems with the excessive budget spending of Hungary, enhanced by the socialists' desire to make a sharp levelling of the incomes of the Hungarian citizens with the EU average, believing that this would make the transition to the EU easier.

Probably you remember the scandalous revelation of the lies of the then prime minister, recorded secretly during a closed party gathering. Then the Hungarian PM makes an unprecedented confession on the failure of government. "We don't have much of a choice. And we don't because we screwed up. Not a bit but a lot. No country in Europe has ever screwed up as much as we have. Let me explain. Obviously we lied in the past 18 to 24 months. It was utmost clear that what we were saying was not true", Gyurcsány said then, which evoked the fury of the Hungarians, who took on the streets of Budapest and other towns across the country.

Nothing old is forgotten, nothing new is learnt

It is evident that the government of Orban, an experienced political player from the country's transition (he was a premier between 1998-2002), who came to power for a second time with a huge credit of trust, has learnt nothing from the past. Instead of taking responsibility for failing to handle the commitments and to put in order the Hungarian public finances, he chose the bellicose rhetoric, and this week he even declared war to Brussels, although, also this week, he asked for another portion of financial aid.

And just when the debates in Europe inflamed further whether Brussels was applying doubles standards, after assigning toughest measures on Hungary (by freezing almost half a billion euros from the EU Cohesion Fund), but closed its eyes for Spain, the Hungarian prime minister held a withering speech in Budapest on the occasion of the country's independence. On March 15 Hungary marks the revolution of 1848, when it broke up with the Austro-Hungarian empire. "The political and intellectual program of 1848 was this: we will not be a colony! The program and the desire of Hungarians in 2012 goes like this: we will not be a colony!", is how Viktor Orban started his speech in front of thousands of his supporters in the centre of the Hungarian capital city.

His entire speech was directed to the patriotic feelings of the Hungarians, it makes parallels with 1848 and 1956. For the Hungarian premier freedom means "not being inferior to anybody". "Freedom also means that we decide about the laws governing our own life, we decide what is important and what isn’t. From the Hungarian perspective, with a Hungarian mindset, following the rhythm of our Hungarian hearts", Mr Orban said, obviously resisting Europe's pressure against the new Hungarian legislation, which casts doubts about the independence of the central bank and the judiciary. "Therefore we write our own constitutions. We do not need writing-lines, nor do we require the unsolicited assistance of foreigners wanting to guide our hands".

Stopping short from talking about the reasons why Hungary had to ask a new financial injection, Viktor Orban attacked Brussels for the demands it put before Budapest in order to start a new round of negotiations with the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. According to Orban, what Europe refused to see was that financial independence was a pre-condition for freedom. "This is why they had to include the indispensable demand for a National Bank on their 12-point list". Orban said, though, that independent is that bank, which protects the national economy from foreign interests. "They knew and we also know well that anyone with common sense will not entrust the neighbours with the keys to the pantry". Obviously the Hungarian prime minster understands solidarity as a one-way street - help us but without conditions.

He made an interesting move by mentioning Lithuanians, Czechs, Latvians, Slovenians and Romanians as friends who defended the Hungarians. Probably Orban has in mind the representatives of these countries who came to Budapest to celebrate the March revolution of 1848. Then he quickly recalled again that "there are people, there are many people who still remember 56 and think that 'you Hungarians were right'".

Viktor Orban said that Hungary had only one demand and it was equal standards for the Hungarians. "We will not be second class European citizens. Our rightful demand is to have the same standards apply to us, which apply to other countries". In the end of his speech he softened regarding Europe but said that "if we don’t act in time, in the end, the whole of Europe can become a colony of the modern financial system".

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president reacted briefly and dryly to that speech through a statement, delivered by his spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde: "Those who compare the EU to the USSR show a complete lack of understanding of what democracy is and also fail to understand the important contribution of all those who have defended and fought for freedom and democracy".

The feeling this speech leaves, especially against the backdrop of the gigantic efforts being invested in the rescue of Greece and the constant pushing of undergrown societies like Bulgaria's and Romania's, and obviously Hungary's, is of disappointment. Disappointment that there still are politicians who, even in such dire economic circumstances, are ready to sell everything in the name of their own survival. As we wrote many times on this website, the romantics of Europe's unification after the Cold War is over. It was replaced by a difficult to swallow realism that we very much want all of us in the EU to be equal but we are not.

This seems to be the greatest challenge for the future of the Union, because economic troubles will sooner or later be overcome but the differences of development will remain. Evidently it is time the EU to change its political criteria for admission of countries from the former communist camp. And the leading criterion should be not the fear of them choosing an eastern alternative but rather their real preparedness to respect democratic values and rule of law.