Left-wing commentators claim that the government leases large state-owned fields to its “oligarchs” at a reduced rate, instead of helping local family farms. Centrist analysts believe that the debate will create an opportunity for opposition parties to attract rural voters. A pro-government columnist, on the other hand, finds such left-wing criticism deeply unconvincing.
József Ángyán, former Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development, resigned in January, claiming that “oligarchs” are gaining influence in Hungarian agriculture. According to Ángyán, who is still a Fidesz MP, “speculators” and families closely associated with ruling circles have been leased a large portion of state-owned fields at reduced rates, while many local farmers are left without land. These “mafia families”, Ángyán claims, are extremely powerful – they can influence Hungarian agricultural policy and also reap the benefit of most agricultural subsidies.
In the past weeks, left-wing dailies have published an array of articles in which they claim that the government has indeed leased hundreds of acres of state-owned fields to entrepreneurs allied to Fidesz throughout the country, instead of helping local farmers, as Fidesz had promised. In Parliament, all the opposition parties criticized the government for “promoting the interests of oligarchs.” PM Viktor Orbán denied the accusations, stating that there were no oligarchs in the country. In an open letter sent to a group of conservative professors also critical of the allocation of the land, Orbán stated that he had investigated the issue, and found that most of the land was indeed offered to local small-scale farmers. The word “oligarchs” was re-introduced into Hungarian political vocabulary in April 2010 by the Prime Minister, immediately after the election, in the sense that the Fidesz election victory meant a massive defeat for “Socialist oligarchs.”
The Prime Minister has tried to deny that his government promotes the interest of oligarchs who want to exert political power, writes Ákos Tóth in Népszabadság, in a commentary on the Prime Minister’s speech in Parliament. But the distribution of state owned land clearly shows that Orbán wants to support the Fidesz hinterland by creating business opportunities for his “national capitalist” friends, he concludes.
In Népszava, Tamás Bihari writes that . While still in opposition, Fidesz promised to help family businesses and small agricultural entrepreneurs, but in practice it now seems to have elaborated a “feudal system”, in which those family farmers who are left without land will have no other option but to become “serfs” for big “feudal landlords” allied to Fidesz, Bihari contends.
Gábor Török notes that governments often help national entrepreneurs in the hope that once they become strong enough, they can be self-sustaining. This, however, has rarely been the case in Hungary, where “clientism” is widespread and governments regularly use state funds to help their friends. Such businesses often stop operating if the government ends its sponsorship.
As for the political consequences, Török believes that if a parliamentary commission is set up to investigate the leasing of state-owned land, as proposed by the far-right Jobbik party, opposition parties will have an opportunity to successfully criticize Fidesz.
“It is clear that PM Orbán has no good answer to the accusations,” Véleményvezér contends. According to the liberal conservative commentator, Ángyán has opened up a debate from which the opposition parties could profit. Véleményvezér believes that now the opposition parties have a chance to challenge Fidesz on factual grounds over an issue which is crucially important for the rural middle classes, which constitute an important constituency for Fidesz.
In Magyar Hírlap, Ferenc Sinkovics finds it highly unlikely that farmers will be easily convinced by the accusations of the left-wing opposition parties. The former Socialist governments openly promoted the concentration of land and did nothing to help small family farms, while LMP is seen as a liberal urban party, whose politicians “may not be able to tell a horse from a cow,” Sinkovics remarks.
He admits, nonetheless, that many farmers do feel let down by the government in the land-allocation process. The pro-government columnist urges the government to reconsider its stance and genuinely promote the interest of local family farmers, otherwise its stronghold, the rural middle class could be drawn away by the left-wing parties.