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At war

June 6th, 2011

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has identified debt and unemployment as the twin enemies to defeat, lest we be defeated by them. Left-wing commentators accuse him of waging war with virtually all actors at home and abroad. Right-wing analysts also report signs of social tensions, but blame the hardships on the previous left-wing governments.

The government’s debt-cutting programme has infuriated various categories of employees, and protests, although rather mild by Greek or even Spanish standards, are unusually bitter for Hungary. Young doctors threaten to leave the country en masse, unless their demands for substantial pay rises are met. Demonstrations are under way in several settlements against planned school closures. Public sector employees, especially those involved in maintaining public order – policemen, firemen and employees of other armed services – have held angry demonstrations against the government’s decision to cut their rights to early retirement.

In Maggie Thatcher’s footsteps?

In a front page editorial, left-leaning Népszabadság compares Mr Orbán to former British PM Margaret Thatcher. “Recognizing that her country was in a blind alley, the Iron Lady … crushed the trade unions and plunged Britain down the path of inevitable reforms.” But even Mrs Thatcher did not declare war in her fierce fight against union rights, Népszabadság suggests, and accuses Mr Orbán of waging an unnecessary war in order to promote necessary changes. ”We know that Orbán is at his happiest in the middle of a right royal battle. But his war against the armed forces of this country may prove eventually to be too expensive”.

The government does not appear to be willing to retreat” – believes Matild Torkos, an editorial writer at Magyar Nemzet. The negotiations with the trade unions were aimed at publicizing the government’s standpoint rather than reaching a compromise, she suggests. But sooner or later the government will have to realize that it has opened too many fronts with too many sectors of society. To smooth out all these conflicts will take exceptionally good governance.

“As a matter of principle, we should oppose retroactive legislation. But we have to bear in mind that the Orbán government inherited from its predecessor a ‘state of emergency’, which requires solutions that would normally be unusual in a constitutional democracy.”

Early elections next year?

Philosopher Ferenc Horkay Hörcher, a regular contributor to the weekly Heti Válasz, doubts whether substantial improvements can be introduced in the health service or public education at a time when the budgets available to them are being severely cut back. Long term interests may thus suffer as a result of fiscal constraints “which would tragically remind us of the paralysis under (former Socialist PM Ferenc) Gyurcsány. The problem is, Horkay Hörcher writes, that “it is difficult to extinguish the flames devouring your home and build your (new) house at the same time”.

Although the Prime Minister excluded the option of early elections next year as recently as late April, in his assessment of his first year in government, Horkay Hörcher believes such a choice might prolong Fidesz rule until the fruits of its crisis management ripen, and “a constructive economic policy can be pursued.”

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