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Hungary bracing for a tough New Year

January 2nd, 2012

All commentators agree that 2012 will be even tougher than 2010.  But they disagree on the reasons, and on the best policy to follow.

On Komment.hu, Albert Gazda suggests that PM Viktor Orbán, who is under mounting international pressure, will face his last chance in the New Year. “One is by no means required to hurriedly kneel down in front of Jose Manuel Barroso or Hillary Clinton whenever they happen to frown at you. One is even entitled to write defiant letters to them, in defence of Hungary’s legitimate interests.” Gazda doubts however that Hungary’s real interests have been correctly identified, and remarks that sometimes compromise is a wiser choice than confrontation. He also deplores the fact that there is no alternative at hand to the present government. “Another problem of the past foolish year is that it has not produced a viable opposition.”

Political scientist Gábor Török urges a correction of the policy line followed by the government, lest Hungary face dire dangers. He warns that a careless pursuit of sovereignty might paradoxically produce a situation where decisions on the country’s destiny are no longer taken by its elected leaders. Either as a result of economic collapse or in order to prevent it from happening. That eventuality would result in more suffering for Hungarians than any other scenario. Therefore Török deems irresponsible those who want the outside world to topple Prime Minister Orbán. He identifies three players who bear a special burden of responsibility for Hungary’s future:

  1. The Prime Minister who should rectify his policy line or resign if he cannot;
  2. Governing party politicians who should be courageous enough to demand a course correction, even confronting their own leader if necessary;
  3. The opposition who should keep the government under pressure, but stop short of destabilising the country.

In Népszabadság, Róbert Friss predicts that the New Year will strengthen the opposition to Viktor Orbán’s regime.”The fourth republic has been conceived; the embryo is gaining strength and is moving.” (Although the new constitution defines Hungary as a republic, the country’s name is simply Hungary and not Hungarian Republic as before.) According to Friss’s analysis, the government is ruining its own chances by confronting more and more international players, as well as by insisting on its “unorthodox” economic policy. “The government is under increasing international pressure, while at home society is more and more vocal in urging the opposition to join forces on the streets and around the negotiating table.”

In Magyar Hírlap, Zsolt Bayer likens the position of the government to that of the defenders of a besieged fortress. But “in the era of mass communication, there is no need for real battles, victories or defeats. The NEWS will do it: it ruins countries, governments, empires.” He recalls the heroic defenders of Eger in 1552, who, against all odds, defeated the invincible Ottoman army. They could have never sent the Turks home had today’s media existed then. The NEWS would have doomed them to defeat beforehand. In an obvious hint at the standoff between the government on the one hand and the credit rating agencies, the IMF, the US Secretary of State and the European Commission on the other, Bayer concludes: “There is one thing we know – we cannot afford to lose this battle”.

In Magyar Narancs, Attila Ara-Kovács, who used to be a foreign policy expert of the once governing liberal Free Democrats, believes that the new opposition that is slowly coagulating cannot be successful without the “intellectual élite”. He welcomes the “unmistakeable and increasingly spectacular strategy of highly influential foreign forces against Orbán and Co.”, but acknowledges that apart from anti-government NGOs and opposition parties “a political will inside Hungarian society for change, would also be indispensible.” Ara-Kovács thinks that what is missing is a coherent pro-European and Atlanticist strategy, which can only be supplied by “the intellectual élite”, by which he obviously means the liberal intelligentsia that used to support the Free Democrats and had a strong influence on the Socialist Party as well.

Véleményvezér complains that by the end of 2011 „we have been left without any sizeable allies, and what is more, an increasing number of our allies feel tempted to teach us a severe lesson, if only to prevent our behaviour from spreading.” The conservative blogger remarks that as Hungary becomes more vulnerable, some of our rivals are trying to take advantage of our weakness. He suspects the sanctions against ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia asking for Hungarian citizenship or the campaign in Croatia against MOL, Hungary’s oil multinational “were only the beginning”.

In Magyar Nemzet, Csaba Lukács suggests that the main news 2011 brought to Hungary was the possibility for Hungarians living in neighbouring countries to accede to Hungarian citizenship. He does not underestimate the financial problems Hungary is facing, nor does he claim that the government has been faultless in crisis management. For instance, he believes that “our fiasco with the IMF” (that is breaking off negotiations then asking for a new credit line), could have been avoided. Lukács also criticises the new church law which excluded many traditional Christian churches from automatic recognition. Finally he deplores the fact that Hungary has confronted so many international institutions. Nevertheless, the fact that 200 thousand Hungarians living in neighbouring countries have applied for Hungarian citizenship opens a new era – the right-wing columnist asserts.

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