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PM Orbán’s 15th “State of the Nation” address

February 25th, 2013

Left-wing commentators accuse the Prime Minister of painting too rosy a picture of his government’s performance, while pro-government columnists contend that he was rather exact in his explanation of the reasons behind his choice of path.

In its front page editorial, Népszabadság finds the Prime Minister’s yearly “State of the Nation” address, the fifteenth of its kind, highly contradictory. Mr Orbán is quoted as saying that his greatest success has been to steer Hungary onto a path of independence: “We don’t let bankers and foreign bureaucrats tell us how we are supposed to live, what our constitution should look like or when we are allowed to raise wages and old age pensions,” said the Prime Minister. Népszabadság objects that the only figure the government actually got right last year was precisely the one demanded by “bankers and /Brussels/ bureaucrats,” namely, to keep the public deficit below the 3 per cent threshold. Népszabadság also believes the Prime Minister knows that Brussels is right in forecasting stagnation for Hungary this year, but that is a problem “he will have to explain in his next year’s address.”

In his commentary in the same daily, Ákos Tóth criticises the Prime Minister’s “Master Plan” for the next twenty years, with Hungary ending up among the 30 most competitive nations, our universities ranking among the first 200 and the income of Hungarian households exceeding the European average. Mr Orbán, he writes, did not elucidate to the public how Hungary can reach such bliss from the present disheartening starting point. Tóth concludes therefore that the Prime Minister’s speech contained no new information “which either means he has actually nothing to say or that the electoral campaign is already underway.”

In Népszava, editor Péter Németh considers the theses of the speech as evidently false. He reacts nevertheless with indignation to what Mr Orbán said about the historical importance of his government. Németh says he does not mind if the Prime Minister spells out his hostility to the banks and certain foreigners in his address to his political kinsfolk, “if that’s what they like to hear.” What he found overly exaggerated, however, was Mr Orbán’s attempt to place his own political ‘achievements’ since 2010, among an unbroken line of major turning points in Hungarian history, which include the first King, Saint Stephen and the 1956 revolution. In this scheme of things, the Prime Minister regards his government as the founder of a new, 21st Century Hungary. Németh does not even deem it worthwhile to disprove such a claim.

In Magyar Hírlap, Zsolt Bayer compares the Prime Minister’s address to the regular yearly speech made earlier by former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who now heads a small opposition party, the Democratic Coalition. Since Mr Gyurcsány cautioned against any attempt at co-operating with the right wing, Bayer says in effect that government and opposition present their wares to entirely separate worlds. He thinks the pro-government camp alone, harbours such sentiments as national self-esteem and faith in the future. The opposing camp, he suggests, knows only one panacea for all evils: loans, then easy spending, then austerity, then loans again. And faith in the global market. The gist of the Prime Minister’s speech, Bayer suggests, is that the world based on the global free market is unsustainable, and something new has to be worked out to replace it. The Socialists, on the other hand, cling to what they learnt “on their neo-capitalist rapid recycling courses.” He also criticises them for inviting Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the man who dissolved the Hungarian Faculty at the Medical University in Târgu Mureș, to attend party chairman Attila Mesterházy’s own “State of the Nation” speech ceremony in March. “We will be there to welcome him peacefully, with very many Szekler banners,” Bayer announces. (On the Szekler flag “war”, See BudaPost, February 9 and 18.)

In Magyar Nemzet, Zsuzsanna Körmendy comments on the Prime Minister’s remarks on the pessimistic forecast released a few hours before his speech by the European Commission on Hungary’s economic outlook for 2013. The Commission estimated that instead of the 0.9 per cent GDP growth forecast by the government, the economy will shrink by 0.1 and consequently the public deficit will be over 3 per cent. Mr Orbán said the European Commission has never once managed to guess Hungary’s deficit figure correctly,  and promised that the government will keep the deficit under the 3 per cent threshold, just as it did last year. Körmendy believes it would be important to see the “verdict of the Union coincide with our own judgement.” But what is even more important, she continues, is to clearly see the difference between a government which staunchly represents the national interest, and those who regularly oppose it. We are a member country, and have to keep the opinion of the Union in mind but, Körmendy warns, if we want to be sure about ourselves, we have to be able to think about the past and the future as well. She believes that is precisely what the Prime Minister was doing when he outlined the future he imagines for Hungary two decades from now. In such a context, she argues, the recently introduced 10 per cent cut in utility fees (See BudaPost, January 15) was more than a pre-electoral manoeuvre: it was meant to signal that “several decades old practices can and must be changed.” Otherwise, the two key messages of the Prime Minister’s speech were his desire to merge Hungarian and German industries, she believes, and his warning that those who are most unhappy about the progress made are the ones that used to benefit most from Hungary’s weakness.

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