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Government accused of paralysis while PM under fire in Brussels

March 18th, 2013

The authorities were at least one day late in reacting to the exceptional snowstorm and a left-wing commentator thinks the reason was that PM Viktor Orbán was busy fending off growing discontent with Hungary’s constitutional amendments among European allies.

In Népszabadság’s week-end front page editorial, Interior Minister Sándor Pintér is fiercely criticised for laying the blame on “irresponsible” drivers who hit the road despite the approaching storm. Even as he spoke, thousands of passengers were still stranded, waiting for help from the authorities under Mr Pintér’s command, Népszabadság remarks. The left-wing daily also finds it appalling that the Hungarian authorities only accepted help from their Austrian counterparts on Friday. Ironically enough, this happened on 15th March, the first day of a revolution and war of independence fought by Hungarians against Austria in 1848-49.

In Magyar Narancs, the editor believes Mr Orbán chose his ministers on the basis of their servility, and so as soon as he was not on board to command them, they were simply unable to act. Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén was in Transylvania to celebrate March 15th; the whereabouts of Tibor Navracsics, the Minister for Justice and Public Administration “are a mystery”, while Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér only surfaced when ten thousand passengers had already been trapped along the motorways for 12 hours. The snowstorm reached Hungary exactly as foreseen, on Thursday, and therefore the motorways should have been closed down on Wednesday night. Civil Protection authorities should have informed the public about the danger well in advance, but nothing of the kind happened. “For 48 dramatic hours, the government was out of order,” Magyar Narancs claims.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, spent the national holiday at the European summit in Brussels, where leading officials, including Commission chief José Manuel Barroso and EP Speaker Martin Schultz were reported to have sharply criticised him for passing 22 constitutional amendments without consulting international experts.

Népszabadság’s Brussels correspondent Eszter Zalán reports that at his international press conference, the Prime Minister managed to raise doubts among correspondents about the correctness of the criticism levelled against the constitutional amendments. The media also appreciated the fact that he was ready to face the debate and defend his position in public. She believes, however, that the PM did not succeed in dissipating the suspicion that he is “endeavouring to dismantle the rule of law and entrench his own power.” Zalán claims that European dignitaries tend not to trust Mr Orbán, even if they happen to be on good terms with him. Nevertheless, her conclusion is that the Prime Minister’s tactics have been successful so far. “He goes as far as possible and even beyond, then retreats under pressure from European institutions, but just enough to still keep what he originally wanted.”

In Magyar Hírlap, Gyula T. Máté who urge Orbán “to stop the wind and rescue people trapped in the snow with his own bare hands”, as well as to resign, “for what sort of Prime Minister do we have, who cannot foresee and prevent calamities from happening?”  Politics is not an exercise in good memory, he adds, and this is why left-wing dignitaries have already forgotten that under their rule, in 2006, five people died in Budapest because the authorities failed to cancel the traditional Saint Stephen’s Day fireworks, although they knew a ferocious storm was approaching. “What they didn’t forget, he continues, was to phone all their acquaintances in Brussels to tell them that democrats in Hungary are in dire danger.” Describing the various international statements criticising the recent amendments to the Basic Law, Máté suggests “all they have in common is a complete absence of facts.” The concerns in Brussels about democracy “are invariably amplified,” whenever the Hungarian government takes measures which reduce the profits of the multinationals, Máté claims and remarks that former left wing PM Ferenc Gyurcsány only got “permissive smiles” in 2006, when police committed massive human rights violations against opposition demonstrators. (See BudaPost, February 14)

In Magyar Nemzet, Csaba Lukács does “not understand why a constitution ‘carved in stone’ has to be amended for the fourth time” during the first year of its existence, and suggests that there are other examples of arrogance and lack of professionalism in the way public affairs are conducted. “How is it possible”, he asks that the Minister of Human Resources, decorating a journalist famous for his racist commentaries, “only realises what he did the day after”, when it is too late.

Ferenc Szaniszló, the main commentator of the right-wing Echo TV on international affairs, who regularly fantasises about an international Jewish conspiracy and is infamous for his anti-Gypsy statements on air, won an award from the Minister on the national holiday, which triggered an immediate wave of protests from left-liberal journalists many of whom returned their similar decorations in disdain. Originally, the choice of the journalists to be decorated by the government on March 15 was based on the recommendations of the National Journalists’ Association, a left-wing organisation. Later, two right-wing bodies were also involved in the process, but apparently this time the left-wing association was excluded. Népszabadság believes that this is why a right-wing organisation could have its recommendations accepted. In his apology on Friday, Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog said he was not aware of the ideas expressed by Szaniszló recently, and that those views are diametrically opposed to his personal convictions and the government’s policies.

Lukács writes that he seriously considered returning the same medal he won last year, but when scores of left-wing pundits did so, he decided “not to join the flock.” Nevertheless, Lukács thinks that what Szaniszló “is doing in his TV programmes is a matter for psychiatrists rather than for professionals of journalism” to analyse.  Such mistakes by the government (as this decoration) “are simply inadmissible,” he declares and complains that unfortunately “they abound, and it is getting increasingly difficult to be a conservative intellectual nowadays”. Lukács cites as examples the government’s “astonishing conflicts with university students” and the “highly embarrassing case of the Arts Academy,” (See BudaPost, December 19, 2012).  Either no professionals have remained on board, Lukács remarks bitterly, or they have lost their common sense, for “executing orders without reasoning” is the order of the day. He warns fellow right-wingers not to be lured into complacency by today’s favourable opinion polls. “Unnecessary blunders, bad manners and haughtiness can easily coagulate into a critical mass at the last moment,” he warns.

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