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Fears and hopes for the next four years

April 14th, 2014

Commentators wonder whether or not the next Orbán government will strike a more conciliatory tone, and seek compromises in the economy and in symbolic battles at home and on the European scene.

Culture wars and the far-right challenge

”Hungary is not yet lost”, Árpád W. Tóta writes in Heti Világgazdaság, paraphrasing the first line of the Polish anthem. The liberal pundit known for his highly subjective pieces is certain that the centre-right Fidesz will wage a bitter symbolic war with the far-right Jobbik for the hearts and minds of nationalist voters. While the two right-wing parties are preoccupied with the historical past, the Left can regain its support by focusing on more relevant issues, Tóta hopes.

The government can do whatever it wants, János Szüdi, a former liberal undersecretary for public education contends in Népszava. He remarks that having retained its two-thirds majority, the government will not be constrained by any checks and balances and may implement any laws which fit its taste.

On Mandiner, Gellért Rajcsányi calls for a “New Deal”. After the complete overhaul of the political system in the past four years, Hungary needs a calmer period, the centrist pundit contends – all the more so, since economic and spiritual growth require compromise and stability, which require effective checks and balances on the power of the executive, as well as a willingness to compromise from the government on matters of symbolic importance.

Schiffer’s controversy over the Nazi occupation monument

In an interview on the left-wing ATV, LMP leader András Schiffer said he finds the planned Nazi invasion monument “flawed and misguided” and considers the government’s decision to resume the construction as “provocative” and “cheap”. At the same time, he called left-wing reactions “disproportionate” and “overtly hysterical” (see BudaPost April 12) and described the accusations that the government is promoting Holocaust denial as outrageous exaggerations. After the interview, Schiffer was harshly criticized by left-wing intellectuals, some of whom threatened to spit in his face, while a prominent member of Gyurcsány’s Democratic Coalition called Schiffer a Nazi.

András Schiffer is trying to break out from Orbán’s trap, Albert Gazda comments on Cink. Gazda believes that the controversial memorial helps PM Orbán convince the Hungarian public that his centrist party is challenged by a small but vocal far-right and a similarly radical left. The dispute over the statue interests only a few intellectuals in Budapest, Gazda suggests. He goes on to remark that despite the moral importance of historical memory, advocating such causes will not help the Left to regain lost public support. Left-wing intellectuals who protest against the statue are doing exactly what Orbán expects from them, while Schiffer wants to break out of the circle in order to reach out to the wider public, Gazda concludes.

Instead of harmful and stupid historical disputes, Fidesz should focus more on hopeless Hungarians living in poverty, Bálint Ablonczy comments on Mandiner, a moderately conservative site. If Fidesz fails to secure the support of the disillusioned masses through job creation and increased security, people in need will turn their backs on mainstream parties and will support the radical far-right Jobbik, Ablonczy warns.

Moderation is what we expect first and foremost from the government, Mos Maiorum writes in an editorial. The conservative blog expects the government to compromise on symbolic issues. As an example, Mos Maiorum mentions the Nazi invasion memorial, and claims that it is “more than unfriendly” from the government to carry on with the construction of the highly controversial statue without further consultations (see BudaPost April 12). Such unnecessary conflicts may easily alienate voters from the governing party, Mos Maiorum cautions.

Budget and growth

Népszabadság’s Iván Várkonyi believes that things look good for the next Fidesz government. Despite passing through a pre-election period, the Orbán government has not overspent during the first quarter, the left-wing columnist notes. This may, however, change soon, since the European Parliamentary elections in May and the municipal elections in the autumn may compel the government to boost its support through increased spending, Várkonyi warns. He goes on to conclude that overspending would then lead to further austerity packages, which could slow down the sluggish economy still further.

Fidesz did not unveil a program during the campaign because they have no clue how to continue, Magyar Narancs contends in its editorial. The government’s plans to set up a non-profit energy sector and have more Hungarian owned banks can only be implemented through increased spending, but since growth is meagre, the government will need to borrow. Magyar Narancs fears that the government may resort to increasingly harsh nationalistic rhetoric to divert public attention from increasing poverty.

On Mandiner, conservative liberal blogger Dobray hopes for a “spiritual counter-revolution”. Instead of the centralizing tendencies of the past four years, he calls for devolution and decentralization and more compromise in the economy, culture and education. At the same time, he advocates law and order. Further tax cuts, he thinks, could help to reduce the role of the state in the economy even if this entails cuts in welfare. Fidesz should cautiously turn back to the more market-friendly principles of the 1998-2002 Orbán government, Dobray concludes.

The European Union

In Népszabadság, Brussels correspondent Eszter Zalán notes that despite what she calls the unfair electoral rules, the EU has refrained from criticising the recent elections in Hungary. She recalls that in their preliminary report OSCE observers described the new electoral law as favouring the governing party (see BudaPost April 9). Nevertheless, she thinks the European Union is unlikely to condemn the Hungarian government. The European People’s party cannot afford to lose supporters through a confrontation with Fidesz just weeks before the European Parliamentary elections, the left-wing analyst explains. EU politicians may also assume that Fidesz will in the future be less hostile to the EU, she adds, since PM Orbán on election day suggested that his party is the bulwark against the EU-sceptic Jobbik.

In 168 Óra, Endre Aczél also finds criticism by the European Union or Germany unlikely, despite what he considers as an undemocratic and authoritarian turn in Hungary. Pondering Hungarian-German relations, the left-wing columnist points out that Hungary is an important market for Germany, and hosts a high number of German owned factories, which enjoy substantial tax rebates. As a result, it would be unrealistic to expect the landslide victory of Fidesz to impair Hungarian-German relations, Aczél concludes.

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