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The wind blows from the East

Last week I spent a couple of days in Budapest as guest of the social democratic group of the European Parliament. I used the opportunity to visit some old friends to hear from them what is going on in the country. A lot has changed in Hungary since the national elections earlier this year. And not for the better.  No one will deny that the former government of socialist and liberals made mistakes and that an electoral defeat was unavoidable, but the new government led by Fidesz leader Viktor Orban has been taking drastic steps that jeopardize the political and economic future of Hungary.

Fidesz has a two thirds (constitutional) majority in the parliament and has in the past months already changed the constitution several times to be able to drive its radical proposals through. One acquaintance, known for his political independence and critical mind, called Orban’s way of governing a ‘democratic dictatorship’. The Prime Minister recently said that “the wind blows from the East” and his opponents believe that he was referring to those countries where there is a tradition of one party rule. They accuse him of wanting to arrange the same for Hungary using the traditional instruments of state controlled media and administrative resources.

 

Orban is not the traditional conservative EPP politician – though he is one of the vice presidents of the Christian democratic European party – since he considers the state to be a very important instrument of power to be used to control market forces for his own ends. He abhors the so-called Washington consensus and refuses to implement the structural (and often  painful)  economic policies that are usually taken to address severe financial problems. He promised his voters not to do this and is implementing stop gap measures to reduce the state deficits, even using the pension funds to achieve his goal.

 

In diplomatic circles there is concern about this lack of real financial reform. Furthermore, he gives a bad example to other new Member States that have big financial problems and have chosen to implement tough reforms like substantial reductions of salaries and pensions.

 

One of the aims of Orban is to finish off the political opposition and he is using every means to make life difficult for the Socialist Party. The extreme right wing nationalists of Jobbik pose no real threat to him since his own very nationalist approach to the Hungarian minorities in the neighbouring countries takes the wind out of the sails of Jobbik.

 

It will take some time for the socialists to regain their strength and to absorb the lessons of their electoral disaster. This of course leaves the field wide open for Fidesz and the only way to counter it is to revive the civic society that was once so vibrant under the old regime end during the transition to a democratic Hungary.

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