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Hungary’s Busiest Firefighter

Imagine having the job of defending the government’s policies to the rest of the world. by Martin Ehl 16 April 2013

Ferenc Kumin has an elaborate job title and an even more complicated task. As deputy state secretary for international communications, he explains and defends the actions of the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on his blog and Twitter account, and in the real world. And since Orban this week decided that he would give preference to the funeral of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher over a grilling (and already his third self-defense) in front of the European parliament, Kumin will probably have his hands full. That's also because Orban explained his absence in Strasbourg during a radio interview by saying it no longer amused him to discuss things in such an “uncivilized place” where over-excited members of the European parliament heatedly shout and debate about topics on which they are not sufficiently informed.


Let us therefore avoid what Kumin calls in his texts “Beating up on Hungary” and take a look at a couple of reports from Budapest with a cooler head:


If elections were held today, 29 percent of voters would want Viktor Orban again as prime minister, according to a survey by the Median agency released last week. Former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, who is trying to unite the center-left opposition, would end up in second place, with 16 percent of the vote. The leader of the opposition Socialists (ex-communists), Attila Mesterhazy, and the head of the extremist nationalist Jobbik movement, Gabor Vona, would each get 9 percent. Former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany would receive 4 percent of these hypothetical prime minister votes. According to other surveys, however, Orban's Fidesz would lose 40 percent of the votes that the party took in a landslide victory in 2010, meaning its current two-thirds majority would be unattainable a year from now, when elections will be held.


Even though international institutions have constantly criticized Hungary for its unorthodox economic policy, the budget deficit has fallen for 2012 to 2 percent, according to fresh figures from the Hungarian Statistical Office (and according to the EU's methodology). That’s a 15-year low. This week the Hungarian Ministry of Economy is supposed to unveil the strategy that has been sent to Brussels that should explain whether and how the government aims to keep GDP growth this year at 0.9 percent, when all other forecasts predict that the recession in Hungary will continue.


On the other hand, a February that was on average 5.8 degrees warmer than last year contributed to month-on-month growth in the construction industry of 2.3 percent, which was 7.2 percent higher than the figure from the same time in 2012. That kind of renewal in the Hungarian construction industry hasn't been seen over the past four years.


Orban and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso have exchanged letters. Barroso warned the Hungarian prime minister that the commission is carefully examining the new, fourth amendment to the year-old constitution, and if conflicts with European law are discovered, the commission won't hesitate to take legal action. Barroso is mainly concerned with new constitutional articles that allow imposition of a special tax on employers should the country be fined in decisions by the European Court of Justice, allow the parliament-appointed director of the National Judicial Office to assign cases, and limit political advertising. Orban responded that the Hungarian government and parliament are committed to European norms and values ​​and that the government will cooperate in all ways.


In the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Hungary’s new economy minister, Mihaly Varga, provided assurances that his country is not a planned economy, but a market one and that he does not want to use the word “nationalization” for the current wave of state takeovers of, especially, energy firms. According to him, that is a trend all over the world. “Every country lives by its own capitalism,” – just look at Germany, the United States, and China, he said.


Every 21 April a "Walk of Life" is organized in Hungary to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. This year, an extremist website called for a motorcycle rally near the main synagogue on the same day in Budapest, under the name “Step on the gas!” – an obvious allusion to a method used by the Nazis to kill Jews. The idea was gradually condemned by leaders of both the governing Fidesz party and the right-wing Goyim Riders motorcycle club, which was originally assumed to be behind to call to meet. The prime minister ordered the interior minister to prevent the ride. The weekly Heti Valasz published an interview with the organizer, a local activist of the third largest parliamentary party, Jobbik. He claimed that it did not seem offensive to him and that he would apologize only if his critics would also apologize.


I have a strong suspicion that Ferenc Kumin has not been enjoying much the first spring days outside in the fresh air and will continue to spend a lot of time at the computer reading articles that beat up on Hungary.


Martin Ehl
 is the foreign editor of the Czech daily Hospodarske noviny, where this column originally appeared. He tweets at @MartinCZV4EU. He recently won the prestigious Writing for Central Europe journalism prize, awarded by the APA – Austria Press Agency in cooperation with Bank Austria.
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