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Hungary: Steady as She Goes…

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By:Srdja Trifkovic | November 13, 2019
Trifkovic_Budapest-Danube_111319

Upon his return from a week-long stay in Budapest, Srdja Trifkovic provides an assessment of Hungary’s current political scene in his weekly roundup of world affairs for Serbia’s top-rated Happy TV network. He also looks at the central European country’s role in EU politics, which occasionally may appear disproportionate to its modest size and resources.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxM_-oPEruQ

[Verbatim translation from Serbian, slightly abbreviated.]

Q: For some years now we haven’t been able to resolve the riddle of Orbán: which way is he leaning? Some point out that he is Putin’s personal friend, but we know he is also staunchly pro-NATO, and was warmly welcomed by Trump in the Oval Office. Is it possible, in his case, to be both pro-American and pro-Russian? Would it not be the ideal model for us [Serbs]?

ST: Orbán, to his credit, is first and foremost pro-Hungarian. He is a staunch defender of his country’s national interests, regardless of the criticism which this causes in some quarters. As an illustration I would emphasize the fence along the southern border, which caused such paroxysm of rage in Brussels, but which decisively stopped the northern branch of the migrant wave which in 2015 crossed Hungary en route to Vienna and points further west.

Secondly, there is no incompatibility between Orbán’s friendly relations with Putin on one side, and with Trump on the other. Hey, Trump himself would like friendly relations with Putin…

Q: [laughing] But they would not let him have them!

ST: Indeed! But seriously, Trump has a natural sympathy, personal affinity for strong leaders who pursue what they see as their national and state interests, and who are sometimes ready to cut some corners and twist the legal niceties and procedures.

Q: But the European Union, Germany in particular, have threatened Orbán with all sorts of sanctions, he is the perennial bête noire– is he indifferent to that?

ST: They can eat their heart out, and Orbán is not alone! They have tried to use the Lisbon rules against Poland—after that country’s reform of the legal system was launched—and hey, nothing happened in the end.

Q: So we have a string of independent-minded countries from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, all the way to Bojko Borisov in Bulgaria—strong local leaders who pursue an independent national policy…

ST: I am not so sure about Borisov. Bear in mind that Bulgaria is far more vulnerable, both economically and politically. It is also far more deeply divided internally. I was in Sofia exactly a year ago, where a Bulgarian contact aptly told me, “we have an anti-Russian government and media machine ruling over a pro-Russian populace.” By contrast, in the case of the Visegrád Group, what binds them together is their firm opposition to any mandatory quotas for the resettlement of migrants, which Brussels had tried to impose on them. On this issue they stand firmly together, even though there is a leftist government in Bratislava, or a center-right, or outright right, in Prague, Warsaw, and Budapest; but such terms have become irrelevant anyway.

The Visegrád Four are adamant that they will not allow some unelected bureaucrats in Brussels to erode their sovereignty when it comes to the fundamental question of all questions: who is to be allowed to live within your frontiers? As some of my Hungarian interlocutors have remarked, what is the purpose of the army, the police, and all other instruments of national security, if all of a sudden someone sends us a hundred thousand men of uncertain background and uncertain values and ambitions, and we have absolutely no control over the proceedings! Well, this is where Orbán drew the line, and he deserves credit for doing so. Personally, I have made a modest contribution to the affirmation of Orbán’s positions in the pages of Chronicles and on the Institute website. I am well pleased to be invited to their strategy-themed conferences, most recently last Thursday and Friday, and to be on the editorial board of the Defense Review journal.

Q: What is the secret of Hungary’s success in getting out of the IMF-World Bank straitjacket—even though Hungary had to repay the debt?

ST: The essence of the IMF is strict discipline in the domestic fiscal policy. The Hungarians have grasped that it is not possible to embark on the path of sustained growth of their economy until these shackles are loosened.

Q: We don’t have a single example of a successful country economy obeying the IMF blueprint, Argentina to wit, but many others that have followed suit...

ST: The moment they throw away the shackles, it is possible to plan an investment cycle which includes the option of inflationary financing and overstepping arbitrary budgetary limitations. From the resulting growth it is possible to yield much more added value than needed to cover the deficit. It is the path to growth advocated by any number of prominent economists. They have been warning for ages that by following a restrictive monetary policy, mandated by Washington, a country dooms itself to permanent also-ran status… Hungary was able to pay off the external debt, admittedly with some effort, and to focus on her comparative advantages, primarily in agriculture, food processing, and energy transiting services, which results in a high trade surplus. This makes Hungary immune to the dictate from Brussels. While negotiating the terms of EU membership they obtained the right to impose a moratorium on foreign legal persons from any means of acquisition of agricultural land…

Q: In the sphere of energy Hungary cooperates with Russia, it is a hub…

ST: Yes, and Hungary was supportive of the now-defunct South Stream pipeline, and it is supportive of its current successor, the Turkish Stream. It seeks to be the key distribution center for directing gas supplies onward to Austria, the Czech Republic, and points further west.

Overall, in the time of Soviet “real socialism” Hungary was reform-minded within the Eastern Bloc under the system of “goulash socialism” inaugurated by János Kádár. They were the first to dismantle the deadly barriers along the border with Austria, which was the precursor to the fall of the Berlin Wall. When in the late summer of 1989 they removed the obstacles, the Hungarians effectively enabled thousands of East Germans to go to the West. Within the Eastern bloc there were no travel restrictions, and once the East Germans heard of the novelty—which was spread around at the speed of light—they rushed to Hungary and crossed into Austria with no hindrance. This heralded the fall of the Wall, and this was to Hungary’s credit which the West has not forgotten…

Q: For the Hungarians we were “America” once, they were longingly looking across the border at what was then Yugoslavia, but now Orbán’s Hungary is a model for the politicians in Serbia…

ST: At the very least we can say that his defense of Hungary’s sovereignty and the prevention of further migratory onslaught should be a model. The border fence which he built along the border with Serbia—may God grant Serbia the same one along the border with Northern Macedonia! Without it, Serbia is a hostage to [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan pressing the button and unleashing another migrant deluge.

Q: Erdogan is effectively holding the whole of Europe hostage…

ST: But the Hungarian picture is not all rosy. The median income is around 900 euros, which is not enough for a standard four-member family—both spouses need to work. Although the square meter price of apartments is still cheaper in Budapest than in Belgrade, especially in prime locations, housing is a major item. They need to work hard to cover all bases, and many Hungarians have two jobs to square the circle.

Q: But we still go shopping in Hungary for some foods which are cheaper there, including smoked meats, salamis of top quality…

ST: I can tell you that only yesterday I went shopping myself, and filled my trunk with excellent patés, salamis, goose livers… They have preserved their food processing industry during the period of transition, unlike Serbia. They have saved this sector druring privatization, and their food exports are a major item in the overall trade surplus.

Overall, you feel that Hungary is a stable, solid, internally cohesive country. The ruling Fidesz won an absolute majority again last year. If we add the right-wing Jobbik party, it is clear that a solid two-thirds of Hungarians are determined not to let migrants wreak havoc on their country… the way they have done in Benelux, Germany, or Scandinavia. […]

[Image by Mario Vogelsteller from Pixabay]
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