Disquiet on the Danube?

Full disclosure: I am a CEU alumnus, and on the off chance that my commentary isn’t preserved on pajamas media (my writing’s not always good enough to make the cut), I’m preserving it here… because another ex-pat just got sold down the river in the following commentary on Hungarian politics.

“They are using this holiday for their politics, but today shouldn’t be political.”

Mr. Hayes is getting sold a bill of goods, and said student is talking out of his or her collective butt cheeks.

The idea that the anniversary of the ’56 Revolution would or <i>could not be</i> political, especially after last year, is simply laughable, and is the sort of thing one could only get away with when speaking to a foreigner. This is particularly the case given that last year’s violence included rubber bullets being purposefully used for head shots, and police randomly beating the hell out of tourists and just about anybody else they came upon. There’s a reason that this year the cops have to show i.d. in no fewer than three different places on their uniforms: last year the i.d. tags were (illegally) taped over — nobody could tell which officers were responsible for the clear instances of wildly excessive force.

Similarly, as has been independently illustrated via the Jamestown Foundation/”Eurasia Times,” not only is Hungary *not* simply dependent on Russian oil, but Hungary is currently fighting an attempt by the Russian government to take over Hungary’s oil industry via machinations of the Austrian state-owned enterprise, which is getting its butt kicked by MOL in the private sector (link goes to analysis of a law passed just yesterday on said issue).

What the poster did get right is that the politics involved is murky. Hungary’s journalistic scene is hopelessly fragmented, to the point where the main center-left (Népszabadság) and center-right newspapers (Magyar Nemzet) frequently demonstrate a complete unwillingness to grant the opposing sides’ arguments even a shred of legitimacy.

Similarly, the parties themselves do not always add up to easy equivalents to the U.S. “left” and “right.” Ferenc Gyurcsány originally ran political rings around Viktor Orbán… because of the latter’s well-known tendency to propose immense social spending while blowing in the wind with each successive new poll. On the other hand, some of the austerity measures imposed are on the extreme side — literally closing state-run pharmacies (private ones are illegal), and replacing them with roving vans with scheduled hours for routes through various neighborhoods. One wonders what one is supposed to do if one doesn’t get sick at the schedule-approved time.

The real cure for a lot of this, of course, would be the beginning of some real market and economic freedom, but Hungary has nothing even vaguely resembling a libertarian wing in any party (including the SZDSZ), and take total state suzerainty completely for granted… to the point that many Hungarians literally can’t believe that the U.S. doesn’t have an official state television station. E.U.-style technocracy may satisfy the progressives and elite theorists within Hungarian politics, but is unlikely to function as an effective antidote for Hungary’s ills, and while there *is* an immense desire for change, there is little to no public support for the policies that would bring an “Estonian/Irish Miracle” to Hungary.

—As a side note, as in most European politics, one should be mildly en-garde when faced with European media labelling groups “right-wing,” as people are regulary considered extremists in Europe for being precisely the sort of quietly patriotic folks who go out to July 4th parades or go visit historical re-enactments at Gettysburg.

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