One of our liberal Hungarian compatriots confesses that he’s “terrified”. He once spent an afternoon with Viktor Orbán in New York thirty years ago and, oh, it was astonishing!
Reading András Vágvölgyi’s commentary in the Euronews View column, I wanted to hold his hand and reassure him that it’s going to be okay. Really, András, don’t be scared.
In fact, in his pure dystopia about Hungary, Mr. Vágvölgyi, as a familiar character in Hungary’s old, left-liberal establishment, provides an instructive illustration of just how out of touch that elite, liberal cadre in Hungary – and Europe – has grown.
Two of the most significant events for Hungary and central and eastern Europe over the last decade are the financial crisis of 2008 and the migration crisis of 2015. They changed everything. Vágvölgyi and his comrades in the liberal elite have never wrapped their heads around that. For example:
"It is astonishing to see how Orbán,” writes Vágvölgyi, “has managed to become such a big player on the international stage."
It may be remarkable but, for anyone who has been paying attention to the migration debate, it’s not astonishing.
The prime minister was among the first in Europe to sound the alarm, already in the beginning of 2015, that migration was becoming a problem and that there must be a tougher response. Hungary, under the Orbán Governments, has led the way in the EU, reinforcing the border to stop illegal crossings and calling for other stringent measures to slow migration.
Prime Minister Orbán’s response to the crisis reflects the will of Hungary’s citizens and many in Europe and it has made him an international leader. “Orbán wins the migration argument,” reported POLITICO Europe in 2017. “Suddenly most EU leaders echo the Hungarian prime minister.”
And then there’s Vágvölgyi’s view of Hungary:
“In 2010 [Orbán] was reelected, and we know what that led to,” he writes, “[T]he decline into darkness.”
Darkness? Last year, Hungary’s GDP growth reached 4.8 percent, its highest in a decade and a half. Unemployment is at a record low of 3.6 percent. There are more Hungarians in the active labor force than we’ve seen in decades. Foreign investment also set records in 2018. The deficit is under control and state debt continues to fall, declining to 71 percent of GDP last year. Since 2010, when Prime Minister Orbán took office, the number of marriages increased by a striking 42 percent in Hungary. In the same period, the number of divorces fell from 24 thousand to 18 thousand, while the number of abortions dropped by more than a third. The fertility rate grew from a bleak 1.25 in 2010 to 1.49 in 2016.
That kind of economic success stands in sharp contrast to what we lived before 2010. That optimism is not what we would typically see from a people living in “darkness”.
But Vágvölgyi is terrified. He must be living in a different country, perhaps a different planet.
“[Orbán’s] dreams are simple dreams,” he writes, “the dreams you might hear voiced in any bar or football stadium,” crude dreams about power and money and big events. Again, for anyone who has been paying any attention, Prime Minister Orbán has been quite clear about his dreams for Hungary: He wants to see a country where everyone who wants to work has a job, where it’s worthwhile to work because one can earn a decent wage. He wants to see a Hungary built on strong families, where those who want to have children can afford to do so.
In his depiction of Prime Minister Orbán as a man of “demonic abilities” and his self-aggrandizing claim that he wrote Fidesz’s first foreign policy program, Vágvölgyi neglects to tell the reader about his other credentials. He was a founding member of the liberal Free Democrats, SZDSZ, a party close to George Soros and one that fell out of parliament in 2010 lacking popular support. He was the founding editor of Magyar Narancs and a writer at Élet és Irodalom, two corner stones in the left-liberal Hungarian media establishment. He’s got a right to his views, of course, but readers have a right to know where he’s coming from.
Vágyvölgyi once wrote about himself that he is “an over-confident, sloppy and reckless person, who believes he's perfect, but in fact is impertinent, arrogant and speaks in a singing tune. All of his comments are outrageous.”
Most would agree.
Zoltán Kovács is Secretary of State for International Communication and Relations, Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister
Opinions expressed in View articles do not reflect those of Euronews.