Banner demonstration Budapest, September 4, 1012
After publishing Hungary Throws Out Monsanto AND The IMF 10 days ago, I've been keeping an eye on what goes down along the twin Buda and Pest shores of the Danube river.
That's how I came upon a video from Johnny Miller for PressTV, which is sort of Iran's version of Russia Today and Al Jazeera, news channels that find their niche and viability "behind the biases" of western media, in much the same way that the Automatic Earth and numerous other websites do. Of course, there is no lack of people who declare exactly those alternative voices to be biased, but wherever the truth may lie, fact is that many readers and viewers in the west are fed up with, and no longer trust, their traditional media, let alone their political systems. Hungary may prove to be an excellent example of why that is and how it all plays out.
Now, first, let me state once again that I don't know much about Hungary, and I happenstance upon the things I view and read about it with the eyes of an innocent child. I do have a long history, however, of not believing a word I read at first glance – or The Automatic Earth would not exist. Which is why, when I picked up on the ideas US and European media hold up as undeniable truths about Hungarian PM Victor Orbán and his Fidesz party, what a vile and crazy man he basically is, I questioned them off the bat. It's obvious he's made enemies of Monsanto and the entire GMO industry, as well as the IMF/EU/ECB troika, and therefore western media have plenty incentives to paint him off as a lunatic.
And also, let me repeat that he may well be a bully himself, like he is being bullied by the troika, the seed industry and the media they control. All I said was, certainly in light of the fact that I know little about him, I did – and do – tend to give him the benefit of the doubt, for the moment, because of his refusal to kowtow before those who act as if they rule the entire planet.
I urge you to please watch the video, 20 minutes or so, but I'll write down some key points below.
Since the fall of Communism, Hungary has been doing everything the Western institutions have asked, privatizing and selling off state assets, which resulted in heavy debts and low living standards. Now, the new government is hitting back by raising taxes on foreign companies and trying to protect its domestic market. However, it has been criticized by the EU, IMF and the Western media. Hungarians have also taken to the streets of Budapest and the Western media is championing the views of the protesters and damning the government. On this week's INFocus we will tell the real story of why the new Hungarian government is becoming a new bogeyman of the West and how fake protests can be started under foreign influence.
The opening quote is poignant: A destitute Hungarian mother of a young boy says this about the IMF and EU involvement in Hungary:
The problem of the poor can be solved by killing them but it is not allowed. This is a holocaust without a gas chamber. There is no future here.
• In January 2012, there were protests in the streets of Budapest against government policies with regards to press freedom. The organizers called themselves "One Million For Press Freedom". But only 40.000 show up. Still, the protests got extensive coverage in the west. One of the organizers now admits that maybe they were used for western propaganda, which aimed at depicting the government as a dictatorship. He is interviewed without any semblance of fear of government retaliation, which leaves one wondering what exactly he was protesting, especially since later he says he was protesting higher education laws.
• According to Hungarian economist Imre Boros, the Orbán government declared that foreign banks and corporations, who hardly paid any taxes at all before, would have to pay more. 13 foreign multinationals and 5 major global banks then went to the to EU to complain about the new taxes, and the financial markets attacked the Hungarian economy. Plus, rumors are being spread about anti-semitism and lack of freedom for the press, rumors which Boros says are simply not true ("Everybody writes here whatever they wish").
• At the same time of the anti-government protests, there was another rally in support of the government, and against the EU and IMF policies. This protest, rather than 40.000, numbered in the hundreds of thousands (500.000), and was mainly ignored by the west.
• TV host and Fidesz founder Zsolt Bayer: What is a dictatorship? Is that when a country doesn't serve the interests of the EU and IMF? Is that a dictatorship? He says the pro-government demonstration saved the Orbán government, because nobody dares resist a half a million people in the streets.
• The socialist government that preceded Orbán was praised by the likes of visiting Tony Blair in 2006, executed EU/IMF policies and had the police beat up on demonstrators, one of whom was Attila Lavai, who we first see beaten up in 2006 and then interviewed by PressTV in 2012.
By the way, in a lovely side story, and don't even try to tell me you could have made this up yourself, if you allow me to veer off track for a moment, the PM at the time, Ferenc Gyurcsány, was in the news last week:
The former prime minister of Hungary, Ferenc Gyurcsány, has ended a week-long hunger strike that he said was aimed at ensuring free and fair elections. Gyurscany has expressed concerns over plans by the government to overhaul the election system in the young democracy of this European Union nation.
In front of the neo-ghotic parliament building of Budapest, several tents emerged this week. Some carried slogans referring to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's government as a "regime". Former Prime Minister Gyurcsány and three fellow politicians were camping in two small green-colored army tents, without food.
Gyurcsány, who leads the leftist Democratic Coalition, told BosNewsLife that he was on a week-long hunger strike to protest against government plans to introduce voter registration ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections. He views that as another attempt by the center-right government to intimidate voters.
Yet, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party has denied wrongdoing. It says registration is needed in part to keep track of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, who have obtained citizenship. Under a recent law they also have the right to vote, a move the opposition claims is aimed at boosting support for the ruling Fidesz party.
However, opposition leader Gyurcsány, himself is not without controversy. He was forced to resign as prime minister in 2009 after a recording emerged in which he admitted to have lied "night and day" about the status of the economy to win reelection.
The former Communist youth leader-turned politician acknowledged to BosNewsLife that this speech will "probably follow" him the rest of his life. He has also said he is not seeking to become prime minister, again.
It is stories like that which make life worth living. I'm sure you can all just imagine George W. Bush or Gordon Brown in a tent without food for a week in front of their parliament buildings. About the issue itself: As far as I know, it is quite common in democracies to have voters register. Since Hungary looks to add voting rights for 1 million Hungarians who live abroad, and apparently until now had no such rights, it all doesn't look that crazy or bad or anything, not from where I'm sitting. Back to the video:
• TV host Bayer: "When are we going to be good guys? If we sell them the remaining energy sector and privatize everything? That's the conditions of the loan. Let's sell the energy sector, let's sell public transport. So if we are willing to behave like a colony, we get a loan, that we will never be able to pay back. Thanks, but I don't want this"
• Economist Boros then says that after the "Russian Consensus", what the IMF has attempted to do – often successfully – in the former Eastern Bloc is what Naomi Klein describes in The Shock Doctrine. It's called "Reform", and it means privatization, which in turn means selling key assets to global big players (it also means cutting jobs, salaries, pensions, benefits, health care and so forth). Hungary MP Márton Gyöngyösi says privatization has been disastrous for Hungary.
• Mihály Varga, the minister in charge of the talks with the IMF, when asked: "Are you going to stand up to the IMF?", responds: "Absolutely".
But, as PressTV notes, the same government threw out the IMF last year, "and now, they're back".
• "Out in the country side, it's easy to see the changes in Hungary since signing up to IMF and EU enforced policies. Hungarians used to be intensely proud of their agriculture; the soil here is very fertile, and great for growing fruit and vegetables. SInce 2004, when Hungary joined the EU, the EU forced Hungary to stop subsidies to agriculture, therefore devastating the industries. Now Hungary imports a lot of fruits and veg, rather than growing it themselves. Obviously, a lot of jobs lost as well. A lot of Hungarians simply cannot believe how that policy could possibly have been good for the country."
• Zsolt Bayer again: "In the past twenty years, all our industry has disappeared. We got our world class agriculture impoverished by the West. We are a small country, these 10 million people are only a market for the West. We are not needed for anything else. The EU has no future because the EU has no ethos. It is all about money. Nothing else".
• "My most important message for the East, for Africa and South America, all nations, is that you are obliged to save yourselves. Those who give up their customs, their culture, if they give up everything they won't be a nation anymore."
• The mother of a young boy: "I think we will be a pothole of the EU, a transit country. We will be a colony, slaves again.
The IMF and EU are no less vampire squids than Goldman Sachs is. If anything they're more dangerous, since they can make people believe that they are somehow democratic institutions, and have their best interests in mind. People may have reservations about what is happening in Budapest, but I have to say that the more I read about Victor Orbán and his government, the more I tend to sympathize with what they are trying to accomplish, and the more I understand what they are up against.
I get the feeling that if we in the West treat him with suspicion, and believe the stories our media feed us about him as a monster, the more we leave the only country I know with the courage to stand up for itself in the face of the most brutal of bullies, alone in its quest. Which happens to be a quest many of us feel a strong connection with. The stories aim to confuse us about that, and they largely seem to accomplish what they're aimed at so far. And that is a shame.
Hungary and Orbán, partly because of the wide coverage of the small demonstrations against him, and, though for totally different reasons, partly because of the mass demonstrations in his support, which received no coverage, is now back at the table with the EU and IMF. Whose intention it is to make him an offer he can't refuse. If he doesn't accept, they'll declare financial war against him. And his people. Until they all give in. This happens in our name. While many of us would want to have our name, our beliefs and convictions, to be with the other side, his side. As long as we don't make that choice, and do it openly and loudly, we will remain the de facto schoolyard bullies. And we don't get a free pass from that just because we don't do or say anything.
Reuters ran a large piece yesterday on the Hungarian situation, in which Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs appear to be on an uncomfortably wobbly trail between the default western picture of their country and the search for a sort of balance in reporting. As for how successful they are, you be the judge.
For Hungarians queuing up to work abroad, the government's promise to achieve a "fairy tale" of national prosperity soon is precisely that – more a fantasy than a realistic possibility. At least 300,000 Hungarians work in western Europe, according to government estimates, apparently unpersuaded that conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban's go-it-alone and often unpredictable policies can solve the nation's problems.
Those still in Hungary are convinced neither by Orban's unconventional style of economics and politics, which has led to conflict at home and abroad, nor by a weak opposition. An Ipsos opinion poll last month showed 53 percent of voters – or 4.2 million people – had no party preference whatsoever.
Fiercely independent, Orban has upset at one time or another the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the government of Armenia and – at least indirectly – NATO. With the domestic opposition he remains constantly at loggerheads. [..]
Orban's government, which does not face national elections for another 1-1/2 years, is trying to press home a message that its policies will bear fruit soon. "The Hungarian fairy tale or the Hungarian example will be a successful one in a year's time," Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy said earlier this year.
A message that Hungary will emerge as a strong nation from the crisis engulfing most of Europe is hard to sell to voters. On the face of it, Orban has avoided many of the problems that are besetting countries across the EU. The government, dominated by his Fidesz party, has a two-thirds parliamentary majority following a landslide election victory two years ago and is among the most stable in the EU.
While others struggle to control huge budget deficits, Hungary's is due to remain this year below the EU ceiling set at 3% of total annual economic output.
Orban, who was also premier from 1998-2002, has achieved this without the outright austerity measures that have toppled a number of EU governments, and has even cut personal income tax. He has funded this with measures such as a windfall tax on the financial, energy, telecom and retail sectors, and an effective re-nationalization of private pension funds.
But Hungary's economy, largely geared to exporting to western Europe since the fall of communism more than 20 years ago, has slid into recession as demand falls in the euro zone.
Orban's policies such as the extra taxes have undermined investors' confidence and he faces tough talks with the IMF and EU this autumn about a loan deal that would help to cut the country's high borrowing costs.
Combative as ever, he said Hungary needed the loan "to protect itself from the sickness weighing on Europe". "We can only achieve success if we boost our autonomy, and make our own decisions, in other words if we boost Hungary's room for maneuver," he told parliament last week, making clear he wants a deal with international lenders on his own terms.[..]
With a firm hand, Orban has solidified the power of Fidesz – which began as a radical student group before shifting over the years to the right – in ways that critics say have eroded democratic checks and balances.
The government has consistently rejected such charges, but the passing of a media law which critics say could be used to curb press freedom provoked a dispute with the European Commission.
Curbs on the Constitutional Court's jurisdiction have also proved contentious, while tens of thousands of Hungarians rallied in January to call for the removal of the man they called the "Viktator" after the constitution had been rewritten.
A few weeks later a pro-government rally attracted 100,000 people, showing Orban remains popular among his core supporters.
Changes to the central bank law caused another row with the EU and IMF, which said it hurt the Hungarian National Bank's independence. Amendments resolved the standoff only after it had held up the talks on IMF/EU financing for months.
The Reuters writers then mention a recent international incident which involves a murder case in Budapest 8 years ago, once more, of course(?), used to discredit Orbán:
Under Orban, Hungary has even become involved in disputes as far away as the south Caucasus where tensions are high between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Last month, Hungary stirred a storm when it sent home an Azeri soldier who had murdered an Armenian officer with an axe during NATO training in Budapest in 2004.
The soldier, Ramil Safarov, was pardoned and celebrated as a hero when he got home. Armenia instantly broke diplomatic ties with Hungary, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "deeply concerned" by the pardon.
Orban has defended the decision, saying it was in line with international law. He even said that Hungary acted knowing the move could spark a diplomatic backlash.
"His ways may be risky and you can't always know where it leads," said one source familiar with Orban's thinking, who wished to remain unnamed. "But even if you do not agree with him, within his own logical framework he has a well-grounded answer to each question."
Despite government denials, opposition parties say it let Safarov return to Azerbaijan in the hope of economic favors in return from the energy producer. The Socialists, who beat Orban in the elections of 2002 and 2006, have called on him to resign over the decision, but they remain electorally weak.
I've seen a number of conflicting reports on the case (is Orbán terribly naive, did the Azeris pay Hungary a billion dollars), and I find it hard to call. But I don't think that if a foreign national kills another foreign national on their soil, many countries would insist on keeping the killer in their prison system indefinitely at all cost. Also, Armenians have been living in Hungary for 1000 years or more. And along the same lines that in Hungary, like across eastern Europe as a whole, there's a long and ugly history of anti-semitism, I'm sure Armenians have had tough times in the country as well through history. But I haven't so far found any convincing arguments that for either people, or the Roma for that matter, it's Victor Orbán who's responsible for increasing hatred or tensions. Given the way he's consistently being pictured as a crazed dictator, and given his fights on multiple fronts against Hungary's potential colonizers, let's just say I have my doubts. But I'm open to being educated.
What I'm interested in for now is not politics, but finance, even if the two seem intricately intertwined. Any country, and its leaders, that dares resist the ever more suffocating global powers of the IMF, the EU/ECB, and the banking system and multinationals (think Monsanto) they serve, quite simply looks of interest to me. There are schemes and policies being executed in our names that we shouldn't wish to sign off on, by power hungry people hiding behind the veils of global corporations and über-government institutions, and the victims of these policies are real people, just like we are. If anything, that's what Hungary teaches us.