Hungary Gets Ugly [UPDATED]

April 9, 2010 at 11:54 am (By Amba)

From the essential European media-watch newsletter Sign and Sight:

Die Welt 03.04.2010

The situation in Hungary looks very sinister indeed. Viktor Orban’s right-wing populist Fidesz Party is expected to win 60 percent in the general election on April 11th – with the far-right Jobbik party scooping a further 20. Hatred is constantly being stirred up against Jews, homosexuals, Roma and prominent intellectuals, the literary academic and writer Lazlo F. Földenyi tells Paul Jandl: “Not long ago a weekly paper published an article calling on the population to destroy the works of Imre Kertesz, Peter Esterhazy, Peter Nadas and György Konrad, to borrow their books from the libraries and destroy them. It was meant as some sort of book burning. This paper has close ties to Victor Orban. It is symptomatic of the mood in the country in general. Anyone who speaks critically about Hungary is branded a ‘nest fouler’. People know that these writers are held in high regard abroad and this makes them nervous. Even Orban recently made a speech in which he railed against the ‘star intellectuals’.”

The original interview is in German.

UPDATE:  Pajamas Media showcases the positive side of the now nearly completed Hungarian elections:  the election of an antisocialist, and hopefully anticorruption, conservative majority.  The negative side — the 17% won by the radical-right Jobbik party — remains  a worry.

12 Comments

  1. wj said,

    This sort of thing seems to be a “feature” of hard economic times. I suspect that people who are suffering (relatively — in other places they might, on an absolute scale, be deemed to be among the wealthy elite) not only want but need to find someone to blame. To blame for not just their own (economic) pain, but for everything that is wrong with the world.

    It would, of course, be intolerable to accept that their own choices contributed to the situation. And almost equally intolerable to accept that sometimes things go wrong without someone actively trying to make them go wrong. So someone who is different, sometimes several groups of someones, gets picked out and vilified.

    If you are poor already, you blame the wealthy. If you are moderately (or less) educated, you blame “intellectual elitists.” If you are (or at least were) economically comfortable, you blame the poor (“welfare queens” being only one formulation). Other racial or ethnic groups are always good targets of opportunity. In short, anybody with characteristics such that you can say “Not me!

    Sometimes you get Hitler or Mussolini; sometimes Stalin or Mao, sometimes Mugabe. But your odds of getting someone who can get people to accept what needs to be done to fix things without demonizing anyone? Nowhere near as good as one might wish.

  2. amba12 said,

    As I read your wise and sad comment I realized how close this is to NIMBY: “Blame? responsibility? Not in my back yard!”

  3. wj said,

    Actually, I thought it was rather a hopeful perspective. At least it indicates that things are not unusually bad, and the idiots among us not really exceptionally awful. Not that they are not pretty awful, compared to what we are accustomed to — just that they are not exceptional from a larger perspective. And, since the world has survived far worse, we can reasonably expect to survive this, too.

    Although, I suppose, I should have included some local (and less drastic) figures as well. After all, the US had several prominent populists in the late 1800s and early 1900s. And, if they were not on the Stalin/Hitler/Mugabe level, they were still pretty bad. But they didn’t get into power (quite), and are now barely remembered. Even someone like Senator McCarthy, while he did acquire the power to trash a lot of people’s lives, was never a serious danger to the nation as a whole. A running sore, no doubt, but not a critical injury — if I may make that distinction.

  4. Theo Boehm said,

    And sometimes you get a Franklin Roosevelt, who, for all his failings and limitations, was both a tribute to the good sense of the American people at the time, and one of the few Presidents about whom it can be truly said he helped preserve the nation.

    I know it is fashionable among conservatives now to denigrate FDR, saying, among other things, that the New Deal didn’t even begin to end the Great Depression, that FDR’s economic policies were worse than doing nothing, etc., etc.

    From a purely economic perspective all that may be true. But the country was nearly in a revolutionary situation in 1932, and “pure” economics hardly mattered. People in bread lines were not interested in the elasticity of labor markets, nor the uses of Federal Reserve policy to drive interest rates. They were ready to follow someone who would find them their next meal.

    I’ve certainly read about the Depression, but, being about amba’s age, I also had many family members who were there. I grew up with first-hand stories of desperate hard times that are difficult for people today to imagine. There was very little of the safety net we take for granted in 1932, nor any of the economic flexibility, such as the availability of easy consumer credit, that, while distinctly a two-edged economic sword, makes our lives so much easier today.

    FDR did not become a Mussolini for many reasons, including not only the good sense of the public, but the structure of the American government itself. God knows, I am not a flaming liberal, being generally in amba’s camp politically, but I like to think that the emergence of FDR was another one of those curious manifestations of Providence that seem to have been a feature of our history, saving us at critical moments and preserving the United States from disaster.

    Whether you want to call it Providence, or simply the result of good, Constitutional government and the traditional strengths of the American character, the US managed to get through the Depression without the kinds of upheavals that now threaten Hungary. We’ll see if we have any of our old strengths, or faith in our form of government left, when the next inevitable economic tsunami hits, the beginnings of which are now lapping at our feet.

    If we get a larger-than-life character such as FDR, or a dangerous nonentity like Obama as a leader, is still up to us, Providence being a feature of the life of people who seem able to deserve it.

  5. amba said,

    There’s a couple of very interesting statements in that comment: one, that we’ve only seen the beginnings of the next economic tsunami (when we’re being assured that the danger has been averted) and “people who seem able to deserve it.” Deserving as an ability! Hmmm.

    I know it’s just a manner of speaking, but the notion that where I am politically can even be called a “camp” struck me funny. At the moment it feels like a raggedy little bunch of stragglers in the DMZ between two vociferous armies, more despised by both sides than they despise each other. They understand each other perfectly, or assume they do.

  6. Theo Boehm said,

    All I can say about our coming troubles is that I’m fairly convinced from what I’ve read and from the conversations I’ve had with knowledgeable businesspeople—including my own Harvard MBA boss—that we’re in for some combination of terrible inflation and high interest rates that will make those who are old enough nostalgic for the stagflation of the ’70’s. The dollar is beginning to fall off its pedestal as the international reserve currency, and the consequences of its ultimate collapse I think are barely appreciated by most Americans. Obviously, there’s a lot to debate here, but I will be pleasantly surprised if the spending spree we’ve been on since the Iraq War began does not stir up a tidal wave of debt that will ultimately wash away what little is left of middle-class prosperity in this country.

    I agree that those of us who are caught in no man’s land in our current political Western Front can hardly have found a “camp,” It’s just that it’s nice to see a familiar face in a foxhole now and then.

    “Providence” of course implies Divine favor, which means that the recipient is somehow deserving of it. Whether that favor is bestowed as Grace, entirely unconnected with the poor sinner’s own efforts, or whether the recipient is to be rewarded for active Virtue is a theological question I don’t propose to answer. It just seems to me that when God has shed His grace on us, He bestowed His help on those who also knew how to help themselves.

  7. wj said,

    While, like Theo and amba, I lean to the conservative side, I think it is a mistake to label President Obama as “a dangerous nonentity”. Granted, he arrived at the Presidency with a surprisingly thin resume. But then, so the Lincoln. (An even more radical, for his time, lawyer from Illinois. Hmmm.)

    I believe that, even more than Australia, America deserves the title of “the lucky country.” From the beginning (Washington declining the push to become King; and leaving after two terms in an office he could easily have kept for life), we have gotten exceptional leaders at the times when we needed them most. And sometimes from the unlikely places. My father used to describe President Truman as “a two bit judge out of the Perndergast machine in Kansas City” — while expressing more admiration for how he turned out as President than your average conservative Republican might have been expected to. The list goes on. Yes, we have had the occasional Buchanans and Hardings. But when the crunch came, we have lucked out.

    Whether Obama’s election will turn out to be one of those times still remains to be seen. Ask me again in 6 or 12 years and I might have enough perspective to have an answer.

  8. rodjean said,

    This thread goes in two directions: the current right wing surge in Hungary and how the US responded to the Depression and might face further economic turmoil. In the first direction, it is well to remember that Hungary allied with the Axis during World War II. A right wing takeover there would be regrettable, but it would not be an international catastrophe. It is today a small country. Still, like people looking at Germany 75 years ago, I think back to the beauty and culture of Budapest and marvel at the ease with which the social contract breaks down.

    AS for the US, I hold with those who foresee hyper-inflation in our future: I fear that we lack the discipline to voluntarily accept true spending restraint. And it may be the case that the enormous deficits we are generating are too big a hill to climb.

  9. wj said,

    The federal government basically has two options. At some point it must either
    1) means test and severely limit Social Security, and put tight caps on how much Medicare will pay, or
    2) put limits on both that are at or above what is currently allowed, explicitly making them not inflation-linked . . . and then inflate sufficiently to accomplish the same thing.

    I’m guessing we will get about half way thru the Baby Boomers retiring before that decision finally becomes unavoidable. By that point, only those who think the earth is flat will be able to deny the reality that was pretty obviously in prospect decades ago.

    Personally, as someone who has actually done some saving for my retirement, I’d much refer the first choice. But I’m checking out inflation-linked assets, because I suspect that the latter will be deemed more politically possible.

  10. Icepick said,

    wj, it’s forgotten now, but Harding successfully got the country through the biggest economic crisis the country had experienced since the Civil War, and did so in less than a term in office.

  11. wj said,

    These days, Harding is remembered mostly for having run the most corrupt administration that America experienced in its first two centuries.

    Thanks for the info, Ice. Always nice to learn something new.

  12. Icepick said,

    wj, Harding’s reputation suffers partly because of the corruption of his administration, and partly because his politics are despised by most historians and journalists. Instead they have lionized the contemptible Woodrow Wilson. Roughly par for the course.

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