“Viktor Orbán is right in that the European Union handled the migration crisis badly, and that it was a mistake when Angela Merkel announced that there is no limit to the number of Syrian refugees Germany would accept. But it was an enormous sin on Orbán’s part to tie this to a hate campaign which appeals to the deepest instinct, racism. . . . Building on racist instincts in the interest of momentary popularity is a crime against humanity.”
Translation of interview with Graphisoft founder Gábor Bojár appearing in print weekly hvg under the title “Making the people stupid” (“Néphülyítés”) appearing in the October 13th, 2016 edition (pp. 19-20).
Politics under the leadership of Orbán punishes humanity; with a culture of reputable entrepreneurs Hungary could be successful—says Gábor Bojár, the founder of Graphisoft.
Did you vote on October 2nd?
I agree with the economic program of MoMa [Movement for a Modern Hungary] led by Lajos Bokros, and I participate in its advisory body. I greatly respect [Együtt vice-president] Péter Juhász’s thankless fight against corruption. I also sympathize with [Dialogue for Hungary] PM’s green program, so naturally I answered the joint call of the three parties to boycott the election. The number of those who stayed at home and those that cast invalid votes restored what appeared to be my lost faith in the fact that people have their own commonsense. Even a long and aggressive stupefying campaign failed to reach its goals.
Are the 3.2 million “no” votes merely attributable to the propaganda, or is Viktor Orbán right in some things?
The most dangerous lies are the ones grounded in truth. There is little point in debating whether Europe can accept many millions of Muslims, or whether Muslims have difficulty integrating in a secular Europe. Viktor Orbán is right in that the European Union handled the migration crisis badly, and that it was a mistake when Angela Merkel announced that there is no limit to the number of Syrian refugees Germany would accept. But it was an enormous sin on Orbán’s part to tie this to a hate campaign which appeals to the deepest instinct, racism. Nor is racism fundamentally bad. Without it perhaps there would not have been evolution. Racism was what held together the clans, helped them grow, protected their hunting grounds. Today, however, we have a basic cultural obligation to combat this feeling since unleashing racism in our globalized world could result in our own destruction. Building on racist instincts in the interest of momentary popularity is a crime against humanity.
Is there hope for change of such a strong hate campaign? For example, can Orbán be defeated with opposition solidarity?
Overcoming our deepest prejudices is a very hard process that sometimes demands sacrifices that appear unnecessary. I’ll give you an example. During the second half of the 1990s our company had a $800,000 lawsuit lasting three years. It nearly affected our ability to float our company on the stock exchange. One of our Hungarian colleagues applied to be the director of our American company. And I tried to dissuade him, not by telling him he wasn’t qualified, but that it would not be good for the image of our company whose Hungarian origins already put it at a disadvantage. After that he sued for racial discrimination. It turned out that such a lawsuit cannot be won before a jury in America, even if the accusation is baseless. Finally, we managed to reach an agreement with the help of an arbitrator. After the case was settled, I asked him whether the fact that companies must calculate with spending many millions of dollars in court costs wasn’t very expensive for the American economy. He explained that this was still a smaller price to pay than if someone could ever say “stinking n_gger.” As it pertains to opposition solidarity—this is not the right word, rather a forced collaboration due to an unfair electoral system because the parties are totally different–Bokros’ party is conservative and embraces the free market, while PM is an expressly anti-capitalist party, but in certain questions they still need to cooperate.
The opposition’s second big problem is a lack of money. Why don’t those who are in a position to do so support opposition parties sympathetic to them as you do?
It’s true that I support opposition parties, but nowhere near the amount that would maintain them, or near the amount those businessmen support the governing party (or aspiring governing party) who stand to directly benefit from this. I don’t want to conduct business with the state, not now, not in the past, and not in the future. I consider my contributions to be a kind of party membership fee and not business investments. Why don’t others do the same? That’s because the public believes that the parties also support themselves from corruption, that is, from public money.
Are overpriced public procurement and kickbacks really the cause of all problems?
Higher public procurement costs is only a small part of the real damage. A much greater harm arises from the bad work performed by those winning public contracts in this manner. They build roads that have to be rebuilt five years later. This is not a loss of a couple of ten or twenty percent. The great damage is the lost competitiveness. Those companies that learn to win this way will never be competitive. Could it ever happen that the company of Lajos Simicska, Lőrinc Mészáros, Garancsi István or even the Prime Minister’s son-in-law could win a single foreign tender? Where the biggest actors have political connections to thank for their success, the competitiveness of the entire country is destroyed.
So you’ve never bribed anybody?
After so many years I can admit that after our first order—which was still at home in 1986 when we delivered software for the planning of the Paks Atomic Energy pipelines—we had to kick back 10 percent. But for the second order we would not agree to this. We did not reject corruption for purely moral reasons, but in order for us to be truly competitive on the market. And with a lot of work we finally found the market where we didn’t have to pay kickbacks: architecture.
When you sold your company, you justified it by saying that there comes a time when a company can work better within the framework of a larger company. Was it difficult for you to make so rational a decision when confronted with your emotions?
For the founder, his company is always like his child, but eventually I gave my daughter to her husband. I am very proud of the fact that Graphisoft is doing better now that it is not mine, just as I am also proud that my daughter grew up and is happy by her husband’s side. While I am the chairman of the board of directors, I am not materially interested in the company’s profits, and I am not making the decisions.
Why don’t you launch a new company?
Graphisoft became more successful and richer then I had ever hoped. I could not repeat that again. When a successful entrepreneur retires, it is a rightful expectation that he give back something to society. But distributing money through a foundation or by other means is too cheap a solution. I think I can give real value to Hungarian society if I help create here an honest, respectful, successful entrepreneurial culture.
Is this why you founded the Aquincum Technology Institute within the framework of the Budapest Technical University? Is this a kind of business university?
None of the founders of the two hundred most successful American informatics companies attended business college. They were all engineers. For this reason I made a kind of informatics education program where the students, by the way, understand the business philosophy as well. I don’t persuade them to be entrepreneurs. I just help them discover the business vein within themselves. If there is none, and most of them are like that, then it is useful for them to know what those entrepreneurs need where they will be employed, and sell those products they develop.
The Hungarian students are standing in line. How do they get in?
Although education is free for Hungarians—the tuition paid by the American students maintains it, and we did not want to depend on the state—not as many come as might come. Either this is because they do not know English well enough, or they aren’t in the mood to travel to Aquincum, which reveals a lot about their ambitions. Information experts are in such high demand that the students perhaps do not think it necessary to receive an even better education, since even this way they find a good paying job.