Hungary today is in deep crisis says Lajos Bokros

February 23, 2016

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The following article was published on Hungarian news site Nyugat.hu under the title “Lajos Bokros: Hungary today is in deep crisis.  Its democratic institutions are rapidly falling apart” (Bokros Lajos: Magyarország ma rendkívül mély válságban van. Gyorsan esnek szét a demokrácia intézményei).

The only way to get out of this situation is by restoring the market economy, democracy, and putting the country back on the path of modernization — said the Movement for a Modern Hungary (MoMa) chairman in Szombathely.

MoMa chairman Lajos Bokros and party vice-president Erzsébet Pusztai are academics. This has been made evident in statements they have made in the past, but it was proven again at a town hall event held in the city of Szombathely. Bokros is a professor and Pusztai is a healthcare expert, and day-to-day politics is something that is difficult for both of them.

Even they are able to sense the change in their political audience. Bokros held a three-minute speech, but even that was in the theoretical. His main point was that Hungary today is in a deep crisis and will not be able to continue on this path for another four years because the country’s democratic institutions are falling apart just as other important policy areas are eroding. Hungary’s democracy is sinking to a level of debauchery, which brings with it moral debauchery — this is evident in that corruption is no longer a matter of shame.

Bokros also shared with his audience the characteristics of populism. Everyone today still believes that political parties are still gaugeable in a linear way, that is, one end of the line there is the far-right, on the other end there is the far-left. People try to define their own political identity relative to the distance between themselves and these two extremes. Bokros said this linear view of political identity has transformed into a circle in which the far-right and the far-left now touch each other.

MoMa believes that Hungary is in need of modernization, Bokros said. The party believes in the importance of economic competition, a real market economy, which isn’t perfect but there is no better alternative. It is not the job of the state to steer the economy, and there is no ideal setting in which state-owned enterprises work well.

Real political competition is important. The market economy only works well in a democracy, and vice-versa. There is no such thing as a king who knows everything and is always just. What also does not work is what populists do, which is that the “just leader” asks the people and then makes a decision. This is tyranny itself, Bokros said.

A power structure cannot be built up with human characteristics, that is why institutions are needed — institutions that curtail the power of the government and act as checks and balances. An illiberal state is a state without freedom. This may be appealing to many people because the state takes away the individual’s freedom to make decisions in exchange for the promise of looking after them.

But MoMa does not want to exist as an underling, it wants freedom and Western democracy, Bokros said.

Responding to a question, Erzsébet Pusztai explained that it will be very difficult to oust Fidesz using democratic means because the party has cemented itself into power. Fidesz has power that is uncontrollable. Hungary’s parliament operates under the direction of government, and representatives of the governing parties vote in favor of everything the government wants with their heads down out of fear that their livelihoods are at stake.

The media’s playing field is also unbalanced, she said. Many people can only access the state-run and Fidesz-controlled media outlets. According to Pusztai, even if opposition parties had a serious message, they would not be able to reach the majority of Hungarians.

Despite this, a change in government is still possible. What is needed is for every democratic opposition party to collaborate and together nominate candidates in all 106 electoral districts. They need to find those trustworthy and legitimate people. If this can be done, Fidesz’s electoral law would slap the ruling back in its face.

Pusztai emphasized the point that Hungary needs to have a democratic transition, otherwise anything else would bring unforeseen consequences.

Responding to a question, Bokros said Hungary’s budget and national economy could be put back on the right track relatively quickly. Currently, the problem is that little money is made available for education and healthcare, while even more money is made available for the state and state-owned enterprises. Money currently being spent by the state on interference in the economy (banks, buying and operating businesses) can be saved because the state does not spend on such things in the market economy.

The amount of money being spent on the state can also be decreased, Bokros said. Public administration in Hungary is currently incredibly complex, unnecessary and wasteful. If less money was spent on funding the state’s apparatus, not only would that mean that more money is being saved, it would also mean that public administration would work more efficiently, Bokros said.

Pusztai also addressed the teachers’ demonstrations. She said that this is only the beginning, more and more people in different sectors are waking up to the situation.

Bokros said unions and civil society organizations play a very important role, but he disagrees with the fact that they do not want to collaborate with political parties. He said the role of NGOs and unions is to act as a mirror to government, and they have certainly done so recently.

But a change of government cannot be done with only civil society because political parties are needed to take place in national elections. NGOs and unions should not turn their backs on politics, Bokros said.

Bokros and Pusztai also made it clear that they do not support plans to see the Olympics hosted in Budapest. Bokros talked about the Athens Olympics in 2004, where the Greeks were thrilled to host the international games. Today, the buildings they built are in ruins, there is no money for their upkeep or use. Meanwhile, Greece was driven deep into debt and public debt has reached 180 percent of the country’s GDP.

Bokros said only a select few interest groups will do very well with Olympics because of corruption but the games have the potential of causing great harm to the host country. Pusztai said the tens of billions being spent on stadiums in Hungary will have the same fate as those in Greece. There will simply not be enough money for their upkeep.

Thirty people attended the town hall forum event. The audience was not made up entirely of old people. There were middle-aged people and younger participants as well.