Well, the day is fast approaching. Political speech – including paying to advertise by political parties is now off-limits in Hungary. In Hungary campaign advertising on the internet and non-state media will be banned next week for the 2014 elections. Political parties can still advertise in private print media. So the result is that oppositions parties are left to advertise mainly in state owned media – controlled by the Orban Government. Is it just me, or is something wrong with this?
“Parties will not be allowed to advertise on commercial television or radio stations or internet websites in 2014, under amendment motions submitted to the new election procedural bill accepted by Parliament Monday evening. The bill will come up for a final vote in a week’s time.” (Hungary Around the Clock, November 13, 2012)
I think the veneer of democracy is really falling away now.
Clarification: by ‘cronies’ I mean Fidesz Parliamentary members that can’t stand up for democracy, by not voting against their party and for the Hungarian people.
I’m very busy these days. I recently wrote to someone that all I do is “energy, energy and energy”. It is not far from the truth. I eat and sleep energy topics. From shale gas in Europe, exploring the links between energy technology, society and the state, then teaching how to make money from sustainable ‘climate and resource proof’ businesses (for a great summary read this). My son just came in asking for some ‘boy time’ tomorrow morning. I’m very busy.
But I did have time this long weekend to escape to a thermal bath in Southern Hungary. So you can imagine when it comes to writing about or commenting on the destruction of the economy and democracy in Hungary I have little time. The passage of the new electoral law? The recent signing of an agreement between Gazprom and Hungary’s MVM? Well, really, I’ve given up wasting my time writing about Hungary (which I previously wrote a post about). Does it really help to keep commenting on how the Titanic is sinking?
Passivity is Acceptance and Support
But what’s the result of my neglect of the Hungarian topic? Well, as I read here, I become a passive collaborator to the Hungarian regime. Passive acceptance is active acceptance of the system. In the Foreign Policy summary of Anne Applebaum’s new book on the rise of authoritarian regimes from 1944 to 1956, she explores not the active resistance but the human ‘passive’ dimension that leads to how these regimes gained power. It may not be as overt as ‘selling out’ but passivity or ensuring no one hassles you enables authoritarian leaders to rise. At the end, she ties this into the current regime practices of Putin and Chavez. I’ll make the very quick leap, without full discussion, to placing Victor Orban’s government practices right next to Putin and Chavez (you know I’m very busy). I’ll only cite the recent passing of the voter registration law as evidence of the authoritarianism (again, getting people to be passive over actively voting against the regime).
Recently, I began to think about documenting what it is like to live in an emerging ‘failed state’. Because in my own analysis I consider not just that Hungary has turned into an ’emergent’ authoritarian state, but is now is on a dramatic decline towards a failed state. Really, this is historic – to live in a European country where the political and economic elite have rejected democracy and are not rebelling against crippling economic policies (maybe not unique, but historic). The people themselves are not even in the streets protesting the declining and meager living standards. As evidence, I’ll just suggest a visit to Tesco or Auchan, the only things you can buy are the most basic foodstuffs. Variety only exists in pasta noodles and between red or green grapes. It’s like a UN food storage site in Africa but with a good collection of Hungarian wine. Hungarians do not have money to buy more upscale products. The middle class that Orban is attempting to create (and is as obvious as porn – according to him) is subsisting on radishes, Hungarian foie gras and 1,000 ft bottles of wine. A comfortable lifestyle, but limited.
In my weekly routines in Budapest, I always run into the same Hungarian businessman, and we always complain about the weekly happenings. But he always says, “do you see anyone in the streets protesting against this?” He then goes on to make derogatory remarks about Hungarians. But his view is to position his business now, because this regime, like the last one, will fall and when it does, money can be made again.
A common discussion about politics in Budapest always turns to the rapid pace of passing new laws and even amending these same new laws. “Don’t even the politicians in Fidesz see how stupid all this is?” “Why do they agree to these laws and go along with this.” I guess the answers must lie somewhere in Applebaum’s new book – why smart politicians don’t stand up for their own citizens.
Hungary as a failed state
The turning of Hungary into Europe’s first failed state, since the start of the 2008 financial crisis, is perceptible from a few angles. From both the outside and the inside you can start to see how the ‘State’ and state institutions are eroding and beginning to fail the regime. The rot of cronyism, political favoritism, and delusional grandiose-ness have now set in. Government ministries are no longer working together or unable to understand what other ministries are trying to do. State owned companies, or companies with strong state ownership, are at odds with each other. Across the whole state, a common objective is now lacking for state institutions. Without direct instructions from Victor Orban, nobody knows what to do. Are the ministries, companies, paper pushers meant to be riding out the current financial crisis or should they be growing? What is their current strategy or state project? How does the new weekly strategy correspond with last weeks? Or more importantly, how does the current regime strategy correspond or conflict with the state strategy of economic growth that was in place for the past 20 years? Institutional inertia and memory is hard to break. Who the fuck has even read the new constitution?
The fall of the Soviet Union was based on the failure of state institutions wrapped up with economic realities. The delusional economic system of Communism proved to be a fallacy. Applebaum points out the need for authoritarian leaders to use the promise of economic growth and superiority of the system. This obviously applies to what comes from the Orban government. However, as someone recently told me, the GDP of Hungary is equal to the GDP of the Munich region in Germany. It is hard to believe that the superiority of Hungary’s new economic ‘success’, based on nationalism, will be serving as an example for the ‘collapsed’ economies of Germany and France.
The time is now to begin to plan for a time when the current regime fails. The emergence of Hungary as a failed state, with increasingly dysfunctional state institutions, a rise in corruption and an overall system where personal relations determine the level of state service a family receives,(or even employment by the state, rather than qualifications), all mean things will be getting worse before they get better.
Yes, I’m busy, busy, and very busy, but I guess it is time I stop my passive acceptance of the current regime and get back to voicing my distaste and disagreement with Orban’s regime. I do not support passive collaboration leading to the death of Hungary’s young democracy.
Waiting for a new version of this early anti-regime video.