The Goulash Archipelago EU Remains Silent as Hungary Veers Off Course
Supporters of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán say he has a strict leadership style, while critics warn of the threat of forced political conformity, Jew-baiting and labor camps. Meanwhile, the European Union is saying nothing, apparently accepting the fact that a member state is getting out of control.
They set out at seven in the morning, carrying spades, axes and scythes, and climb one of the hills above Gyöngyöspata, a wine-growing village in northern Hungary: Forty gypsies and their supervisor.
This group of dark-skinned men and women, consisting of old and young people, teenagers and widows, represents the advance guard of a massive undertaking currently underway in Hungary. Under Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's plan to promote national renewal and moral rearmament, more than half of all the unemployed nationwide are to be put back to work.
The 40 gypsies from Gyöngyöspata, who don't even use the more acceptable term Roma to describe themselves, have been assigned the job of clearing hibiscus bushes and undergrowth for four months. They are among 300,000 Hungarians who will soon be performing "community" work under a new law, which dictates that anyone who is out of work for more than 90 days in a row forfeits the right to social welfare and membership in the social insurance system.
Are "forced labor camps" being created here, in the middle of the European Union, as the Hungarian daily newspaper Népszava wrote? Are unemployed people from remote villages being housed in worker camps on large construction sites? No one has to work against his will, but everyone who does show up for work is paid the legal minimum wage, says Karoly Papp, the state secretary in the Interior Ministry in charge of the program.
The government is still searching for projects to put the army of the unemployed back to work, at a monthly wage of roughly 290 ($418). There is talk of building dikes, planting trees and collecting herbs. The crew in Gyöngyöspata is "de-bushing" 16 hectares (40 acres) of overgrown community land to make way for the planting of "real Hungarian oaks," as the local mayor, a member of the radical right-wing Jobbik Party, puts it.
He is happy to have any work at all, because he needs the money, says a 59-year-old man named Pál, as he swings a scythe up on the hill. As a skilled forest worker, he adds, he also knows that it will take at least 80 years to grow a real oak forest. But the fruits of the hibiscus plant, the roots of which the crew is in the process of pulling out of the ground and chopping to pieces, could already fetch 0.50 per kilogram today -- if they were harvested.
A Top-Down Coup D'Etat
The things Prime Minister Orbán and his friends in the Fidesz Party are prescribing don't always make sense. However, there is no mistaking that they are in a hurry. The package of laws, ordinances and guidelines to define labor policies, which Orbán got off the ground in only 15 months, reads like the minutes of a top-down coup d'etat.
Orbán's concept of moral renewal and economic rehabilitation for Hungary has several tenets: Those without work are to be given work; those who are already working should work more in the future, but without being paid more; in the interest of the country's "stability," those who hold political power today should be allowed to remain in office for as long as possible; and those who once had power and did not use it for the benefit of the people should now be punished.
Péter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai, the three Social Democratic prime ministers of the last decade, all face the threat of being put on trial. There has been little public outcry, partly because many voters believe that they were lied to and robbed by the "leftists." A speech that Gyurcsány gave in 2006, which was later released to the press, and in which he confessed to have not been telling the electorate the truth about the tense economic situation, as well as dubious real estate deals and the fact that a national bankruptcy was only averted with the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union, weigh heavily on the legacy of the former socialist governing party.
Prosecutors are even looking into whether they can charge the former premiers with the "political crime" of incurring government debt, which is not considered a statutory offence today. Orbán and his party are fighting untiringly on this and other fronts. They seek to justify their mission to radically restructure the state with what they call a revolution in the voting booths: In April 2010, the Fidesz Party and its ally, the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP), won more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament.
Much has happened since then in the Goulash archipelago ruled by Orbán. Fidesz loyalists were given long-term posts in the corridors of power, including the presidency, the office of the chief prosecutor and the audit court, as well as top positions in cultural organizations. The powers of the constitutional court and the budget council were curtailed, the ministry of culture was eliminated, and consolidation is underway in the state media, the film industry and universities.
All of this produces jobs for men like Daniel Papp. As a media expert and the co-founder of the radical right-wing Jobbik Pary, he was long known only to the initiated. But in April they catapulted the pale 32-year-old to the position of editor-in-chief of the news office at the new MTVA media fund. The MTVA is the umbrella organization covering the formerly independent state radio and television stations, as well as the MTI news agency.
- Part 1: EU Remains Silent as Hungary Veers Off Course
- Part 2: A Purging of Editors in Hungary's Public Media
- Part 3: 'What Is Now Taking Shape Here Is an Operetta Dictatorship'