Árpád W. Tóta and the crisis in Greece: Let the Greeks drown!

In almost any country, except Hungary, publicist Árpád W. Tóta would likely be considered an ultraconservative for his rigid economic views. In Hungary, he’s a prominent opinion-maker of the left-centre opposition establishment. He sometimes reminds me of an enthusiastic member of an Ayn Rand college fan club, comprised of anxious freshmen who haven’t seen much of the world, beyond their suburban backyards, yet are quite self-assured and have a one-size-fits-all answer to any crisis, usually involving less government and less government regulation. I strongly suspect that Mr. Tóta’s harshly-worded black and white views, his lack of nuance and his irreverence is part of his public personality as a publicist. In private, I expect that he may be more measured. North America too has its fair share of fiery media personalities, perhaps most notably Nancy Grace, the queen of cable TV vigilantism or Tea Party guru Glenn Beck.

What all of these media personalities have in common is a total lack of compassion. I was disappointed (though not entirely surprised) to read Mr. Tóta’s piece on the landslide, 61% “no” victory in Greece’s Sunday referendum on austerity and bailout packages.

“Greece is terribly resentful of the fact that their creditors’ confidence has run dry. Greece even voted, with great pomp and ceremony, that it won’t pay, but still desires further loans…The problem with socialism is that eventually other people’s money runs out–said Margaret Thatcher. And Syriza is loyally following this recipe. It’s not Europe that needs Greece, but the other way around. Every empire must weigh how far and to what extent it is worth to keep one of its provinces,” writes Mr. Tóta.

To perceive and portray the European Union as an imperial power dominating its hapless provinces–and then to imply that this is a normal and salutary state of affairs–is disconcerting, especially when it comes from a respected liberal publicist.

“If we need beaches, then we’ve got Croatia and, in fact, the entire Mediterreanean. The Poles, Slovaks and Danes make feta cheese too. We can find ancient ruins in Rome. And we’ve already downloaded Sophocles, so we don’t need to go there for that. Those who really want to travel can go to Egypt or Tunesia. And we’ll manage, even if Ouzo becomes more expensive–it’s a pretty disgusting drink anyway. And Greece will finally free itself of the horrors of austerity, and will be able to find the funds for pensions and paid vacations in a way that it knows and likes best. And to the extent that its vaunted national sovereignty will allow.  We’ll talk later. If life doesn’t work out for them as they had hoped, then they can try again. It your business,”quipped Mr. Tóta.

And herein lies the problem with much of the Hungarian left, and why extremist parties like Fidesz and Jobbik have been able to attract people, who are otherwise not fanatics and fascists, with their populist messaging. There is not a dekagram of solidarity and of compassion for the other, nor a realization that the individual can only flourish within some type of community. That community doesn’t have to be national, ethnic, religious or family-based. But the gifts of individuals flourish when they are met with interest, compassion and solidarity from others.

Árpád W. Tóta

Árpád W. Tóta

And whatever the sins of Greek tax evaders, prior corrupt Greek administrations, who fudged their financial data (somewhat like Hungarian governments did as well), and regardless of whether we are enamoured by the negotiating style of the likes of outgoing finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, what’s been happening in Greece is a modern day tragedy. Fifty percent of youth are unemployed, while one out of every four working age Greeks are out of a job. Greece’s 50% youth unemployment rate compares to 7% in Germany, 16% in the United Kingdom, 24% in France and 22% in the Euro zone in general. The average household income in Greece today is at levels last seen in 2003. Over 40% of Greek children live in poverty.

It is against this bleak backdrop that Greeks, especially youth, voted against bail-outs that focused on austerity. As ATMs run dry, medicine, imported products, petrol and even paper runs out (Greek newspapers will have enough paper to print their publications until Sunday, and book publishers are being asked halt printing), Greeks are facing the terrible prospect of either losing their life savings, if Greek banks fold and accounts are converted to devalued New Drachmas, or an endless, grey future of austerity, continued staggering rates unemployment, falling household incomes, pension and social service cuts.

Both pills are incredibly bitter to swallow. I’m not sure which poison I would take, if I ever found myself in this awful predicament. Eastern Europe has been through similar hardship in the nineties, following the collapse of one party rule, though local populations were not asked to vote on the pain of economic shock therapy.

Of course, politicians like Angela Merkel must face her own voters, who are understandably tired of the endless drama with Athens and bailouts. (Though it is worth remembering that much of this money never went to Greece, but rather to service the loans.) But publicists like Mr. Tóta need not worry about irate voters and being booted from office. They could play a role in forming public opinion on the Hungarian left, and in liberal circles. Compassion for those on the margins, giving a voice to the disenchanted and disenfranchised is part of that role and if media leads the way, and applies pressure, those who formulate policy proposals in left-centre parties may follow.

Perhaps that way, there might actually be a reason for former Socialist and left-leaning voters who have fled to Jobbik out of socio-economic considerations to think again. A little more solidarity and a little less neoliberal dogmatism on the part of Hungarian liberals could go a long way.

17 Comments

  1. Don Dawson says:

    He’s left wing. OMG!!!

  2. Charlie London says:

    Unfortunately it has been the Greeks themselves who have sabotaged their own economy.

    In 2010, when negotiations started their economy was beginning to recover á la Ireland.

    It has been too easy to live off the stolen credit card and now it has to be handed back and the bills paid.

    As you sow, so shall you reap.

    The irresponsible rhetoric from Tsipras and the now resigned Finance Minister have led the electorate astray. Tsipras behaves like a juvenile without any responsibility.

    The fooled electorate themselves need to take responsibility for whom they are electing.

    Electing a government that believes others can pay the bill was voting for cloud cuckoo land with no basis in reality.

    The Greeks, just like the Hungarians, deserve the government they voted for.

    This is a Pyrrhic victory – the headache comes later.

    The fools. The fools. The fools.

  3. W. Tóta is one of the most disgusting “liberal” columnists ( i wouldn’t even call people like him real journalists ) in Hungary. The quoted pieces represent a moral level of an especially low degree.

    Right-wing opinion shapers like him ( whether in Hungary or elsewhere ) use half truths and demagogue, simplistic arguments at best, and outright distortions and lies at worst to further their ( and their employers ) agenda. Or even some ethnicist stereotypes that are bordering incitement.

    Regarding the Hungarian political landscape, i do not believe that a more leftist agenda ( which would be regarded from a foreign viewpoint rather moderate, centrist ) will be attractive in the near future to most Hungarians – even though the ratio of socially disadvantaged elements in Hungarian society is quite similar to that of Greece – since Hungarian society is basically the most reactionary, right-wing in Europe. Left-wing means here economic neoliberals/social neoconservatives glorifying the policies of the Troika/Eurogroup kinds, while right-wing means basically the same, coupled with excessive national chauvinism, clericalism, veiled or outright antisemitism, xenophobia, racism ( in some cases the last two are applicable to the “left-wing ” as well … ) . Far-right is basically a synonym of the most somber kind of racial, eugenicist, national-socialist views ( which would fall into the category of illegality in a mature democracy ) . Moderate keynesian centrists regarding the economy with socially liberal, progressive, humanist views are a tiny minority on the far-left and people with even more leftist – god forbid marxist – views would be basically considered as potential terrorist-criminal troublemakers by most folks ( and indeed by the ruling classes on whose payroll are the W. Tóta likes ) just as in third world dictatorships. Or as in pre-1945 Hungary …

    By the way the Greeks as a nation with a modern history rich in anti-fascist popular resistance ( and other countries of the Eurozone’s periphery as well ) would be much better off with their own currency and without the dictates of the “Troika” and of course without the bullying of social-darwinistic, reacitonary right-wingers especially from countries with the most regressive, fascistic tendenices as W. Tóta’s Hungary.

  4. By the way Hungary has already drowned and W. Tóta’s attitude towards the Greek crisis is just a typical characteristic of Hungarian social mentality…

  5. Charlie London’s comment is a beautiful example of the distortions circulating in the ( mostly biased ) mass-media about the current events in Greece…

    • Charlie London says:

      I don’t expect people who come from a ‘free-of-responsibility’ ‘just-give-me-back-the-Kadar-era’ background to understand that voting in an election requires taking on a responsibility in addition to doing an obvious’due diligence’ check on what is being promised.

      It also does not allow you to vote for solutions that are not in the gift of your prospective choice.

      The very reason why Hungary has suh a disastrous ‘commocracy’.

      This is independent of what (controlled) media one might read.

  6. The dominance of the conservative, populist, nationalist right in Hungary has pushed liberals and leftists into the same, anti-Orbanist, non-nationalist opposition camp. But there is no reason the two should really agree on much of economic policy. It’s not like they do in most other European countries.

    Because of that, it might therefore be a bit misguided to expect, or call on, liberal politicians or publicists to promote compassion and solidarity, or to fight for the disenchanted and disenfranchised. That’s not what liberals do or stand for – the idiosyncratic use of the label in the United States excepted.

    When real left-wing groups like the Fourth Republic stand with the Greeks, it’s a reason for hope, as small as those groups are. When the so-called Socialist Party promotes a neoliberal line, it may not be surprising, but it’s still somewhat of a betrayal. After all, it does call itself socialist, and for a couple of decades did this bait and switch thing of pretending to be the champions of working folk in campaigns and getting their votes too, only to implement market liberal policies once in power.

    But when liberals do the same thing, why would one expect them to do anything else? They’re representing their ideology. It’s not an ideology with much resonance in Hungary, as the fate of the SzDSz (and more recently, Egyutt 2014) has shown – but it might seem odd to tell liberals that they have a kind of political or moral obligation to not be so liberal.

    A better question might be why liberal commentators get to be so overrepresented in the already narrow media space for non-Jobbik opposition voices. It’s not like liberals have proven to speak for much of even the non-Fidesz/Jobbik vote in past elections (or at least not since the early 90s), but they seem to dominate the discourse in non-Fidesz/Jobbik politics.

  7. It is worth not to confuse economic (neo-)liberalism and social liberalism with each other because they fundamentally serve such goals that can sharply oppose each other under some circumstances. The first stands for the unlimited freedom and power of those who own capital and the means of production, while the second stands for the political rights, liberty and equality of citizens regardless of their ethnicity, gender, religion, creed, social status, sexual orientation, in the spirit of Enlightment and the civil revolutions of the 18th – 20th cebtury… The latter ideals can easly get into a confrontation with the interests of the economicaly ( and politicaly ) most powerful elements of capitalst class societies, who are tending to exclude the widest segments of citizens to have a say in issues that are concerns for society and who are inherently want the most possible power and control without the less possible transparency and limit. So supporting social mobility and a certain level of compassion are absolutely inherent to liberalism in a social and philosophical sense; what is more it is kind of a basic feature of developed capitalist countries with parlamentary civic democracy, rule of law etc. … …in other words where those opposing interests are fairly balanced . That is of course, something that stands quite far away from most self-proclaimed liberals ( in fact mainly right- wing , demagogue, economic neoliberals ) in Hungary.

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  9. It goes without saying, that Orban’s social illiberalism is based on radical economic neoliberalism. Despite the petty scandals of the redistribution of the tobacco or gambling market with the help of state intervention , the essence is serving corporate ( both domestic and international ) interests with all major economic and social policies, even if it is coupled with some intervention into free competiton to favor clients … The complete, unlimited freedom of competition and markets ( at least in the case of developed economies ) is a neoliberal myth anyway … “You worth as much you own ” is the essence, in line with the old traditions of Hungarian reactionary politics.

    • Charlie London says:

      … “You worth as much you own ”

      This is almost exactly what Janos Lazar said a little we while ago:

      “If you have nothing, you are worth nothing.’

      This is the man who controls Orban’s Prime Minister’s office and always ensures he gets his Rolex watch photographed too.

      Pure naked materialism.

  10. Eleftheria says:

    The Orban-regime’s rightfully hated corruption and redistribution of resources to the powerful is opposed only to social liberalism but not to economic neoliberalism . If you maintain a balanced budget and your country is sufficiently solvent to satisfy international creditors, than you can steal as much you desire…

  11. Why read a piece at all from a professional journalist that starts with a slang “Bazi nagy…”? I wish I knew what that slang “Bazi” means or I could translate it faithfully into English. But it was funny anyway :D.
    W. Tota is nearly famous now. That’s what he always wanted.

    Well, I am nearly famous now too, feeling free to write nonsenses any time I feel an urge to do that, but strictly as a poster on a discussion board. When professional journalists do the same it might not be so funny eventually.
    Yet, when I read through the Hungarian press I notice that Tota is not the only one.

    • Christopher Adam says:

      Richard, I’m somewhat in the same boat. I couldn’t translate “bazi” into English, nor do I really understand what precisely that means in Hungarian…But I will somehow make do without this piece of wisdom. 🙂

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  13. Tota you’re a right wing little prick. The reality for you and your country is that you have been forgotten by History and have no future to play in a modern world. Yes build a wall as that maybe is the best solution for all. Hungary is of no significance. An irrelevance to Europe

  14. Miklos Banfi says:

    Bazi is the less vulgar and cute version of the f word, which was in the title of the Hungarian version of that very popular Greek wedding movie few years back – which Tota refers to.
    Reading this through I beg to differ with most. I have to admit that I did not understand some of them either because of their of my lack of English, their use of Jibrish or they were just too convoluted to figure out.
    Chris was about right: if we really want to position Tota, he is an opposition advocate on the left side, although in Hungary today the mess just in the essence, what and who is left and right makes less and less sense. Certainly nobody is what they considered to be:) (sic!)
    Tota wrote hundreds of articles, where he attacked mostly the Orban regime in a witty, harsh-worded, sometimes even vulgar, not all that scientifically sophisticated, brave way aiming the intellectual opposition as target audience and provoking the establishment to the degree, that it is wonder that he is still alive. He reminds me of Bartus in many ways, although Tota is more sarcastic.

    I was always happy to read his publications as some comfort against the brain and gut wrenching government propaganda. Was he always right? No! Who was? Criticizing him is really means what criticism itself. A failure, a shortcoming, a false reflection of the critic.

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