On the Beach with Orbán — The First Round of Test Results (Part 2)

A Five-Part Series on How the Republican Party’s Love-Affair with Viktor Orbán May Change Life in America — by András B. Göllner (Read Part 1 here)

The visit by Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, to Donald Trump’s Florida beach-house — coming just days before Easter — offers everyone a great opportunity to contemplate how their lives may change here on earth if Donald Trump returns to the White House this fall and applies — as he promises to — his Hungarian house-guest’s recipes for governing who gets what, when and how in America. András B. Göllner is a Canadian-Hungarian citizen – an emeritus professor of Political Science at Montreal’s Concordia University, an Honorary Professor at The Budapest Business School, and holds a PhD in Political Economy, from the London School of Economics. A former advisor to Orbán, he spent the first three months of 2024, including Holy Week, in Washington DC doing research on a forthcoming book. He paused to file this report to the Hungarian Free Press. This five-part report explores the dynamics of the forces that brought two distant relatives – the US Republicans and Hungary’s Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ) – into each other’s arms and landed Viktor Orbán on Donald Trump’s private beach in Mar-a-Lago. It looks at not only how Orbán’s “Gulyás Capitalism” affected those whose lives matter in Hungary, but more importantly, how it will affect the lives of all those “Children of God” who consider that the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness matters not only in America, but everywhere on this increasingly interdependent and God-forsaken planet.

PART II — The First Round of Test Results

Up to now, the focus of America’s liberal cable news networks has been on the inappropriate nature of the love-affair between an American presidential candidate and a Hungarian ”strongman” who is at worst in Putin’s pocket at best, in his backyard.

Apart from the persistent use of false, misleading labels, what is equally problematical about this approach is the inattention, the inability to focus on the changes Viktor Orbán brought about in the existential conditions of the people under him and even more importantly, the effects his policies have had on the political eyesight of those whose attention he now commands in Hungary and abroad.

In this second segment of our series, we shall include only those test results that came to us prior to going out for a deep dive with Orbán off the beach in Mar a Lago. We shall begin by looking at what matters most to the pragmatists like James Carville (it’s the economy stupid). Next to the US, Hungary’s economy is so small it requires a magnifying glass to spot. If we look a little deeper, we’ll find that Hungary’s economy is so poorly managed by Orbán, it cannot survive without massive hand-outs from Western Europe’s hardworking taxpayers.

During the past decade EU subsidies averaged between 80-90% of Hungary’s annual public expenditure on economic development projects. In some years, the EU’s hand-outs have reached as much as 7% of Hungary’s GDP. These are the most recent official measurements from the EU. “EU funds are a major source of foreign currency for the Hungarian economy. Endorsed in December 2022, with a total of EUR 5.8 billion in grants, it represents about 3.8% of Hungary’s 2023 GDP” (See here.)  For an additional good measure see here.

Everything is relative, so let us just see: where would the US economy be today if every year during the past 14 years a rich foreign uncle would have given it a non-refundable gift that is the equivalent of roughly 3.8% of the US GDP (i.e. a little over 1 trillion dollars per year? (A side note: The 3.8% does not include non-refundable grants and aid from the IMF or the World Bank).

More to the point: what did the Orbán government do to the Hungarian economy with the massive subsidies that would have driven the US economy through the roof by now and most likely have eliminated America’s massive national debt? The conclusion drawn by a former advisor of Orbán who is one of Hungary’s most respected conservative economists, László Csaba, says it all: Despite the massive injection of “free money” (non-repayable foreign subsidies), “it is empirically verifiable, that along virtually the entire axis of key economic indicators, we have fallen behind our competitors in Europe under Orbán’s rule. We are not only not getting ahead in the rankings but falling further and further behind”. (We shall of course come back to these conservative generalizations when we begin our deep dive. Right now, we are only at the rim, the first test results, as we get our bearings.)

Though Orbán’s predecessors expanded Hungary’s national debt to historical highs, especially under Orbán’s nemesis, Ferenc Gyurcsány, Hungary’s national debt, despite the massive external subsidies, increased rather than decreased under Orbán, reaching an all-time high by the start of 2024. This is the curt summation by the EU: “Debt management had to rely increasingly on foreign borrowing. According to the Commission’s debt sustainability analysis based on the 2023 Spring forecast, Hungary faces high risks in the medium term” (See here.) As if to rub salt into an open wound Peter Bod, a former minister and the governor of Hungary’s central bank under a previous conservative government, would compare Orbán’s economy to ones belonging to those states that Donald Trump dismisses as “shit-holes”: “Hungary now has such a poor credit rating, we are between Botswana and Tobago”. (Quoted by The New York Times here.)

Let’s look at a few more of the early test results about the Orbán government’s use of the hand-outs from European taxpayers. After he came to office in 2010, Orbán decided to change the system for distributing Europe’s massive subsidies to Hungary. He took the power away from the non-partisan, professional bureaucracy, and put it into his own hands. Since 2010, it’s the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office that decides who gets to feed off the European subsidies in Hungary. (When Trump calls Orbán “the boss” of Hungary he is not lying).

According to the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), of the financial gift from EU taxpayers to the people of Hungary funneled through the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office, roughly 25-30% is stolen each year by the state. Under Orbán’s watch, Hungary has become the leader among the EU’s 27 member states in defrauding European taxpayers of their hard-earned cash, with most of the stolen money going to enrich Orbán and his cronies. Here are the EU’s official figures: (“Hungary tops list of investigations into misuse of EU funds in 2022)

So, who are these purported cronies, please give us a name? Let’s take Lőrinc Mészáros as the typical example. He’s one of Orbán’s neighbors, his best buddy from his school days in their home village of Felcsút. This country bro of Orbán, formerly the village furnace repairman, skyrocketed from the lowest rungs of Hungary’s income ladder to the top as the richest man in Hungary after his bud’s office appropriated for itself the right to distribute the billions of dollars given to Hungary each year by Europe’s taxpayers. In Hungary, everybody knows: if you want to look for where “the boss” keeps his money look at Lőrinc’s recently acquired businesses (construction companies, hotels, media holdings, mansions, soccer clubs at home and abroad, executive jets, yachts, bank accounts (the latter snuggled away in various offshore safe havens). For the rank order of the 100 richest Hungarians click here to find Orbán’s “strawman” on the top: 100 leggazdagabb magyar Orbán shrugs of the critics by saying: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

For those who may be prompted to say that Mészáros is just an exception, we suggest looking at the “Big Data” on corruption compiled by politically neutral Transparency International, the global authority on public sector corruption. Its latest, 2023 Global Report (published in January,2024). shows that Hungary under Orbán is not only much more corrupt than it was under any of its previous rulers, but it has become the most corrupt state of all in the 27 member European Union, and is determined to retain that distinction under Orbán, because he too can “get away with murder” on his way to Hungary’s White House. (See: Hungary Remains the Most Corrupt Country in the European Union”)

To those who would have us believe that the highway robbery being committed against Europe’s taxpayers under Orbán’s watch is a charitable activity, an example of a Hungarian Robin Hood in action, transferring wealth from the rich, neo-liberal West to the poor, long suffering people of Hungary, we offer a rather unpleasant, but again, empirically verifiable truth. Hungary under Orbán has become not only the leader in robbing Europe’s hardworking taxpayers of their earnings: it is also the European leader in the unequal distribution of the stolen loot. The theft of billions from Europe’s taxpayers by the Hungarian state is not a case of robbing the rich to feed the poor, but its reverse. According to the latest figures by the organization that is considered to be the most reliable, non-partisan authority on this planet with respect to the inequality of income distribution (The World Inequality Data Base – WID) Hungary under Orbán holds the distinction in the EU as the place where income inequality is the steepest, this is the place where the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich had become the most pronounced in Europe during the past decade. (Here is the verifiable evidence: https://wir2022.wid.world/ and here is its corroboration by the EU’s statistical office that bases its conclusions on the raw numbers provided to it by Hungary’s statistical office, before the latter cooks them to taste like “Gulyás” on the lower deck of Hungary’s ship of state. (See: Income Inequality in the EU, Nov 23, 2023.)

Confronted by the magnitude of the financial theft, the corruption, the cascading inequality and debt, the economic mismanagement, one may be tempted to say to Carville: it’s not the economy but politics, stupid! Look at Orbán’s winning streak – four supermajorities in a row, a fifth one is as good as in the bag! Hungary is a democracy, where the people decide! You can fool some of the people some of the time, not all the people all the time. Don’t listen to the economic stats, listen to the people!  We did and we also listened to the wise Talleyrand, who observed over two hundred years ago: Give me good politics and I shall give you good economics. What the stats show is that Hungary’s democracy stinks “to high heaven”. (That Napoleon would end up calling Talleyrand “a turd in silk stockings” does not undermine the wisdom of his observation about the interdependence of politics with economics). The evidence is irrefutable: The reason why Hungary’s economy is unable to stand on its own two feet, why it has become the most corrupt, unequal, fragile, hand-out dependent economy in Europe is that it is run according to Orbán’s political recipe book, the one Donald Trump and his Party are just putting the finishing touches on within the Heritage Foundation. What the most reliable, least ideologically contaminated test results show us is that under Orbán, Hungary became the country in Europe that moved the furthest away from the universally accepted norms of democratic governance, i.e. governance by those whose lives matter. Here are the credentials of the organization that performed the tests, followed by their latest test results. They arrived on my desk just before Orbán headed for the beach in Mar a Lago.

Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), a Scandinavian research organization, produces the largest global dataset on democracy with over 31 million data points for 202 countries from 1789 to 2023. Involving over 4,200 scholars and other country experts, V-Dem measures over 600 different attributes of democracy. This is what its 2024 Yearbook has to say about the Orbán government’s performance, in comparison with the rest of the world.

“Hungary was a liberal democracy (before the start of Orbán’s rule in 2010)… When Viktor Orbán and his party came to power in 2010, they initiated…a series of well-documented derailments of democracy… By now It ranks first among all 42 ongoing episodes of autocratization in terms of the magnitude of change… its trajectory until 2023, is one of the steepest in the world in recent times… Hungary is no longer a democracy…it is an electoral autocracy”.  The European Parliament, that represents those taxpayers in the EU who have been systematically robbed of their hard earned wages by the Orbán government, agrees. (See: MEPs: Hungary can no longer be considered a full democracy | News | European Parliament (europa.eu)

Empirically verifiable evidence of the enormous magnitude of the material theft engineered by Orbán and his cronies, the mismanagement of Hungary’s economy, the destruction of the system of governance based on rule by and for the people does not tell the full story about what’s heading towards America’s beaches after Orbán’s deep-dive off Mar a Lago. This is how one of Hungary’s leading intellectuals, György Gábor, summarized “the full enchilada” Orbán left for his countrymen back home to clean up. (Trump’s “Evangelist” base please note, Gábor is not a radical atheist, he is neither a Fascist nor a Communist. He is not facing any kind of charges for predatory behavior, sexual or otherwise. Gábor is a middle of the road civil libertarian, a biblical scholar, a philosopher of religion, a former member of Hungary’s Academy of Sciences, and an early target of those who are determined to silence those who speak truth to power in Orbán’s Hungary.)

“What is the worst, most destructive impact of Orbán’s governance? It’s not the theft of just about everything he and his cronies could lay their hands on. We’ve seen that before. With time everything is replaceable… It’s not the sellout of the country to foreign interests, or the carte blanche given to the secret services of Russia. We’ve come back from such betrayals in the past… The greatest, most harmful impact of Orbán’s rule is on the minds of our people. That cannot be repaired easily, its impact is longue durée… The scar will require generations to heal… The new numerus clausus in our country no longer targets the Jews alone but anyone and everyone who thinks… It has left us saddled with collaborators, enablers for whom everything is for sale, even our souls are treated as commodities. ” (Translated by ABG from GyG’s Hungarian Facebook post)

It’s at this point that someone from Fox and Friends may be legitimately prompted to ask – why not give a word to those, who support Orbán? Why flood the zone with statistics followed by disgruntled academics who have fallen off their high horses? As one who agrees with the saying:  you can tell a man by the company he keeps (birds of a feather stick together is of the same genre), I am happy to bend over backwards to please my friends within the Republican Party and the North American Hungarian diaspora, who are enamored with Orbán.  The words of those who have come to praise rather than burry Ceasar’s crossing of the Rubicon follow next (Those who may not have known of that crossing may catch up on it here.)

To be continued

András Göllner

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