English letter about 23rd of Oktober

Dear Collegues and Friends,
here is some useful and trustworthy information about the situation in Hungary today. Maybe you are interested to know, why and how could it happen, that peaceful people of tens of thousend with children, women, and old ones – among them P. László Vértesaljai SJ, and other priests – suffered totally innocently from brutal and unaccepteble police attacks on Oct 23, and several times earlier since Sept 18, 2006.


P. Sajgó, Szabolcs SJ director
Spiritual and Cultural Center
Manréza Hotel Dobogókö
+36 26 347 681
www. manreza. hu

Dear Friends,

I am sure you have heard about the violent events in Budapest, but whether you hear about them as they really happened, or as the government wants you to hear about them, is another matter. Here is a brief summary from our perspective.

Sebestyén L. v. Gorka
Executive Director
Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security (ITDIS)
15 Erdosor utca
Tel.: (+36) 30 44 56 707 (direct)
Fax.: (+36) 263 74 667

Budapest, Hungary
October 24, 2006

Violence on the Anniversary of 1956

Yesterday, the Hungarian government commemorated what many here consider to be the single most important event for Hungary in the 20th century-the revolution of 1956. The irony is that at this most important occasion, one which has been planned for and anticipated for months, no Hungarians were present. Well, OK, a handful was there-members of the ruling coalition of the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats, a few individuals reading poems and standing symbolically in an old truck reminiscent of 1956, and of course a military band. A number of foreign dignitaries were also present. But otherwise, the events went on without Hungarians. Indeed, ordinary Hungarians were not allowed to get within a kilometer of the Parliament, where the official events were taking place.

Beginning the night before, a barrage of special police units had cleared all outlying streets and even shut down the metro to prevent passengers from getting off at the stop near the Parliament.

Is this what Laszlo Sólyom, the president of Hungary, had in mind when he said that all Hungarians should unite so that there could be a real national commemoration? Imagine an American president celebrating the Fourth of July in front of the Capitol with a spattering of foreign guests and a few handpicked kids on bikes in a little parody of a parade, with a solitary fire truck for good measure. A police cordon forms a vast circle in order to keep ordinary Americans from getting closer than a mile. Imagine that an American president did this not on any ordinary July 4th, but on the Bicentennial. Indeed, it’s rather more like Orwell than a democracy at the start of the 21st century.

The three main official events of the day – 10: 00 on front of the Parliament, 5: 30 again at the Parliament, and 7: 30 at the new ’56 memorial – were all equally and eerily quiet. Cameras of the state television station MTV1 dutifully filmed the performers and the guests, careful not to stray beyond that narrow focus to reveal the silent and empty streets, or the hundreds of police safeguarding that silence. On another channel, HírTV, the opposition television, showed tens of thousands of demonstrators at a counter-event organized by the two leading opposition parties, the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz) and the Christian Democrats. The crowd consisted of all age groups, from children to grandmothers and everything in between. The sound of the speakers was nearly drowned out by the constant circling overhead of a police helicopter as well as the constant punctuation of police firing tear gas canisters into crowds on neighboring streets.

Police also used water cannons, truncheons, rubber bullets and mounted police to drive the crowds back and maintain the wide circle of silence around the Parliament, injuring more than one hundred people in the process.

Why did the government go to such lengths to create and maintain the cordon of silence around its official events? Because they knew that to allow ordinary Hungarians anywhere near would have been to allow shouts of protest and dissent. Many Hungarians are determined to see the downfall of the prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány. They feel he relinquished his right to lead the country when on a leaked recording he admitted to lying for months about the economic state of the country in order to win the general election, and did so using obscene language that was an insult to everyone.

The fact that his government coopted what should have been a day of national commemoration has further fuelled their anger and dismay: Gyurcsány was himself a leader in the communist hierarchy, and his wife is the grand-daughter of one of the officials responsible for the bloody repression of the revolution. As such, many feel Gyurcsány’s praise for the Freedom Fighter’s heroism in 1956 sounds hollow, insincere and out of place.

The government is trying hard now to discredit the demonstrators as right wing extremists. To dismiss one’s critics as fascists and extremists is a tactic communists have been using for decades. But the tens of thousands who demonstrated in Budapest last night and indeed around the country were not extremists. There certainly were a few such people among the demonstrators, but they were by far in the minority. The majority were merely Hungarians who want true freedom and an accountable government, people who did nothing to provoke the police violence used against them.

They were Hungarians who did not deserve the beating they received yesterday and the world should be outraged at the behavior of this government and the violence it has employed to silence its critics.

Katharine Cornell Gorka
Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security (ITDIS)
15 Erdosor utca
Piliscsaba, H-2081
Tel. (+36) 30 586 5112
Fax. (+36) 26 374 667

Budapest, Hungary
October 2, 2006
The Future of Hungary and the Gyurcsány Government

Dear Friends,

Many many thanks for all your thoughts and expressions of support these last couple of weeks and for reprinting our story about events in Hungary in your newspapers and on your websites. I think it’s extremely important that the world understand the true nature of the events here. As we wrote before, this crisis is not merely about hooligans throwing Molotov cocktails through the windows of the national television, but in fact it is a nationwide moral, economic, and political crisis, and one which is not going away. For the moment, the violence has subsided, but demonstrations around the country continue, and many people expect
further demonstrations or even violence as the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution nears, which will be commemorated on October 23rd.

In spite of all the events of the past two weeks, Ferenc Gyurcsány, now known worldwide as “the lying prime minister,” remains in power. But two days ago, voters expressed their condemnation by handing the governing socialist-liberal coalition a major defeat in local elections. And at the moment that polls closed at 7:00 on Sunday evening, Hungary’s president László Sólyom made a landmark speech in which he condemned Gyurcsány’s persistent lies:

“The leaking of the Prime Minister’s speech addressed to his parliamentary group members deeply shocked Hungary. The indignation was justified. The peaceful protests across the country showed the healthy moral sense of the people to me. However, the catharsis and purge have not taken place. Due to the imminence of the local elections the logic of the fight for power governed the course of events. The basic moral issue increasingly vanished from sight behind the explanations and the
events… The Prime Minister keeps on evading the clarification of the basic question. He does not acknowledge using impermissible means to preserve his power in order to start consolidating public finances. This undermines confidence in democracy.”

We were there at Kossuth Lajos tér in front of the Parliament on Sunday night when this speech was broadcast on the radio, and the thousands of demonstrators present cheered wildly, because here, finally, was affirmation from a political leader that something truly was wrong. Deep down, the tens of thousands of protestors around the country knew just how grave a violation Gyurcsány’s behavior was of both democratic principles and decent human conduct, yet after standing vigil for 14 days with no tangible outcome, I imagine that many were starting to question themselves. I know we were! Sólyom’s speech reaffirmed our purpose.

So what now? One of the most telling newspaper headlines during the first week of protests read, “Is Anyone in Charge Here?” The answer, sadly, is no. Gyurcsány’s leaked comments deeply shook this nation to its core, but just as disturbing was the recognition in the days that followed that Hungary has a very dim future. The Hungarians have no leader in whom to place their hopes, there are no policies that promise a better future. The questions that have repeatedly come up at Kossuth Lajos Sq. are: What do we want? What should we be asking for? They know they want Gyurcsány out, but then who could take his place? They know the austerity package will be bad for Hungary, but then what set of policies can save Hungary from the current economic crisis?

The problem, over and above everything else, is that Hungarians have not entirely given up their belief in socialism. Too many Hungarians still accept its moral compromises. Too many still accept that violations of law or ethics or personal integrity are acceptable it if serves the greater good. And even more importantly far, far too many still accept the false promises of socialism. The Hungarian government has been overspending for decades. In the 1980s, its overspending was covered by foreign direct investment and foreign borrowing. In the 1990s, its overspending was covered by income from privatization of state property,
more foreign borrowing, and high taxation. But now the resources are exhausted, as are the Hungarian people. Hungarians are taxed as much as they possibly can be. So an austerity package that mostly promises to tax them further is not the solution. Indeed, many analysts have said that higher taxes will only push even more people to find ways of not declaring their income as well as further dampen competitiveness and suppress incentive for individuals and businesses to be productive and profitable. Therefore, higher taxes will not lead to growth, which is what Hungary needs above all else. The only way Hungary can again become an economically vibrant nation, rather than one mired in its own debt, is if the government stops consuming so much of the country’s assets and resources, and removes such fetters on productivity as excessive reporting requirements, bureaucratization, and excessive taxation.

The first necessary step is that the government must tighten its own belt.

Yet that is the least of what they are doing. According to Sándor Richter, from the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, the proposed cost saving measures of Gyurcsány’s “austerity package” will only reduce public consumption by 1% in its first twelve months (MTI – Hungarian News Agency, Sept 21, 2006). Richter goes on to say:
“The bulk of the burden… will fall on the broader public, the third group targeted. The 15% VAT was already raised to 20%, leading to price rises primarily of food, public transport, utilities and energy. Subsidies on gas and electricity prices will be radically cut, with partial compensation for the neediest households. Due to changes in the regulation of the sale of pharmaceutical products, prices of the latter will go up as well. Individual and employees’ social security contributions will be raised. The excise tax on alcoholic beverages, except for wine, will be raised.”

Hungary needs austerity, that is without a doubt, but austerity on the government, not on the people. It is excessive government spending, coupled with corruption and waste that have driven Hungary into this economic hole.

Yet most ironically, it is Hungarians themselves, not the government, who seem most reluctant to see that change. In repeated conversations over the past days, people have insisted that the government cannot cut back its spending or the social cost will be too high. The problem is that Hungarians love their big state. They love all the “free” things: the free education, free health care, free social security, free family benefits, the free 13th month pension. But the bottom line is: they are not free.

Hungarians are paying for them. And not only are they paying for them, but because they are provided by the government, they are paying for them much more than they should. The government is the most inefficient and expensive of all possible providers. Because when you take individual citizens out of the equation, which is what has happened in Hungary, a whole layer of employees (i. e. civil servants and bureaucrats) has to be added in order to decide where and when and how services should be provided. That adds a thick layer of additional expense to the cost of those services. Moreover, when the government provides the services, they do so least efficiently and effectively. Rather than individual citizens deciding what services or products work best for him or her, and exercising that choice through the market, a group of government employees sitting in Budapest decides what is best for 10 million different individuals around the nation. It is a task at which they cannot possibly succeed.

Hungarians need education; they need healthcare, they need help for the elderly, the poor, the unemployed. That is without question. What is in question is who can best provide these services. When the state becomes the primary provider, services are inefficient, unresponsive, unequally distributed, and provided in a way that robs individuals of all motivation and responsibility. An all controlling-state makes for a nation of victims.

Whatever the schools want to teach their children, and by whatever method, they have to accept that. However doctors want to take care of them (or not) they have to accept that. However long a doctor wants to leave someone waiting for an appointment, they have to accept that. The trains are late, and dirty, and run down. They have to accept that. The buses are overcrowded. They accept that. Their local governments have vast, inefficient bureaucracies. They accept that. They have to wait weeks and even months for permits to build or to renovate or to start a business.

Either they pay a bribe to avoid the wait, or they accept that. Their government spends billions on new cars, new communication systems, new furniture, fighter planes, national theaters, parks, ministry buildings, while their own houses and cars remain run down. They work two or even three jobs just to pay for groceries and utilities. And the hospitals and clinics they have to go to when they get sick look like they’re out of third-world countries. But they accept that. Hungarians say they have free health care, they have free education. They wouldn’t want that to change.

I say, they are not free, they cost a fortune, their quality is terrible, and it must change.

If Hungarians still think they have free health care and education, they should think of it this way: for every 8 hour day that they work, their labor is allotted as follows: from the minute they arrive at work, say 8:00 in the morning, until nearly 12:00, they are working for the government.

More than 40% of what they earn gets paid directly to the government through a combination of income tax and VAT. Think of it-nearly half of their day they work to fund the government! Then for the next 2 and half hours they are working to pay for doctors, education and social security (one day, hopefully, assuming the system does not go bankrupt, that may include their own social security, but at the moment it is for the current pensioners).

Finally, what they earn between about 1:45 and 4:00 in the afternoon they get to keep. It is little wonder that Hungarians are struggling to make ends meet. And on the basis of this, how can Hungarians possibly say that the services they receive are free? They are far from free, and all they have done, by allowing the state to be the sole administrator of these services, is that they have given up every right to have any say in how they are carried out.

Under socialism (which, in effect, Hungary still has), doctors, teachers, public administrators, all public employees get paid no matter how well or how poorly they perform. Therefore, there is no incentive for them to perform well, or even to perform at all, as many a local official has proven. Patients often have little choice in which doctor they can go to, so there is no incentive for a particular doctor to provide better service.

They can leave patients waiting in line for hours, as it seems they invariably do, and they can be curt, rude, short-tempered, impolite, even inaccurate, i. e. misdiagnosing, because in fact, what recourse does the patient have? None. None at all. However, if Hungarians were to take back the right to have a say in their healthcare, if they paid the doctors instead of the state paying the doctors (with their money), you can be sure the quality of healthcare would very quickly rise.

And if Hungarians think the poor quality of their healthcare is only measured by time spent waiting, or ill-tempered doctors, they should think again. Hungarians pay for poor health care with years of their lives. Even now, more than a decade after the fall of communism, the average life expectancy for a Hungarian is 73 years. For an American, it is 77 years, for an Austrian or German it is 79 years, and for an Italian or Australian, it is 81 years. That is on average a difference of 4 to 8 years (based on WHO statistics for 2003). Do Hungarians have free healthcare? Far from it.

They pay for it every day through taxes, and in the end they pay for it with their lives by dying 4 to 8 years earlier than their European and American counterparts. They even pay for it with the lives of their children. Every year, out of every 1,000 children born, 4 more Hungarian children will die before the age of 5 than if they lived in France or Germany. Is that the healthcare they should aspire to? Under communism, it was somehow accepted that life expectancies would be lower and infant mortality rates would be higher than in the West, largely due to poor nutrition, but what is the excuse now? What is the use of any healthcare system if it does not keep a person alive and healthy? Hungarians are lying to themselves if they think their healthcare is free, or that it is a healthcare system they would even want.

The same can be said of education in Hungary. Hungarians have long been proud of the achievements of their scientists, of their artists and their intellectuals. They love to point out that they have one of the highest per capita ratios of Nobel prize winners. So those living in Hungary certainly cannot be said to have genetic or ethnic deficiencies of intelligence. How, then, do you explain that in Hungary the average rate of foreign language fluency is only 26%, compared with the European average of 50%, and that not one Hungarian university appears in the top 300 universities worldwide, or even in the top 100 universities of Europe? (Eötvös Loránd University and University of Szeged both appear in the 301-400 grouping of universities worldwide and in the 123-171 grouping of universities in Europe). Is this a lack of intelligence among Hungarians? Or is it the fact that the state is in charge of education?

Hungarians have allowed the government to be in charge of their lives for too long. The government has proven to be inefficient, ineffective, wasteful and corrupt. And judging from Gyurcsány’s comments and those of some of his fellow socialists, they don’t even like their fellow citizens very much! The current crisis in Hungary, which is an economic crisis as well as a moral crisis, will only turn around when Hungarians tell the government they are ready to be in control of their lives again, that they do not want the government running their lives for them. Only individual Hungarians can drive growth. Not the government. The Hungarian people must set the standard for responsible, morally upright citizenship, not the government. But until Hungarians understand the economics of a state welfare system, and understand the incredible inefficiencies as well as immorality it generates, nothing will change, and the crisis of leadership will remain.

Katharine Cornell Gorka,
ITDIS, 2006

ITDIS Policy Brief
Sept 19th 2006
Violence and Protest in Hungary

Hungary is finally suffering the cost of 16 years of unreformed government.

Just before midnight tonight, Monday, September 18th, demonstrators in Budapest turned violent. A crowd of approximately 10, 000 gathered in front of the national television, MTV, (just across the square from the U. S. Embassy) and started attacking with hammers and chisels the World War 2 memorial to fallen Soviet soldiers. They then turned on the offices of the television and started hurling rocks through the windows and setting cars on fire. Police have responded with teargas and watercannons. At the moment, the crowd is still violent and is demanding to be allowed into the television.

Ostensibly, and this no doubt is how the events will be reported around the world, these protests are a response to a tape released on Sunday night, on which the Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyrucsány, can be heard saying, “We lied during the last one-and-a-half or two years. It was obvious that whatever we said was untrue…. We have not taken any important government measures that we can be proud of apart from bringing back power from the deep shit,” referring to the electoral victory of the Socialist-liberal coalition. The speech continues is a similar vein, referring repeatedly to “this f—ing country.” The tape was secretly recorded, allegedly by fellow members of his party, the MSzP (Hungarian Socialist Party) who are disgruntled with his policies. Hungarians around the nation have expressed growing outrage in the 24 hours since the tape was released on the website of Hungarian public radio. Demonstrations have been taking place today in cities and towns around the country.

Hungarians are upset that they have been lied to, but also that their country should be referred to in such a way. Indeed the tape is the spark that set off these protests, but it is not the underlying cause. Frustration and discontent have been growing for a long time. Deutschlandfunk Radio recently called the situation in Hungary an economic emergency. According to the Budapest Business Journal, the International Monetary Fund has stated in its latest “World Economic Outlook” that Hungary “is in more urgent need of fiscal consolidation that any emerging market in Europe.”

The Gyurcsány government was reelected earlier this year with a campaign pledge of “progress, success and victory. Not for a select few, but for everyone…” It is a concept that has been promoted by every government in Hungary since the transition from communism in 1989: the prosperity of a market system combined with the egalitarianism and safety of a welfare system. It has taken sixteen years, but we are finally seeing the impact of such a fanciful idea: 25% of the workforce employed by the government, a projected fiscal deficit of 10%, crippling rates of taxation, and excessive corruption. Even outgoing U. S. Ambassador George Herbert Walker III, otherwise known for his kindness and moderation, recently called Hungary’s budget deficit “monstrous” and the size of its government “appalling.”

Many in the West, while perhaps attuned to the recent criticisms of Hungary by international financial institutions, will likely be surprised by the vituperative and violent nature of the demonstrations now taking place. But they should not be. Hungarians have watched the early promise of the late 1980s, and early 1990s wither away. Hungary started its transition to democracy well in the first position among its fellow Central and Eastern European countries. In 1989, the private sector was contributing an estimated 20% to GDP, and Hungary had highest direct foreign investment, and among the highest per capita incomes. But this early promise has steadily eroded. Government after government has failed to reform the heavily paternalistic welfare state of the communist era. Indeed, while the size of the government should have been scaled back dramatically, instead, grew. Not one government has come into power in Hungary, neither from the left nor from the right, who has understood the fundamental mechanisms of a market economy. All have promised growth, but a growth driven by the state. Victor Orbán, the prime minister from 1998 to 2002, who ran on an anti-communist, centre-right platform, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying:

“It’s obvious that after the Second World War, the major source of economic development in many countries was the state. We also looked at the experience from the beginning of the 1980s, of how Finland, Ireland, Catalonia were modernized through global capital and the attraction of foreign investors. We have to combine the role of the state in providing infrastructure for business life and at the same time attract as many as possible foreign investors to Hungary.” Every government in Hungary since 1989 has expressed, in one way or another, this same fundamental idea: the state must drive growth. Now, Hungary is facing the failure of that policy.

Gyurcsány’s crass confession may have triggered their anger, but it has been simmering for a long time.

As Michael Novak said recently, we will have to spend the next four to five years learning all over again that if you put a former Communist in charge of the desert, eventually you will have a shortage of sand. It looks as if we might not have to wait so long.

Katharine Cornell Gorka,
ITDIS, 2006

Published in: on 2006 november 10, péntek at 11:16  Vélemény?  

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