- Title: HUNGARY: Hungary to ignore critics with landslide for Orban
- Date: 27th March 2014
- Summary: BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF NATIONAL DAY RALLY OUTSIDE NATIONAL MUSEUM/ ROCK SINGER PERFORMING PRIME MINISTER VIKTOR ORBAN WALKING DOWN STEPS OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM AND SHAKING HANDS WITH SUPPORTER PEOPLE CLAPPING ORBAN WALKING ON STAGE PEOPLE CLAPPING AND WAVING FLAGS (SOUNDBITE) (Hungarian) HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER, VIKTOR ORBAN, SAYING: "We are a nation of the strong and the brave. Everyone can see that if we are united we can make the name 'Hungarian beautiful again, worthy of its old grand fame' (excerpt from poem by Sandor Petofi)." PEOPLE CLAPPING FOLK DANCERS ON STAGE PEOPLE WATCHING FOLK DANCERS BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (MARCH 25, 2014) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) FORMER DISSIDENT AND MENTOR OF ORBAN IN STUDENT DAYS, MIKLOS HARASZTI, SAYING: "Most Hungarians like to have a leader who is braver than everybody and who is giving kind of slaps into the face of the international community, which in the national ego is the source of all evil. Never Hungarians' abilities are the reason for any failure." BATONYTERENYE, HUNGARY (RECENT) (REUTERS) MARQUEE EXTERIOR ORBAN ENTERING MARQUEE AND GREETING CHILDREN FOLK GROUP CHILDREN IN FOLK COSTUMES LOOKING ORBAN PEOPLE CLAPPING / ORBAN FOLK GROUP STARTING TO SING ORBAN SMILING FOLK ENSEMBLE SINGING GYONGYOS, HUNGARY (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS PEDESTRIANS (SOUNDBITE) (Hungarian) GYONGYOS RESIDENT, ZOLTAN SZERENCSE, SAYING: "I like that he dares to express his opinion to the outside world, not just at home. He dares to say whether or not we will do something, we are neither a dog nor cat of the EU, we are (equal) members and I like that he dares to say that to everyone and is not afraid of anyone." CAT WALKING ON ROOFTOP (SOUNDBITE) (Hungarian) GYONGYOS RESIDENT, GABRIELLA TOTH, SAYING: "He defends the Hungarian people and the country. He is not a marionette of the EU and I think that is a good thing." BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (FILE, 2012) (REUTERS) PAINTING DEPICTING THE NEW HUNGARIAN CONSTITUTION WATCHED BY HUNGARIAN HISTORICAL FIGURES PEOPLE LOOKING AT PAINTING AT EXHIBIT PAINTING DEPICTING ORBAN SPEAKING AT REBURIAL OF '56 HEROES AT HEROES SQUARE PAINTING DETAIL SHOWING ORBAN SPEAKING BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (MARCH 25, 2014) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) FORMER DISSIDENT AND MENTOR OF ORBAN IN STUDENT DAYS, MIKLOS HARASZTI, SAYING: "The young Viktor Orban was a good pupil in the art of kicking up conflict and that was turned to good use when fighting the communist authorities and we had to grab any possibility of publicness (publicity). But today that ability grew into an international trouble-making but also serving his posturing at home as a defender of the nation, of a nation that likes that kind of posturing." GYONGYOS, HUNGARY (RECENT, 2014) (REUTERS) DIAPERS ROLLING OFF NEW PRODUCTION LINE ORBAN TAKING PAMPERS PACKAGE OFF PRODUCTION LINE AND POSING TO CAMERAS MEDIA ORBAN SHOWING PAMPERS PACKAGE TO MEDIA AND SAYING 'IT'S WRITTEN HERE MADE IN HUNGARY, THIS IS WHY WE ARE HERE TODAY' ORBAN SHOWING MADE IN HUNGARY ON PAMPERS PACKAGE BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (MARCH 26, 2014) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) DEPUTY STATE SECRETARY FOR INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION, FERENC KUMIN, SAYING: "Consumer confidence index is on an 8 year high, business confidence index is on a 14 year high which explains why people have trust in the incumbent government. It's typical that an incumbent government enjoys support when people have positive sentiment and positive feeling about their future, about their households' future and about the future of their businesses here." BATONYTERENYE, HUNGARY (RECENT, 2014) (REUTERS) ORBAN LAYING FOUNDATION STONE OF FURNITURE FACTORY, PLACING BRICK HIMSELF OVER IT AND PUSHING IT IN PLACE
- Embargoed: 11th April 2014 13:00
- Location: Hungary
- Country: Hungary
- Topics: Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAMWG1HMQPVSDGF0KBBM4NH63D
- Story Text: From the moment Viktor Orban first became prime minister in 1998 he was driven by a wish to achieve something historical and revive old 'glorious' periods. The first steps of the 35 year old politician were to strip his office and replaced the fittings with items used by his pre-war predecessors, scavenged from elsewhere in the building.
The aim was to re-connect with one of the brief periods in Hungary's history when it was proud and independent, a key theme in his popularity, which appears undented by external criticism.
"We are a nation of the strong and the brave. Everyone can see that if we are united we can make the name 'Hungarian beautiful again, worthy of its old grand fame'," Orban told his supporters reciting a poem by Sandor Petofi on Hungary's national day of March 15th when Hungarians rose against Habsburg rule in 1848.
Barring a major upset, Hungarians will on April 6 re-elect Orban's Fidesz party for another term, the second in a row and Orban's third in all. Judging by current opinion polls, he will be wining by a landslide.
Over the past four years, the United States and European Union have accused Orban of eroding Hungary's democratic checks and balances, and of harming free speech. Jewish groups have accused him of not doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism. The International Monetary Fund, for a time, said he was risking financial stability. Some of the biggest foreign investors accuse him of waging a witch-hunt against them.
There are parallels between Orban, and South African President Jacob Zuma and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan - emerging market leaders who unsettle the outside world yet remain popular at home.
The Hungarian government rejects all those allegations and Orban skilfully spins criticism of his government to seem like attacks on Hungary itself, playing on the Hungarians' deeply rooted national pride and fear of outside intervention.
Voters in Hungary are preparing to give Orban another four years in power because he understands something fundamental about Hungarians: many of them believe their country is not like the rest of Europe, and suspect the world has an axe to grind against them.
"Most Hungarians like to have a leader who is braver than everybody and who is giving kind of slaps into the face of international community which in the national ego is the source of all evil. Never Hungarians' abilities are the reason for any failure," said Miklos Haraszti, who in the 1980s was a mentor to young anti-Communist dissidents, including Orban.
Hungarians' sense that they are the black sheep of Europe stems from their history. They are settlers in their land: their ancestors originated in what is now central Russia, and migrated to the banks of the Danube River around the ninth century.
As a result, they are ethnically different from their Slavic and Teutonic neighbours. The nearest cousins to their language are in Finland, and in Russia's Ural mountains.
Once settled, the Hungarians were occupied first by the Ottomans, then by the Habsburgs who absorbed them into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. On the losing side in World War One, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory.
In World War Two, Nazi Germany pulled Hungary into its orbit, to be replaced by the Soviet Union which held sway until the fall of the Iron Curtain.
From 1989, Hungary embraced capitalism and the European Union but suspicion lingered. To many, the country faced a new threat, this time from international financial interests and the liberal moral values of Western Europe. During his election campaign Orban has nursed this sentiment numerous times.
At the site of a planned furniture factory near the town of Batonyterenye, 100 km (60 miles) east of the capital Budapest, Orban smiled only as he watched a Hungarian folk ensemble of school-age girls in traditional dress performing.
In power, Orban has done things which chime with Hungarians' desire to feel proud again of their identity.
He had the "Holy Crown" worn for centuries by Hungarian kings moved from a museum to a grand hall in parliament, where it is watched over by sentries in perfectly starched uniforms.
He has relished conflicts. He accused foreign banks of trying to exploit ordinary people. He ratcheted up a spat with Germany's Angela Merkel by mentioning how Nazi Germany sent tanks into Hungary. He fought a war of words with the IMF, during which billboards went up around Budapest saying Hungary would not give in to the Fund's dictates. He said "troops of bureaucrats" from Brussels were attacking Hungarian sovereignty.
All that plays successfully with many voters no matter how badly it is taken abroad.
Outside a convenience store in Gyongyos, a farming town surrounded by vineyards, people talked about how Orban fixed the financial mess inherited from his Socialist predecessor, and about how he had brought down households' gas and electricity bills. His standing is helped too by the fact his Socialist opponents are weak.
A recurring theme, though, is the way Orban puts Hungary first. "He stands up and says whether he likes something or not," said Zoltan Szerencses, 29, an accountant.
"He does not care much whether the EU likes something or not. And I like this, that he dares to express his opinion to the outside world, not just at home."
Gabriella Toth, 53, looks after her disabled husband and lives in Gyongyos on state handouts. "He defends the Hungarian people and the country," she said of Orban. "He is not a marionette of the EU and I think that is a good thing."
Few doubt that Orban's views are sincerely held, but people who know him say there is calculation involved to.
"The young Viktor Orban was a good pupil in the art of kicking up conflict and that was turned to good use when fighting the communist authorities and we had to grab any possibility of publicness. But today that ability grew into an international trouble-making but also serving his posturing at home as the defender of the nation, of a nation that likes that posturing," said Haraszti, now an Orban critic.
Diplomats say Orban is pragmatic about the fights he picks. They say he stays just the right side of the line which, if crossed, would bring major financial and economic consequences.
For all his verbal attacks on Brussels, as he toured the country this month, his black Volkswagen van sped along roads that were part-financed by EU money.
Asked to comment for this article, a government spokesman, Ferenc Kumin, said the main reason voters backed the ruling party was the improving economy. He pointed to independent surveys which showed consumer confidence and business confidence were rising.
"Consumer confidence index is on an 8 year high, business confidence index is on a 14 year high which explains why people have trust in the incumbent government. It's typical that an incumbent government enjoys support when people have positive sentiment and positive feeling about their future, about their households' future and about the future of their businesses here," Kumin said.
He said though that Orban did seem to be successful in defending Hungary's national interests, "and likely this is reflected in his massive support." He declined to comment on allegations Orban sought out conflict for political effect, saying this was speculation.
Reuters has submitted requests for interviews with Orban, but to date with no response.
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