Dr Helen Szamuely
The first round of Hungarian elections on April 7 caused no particular surprises and belied the hysterical warnings voiced by the European Union and some of Hungary’s neighbours. On a 75 per cent turn-out (higher than in a number of West European countries, including the United Kingdom in the last general election) the Hungarians voted almost equally for the two main contenders. The incumbent Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán’s right of centre party FIDÉSZ came second with 40.3 per cent of the vote, while the Socialists had a marginal lead with 41.2 per cent. The second round will take place on April 21.
So far, no government in the post-Communist Central European states has managed to last beyond one term. Some people might describe it as a true state of democracy but the EU shows itself to be dissatisfied whenever a right of centre party is elected or comes close to being elected. In the case of Hungary, all sorts of warnings were issued about FIDÉSZ, a party that even its worst enemies cannot accuse of being extremist. The much feared alliance with the extreme right wing Life and Justice Party did not materialize as all those who know the country insisted it would not. Furthermore, Life and Justice, again as predicted by those who know rather than those who like to get worried about nebulous right-wing dangers, did not get the necessary 5 per cent of the vote and will not have any parliamentary deputies.
Viktor Orbán was himself accused by some EU official and commentators of being ultra-nationalist. His platform did refer to national pride and family values, neither of which are unusual political ideas. National pride is of some importance in countries that remained under foreign rule for fifty-five years after the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the West European countries. Other criticisms show the EU’s propensity for interfering in the affairs of supposedly independent countries. Orbán apparently annoyed some of the fonctionnaires by cutting taxes and by-passing trade unions in some of the privatization negotiations. He further annoyed some of Hungary’s neighbours and, yet again, the eurocrats by passing a Status Law, which gave Hungarians in neighbouring countries certain privileges, such as seasonal work permits. But even the EU ought to have been pleased with the Hungarian government’s decision to reject the US offer to lease decommissioned F-16s, updated by Lockheed Martin in favour of a deal with Sweden’s Gripen. The latter included a supply of spare parts and was, according to Hungarian sources, a much better deal. The same sources stated that the Americans had expected the Hungarians to accept whatever they were offered. As the West, especially the EU, is learning the former Communist states are beginning to flex their muscles. They do not want to be trampled over as they were in the past.
The next round of elections will choose the Prime Minister who will lead the country through the last negotiations of the EU enlargement process. Hungary will also hold its own referendum. At present the notion of EU membership is reasonably popular though opinion is shifting, as it is in the other candidate countries. If the EU keeps interfering and instructing the people of Hungary how and for whom they should vote, it may get a surprise during the forthcoming referendum.