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Jan 26, 2018 - Zoltán Kovács

Here’s how the Financial Times missed the story – again

Yesterday, the Financial Times published a long feature entitled, “The rise and rise of Viktor Orbán.”

The article has long been in preparation and based on many interviews conducted in Budapest. I too sat down with the authors, Messrs. Buckley and Byrne, last August. One could have hoped that after so much time and effort, the finished product would have offered something new and insightful about the reasons for Prime Minister Orbán’s success or, in their words, why he continues to “rise and rise.”

Unfortunately, it seems the authors already reached their conclusion long before putting pen to paper, and what we get is another installment of the standard Financial Times narrative about Viktor Orbán. That once liberal democrat, the charming, young, radical activist has become a “nationalist-populist” and “turned Hungary into a semi-authoritarian regime” by “eroding judicial independence”, “appointing staunch loyalists to key positions” and quashing opposition. The prime minister is described as “enormously aggressive,” one who “change[s] his political ideology in pursuit of power.” The FT even goes as far as to describe the prime minister’s religious conversion as something that “paid off,” making it seem like a cynical, tactical maneuver.

If voters give Prime Minister Orbán and the ruling Fidesz-KDNP alliance another victory in the parliamentary elections on April 8th, they will have many reasons. Reasons that you will seldom if ever read in the Financial Times.

The FT reporters say very little, for example, about Hungary’s robust economic recovery, barely mentioning the latest economic figures. They do not write about how the government’s workfare policies have brought tens of thousands back to the active labor force. There’s nothing about the thousands of foreign currency-denominated loans that once hung like millstones around the necks of many Hungarian households but are now almost entirely eradicated. Barely a mention of the near default in 2008 and IMF bailout, ignoring that Hungary’s credit rating has gone from junk to investment grade again, national debt-to-GDP is declining and deficits under control. Hardly a mention of rising real wages and nothing about growing consumption or an upswing in investment and the lowest corporate tax in the EU at 9 percent. Nothing about support for families, including student loan forgiveness, child allowances and aid to first-time homeowners. The number of abortions has dropped dramatically and the number of marriages is rising.

This story, the one that has most touched the daily lives of so many Hungarians, is missing from the FT coverage. How strange for a financial paper!

For the FT, George Soros will always be a “philanthropist” but never a political actor. He has given millions away “promoting democracy,” but they continue to deny the existence of a Soros plan to promote immigration to the EU, despite the fact that he has put it in writing. They ignore the millions he is spending on lobbying in the US and support for NGOs that are pushing an aggressive, ideologically-driven political agenda. They quote Soros’ criticisms, including the false claim that the prime minister gave his father a quasi-monopoly in mining (in fact, his father’s business has only 4-6 percent market share). The FT narrative ignores the fact that Soros and his Open Society network are meddling in politics.

These FT reporters write about a “razor-wire” border fence that was built “to keep out refugees (sic) from Syria and the Middle East” (sic), but fail to acknowledge that Hungary has protected an external border of the EU – and the precious Schengen zone. We have reduced illegal immigration to near zero at that border and fulfilled our treaty obligations with measures that enjoy widespread voter support.

The story of Viktor Orbán – from the days of his speech on Heroes’ Square in 1989 calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops to the present day and his calls for transparency of foreign-funded political actors, insistence that Hungary has the right to decide its own immigration policy and determination to make Hungarians masters of their own economic future – is one of a Hungarian patriot. The prime minister believes fervently in the Hungarian people and fights to defend our national interest.

But you won’t read that story in the Financial Times.