First of all we would like to congratulate you on the occasion of the launching of the Hungarian Review, a bold endeavour indeed. Let’s hope that this new publication will contribute to better inform those interested in Hungary, her politics, economics and culture.
We understand that the Hungarian Review will publish a wide variety of views, sometimes conflicting, and give also place to comments and criticism from its readers. We are writing to you in this spirit.
It seems to us that the paper of John O’Sullivan in the first, November 2010 issue, although quite discerning in many respects, does not reflect accurately past and present Hungarian policies.
Having been close observers of developments in Hungary and in the region for many years, we feel that it is important to point out that the recurring statement (favoured both by the Hungarian Socialists and by foreign commentators) that “Poland and the Czech Republic have pulled ahead of Hungary in the last two decades” is far from being accurate. This happened only in the past eight years, under the “socialist-liberal” governments of that period. On the contrary, Hungary was considered as the front-runner from the beginning of the last twenty years thanks to the policies of Prime Minister Antall and his government.
This was certainly not achieved through a “shock therapy”, not needed in Hungary, but through extensive institution building and by trying to establish a “social market economy” after the German model, which proved so efficient and successful after the Second World War in that country. It was recognized by IMF and World Bank experts (otherwise not inclined to praise Hungary) that the Antall Government was by a wide margin the most far-sighted and most effective in creating the institutions and adopting the legal framework required by a modern market economy. It should also be remembered that in the entire region the Antall Government was the only one that systematically followed a market-based privatization strategy. This was in sharp contrast in particular with the policies followed by the Czech Republic and by Poland and with the “coupon privatization schemes” favored by many London-based international investment banks. These latter were advocating their approach also in the Russian Federation with the results that are well-known.
Vaclav Klaus is less known in Hungary for his foresight and economic prowess than for his sabotaging of the Visegrád process of rapprochement between Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Like Mr. Klaus, Mr. O’Sullivan seems to be an adept of laissez-faire capitalism, deregulation of financial services, the “free movement of capital worldwide”. He is against more regulation and against those who call for it. He seems to ignore that the extreme speculative model of unbridled “global finance” brought not only Britain, Ireland and Iceland to the brink of bankruptcy but also the much bigger American economy. The lack of the discipline of a properly functioning international monetary system has created enormous financial and economic damage for the United States, and the bill for the excesses will have to be paid not only by the present but also by future generations.
In another context, he decries Mr. Sarkozy, “the sorcerer’s apprentice” intent to undermine the Atlantic World. “The US still resists” according to O’Sullivan. He seems to ignore that these ideas were completely discredited by the “subprime” crisis and its disastrous consequences. Even Mr. Greenspan, the longest serving Fed chairman, who retired just when it started, admitted so much in his testimony at a congressional hearing on 23 October, 2008. The charge by Mr. O’Sullivan of increasing “anti-Americanism” in Europe, ignores the well-known fact that Nicholas Sarkozy has been by far the most pro-American French President in living memory.
It appears that Mr. O’Sullivan is looking for allies in his fight against “Franco-German dominance” in Europe and calling for an alliance of peripheral countries, even outside of Europe, with Britain. Presumably against the rest of Franco-German dominated Europe. On the other hand, he seems to forget that Germany is the most important economic and trade partner of the countries of the region. And Germany came out sooner and faster of the crisis than most other countries, thanks to her strong industry. Germany’s economic strength is certainly benefiting the Central and East European countries. It is also in their interest to work closely together. In this spirit, the Hungarian presidency of Europe rightly calls for a strong Europe and a strong euro as well as for strong Euro-Atlantic relations.
Yes, being a member of the EU has great advantages, but it also requires being able to negotiate hard and to defend both the national and the common European interests. This is also the case within the Atlantic Community. Thus neither “Euro-scepticism” on the British mould, nor Anti-Americanism of the Right or the Left provide a reliable road-map for Hungary, and especially not during the period of the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union.
It is more important for both Hungarians and their partners to remember how the late Prime Minister Antall saw the historic opportunity offered by the end of Communist domination. He never ceased to tell both his countrymen and European and North American leaders that the new, unhoped-for opportunity to freely integrate the Euro-Atlantic Community will have created a situation for the first time in centuries where there would be no conflict between Hungarian values and aspirations, on the one hand, and Hungary’s partners and the community of nations to which it belongs, on the other hand. Whatever the ups and downs of the last sixteen years, this interpretation of Hungary’s place in Europe in the Atlantic Community and in the world at large remains valid today and for many years to come.
Paul Tar, Cabris, France
Former Hungarian Ambassador to
Washington D.C. and the Vatican
Webster University, Geneva
Economic Adviser to Prime
Minister József Antall, 1990–93