‘We are proud’ – state the opening words of the new Hungarian Constitution – of a long list of attributes, including those forebears who fought for national survival, freedom and independence, the intellectual achievements of Hungarians, and Hungary’s role as ‘a talented and diligent defender of the common values of Europe.’ But the Fidesz government now stands accused of attacking and undermining those common values. Is such criticism fair, and how have we reached this point?

Rather than rehearsing the well-known criticisms and the equally well-known responses, let’s take a fresh look at the problem.

If someone wanted to be really optimistic today, they should ask the question no-one else is asking: what are the government doing well. What are the opposition, in all their diversity, doing well? What are the IMF and the EU doing well? And how might all these good actions, and good intentions, dovetail into – please don’t laugh – a prosperous and happy future for this country and for Europe as a whole?

We at the Hungarian Review do not have final answers to these questions, but we the editors, and our contributors, are proud to contribute to the debate. On the positive balance sheet of this government, one could point to its reforming verve. If the previous government’s fault was that it talked endlessly about reform and did nothing, the Fidesz government’s fault could be said to be that it acts all the time and fails to explain it. At the dawn of 2012, the avalanche of laws appears to have stopped, and the government is trying to find its tongue, but it has taken far too long to do so. One walks through the debris, among the broken trees, wondering whether such and such a law was really necessary, whether outside pressure will force the government to rebuild such and such a building, and what was actually gained by sweeping away some of those structures in the first place.

On the positive side for the opposition, the Socialist and Free Democrat monopoly was broken at the last election, with the disappearance of the Free Democrats, and the appearance of Politics Can be Different (LMP). Both the Socialists and LMP have since split under their internal strains, and a wide range of other civic groups have emerged, some affiliated with Trade Unions, most of them not. Various social media, especially Facebook, are proving their worth as organizing tools for people to express and debate what they believe in. The more pro-Fidesz voices in the population, starting with Élőlanc – ‘Living Chain for Hungary’ – have now begun organizing their own actions – fighting back against what they perceive as outside interference, exaggerated criticism, and double standards. Democracy is blossoming in Hungary today, before the chills of winter have even properly taken hold.

The IMF, whatever one’s dislike or passion for ‘that three letter institution’ as Economy Minister György Matolcsy memorably called it, can lend money at better interest rates than the market – though the main role of the new loan which Hungary would like would be a psychological one – to reassure investors who are still here, and attract again those who have been frightened away. The European Union and the Council of Europe stand up for the same ‘common values of Europe’ also stressed in the preamble of the new Hungarian constitution. If they criticise the steps of this or any other government, the least they should be able to expect is a fair hearing.

Contributors to this edition of Hungarian Review offer their own, erudite and sometimes controversial views on these and other issues of the day. John O’Sullivan challenges the received wisdom about the UK’s alleged ‘isolation’ in Europe, and what actually happened on that now famous December night in the fiscal union debate. He urges readers to compare the tools in the European toolbox with what is actually being attempted, as well as the UK’s past and present role as ‘the spanner in the works.’

Equally boldly, George Schöpflin encourages readers to seek the angels, as well as the devil in the details. He defends the record in office of the much-maligned Fidesz government. He finds much to be criticised, but much of the criticism exaggerated as well.

Péter Ákos Bod, our regular contributor, looks at the unorthodox economics being applied in other EU countries, alongside those being applied in Hungary. He places the downgrading of Hungary, and Hungary’s bid for a new standby credit agreement from the IMF, in that context. And he points out that the credit rating agencies – unlike the EU – hardly mentioned policy issues at all in making their judgement.

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