Balázs Orbán, the Political Director to the Prime Minister of Hungary published an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon on 17 February. In it, he responds to the attempts by the Western media to attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with comparisons to Viktor Orbán of Hungary.
Balázs Orbán first takes on the claim by former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, echoed by former Hungarian central bank governor András Simor, that the Hungarian economy is on the brink of collapse under the Orbán administration. However, the numbers tell a different story. Hungary’s success is based on three pillars: economic stability, a work-based society and a pro-family policy.
Starting with the first, Orbán recalls that despite the challenges, industrial production in Hungary grew by six per cent in 2022. GDP growth was 4.6 per cent in the same time period, double that of some other member states in the EU, including Germany, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, Czechia, Lithuania, and France. Meanwhile, the full employment rate is currently at 78 per cent. Ironically, during the last year of Simor’s stint as head of the central bank in 2009, the GDP of Hungary shrank by 6.7 per cent, underperforming many countries at the time, including Israel. The author also points out that the negative trend was only reversed when PM Viktor Orbán took office in 2010, making his country one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe.
He achieved this by building a ‘work-based society’, which, as Balázs Orbán goes on to write, ‘had a positive impact on our economic growth, but went way beyond just economic considerations.’ Hungary managed to keep its unemployment rate low with a flat-rate income tax of just 15 per cent, and a corporate tax rate of just nine per cent.
Another major priority of the conservative government of Hungary has always been strengthening the role of the family. Currently, over six per cent of the country’s GDP is spent on family policy incentives.
This resulted in an increased birth rate, a 50 per cent drop in abortions without stricter legislation, the number of marriages doubling and the number of divorces decreasing by half.
All these achievements were rewarded by the Hungarian people with a fourth consecutive electoral win for the Fidesz-KDPM coalition in 2022— yet again, with a two-third, constitution-amending majority.
As a reminder, Orbán recalls some aspects from the past that partly led to these continuous success. ‘Before Viktor Orbán’s landslide victory in 2010, the country hit an economic pothole,’ he recalled. Due to the socialist-liberal government’s mismanagement of the 2008 financial crisis, as Orbán reminds, the Hungarian economy was struggling. During András Simor’s tenure as governor of the Hungarian National Bank, the Hungarian economy was in the worst shape since the 1989 regime change with a GDP growth of – 6.7 per cent, while other Central European countries were doing relatively well.
Despite all that, the mainstream media of the West never ceased bashing the Orbán government. Based on what Balázs Orbán experienced in the last 13 years, this is what he foresees for the new conservative government in Israel as well: constant attacks from the mainstream press, especially if the cabinet’s policy also proves to be successful.
Many of these attacks will continue to come in the form of comparisons to Hungary according to Balázs Orbán. However, he reminds the Israeli readers in his piece, based on the facts laid out in his article,
‘being compared to Hungary does not seem like such harsh criticism at all’.
He ends his piece by praising Israeli-Hungarian relations. He also emphasises the Orbán administration’s zero-tolerance approach towards antisemitism, and expresses his gratitude to Benjamin Netanyahu for being a great, ‘sober’ voice for peace in the ongoing Russo-Ukranian war.
You can read the Hungarian translation of Balázs Orbán’s opinion piece in Makor Rishon on Mandiner here.