Editorial: On the ease of falling from grace

Sights

From the Budapest Business Journal print edition: People loyal to any political system often get rewarded for their troubles. But if they are not yet satiated in their hunger to serve their camp, they sometimes try way too hard, to the point of causing public embarrassment and getting themselves disowned.

When loyalty is the main criterion over competence, such instances are far more likely to happen, as seen most recently by Helga Wiedermann’s accolade-turned-embracement recollection of Hungary’s struggle with international financial powers. This hasn’t been the first example of the system showing it doesn’t necessarily prefer only the best and brightest and is then embarrassed when these beneficiaries of the system blunder in public.

Wiedermann sought only to sing the praises of her former boss’s mental acuity and negotiating prowess when she told the tale of György Matolcsy telling Goldman Sachs executives in an offhand remark that Hungary would be seeking the help of the International Monetary Fund in 2011.

While trying to portray Matolcsy as the masterful negotiator who can blow even the most seasoned investment bankers out of the water, she shows him doing something that is idiotic from a tactical perspective and, moreover, possibly illegal, since it is the perfect ammunition for some insider trading.

The central bank has dismissed the book as a work of fiction despite the fact that Matolcsy himself was lauding its merits shortly before as a chronicle of the events. Wiedermann, although quickly disowned, then reiterated that her novel is factual, even though she can’t confirm much of its content, since parts of it are based on hearsay.

Ferenc Szaniszló, a television figure known for his elaborate conspiracy theories presented in sometimes only remotely coherent monologues sprinkled with plenty of racism and anti-Semitism received a prominent state award. It wasn’t until an explosion of public outrage that somebody in government actually bothered to have a look into the things a state-honored individual is saying on air and then awkwardly asked him to kindly return his decoration.

Szaniszló begrudgingly complied after he was disowned, but the fiasco was such an embarrassment that the awards weren’t presented this year.

Károly Kerényi, a prime ministerial commissioner who controls a multimillion cultural budget, often finds it OK to make homophobic comments and even launched a magazine financed by public funds with the declared purpose of publishing the opinions and articles of intellectuals within the government camp. Kerényi mysteriously kept his job despite a sequence of similar fiascos, but even the prime minister thought a scolding was in order; he demanded that no public funds be used, and will hope that the entire story will just be forgotten and fade away before the first issue is released in May.

These examples should provide a salient warning to anyone looking to make it by loitering in the gravitational pull of the political culture of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz. Once you get your handout, count your lucky stars and soldier on. Most importantly, don’t be too eager to please by doing something you’re not specifically told to; it’s bound to backfire.

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