"The primary merit for the picture is to be a feast for the eyes." Delacroix
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
- Steve Jobs
"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." –Dr. Albert Einstein "Wonder is comes from the awareness of ignorance of religious mass"
One of the smaller head-on car crashes in what could still turn out to be a multi-car pile-up in the EU next year is taking place in Hungary. At the wheel of this particular Trabant is the conservative prime minister Viktor Orbán, a man who vowed to accomplish a genuine regime change instead of what he calls the failed one of 1989. His widespread personnel changes go far beyond the turnaround that usually occurs when a party sweeps to power.
He is using an overwhelming electoral victory to overwhelm the institutions of state. The posts of president, chief prosecutor and head of the court of auditors were filled with Fidesz party faithful. The constitutional court, the supreme council, the budget council and the central bank were cut down to size. A state agency supervises the media. A generation of judges, headmasters and hospital directors will have been replaced by a combination of constitutional changes (lowering the retirement age of judges) and 39 fundamental laws (which need the approval of two-thirds of the MPs) to change voting rights, pensions and party financing. Orbán's is indeed a revolution, but not for the poor. He is using the turbulent history of his country to turn the clock back. Under his party's vision, Hungary is not a republic any more but "the country of Hungarians", which includes Hungarians living abroad and comes complete with a map of "Great Hungary". His party also flirts with the far-right Jobbik party, whose uniformed guards terrorised the Roma in a village in north Hungary. To please Jobbik, a square was renamed after an antisemitic writer condemned for war crimes in Romania.
In the process, Orbán has alienated just about every natural friend his country has. Hillary Clinton, the EU and the IMF have all at some time walked off. The issue is not Hungary's debt – at 80% of GDP it is the highest in central Europe – but the government. The row has coalesced around two laws which the EU claims would undermine the independence of the central bank and which José Manuel Barroso said breached European law. Brussels has decided to play hardball with Orbán. No change in the legislation, and the prospect of funding, which would help Hungary regain access to the markets, is also slim. Just to ram home the point, Hungary's second credit-ratings downgrade in a month to junk status pushed the five-year bond yield through the 9% mark last week.
So far Orbán's response has been to keep his foot down on the accelerator and the car pointed firmly at the oncoming EU juggernaut. The wider question is whether Orbán is sui generis. The nightmare would be if his form of xenophobic, rightwing nationalism became the norm in Europe's periphery.