On March 15, many Hungarians found Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s speech overly combative – the Hungarian government’s international allies were without a doubt outraged. “We will not be a colony” was the official title of the speech, reflecting Mr. Orbán’s keen understanding that the sentiment behind the claim is bound to shore up popular support behind the Hungarian government. “We will not be a colony” is thus becoming the rallying cry of Orbán’s slowly evolving authoritarian regime, in spite of the fact that, to be perfectly honest, the sentence makes very little sense – as a political message, it is anachronistic to the point of being absurd. The origins of the phrase are to be sought, however, somewhere elsewhere: in the pseudo-economic theories of the Hungarian radical right.In the minds of those who are equally conversive with the government’s more nationalistic supporters and the country’s extreme right – such as the journalists and businessmen behind the pro-government rally Békemenet – the idea that Hungary is being “colonized” through its international relationships originates in an economic conspiracy theory. The theory in question represents the views of László Bogár, who may be a marginalized figure in the country, but whose ideas crop up more and more frequently in the rhetoric of the Hungarian government.
Coded Language. Several of Orbán’s major speeches are teeming with camouflaged winks to Bogár’s readers – this was the case not only with the March 15 speech of this year, but for last year as well. Let’s revisit the speech Orbán delivered last year, in fact, because a year ago the borrowing of the most controversial terms from the context characteristic of Bogár’s theories was less concealed.
To be sure, some of the ideas which have provoked such a vocal international reaction this year were simply repeats of ideas rehearsed in last year’s speech. The militant tone had already been there last year (“we are not going to tolerate anyone teaching lessons to us, and we are going to require of everyone that they give Hungary and Hungarians the respect they are due”), and the EU had already been likened to the Soviet Union (“in 48, we did not tolerate Vienna dictating to us, neither in 56 nor in 1990 did we tolerate Moscow dictating to us. Now, we are not letting anyone from Brussels or anywhere else to dictate to us”). The only difference was the absence of a memorable point from last year, by now completely moot, mocking the booting of the IMF from Hungary (“we stood up for our country when we parted company with the IMF in a proper and deserved way”).
There were, however, lengthy passages entirely obscure and impenetrable to the uninitiated. For example, the prime minister went on and on for more than two minutes about convoluted hydraulic metaphors : about ships, shrinking anxieties, the threat of being sucked into a swamp or under huge masses of water. For those determined to get to the bottom of it all, the problem was not so much the decoding of the individual words, but making sense of them at the level of anything resembling a political discourse. Finally, there was this much-quoted passage: “It is an old truth that a nation can be conquered in one of two ways: by the sword or by debt. If anybody, we, Hungarians, have learnt this lesson. Still, without engines it is impossible to free ourselves from the net of the debt-trap” .
László Bogár. The references must have been relatively clear to Orbán’s audience, given the ubiquity of the rhetorical framework from which they had been taken – the works of economist and university professor László Bogár. Bogár is a popular writer and a sought-after economics expert in Hungary. One is equally likely to read his columns in pro-government newspapers such as Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap; to hear interviews of him on state-operated radio channels such as Kossuth Rádió; or to see him pontificate on pro-government private television channel Echo Tv (the journalistic home base of the above-mentioned Békemenet or Peace March, which broadcasts a weekly economics show, one hour in length, during which Bogár discusses economics in relation to the week’s political developments).
Bogár is both an accomplished intellectual and a politically well-versed public personality. He is the author of twelve books (he specializes in “the power structures of globalization”) and a professor of social and communications studies at Károli Gáspár University. Prior to his retreat to his scientific research agenda, Bogár pursued a successful political career culminating in a close working relationship with Viktor Orbán. He had served as a representative in the Hungarian parliament since 1990, and upon the election of the Fidesz government in 1998, he became state secretary to Viktor Orbán in the Office of the Prime Minister. He worked as Orbán’s personal advisor throughout that entire term, between 1998 and 2002, before returning to his academic work at the beginning of the last decade.
Capital as a Global Power Structure. The basic idea of Bogár’s extensive and elaborate theory of globalization is that, in the age of globalization, it is the nature of capital to enslave vulnerable small nations using debt as their weapon of choice.
On the surface, the theory resembles familiar critiques of global banking, but in its details the idea contains a number of unique elements. Bogár does not stop at criticizing capital for producing interest through its loans, rather, he holds that capital is powerful because it forces people to take out loans. In postmodern times, Bogár claims, colonization is a fact accomplished by loans made internationally by a nebulously defined international force that has come to dominate the world. These monetary global powers are set on victimizing small nations in particular, using one of Bogár’s favorite expressions, they are set on “ensnaring them in a debt-trap.”
The IMF Shakedown. In other words, the problem with global powers (to which Bogár likes to refer as “the destructive world-force”) is that they force their loans on innocent borrowers. They are no different from a crime ring, with brokers in Frankfurt and London serving as their musclemen.
“I call this the theory of three Vs,” said Bogár just a few weeks ago in a controversial and widely-quoted interview on Hungary’s public radio station, spelling out the three Vs from the Hungarian words for monetary fund (valutaalap), musclemen (verőlegények), and protection money (védelmi pénz).
“What’s happening is the same thing that happens unfortunately to many owners of inns and restaurants in Hungary. A discreet man seeks them out and indicates it to them that he and his fellows would gladly protect him. But who do I need protection from, asks the startled owner. From us, of course, says the discreet man, and just in case the owner does not believe him, he calls in the guys to put on a little show … The part raising suspicion is that using these monetary weapons – because that’s what they are – these musclemen, these broker kids from Frankfurt and London are able to achieve for example that, while nothing changes, within minutes the forint [the Hungarian currency] falls 10% against the euro. In effect, what this means is that they just devalued the Hungarian national earnings, which is about 100 billion euros right now, by ten percent. Or, in other words, in hours they have taken away 10 billion euros from us…” 
With the use of memorable similes like the above, Bogár and his supporters have virtually developed a vocabulary of their own. As anyone who has browsed through comments appended to internationally available articles on the Hungarian situation may have noticed, the more radical circles of the Hungarian right tend to have idiosyncratic uses for several other terms.
Debt-trap and colonization are two of the key concepts taken from Bogár’s works with peculiar connotations.
In general, “debt-trap” refers to a position of political dependency originating from a country’s weak economic state. Once they succumb to offers of international loans (as Hungary did in the 1970s), they then have no choice but to add loan upon loan to their original payments. In effect they become enslaved to their debtors. Their “slavery,” however, derives not simply from the conditions attached to these loans (Bogár’s critique builds on the better-known leftist critique of globalization, but he arrives at conclusions hostile to grassroots anti-globalization movements). As in the quote above, the essential problem with the IMF is the thuggery of their loaning: that they are no different from crime rings asking for protection money when they force their banking services on vulnerable nations.
The word “colony,” as used by Bogár, is the postmodern version of historic forms of dependence. In the past, the colonial condition used to refer to conquest by means of brute force or free trade, but, according to Bogár, nowadays “the essence of colonization is first and foremost the coming into being of a global ‘division of labor,’ in which the world of winners and the world of losers is each drawn, for the most part, from its [own] same circle” . (The definition is just as generic in Hungarian as in English – it means that in a “colonized” world order, the winners are always drawn from one specific circle, whereas the losing nations also have no way to overcome their disadvantages and join the winners).
This is not the first time, by the way, that Viktor Orbán spoke of Hungary’s supposed colonization in a speech. Approximately a month prior to the government’s decision to approach the IMF for a loan, at the time of the announcement of the Hungarian government’s foreign exchange loan program, he caused a minor stir in Hungary with a speech delivered in Dabas featuring the sentence “Hungary is not a colony of anyone” .
The Only Positive Example: Argentina. What are we to make of the famous banner of Orbán and his nationalistic followers in the Békemenet movement? If Bogár’s works are indeed any indication, the slogan denotes opposition to a general global order of monetary exploitation which is systematically causing the destruction of Hungary.
Bogár’s theory hardly stops at this point, however. He holds that no regime change may be complete until a new system is allowed to be born outside of the above global network dependency relations.
In fact, Bogár is the most famous proponent among Hungarian economists of the idea that Hungary has no other choice but to force its debtors to “renegotiate” (i.e. cancel, in part at least) the country’s sovereign debt. Other important recommendations of his theory include severe reductions in popular consumption and a life-style of self-sufficiency.
“My opinion, in summary, is the following. I understand that, along with a few, for example Károly Lóránt and István Varga, I am for now in a minority among Hungarian economists in saying this: that there is no solution to this. There is simply no solution to this. This is a trap, from which the only exit would be to renegotiate the whole thing. Unfortunately, to go on making payments patiently and nicely, paying the interest so that all of a sudden we will start growing fast – we have heard this by the way a number of times in the last 20 years: that we are going to grow out of these debts – there is no such thing, though.
Rather, this is an optical illusion [appearing] sometimes. That the situation is sometimes better is an optical illusion, because the monetary global order of the world does without a doubt give more resources to various localities such as Hungary every once in a while. The period between 1998 and 2002 was one such fortuitous period, but fundamentally this is an optical illusion. The world’s monetary structures ensnared Hungarian society back in the middle of the 1970s, and what is piquant about it is that it doesn’t matter that there was a regime change, Viktor Orbán is absolutely right about this, one cannot change regimes. This lying and fake system in which we have lived for the last 20 years follows practically the same train of logic, even on the question of handling the debt, as the previous period. [ ... ]
Without re-negotiating this debt with the monetary global order of the world, and without receiving brand new conditions to escape this trap – without it, there is no opportunity. The only positive examples that exist, though not positive in all respects considering the civil war situation that came about there, is Argentina in 2001. This is the only example that indicates that renegotiating is a solution, because Argentina considerably improved its position in the global order of monetary powers.” 
Hydraulics and destructive world-force. Bogár tends to draw his metaphors from the field of hydraulics and speaks with zeal about various engines used for pumping or driving energies or flows in the body politic. Beyond his famous preoccupation with pumps (szivattyúk), he also owns the term “destructive world-force” (pusztító világerő).
Here’s a bit of a sample of the overall idea behind his writings:
“Sovereign debt is not the enemy in this war, it is the weapon! The enemy is the global order of monetary powers, which one must not even suppose exists if one considers his life dear – since, as we know, it is mere phantasm and conspiracy-theory. And this is the enemy which is successfully wielding debt against us as its weapon. …
[Forty years ago], the hands of the initiates fixed an infinite money-pump upon us, which has made it impossible, from the beginning, to set socio-economic goals for ourselves that on the long run would yield anything in excess of the interest to be paid for the loan. So that one can never be able to pay it back.
No matter how painful this is to accept, no increase in employment and no economic growth can help this. They can’t, because one would need resources for that, and the same global order of money power metes these out for us that holds the world under its direction. In this way, even if there were enough to grow from, its profit would be skimmed off by this same machinery, and with this, the circle is complete.” 
What role the recurring pump motif plays in the theory is complicated to characterize, as Bogár’s pumps come in many types, with adósság-szivattyú (debt-pump) being perhaps the most frequent. They of course refer to various flows: flows of capital, flows of profit, etc. More than any of his arguments, however, it is the use of this terminology that helps him cast the relationship between Hungary and its international partners in terms of a colonial dependency.
Pump graphics carried by the participants of the Peace March on January 21, 2012. The caption says: EU-thanasia – Say No. The three pumps (bearing the Hungarian tricolor on the “domestic” side, as opposed to the uniform EU blue on the other end) are labeled “pension,” “profit,” and “interest.”
Weapons of mass destruction. Bogár’s theory is also versatile enough to be supplemented with racist elements. The so-called “destructive world-force,” for example, does not simply operate pumps to enervate the Hungarian nation, it also employs a special weapon: gypsies. They are used as “bio-weapons” developed by the destructive world force in order to further push Hungary into a state of depravation, or, in Bogár’s own words:
“the destructive world force – which has undertaken the liquidation of Hungary and which held, holds and will hold a decisive position in each of the governments of the last twenty years – built up the Gypsies as the most effective weapon of mass destruction against Hungarians.” 
These remarks were published last year as part of an article analyzing the ethnic tensions between extreme right guard forces and the local Roma population in Gyöngyöspata. Bogár openly sided with the far-right paramilitaries in this opinion piece; his far-right sympathies are well-known: he is a regular contributor and featured thinker in Barikád, the extreme right’s ideological journal and a frequent speaker at events organized by Jobbik.
Viktor Orbán’s Self-Proclaimed Economic Brain. On Echo Tv, the media outlet used to broadcast politically charged commentary by the radical right in Hungary, Bogár speaks openly about the influence he thinks he has on Viktor Orbán’s thinking.
“It is inappropriate, I know of course, to quote from myself, but in 2002 and several times afterwards I tried to sketch out a peculiar system of historic relations, [one] which attempted a comparison between the contemporary situation and 1848 as well as 1956.
In 2010, i.e. after the elections, Viktor Orbán himself built – he didn’t just use this parallel, that we are talking about a revolution and war of independence, but he in effect built – an entire rhetorical structure upon it to use it as an aid in explaining to the Hungarian people what this experiment, which has been under way for one and a half or two years by now, consists in.” 
The frog in the boiling water. There were indeed traces of this intellectual friendship in the Hungarian prime minister’s March 15th speech of this year, the focus of which, of course, was on the “political and spiritual program” of both 1848 and 2012 – namely that Hungary will not be the colony.
While much of the speech described liberties that Hungary was striving to achieve in the traditional sense – as independence from influence or orders from non-Hungarians, e.g. from the European Union – Mr. Orbán’s speech was also notable for the many were the occasions on which the word “liberty” was not used in its usual sense, but carried financial connotations before anything else.
“Are Hungarians free today? Is the Hungarian who is pressed underneath the water by his debt free? Is the Hungarian whose dream of owning a home is merely a dream free? Is the Hungarian who has to think three times about taking on the responsibility of a child free? Is the Hungarian whose child is hungry free? Is the country where from every one hundred Hungarian forint of tax money ninety goes to debtors free? Is a country which, rather than on stable ground, stands in the swamp of debt free? …
To us, freedom also means that we are not inferior to others. It means that respect is owed to us too. It means that we work by ourselves and for ourselves, and that we are not going to live our lives as debt-slaves. …
The colonizers of the modern era are patient in closing in on their targets. They put to sleep the life-instinct and the resistance of the nations they have set their eyes upon and digest them only slowly. Just as the dopey frog gets cooked in the boiling water degree by degree. Though the space is narrow, he feels great; he is enjoying himself … This is how nations previously proud and strong sink into dependence. This is how millions of families found harnesses on their necks and curbs in their mouths. This is how they get to the point where, instead of the well-deserved fruits of a lifetime full of work, they leave loans bloated into unpayability and the constrained horizon of their own fates to their children. This is what happened to us in 2002: people didn’t even notice that with comfortable debts they were cooking us slowly. It was in the last minute that we jumped out of the pot.
Mr. Bogár appears to be right: the intellectual closeness between him and the Hungarian prime minister can, indeed, be discovered at the subterranean level of their political rhetoric. How should one therefore interpret the more heavy-hitting statements of the speech, passages like “Hungarians won’t live according to the commands of foreign powers; they won’t give up their independence or their freedom, and for this reason they are not going to give up a constitution born finally, after 20 years”?
Along with more coded statements in Mr. Orbán’s declaration, such as this one:
“One thing is certain. Our wars of independence have always furthered the world. They furthered the world because we had truth on our side. We had truth on our side even if everyone denies this. In 48, we said that the walls of feudalism must be brought down, and it turned out to be true. In 56 we said that we must crack and break the tires of communism, and it turned out to be true. … Today, European bureaucrats are looking at us suspiciously again, because what we are saying is that we need new roads. What we are saying is that one must break out of the prison of indebtedness, and we are also saying that only strong nations can return Europe to its greatness. And you are going to see, my dear Friends, that it will turn out to be true again.”
Because the truth is indeed important for Mr. Orbán and his loyal followers. It’s too bad that such truths can only be sustained in the wider framework of a shadily woven pseudo-theory.
(1) Viktor Orbán’s speech on March 15, 2011 (in Hungarian – though Mr. Orbán makes several of his speeches, and especially speeches written for an international audience available in English, no translation of last year’s March 15 speech could be found on his website):
text version – http://www.orbanviktor.hu/beszed/1848_es_2010_is_megujulast_hozott
audio and video – http://videotar.mtv.hu/Videok/2011/03/15/11/Orban_Viktor_miniszterelnok_unnepi_beszede_2011_marcius_15_.aspx
(2) IMF musclemen: interview on Kossuth Rádió’s Vasárnapi Újság, broadcast on February 12, 2012; starting at 1:15 of the audio made available at http://erdely.ma/magyarorszag.php?id=110478&cim=bogar_laszlo_az_imf_rol_ez_vedelmi_penz_audio
(3) Quotes illustrating Bogár’s technical terminology: “Magyarmat” (word play on Hungarian [magyar] and colony [gyarmat] ), opinion piece in Magyar Hírlap from October 4, 2011: http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/velemeny/magyarmat.html
(4) “Magyarország nem gyarmata senkinek sem”/ “Hungary is not a colony of anyone”: from Viktor Orbán’s speech in Dabas on Sept. 23, 2011.
(5) “There is simply no solution to this. This is a trap, from which the only exit would be to renegotiate the whole thing”: radio interview on May 8, 2010 (see Bogár’s Google-based homepage for the recording at http://sites.google.com/site/tudastar/bogarlaszlo, starting at 3:08)
(6) Gypsies as the bio-weapon of the destructive world force: “Szép szó…” (Nice word…), opinion piece in Magyar Hírlap, May 3, 2011: http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/velemeny/szep_szo2011.05.03.html. The text in Hungarian: “a Magyarország felszámolását végző pusztító világerő, amely az elmúlt húsz év valamennyi kormányában meghatározó pozícióban volt, van és lesz, a cigányságot építette fel a leghatékonyabb tömegpusztító fegyverként a magyarság ellen.”
(7) Bogár’s influence on Orbán: Háttérkép, 01/12/2012 edition, also viewable on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJOQ4oZRJZw (quote at 3:20).
(8) Viktor Orbán’s speech on March 15, 2012: http://orbanviktor.hu/beszed/nem_leszunk_gyarmat_ – text in Hungarian, just like last year, the prime minister chose not to make this speech available on his website to English-speaking audiences.
This post is part of a broader effort to introduce the ideas and the argumentative styles characteristic of the Hungarian radical right to English-speaking audiences. These circles are gaining considerable influence in the country’s domestic life as Viktor Orbán relies more and more on their distorted presentations of the international developments concerning Hungary’s EU membership and its stalled negotiations with the IMF. László Bogár belongs in the same group of media personalities broadcasting on Echo Television who have been crucial in stirring up populist support for the Hungarian government during the last few months and who have taken leading roles in convening the Békemenet (Peace March) rallies in support of the Hungarian government on Jan. 21 and March 15.
Previous reports on the political discourse characteristic of the Hungarian right covered the journalistic feats of Peace March organizers Zsolt Bayer and András Bencsik (the following are links to part 1 and part 2 of the series).