Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Hungarians are causing trouble for outside authority (again)

One of the most powerful memories of my childhood was the invasion of Hungary by the Soviet Union / Warsaw Pact in 1956.  Because I had become such an annoying little pest who drove the adults crazy by constantly asking "Why?" about just everything, my parents had purchased a set of encyclopedias to get some peace.  The first update volume arrived in 1957.  In it was a picture of a 12-year-old Hungarian boy toting an assault rifle and looking very scared / determined / serious.  I remember looking at that picture many, many times wondering if I could possibly ever be that brave / angry.  After all, the USSR had sent tanks to quell the Hungarian uprising.

That kid would now be about 68 if he survived.  And while there aren't tanks in the streets of Budapest these days, Hungary is still dealing with some very ugly international bullies.  This time, they are from Monsanto and the IMF but the resentment and anger these bullies inspire seems quite similar.  And while the Hungarians probably understand their current struggles may as futile as a boy with a rifle against tanks, this apparently has not slowed them down (much.)

Hungary Just Flipped The Bird To The IMF Over Bailout Terms

Matthew Boesler | Sep. 6, 2012

Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán just announced in a video statement on his Facebook page that Hungary is rejecting the conditions proposed by the IMF over a government bailout.

Hungary is one of central Europe's most heavily indebted countries with a government debt-to-GDP ratio of around 80 percent, and the country sought a financial aid from the IMF to ease funding pressures, much like many of the troubled periphery countries in the eurozone.

The move by Orbán is indicative of rising hostility toward austerity measures attached to aid conditions in Europe as the euro area plunges into recession.

Here is the backdrop for the aid talks, via Reuters this morning:

The International Monetary Fund is seeking cuts in Hungary's pensions, family benefits and an increase in personal income tax in return for a financing deal, the daily Magyar Nemzet reported on Thursday without revealing its sources.

The demands would collide head-on with the economic policies advanced by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has stabilized the budget with unconventional measures such as Europe's highest bank tax, which the newspaper also said the IMF wants scrapped.

The report continues:

Without naming its source, the conservative newspaper said the IMF also sought an increase in the retirement age, privatizations, cuts in public transport subsidies and bureaucracy, as well as a new value-based real estate tax.

In another potential hurdle to the aid talks, news website Bruxinfo reported on Wednesday that the European Commission was preparing a legal challenge against Hungary's financial transaction tax, a revenue mainstay of the 2013 budget.

The Hungarian Forint is tanking against the U.S. dollar on the news. more

Hungary Is In Trouble After Throwing Out Monsanto AND The IMF

Raúl Ilargi Meijer, The Automatic Earth Sep. 8, 2012

I don't know about you, but I would label my personal knowledge of Hungary as wanting, if not painfully incomplete. It's not an easy country to come to grips with, not least of all of course because Hungarian doesn't look like any western language we know with the possible exception of Finnish. I did visit just after the Wall came down, and remember huge contrasts, almost paradoxes, between rural poverty and a capital, Budapest, that was much richer than other capitals such as Prague, a leftover of Budapest's status as meeting place between western and eastern diplomats and businessmen.

The riches were not for all, though, the city center was full of beggars and panhandlers, mostly Roma. To keep up the paradox, Mercedes sold more luxury models in Hungary than just about anywhere else back then, reportedly mostly also to Roma; just not the same.

In the years since, precious little attention has been and is being devoted to the former eastern bloc countries in the Anglo press. We know most of the countries are now members of the European Union, but only a few have been allowed to enter the hallowed grounds of the eurozone.

One thing I did pick up on last year was the news that Hungary's PM Victor Orbán had thrown chemical, food and seed giant Monsanto out of the country, going as far as to plow under 1000 acres of land. Now, I have little patience for Monsanto, infamous for many products ranging from Agent Orange to Round-Up, nor for its ilk, from DuPont to Sygenta, all former chemical companies that have at some point decided they could sell more chemicals than ever before by applying them on and inside everyone's daily food. Patenting nature itself seems either unworthy of mankind or its grandest achievement. I don't care much for either one. So Orbán (who has a two-thirds majority in parliament, by the way) has my tentative support on this one.

This is from July 22, 2011, International Business Times:
Hungary Destroys All Monsanto GMO Maize Fields

In an effort to rid the country of Monsanto's GMO products, Hungary has stepped up the pace. This looks like its going to be another slap in the face for Monsanto. A new regulation was introduced this March which stipulates that seeds are supposed to be checked for GMO before they are introduced to the market. Unfortunately, some GMO seeds made it to the farmers without them knowing it.

Almost 1000 acres of maize found to have been grown with genetically modified seeds have been destroyed throughout Hungary deputy state secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development Lajos Bognar said. The GMO maize has been ploughed under, said Lajos Bognar, but pollen has not spread from the maize, he added.

Unlike several EU members, GMO seeds are banned in Hungary. The checks will continue despite the fact that seed traders are obliged to make sure that their products are GMO free, Bognar said. During their investigation, controllers have found Pioneer and Monsanto products among the seeds planted.
It's remarkably hard to find sources on this, ironically. It’s even harder, even more ironically, to find anything that mentions the Wikileaks report on the connections between the US government and the chemical/seed industry. Which is curious, in my opinion; it's not as if there's nothing newsworthy in the topic. Just about the only thing I could find was this from Anthony Gucciardi at
US to Start ‘Trade Wars’ with Nations Opposed to Monsanto, GMO Crops

The United States is threatening nations who oppose Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) crops with military-style trade wars, according to information obtained and released by the organization WikiLeaks. Nations like France, which have moved to ban one of Monsanto’s GM corn varieties, were requested to be ‘penalized’ by the United States for opposing Monsanto and genetically modified foods. The information reveals just how deep Monsanto’s roots have penetrated key positions within the United States government, with the cables reporting that many U.S. diplomats work directly for Monsanto. [..]

Perhaps the most shocking piece of information exposed by the cables is the fact that these U.S. diplomats are actually working directly for biotech corporations like Monsanto. The cables also highlight the relationship between the U.S. and Spain in their conquest to persuade other nations to allow for the expansion of GMO crops. Not only did the Spanish government secretly correspond with the U.S. government on the subject, but the U.S. government actually knew beforehand how Spain would vote before the Spanish biotech commission reported their decision regarding GMO crops.
It doesn't look like Orbán and Hungary have a lot of support in their fight against Monsanto and GMO in general on the political front. But that still does little to explain the radio silence.

There was more international reporting earlier this year, when Orbán again faced up to two other major forces, in this instance the IMF and the EU. On January 1, the Hungarian parliament and president signed a new constitution into law. And it contains a number of things that the Troika members don't like. In particular, they are probably at odds with taxes levied on bank transactions, and especially central bank transactions. Not the kind of thing the IMF is likely to ever agree with. It all gets clad in protesting (the EU even threatens with courts) the independence under fire of the central bank, the media and other parts of Hungarian society.

The IMF and EU, like the tandem team of Monsanto and Washington before them, act like schoolyard bullies. It's become their standard MO, and it usually works. Portraits of Orbán as a fool, a reckless idiot and a dangerous populist, on par with that of Hugo Chavez or newly found international enemy Rafael Correa, are much easier to find than those links to Wikileaks Monsanto cables. It would be good to see Orbán continue to stand up to the IMF bullies, but he may not have that choice. They can simply financially bleed him dry, like they have so many other countries and their leaders. It's a time tested model. more

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