Conservative Ray of Hope

Sólyom33The conservative former President of the Republic László Sólyom voiced explicit criticism of the Orbán government’s recent agreement with the state of Russia to build two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power while speaking at a conference at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest on February 18. Sólyom, a legal scholar who served as president of the republic from 2005 until three months after the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party alliance came to power in 2010 and as president of the Constitutional Court from 1990 until 1998, said:

It is a fact that the signing of this extremely important agreement surprised not only the Hungarian people, but the Hungarian energy industry and even the government itself. It is also a fact that not only did preparations for the agreement took place in secret, but that all the data necessary in order to conduct an informed appraisal of the agreement has been classified as secret for a period of ten years. We encounter shoddy and contradictory arguments in [relevant] political communication. As president of the republic I publicly criticized the 2009 National Assembly resolution regarding preparation for the expansion of Paks [the Paks Nuclear Power Plant]. I emphasized that broad social debate based on comprehensive information must precede the decision. I continue to say that it is misleading to narrow the issue to the confines of a simple power-plant investment. The  horizon extends beyond next month’s electricity bill—people have the right to become familiar with the complexities and consequences of the decision. We must see, honored conference guests, that this is a decision of exceptional importance that will affect three or four generations. . . . This commitment will obviously have an impact on our foreign policy, our national strategy, on the assessment of us in the world and the European Union. When did the National Assembly debate this? . . . The secret preparations [for the agreement] within the Prime Ministry, the decision thrust upon the National Assembly without sufficient information, the so-called debate conducted in the presence of just a few representatives and the classification as confidential of the pertinent data for a period of ten years have produced nothing other than a crisis in the exercise of political power (source in Hungarian). 


This is not the first time that Sólyom, a founding member of the national-conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum in 1987, has strongly criticized the Orbán-government. Sólyom described the Fidesz-KDNP-adopted Fundamental Law that replaced the 1949 Constitution on January 1, 2012, as follows: 

This constitution is like the National Theater building, which has nothing to do with modern theater design, is eclectic, bombastic and was pushed through by force in spite of unanimous protest from the architectural community. However, good performances can still be staged in the building if there are good actors, a good play and a good director (source in Hungarian). 

Sólyom voiced much harsher criticism of the Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law, which among other stipulations placed Temporary Provisions that the Constitutional Court had previously declared unconstitutional back into the law, declaring before President János Áder signed the amendment “That which is taking place is, in fact, not amendment of the constitution, but the stealthy introduction of a new constitution of another character” (source in Hungarian). 

Sólyom said later with regard to the Fundamental Law adopted shortly before Easter 2011 and the five amendments enacted over the first fifteen months after it came into effect: 

The name Easter [Constitution], the picture-book decorative edition and the table of the constitution (1) were unable to evoke the purifying experience of starting anew and immediately sank into obscurity. At the same time, it immediately became constitutional practice to make extensive amendments to the Fundamental Law based on daily expediency, which contradicted the officially encouraged notions of permanence, long-lasting foundations and authority (source in Hungarian). 

Former president Pál Schmitt.

Former president Pál Schmitt.

Sólyom, though quite close to the opposition green party Politics Can Be Different, has always been primarily conservative in his political outlook. He narrowly defeated the Hungarian Socialist Party candidate for president with the support of Fidesz in 2005. However, Prime Minister Orbán withdrew his previous support for Sólyom in 2010 after the president sent two Fidesz-KDNP-adopted laws back to the National Assembly for consideration in June of that year and another to the Constitutional Court for review in July.

Fidesz National Assembly representatives subsequently elected staunch Orbán loyalist Pál Schmitt to replace Sólyom as president of the republic when his term expired in August 2010. “I would not be an impediment to the government’s legislative momentum, but in fact would serve as a motor for it,” Schmitt said after his nomination (source in Hungarian). And indeed, over the 20 months Schmitt served as president until being forced to resign after the emergence of proof that he had plagiarized his Ph.D. dissertation, he signed every single law that came across his desk.

Former president Sólyom represents the small number of independent-minded Hungarian conservatives who do not uncritically support Prime Minister Orbán and Fidesz. Former president Schmitt represents the large number of Hungarian conservatives who never question the prime minister and his party. Pro-democracy, pro-European Union political forces will return to power in Hungary only when more of the country’s conservative voters begin to ask themselves if Prime Minister Orbán’s authoritarianism and turn toward the East really correspond to their traditional political values.

(1) Table placed at local-government offices in Hungary where citizens can apply for a free copy of the Fundamental Law. 


Deal of the Century

Orbán and Putin shake on the Paks deal.

Orbán and Putin shake on the agreement

On January 14, 2014, National Development Minister Mrs. László Németh of Hungary and CEO Sergey Kiriyenko of Russian state-owned nuclear-energy company Rosatom signed an interstate agreement stipulating that Rosatom will build two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant in south-central Hungary at a cost of between 10-12 billion euros, representing one of the biggest investments the government of Hungary has ever made (source in Hungarian).

Rosatom will build two new 1,200-megawatt reactors at the plant to replace its four existing 500-megawatt reactors due to be decommissioned between 2032 and 2037. The Orbán government says that the two new reactors will generate about 50 percent of the total demand for electricity in Hungary, compared to the current total of 40 percent (source in Hungarian).

The agreement calls for Rosatom to build the reactors with 10 billion in loans from Russia to cover 80 percent of the investment, while the government of Hungary will pay for the remaining 20 percent of the cost of the project and begin repaying the loan when the reactors are scheduled to open in 2025 (source in Hungarian).

National Economy Minister Mihály Varga announced on February 5 that the government of Hungary would repay the 10-billion-euro loan to Russia over a period of 21 years from the completion of the first reactor in 2025 through 2046 at an interest rate of 3.95 percent for the first eleven years, 4.5 during the second phase of repayments and 4.9 percent during the third phase of repayments (source in Hungarian)

State Secretary Lázár announces the Paks agreement.

State Secretary Lázár announces the agreement.

After announcing the signing of the agreement, State Secretary in Charge of the Prime Ministry János Lázár called it “the deal of the century” (see source A and B in Hungarian).

The Orbán government did not call a tender for bids to build the reactors, claiming that this was not necessary because the pact represented an extension of the 1966 Soviet-Hungarian agreement calling for construction of the original reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, not a business deal (source in Hungarian).

Hungary’s National Assembly approved the agreement on February 6, 2014 by a vote of 256 to 29 with two abstentions, moving the vote up one week earlier than planned at the recommendation of the Fidesz caucus. Representatives from the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party alliance and the radical-nationalist  Jobbik party voted in favor of the agreement, while representatives from the democratic-opposition parties voted against it (source in Hungarian).

The most powerful members of the government—Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, Minister of Justice and Public Administration Tibor Navracsics, State Secretary Lázár and National Economy Minister Mihály Varga—did not participate in the vote (source in Hungarian). 


LMP National Assembly representatives protest the Paks deal.

LMP National Assembly representatives protest the agreement.

There are very few people in Hungary who argue that the country does not need to build new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. National Assembly representatives from all parties voted nearly unanimously in favor of a resolution to expand the plant during the final days of the Hungarian Socialist Party-led government of former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány on March 30, 2009 (source in Hungarian).

Among democratic opposition parties in Hungary’s current National Assembly, only the green party Politics Can Be Different (LMP) and its offshoot Dialogue for Hungary opposed the deal on the grounds that the government should invest on development of renewable-energy sources rather than expansion of nuclear-energy capacity.

LMP representatives blasted megaphones in the legislature’s session chamber to delay formal approval of the agreement to build the reactors (while Fidesz-KDNP representatives attempted to silence the devices by stuffing wads of paper and pouring glasses of water into them): the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Democratic Coalition rejected the agreement because they said that the government had concluded it unilaterally, without prior consultation with the National Assembly or the Hungarian people.

The Paks Nuclear Power Plant.

The Paks Nuclear Power Plant.

Orbán government officials claim that the deal with Russia to build new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant will increase Hungary’s energy security over the long term and provide the foundations for the government’s cuts in the cost of household electricity (source in Hungarian).

However, the government has classified as confidential until the year 2024, one year after the scheduled completion of the two new reactors, the reports containing the data and analysis upon which it based its decision to sign the agreement with Russia (source in Hungarian).

Many of the main consequences and possible drawbacks of the agreement are nevertheless clear:

Indebtedness to the State of Russia

The government of Hungary will be heavily indebted to the state of Russia for the next 32 years, until Prime Minister Orbán is well into his 80s. The opposition newspaper Népszabadság has estimated that the agreement will cost the government of Hungary an average of 300 billion forints per year during the 21-year repayment period (source in Hungarian), equivalent to just under 18 percent of the government’s total 2014 budgetary expenditures and just over 10 percent of Hungary’s 2012 GDP (source A and B in Hungarian).

Russian Influence over the Price of Electricity 

The text of the agreement states that the “cost connected to generating electricity” at the new reactors “will be acceptable of to the Designated Russian Organization” (source in Hungarian). The agreement stipulates that the Russians will choose this state-controlled Designated Russian Organization [Orosz Kijelölt Szervezet] (text of agreement in Hungarian and Russian).

Cost Overruns

The cost overruns that have occurred in connection to all three nuclear power-plant expansions currently taking place in Europe suggest that the Orbán government’s estimated cost of 10-12 billion euros for construction of the two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant may be much lower than the actual cost of the project.

The estimated cost of a new reactor under construction at the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland has risen from an original 3 billion euros to 8.5 billion euros (source in English). The estimated cost of a new reactor being built at the Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant in France has risen from an original 3.3 billion euros to 8.5 billion euros (source in French). The estimated cost of two new reactors under construction at the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant in Slovakia has risen from an original 1.6 billion euros to 3.7 billion euros (source in English). Former Orbán government.

Deputy State Secretary in Charge of Energy Affairs Attila Holoda believes that the actual cost of building the two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant could be up 20 billion euros (source in Hungarian).

The interstate agreement between Russia and Hungary contains no reference to this issue of which country will pay for possible cost overruns. State Secretary Lázár said during his announcement of the agreement on January 14 that the governments of the two countries would share the burden of paying for any excess costs connected to construction of the reactors. In response to a question about stipulated guarantees that the Russian government would help pay for any cost overruns, Lázár said that “We demanded legal guarantees and we will receive them. We are not even considering relinquishing anything from the Hungarian position,” though offered no specific proof that such guarantees existed (source in Hungarian).

Conformity with European Union Tender Regulations

The sole contender: Rosatom headquarters in Moscow.

The sole contender: Rosatom headquarters in Moscow.

The European Union may challenge the Orbán government’s claim that the agreement is not subject to EU tender regulations because it represents an extension of the 1966 pact between “The Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” to build the original reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant.

Evidence suggests that the government was, in fact, planning to call such a tender until at least the second half of 2013. On June 4, 2013, National Development Minister Mrs. László Németh announced that the government would issue a tender for the construction of the new reactors at the plant before the end of the year (source in Hungarian).

Evidence also suggests that several western companies were interested in submitting bids in a possible tender. On June 5, 2012, CEO István Hamvas of plant operator Paks Nuclear Power told the Hungarian News Agency MTI that “organizing the tender is an extremely important task, which must by all means be issued so that we can choose the contractor that will build the reactor in Paks.” Hamvas said that he expected five companies, including Rosatom, the U.S. company Westinghouse, the French company Areva as well as companies from Japan and Korea, to submit bids in the tender (source in Hungarian). A spokesman for Areva told the British news agency Reuters that the company was interested in participating in the expansion of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant (source in English).

The spokeswomen for European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger and European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier both said that European Union specialists were examining the Hungarian-Russian agreement to determine if EU regulations would have required that the government of Hungary call a tender for construction of the new reactors (source A and B in Hungarian).


The Fundamental Law that came into effect on January 1, 2012 prohibits the National Assembly from adopting a government budget the raises state debt to over half of gross domestic product or, in the event that debt is already over half of GDP, from adopting a government budget that does not reduce state debt in proportion to gross domestic product.

Hungary’s state debt was just below 80 percent of gross domestic product in 2013, thus all Hungarian governments for the foreseeable future will be constitutionally obligated to adopt budgets that reduce debt in proportion to GDP (source in English).

The Orbán government has not said how repayment of the cost of building the reactors beginning in 2025 can be achieved without violating this constitutional stipulation. In response to a question regarding this issue, State Secretary Lázár said “When will this situation arise? We are not yet receiving the loans and when we do it will just be gradual. . . . We will pace the drawing down of loans for the investment, paying attention to preserve the long-term declining trend of the debt, thus conforming to the constitutional regulations” (source in Hungarian). Lázár did not provide further details regarding how a future government could stagger the repayment of 10 billion euros in loans plus interest over a period of 21 years without raising debt. 


The Orbán government’s decision to have Rosatom build new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power plant with at least 10 billion euros in loans from Russia has in political terms moved Hungary closer to Moscow and farther from Brussels. The government concluded the agreement with Rosatom without offering western companies the chance to submit bids to build the reactors. Nor will it make public the background studies and analysis upon which it based its decision to select the Russian state-owned company public until after the scheduled completion of the investment. The Fidesz National Assembly caucus furthermore stifled all potential parliamentary debate on the issue by moving voting on the agreement up one week earlier than scheduled.

Foreign Minister János Martonyi of Hungary told Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany that the agreement was not based on geopolitical considerations, stating that “It is out of the question that with this Hungary is turning toward Russia” (source in Hungarian). However, the lack of transparency, openness and meaningful debate that have surrounded the pact indicate that the Orbán government is attempting to obscure evidence that it is, in fact, the natural culmination of four years of conflict with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the West in general and simultaneous rapprochement with Russia, China and other semi- or fully authoritarian states.

Perhaps State Secretary Lázár’s post-agreement characterization of Russian-Hungarian relations as “an increasingly smooth marriage of convenience that is offering greater and greater pleasure to both parties” (source in Hungarian) most accurately describes the emotional impulses that prompted Prime Minister Orbán to look toward Russia rather than the West in his search for construction and financing of the new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant—impulses that will almost certainly cause him to move Hungary farther into the anti-democratic Eastern political orbit during his next term in office beginning this spring.




An Archconservative Speaks Out

Prime Minister Orbán and John Lukacs looking over Budapest from Castle Hill in May 2013.

Prime Minister Orbán and John Lukacs looking over Budapest from Castle Hill in May 2013.

The opposition newspaper Népszabadság recently (January 25) published the following letter from the deeply conservative Hungarian-born U.S. historian John Lukacs regarding the January 14 interstate agreement between Hungary and Russia to have Russian state-owned company Rosatom build two new reactors at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant in south-central Hungary with 10 billion euros in Russian financing (source in Hungarian; see also: Deal of the Century):

Paks Vobiscum? No: Pax Nobis!

It has been almost 67 years since I left my native land. Since then the fate of my country and my nation has often grasped and wrenched my heart, though I never did deal with or write about Hungarian politics. Nor would this be proper now at the age of 90. But something nevertheless prompts me to do so. At least I spent at least two long winter nights thinking about it.  

The Russian-Hungarian Paks agreement has tempted me.

I do not receive any Hungarian newspapers. And Hungarian periodicals only rarely. I click on Népszabadság for one or two minutes every morning. To my knowledge many Hungarians still read it to this day. It is for this reason that I am sending these lines here. Maybe they will reach a couple of hundred readers.

The present prime minister has honored me with his attention and friendship for years. However, I now consider it to be my obligation to steer my opinion in his direction with these lines. I have been aware of inclinations in his world outlook for more than 20 years now. I see that he felt a certain aversion toward the so-called “West,” western Europe and England, even before 1989. 

Now he has reached a boundary line. I do not agree with those who speak and speculate about the economic consequences of the Paks agreement. Will electricity be cheaper or more expensive when the investment is completed in ten years (if ever)? My dear Hungarians, we cannot know the answer to this, but even if we could know the answer, it would be irrelevant. It is not worth the underside of a dog’s tail. The essence and fate of a country is not an economic detail. The essence of a country determines who we are and where we belong.

History hardly ever repeats itself. And that of the nation only rarely and to a smaller degree. And the character of a person changes the least. This will be perhaps the most profound problem facing the Hungarian people in the future. It is not merely a question of the insufficient degree of self-confidence among Hungarians. (Though this as well!) But one of who we are, where we belong, where we should belong? 

Our great Saint Stephen was not only a singular saint, but a great founding father as well. More than one-thousand years ago, when the immense Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire nearly embraced the Carpathians. If Stephen had chosen the path of accommodation with this empire, it would have entailed countless short-term benefits for him. But he did not do this: he chose Roman Christianity, a Papal emissary, a western wife, “Europe” (though this term had not yet come into existence). This choice formed the Hungarian Christian faith and character over a period of one-thousand years. Our eternal gratitude for this!

Western countries have often done little or nothing for us. But nevertheless. When the leaders of the Hungarians occasionally chose the “East,” this nearly always proved to be catastrophic. The consequence and essence of the tyranny that trampled Hungary under foot in the recent past was not communism, but the Russian occupation. At the end of the horrible Second World War the great Churchill, who already knew that the Russians would occupy all of Hungary, again told Roosevelt (unfortunately in vain) that Hungary was part of Central, not Eastern Europe. The Hungarian multitudes rejected the East in 1956 and 1989 as well. 

What kind of reward could we have expected from a greater Russian empire? Nothing. Széchenyi and Kossuth foresaw this. One must recognize and respect the Russians as our distant relatives, the wise Finns do. But we do not belong to the Russians. Accommodation to them must never form the central element of our endeavors. We honor their achievements, their great artists. However, the breath of the Hungarian spirit, the Hungarian intellect, Hungarian art and learning is western. Not Russian, and not even American. In spite of their greatness, it is not Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky who speak to us, but Dante, Shakespeare and Pascal, Goethe and Tocqueville. The West has often been our cross, but we must bear it, because it is our guiding light as well. We esteem our great Russian neighbors, but we must not accommodate ourselves to them, must not fawn upon them, because this could become a heavy burden for a long time and turn to the detriment of the Hungarians. 

Since 1989 we have been responsible for everything we have chosen, done and thought. The Hungarian character and spirit cannot be eastern. Pax Vobiscum! These are the closing words to the old Latin mass: Peace be with you! But now Pax Nobis! Let peace be ours! 


Lukacs has long been among Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s most favored Hungarian academics. The Hungarian government awarded Lukacs the Hungarian Corvin Chain in 2001, the year the first Orbán administration revived this Horthy-era order of merit recognizing those who have made outstanding contributions to Hungarian science, art and literature. In May 2013, Lukacs was among six recipients of the award invited to an honorary dinner with Prime Minister Orbán, President János Áder and Prime Ministry chief János Lázár at the presidential Sándor Palace in Budapest.

Lukacs’s explicit criticism from his vantage point in the United States of the Hungarian-Russian agreement to expand the Paks Nulcear Power Plant and Prime Minister Orbán’s pro-Russian, pro-East policies suggests that conservative Orbán supporters in Hungary may harbor similar sentiments, though are refraining from expressing them in order to avoid creating a rift among Fidesz voters just ten weeks before national elections.