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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Racism: Wrong "Basis" to Oppose Nuclear Deal

Reading the explicitly racist, blankly Russophobic and, reading the calendar, curiously anti-communist (sic) reactions of the ostensible "left" "liberal" opposition in Hungary to yesterday's deal (stating that Hungary will upgrade and expand its nuclear power plant with Russian technology and loans) I'm really glad that the government didn't award the contract to India (which also uses Russian technology, i.e., on a purely technical basis, it could have been done with little trouble).

I deeply disagree with the way this deal was done. I deeply abhor the absence of any open discussion to precede the deal, and I hate what that says about the current Hungarian government's disdain for the collective wisdom of society, such as it may be, even with respect to long-term issues like this. And this is especially so because, at 10 BILLION Euros (or, 12.7% of this year's annual government budget), this is the largest single public investment project in Hungary--probably ever. I'm thinking, it may have been a good idea to have extended public discussions about the various alternatives before signing. Even if Russian technology is as safe, and if the deal is as advantageous and secure as it is presented.

But racism, anti-communism and spewing ethnic hatred? From the ostensible "liberal" opposition?

That's not the way to oppose this deal. And, my humble thought, it is also a remarkably stupid way to go: If you wanted to give the government a major political trump card in the subsequent discussions (keep in mind, elections are coming up in Hungary in less than 3 months), if you really wanted the government to appear measured, trustworthy and reliable, as against a loudmouth, demagogical opposition, this is pretty much exactly what you would have wanted to do.

And all this rhetoric is aimed at Russia--a market of 140 million consumers, on the upswing, where, historically, the Hungarian economy has made nothing but very solid profits. Russia is a virtually un-saturate-able market for Hungarian products, ranging from fresh fruits and meat to more complex industrial products and services, including high-profitability business services and health care. Russia has virtually unlimited amounts of agricultural land, almost "waiting" for high-quality agro-production systems such as those that Hungary has been world leader in. Hungary still has a small group of Russian-speaking merchants who are reasonably comfortable in the Russian context and have extended informal networks there. There is a very sizeable consumer class emerging in Russia, and given Hungary's and Russia's relative positions in the world economy, and their respective nodes of specialization, Hungary has, in theory enormous inroads to make there. Especially with a modicum of Russian government goodwill. Furthermore, there is a very significant amount of investment capital available in Russia, and that capital is eager to come to the EU (including Hungary) for a number of well-conceived reasons, geopolitical as well as taxation-related. How dumb, really.

So, basically, I don't get it. It must be me.


  1. Update: This (Jan 16) morning I see a new line of critique spreading in virtual space: people argue that the deal will bring mega-profits to Rossatom, the Russian contractor in charge of the project, and whichever Hungarian partner should be chosen to provide the "local content" that is variously estimated at "one-third" or "forty percent" of the 10 billion Euro deal. Not a small amount of money to revitalize the local economy.

    Coming from politicos who otherwise have not stopped extolling the virtues of capitalism and, within that, specifically, the essentially, ontologically advantageous character of the profit motive as a provider for the common good, referring to profits as a deplorable thing is at least noteworthy.

    More specifically, the argument goes that, "oh, it is easy to tell which Hungarian company will reap the benefits: it will be Közgép." Now, there is of course a kernel of truth in this: Since the current right-wing government came to power in 2010, Közgép, a company owned by one of the prime minister's friends and a staunch financial supporter of the political party that runs the current government, has miraculously been able to snatch up an astounding proportion of public contracts, either through a public bidding procedure or without one. This is critique will really stick, and it is likely to have been a main reason why there had been no public discussion on the merits of the various options for nuclear power in Hungary. It is entirely possible that we are seeing the emergence of the biggest corruption-through-state-capture scandal in Hungarian history.

    There is, however, one tiny problem when that argument comes from the parties in opposition today. Had the current opposition parties been in government today, would they award these contracts on a fully normative, clean and competitive basis? Is it a genuinely accurate account of the history of the 12 of the preceding 23 preceding years when they were in power that that did not happen on their watch? I doubt it. But, that is of course the nature of politics, at least in the post-state-socialist semiperiphery.

  2. Once again, I see nothing racist in the links that you have mentioned here. The Hungarian government has dubiously described this 'arrangement' as an international treaty, so it would be odd if opponents didn't represent Putin and Russia in a less than flattering way. I think your definition of racism might be different to my own as there is no racist typology - there's nothing about 'the stinking Russians'. Definition from wikipedia:

    Racism is generally defined as actions, practices or beliefs, or social or political systems that are based in views that see the human species to be divided into races with shared traits, abilities, or qualities, such as personality, intellect, morality, or other cultural behavioral characteristics, and especially the belief that races can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, or that members of different races should be treated differently.[1][2]

    Of course, this further illustrates the multifaceted nature of the opposition in Hungary - though there are many people who dislike Orban, this antipathy is nearly matched by how they feel about the liberals/pseudo-socialists/university-Marxist-phoneys/lick-spittle-social-democrats/pusillanimous greens, etc etc.

    It has to be said - everyone knows Putin isn't a communist, Russia is a classic example of a kleptocracy. It's the bizarre figure of Orban, who has clung to neurosis about Russia in the recent past, becoming the New Best Friend.

    As you say, Hungary has committed itself to crappy 1950s technology until 2050, a huge and environmentally damaging scheme (requiring 2 new dams across the Danube) and - just to cap things off - is borrowing the money to pay for this white elephant in euros! Which will come first - Paks 2, or national bankruptcy? Will the country be saved from Paks by a sovereign default?

  3. Carl, yes, we do have a different definition of racism. This is the nature of public culture: it is multifaceted, and contrasting definitions do coexist. But, the way at least some political circles (alas, including some liberals) have been talking about Russia and Russians in the context of the, in my opinion, (for very well conceived domestic political reasons deplorable), deal is clearly racist. It does not allow for Russians or anybody Russian to be anything but evil, cunning, domineering, etc. It attaches evil geopolitical and moral values to "Russia" and "Russians" such that it cannot possibly be "true", neutral or even vaguely reasonable. If pressed, I can probably think of a fairly large number of reasons why people with relatively little global knowledge or reflection on history would speak that way, but that doesn't make it ok.


cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta