Interview with László Bogár, economist and university professor, former MP and former State Secretary of Hungary, publicist: “They will have to unite the German, Italian and French budgets, otherwise the euro will fall.”
At the end of November 2018, Raoul Weiss met with László Bogár in Budapest for a interview without taboos on economical topics. László Bogár is since the regime change a well-known Hungarian economist: he is one the economists who shaped the Fidesz’ economical policy. Author of 28 books, László Bogár has been State Secretary for political questions of the Ministry of foreign trade relations from 1990 to 1994 and State Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister under Orbán’s first mandate, from 1998 to 2002. Very critical of the current capitalistic system and of the EU’s evolution, László Bogár is a shining example of what is a Central European “illiberal” economist.
Raoul Weiss: On the euro crisis: whether in Strasbourg or Budapest, everyone is talking about the so-called “migration rights” all the time, but some suggest that these big moral questions also serve as a screen for financial worries, which would – among other things – give rise to the tensions which could recently be seen in Brussels and Strasbourg; the same malicious gossip also states that, faced with the financial losses implied by BREXIT, Germany would like to pass on the bill to others: either to its broke clients in Latin Europe, and / or its subcontractors in Central Europe. In your opinion, what would be the most intelligent strategy from the German point of view? And, among the subsets of German-owned states – the Latin countries on the one hand, and Central Europe on the other –, which do you think is capable of the greatest resistance? Or, to put it more simply: if the Germans do not want to pay, who will pay?
László Bogár: I would like to begin my answer by sketching a vast historical panorama in the background. Whatever one thinks of it, it is clear that in past centuries, the West has always been the seat of a world empire. This is particularly clear in the case of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French and British empires: each of these nations held the empire of the world for more or less a century; and, once almost all Western nation-states have had their more or less 100 years of world power (this periodicity of 100 years, by the way, is quite interesting in itself), the time has come to transfer the empire beyond the ocean, to the United States of America founded in the meantime there, as a pseudo-nation-state, but which does also function as a nation-state. And that century is the one we live in. Though it will probably come to an end soon: if the empire mutates every 100 years, then America too, within twenty years, might enter its twilight zone. The most important thing is to understand that the world currency is always the currency of the Western nation-state which assumes the role of vector of the world empire, and which, ipso facto, always shows a dual structure: while remaining a nation-state, it simultaneously becomes the structural base of a world empire. Even afterwards, the trace of this structure remains engraved in it, the best example being from this point of view that of the British Empire: even as long as Great Britain remained a member of the European Union (which is still the case as I speak), it never considered for one minute giving up the sterling – a former world currency – in favour of the euro.
I imagine that the reader will not need long explanations to understand what an immense advantage a given nation can find in the fact that its national currency is at the same time the world currency. Indeed, by simplifying to the extreme, it meant, in the case of America in the 1960s and 1970s, that when the empire needed money – for example to wage a war in Vietnam, which cost in the $ 5,000 billion, and the final bill is not yet issued, since pensions are still being paid to veterans – it just printed all the money it needed, while passing the bill to the rest of the world. Indeed, as long as the dollar represented between 90 and 95% of world monetary reserves – a situation that did not change until the end of the 1980s – only Charles de Gaulle dared to provoke the system, an audacity for which, by the way, he paid the highest price: in 1967 he demanded restitution of French gold, in 1968 he got a civil war for good measure, in 1969 he resigned, and died in 1970. In 1971, under a secret agreement passed with Saudi Arabia, it was decided that in the future, the Empire would whack all those who would try to trade oil in currencies other than the dollar. After which the price of oil was multiplied by 12, so that Western Europe would soon no longer need to wonder what to do with its tons of dollars, being forced to use them for its oil purchases.
That’s how the world really works. What is important to understand in this story is that, no matter how loudly the masters of the world accuse us of believing in “conspiracy theories”, what we are really witnessing is a conspiracy practice. (…) What must be remembered is that the current world empire will always do everything in its power to keep its status as long as possible, considering the extraordinary opportunities yielded by the control of the world currency. As we speak, a little less than 60% of the world’s reserves are still in dollars, which is a huge drop from 95%, but still quite a big proportion.
Raoul Weiss: De Gaulle famously called this the “exorbitant privilege”. [Erratum: these words were those of Valéry Giscard-d’Estaing, then Minister of Finance; It is frequently mis-attributed to Charles de Gaulle, who is said to have had similar views, Ed.]
László Bogár: Indeed, that phrase goes straight to the point. As far as the euro is concerned, its status stems from a deeper problem. In drawing up the list of nation-states called to lead the empire, one cannot fail to notice that, after the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the British, the Germans did not have their turn. During the twentieth century, Germany twice tried to capture the world’s empire for one hundred years. During the two World Wars (which I usually call “projects”: two projects of the global system of financial domination), the global system of financial domination – the true masters of the world – sent very clear signs to Germany, to make it understand the following message: “You will never have the empire of the world. We recognize your talent, your zeal, your enormous technological superiority, but you will never have it, not even for 100 years, not even temporarily”. That’s why the real story of the 70 years following the Second World War is that of the constant efforts of the American world empire to reduce Germany’s room for manoeuvre … (…) [To parody the title of a] famous film from the Czech New Wave – Closely Watched Trains – one could say that those 70 years were years of Closely Watched Germany. On the cultural level, it was brutally tamed. The message was clear: “You have no past, no culture, no history – everything that is about identity is strictly forbidden to you”. And I just said the key word: this whole story revolves around identity. The purpose of this world-dominating power is to strip people – individuals as well as communities of various sizes, up to entire nations – of their identities, to dissolve them in what I usually call “scraping of diluted multiculturalism”, the only attitude in which they become harmless from the point of view of the system. Anyone who has an identity is dangerous, because the very basis of human happiness is that I know who I am, and no matter what hardships and sufferings I have to go through, I know why I am confronting them – hence, I am someone. It is the only possible way of existence, both for individuals and for human communities of all sizes. This is what this invisible global system, which keeps denying its own existence, is trying to crush. Unfortunately, it seems to me that this crushing has been a success in the case of Germany; its disastrous demographic figures, in particular, show how far the Germans have disintegrated from a spiritual, moral and intellectual point of view. In parallel, of course, Germany as a capital structure has won gigantic victories during these 70 years. It sometimes even managed to let America behind on the podium of world exports (…). Even as I speak, the race is very tight; despite a huge difference in the size of the two countries, Germany’s exports almost match those of the United States of America. It’s a gigantic performance.
And in my opinion, this is where we come to the point: for me, the euro is for Germany a kind of consolation prize. It had to renounce the empire of the world, but at least it got the right to coin a vice-world-currency. For me, the euro is the deutschmark of the fourth German Reich. Of course, it is forbidden to name this fourth Reich by this name – especially because it follows the Third Reich … And the whole point is that for the American empire, more and more pushed into its entrenchments, sinking more and more into chaos, the euro becomes more and more of an obstacle. The empire would like to see the euro collapse as soon as possible, because it becomes a competitor. 25% of the world’s monetary reserves are in euros. Third place is the sterling, followed by the yen and the Swiss franc, but all of these haves shares around 3 or 4%. The rest is not even worth mentioning – including China, with its yuan to be around 2.8%. Only the euro is able to challenge the dollar: the more or less 60% of the latter and the 25 or 26% of the euro belong to the same scale. The amount of reserves in euros is close to half that of reserves expressed in dollars. This is all the more depressing for the American empire, as the latter also loses ground in other areas, which makes it less and less able to retain its global power, and plunges into a more and more serious funding crisis – since all the expenses of the American empire are paid by the American nation-state. The empire does not have a de iure budget – so, of course, the bill is passed to the nation-state. But the Iowa farmer does not really understand why his country has an annual military budget of $ 1000 billion, while no one in this world is threatening him – and while will categorically refuse to protect him against what does threaten him. For example: migrations.
Raoul Weiss: But one may wonder to what extent Germany is really determined to resist, given that the German nation-state would like to have an empire, but is reluctant to bear the cost …
László Bogár: It is what the Germans of today would like, as well as Germany, as part of the global capital structure, as well as this German society, which still enjoys a good share of well-being – they would desire this imperial status. Maybe I wouldn’t dare to say that Germany does not want to pay the price; I have rather the impression that it lacks the courage to admit that, in order to defend her imperial candidacy, they would be obliged to confront the American empire. This is where the limit of German daring lies. Germany would like to step forward, but cannot even imagine what this confrontation could mean. First, let us not forget that in the 1970s, Germany was the scene of numerous political assassinations: high-ranking personalities (for example the director of Dresdner Bank [it seems that László Bogár is referring to Alfred Herrhausen, then director of the Deutsche Bank, or to Jürgen Ponto, spokesperson of the Dresdner Bank, Ed.] ) were slaughtered in the middle of the street, and the murderers were never caught. The German elites then felt that the empire, if it feels the need to punish them, can resort to quite brutal methods, so that they do not wish to renew the experience of such a confrontation. To some extent, the deepest sense of the migration crisis is that the American empire wants to ruin the whole of Europe, and would be glad to see the euro weakened or exploding – which would automatically free some ground for the dollar, even if the result is no more than a procrastination of the fall. The explosion of the euro would also have extremely serious consequences for Germany. Admittedly, the most serious consequences – a detail of great importance – would be in southern Europe. Behind the disastrous situation of southern Europe, however, we find – and this a very sensitive issue, a point on which one cannot insist too much – the greed of German economic and political elites. Indeed, those 2500 billion euros of Italian government debt include the result of huge Italian trade deficits vis-à-vis Germany, of which the latter has benefited hugely. In other words: to keep control of the German imperial mark, the currency of the Fourth Reich, also implies responsibilities. If the European Union was a unitary empire, the problem would not even arise. Within the United States of America, for example, it is not even possible to measure the exact share of Iowa or Kansas in federal debt.
Raoul Weiss: There is already some talk about a Franco-German joint parliament. It does not exist yet, but it is already all over the media. But where is the common budget? Macron has indeed made such a proposal to Merkel, but all Merkel seems willing to grant is a tiny fraction of the requested sums…
László Bogár: There is no alternative. They will have to unite the German, Italian and French budgets, otherwise the euro will fall. Spoken today, this sentence may have accents of political science-fiction, and the German elite may choose to say “no, I do not accept that” – but then the euro is over. In that case, their calculation would be the following: let the euro sink, even then, Germany will still be, in a way, the master of Europe – yes, but the master of such a Europe in which not only Italy, but also France are sinking into utter chaos. Here is the choice in relation to which the Germans must now weigh the pros and the cons: openly assume their will to operate a world empire of Europe, so that this empire can survive, with the euro, or let down the whole thing, in which case it will explode, which in the medium term will of course have catastrophic consequences first for the French, Italian and all of southern Europe, but will eventually not spare Germany either. They will soon have to decide. The American empire is banking on the collapse of the euro, which would favour its business. And there is also a certain part of the German elite secretly thinking: “Let’s dump that shit – at least, it will be a good riddance”. But the reason for this is that the German elites have not yet got a clear idea of the size of the wounds that a total explosion of the euro could inflict to Germany in the medium term. I think that the coming years will be critical – say: the next five years, during which the German elite will have to choose. And, from this point of view, it will be very important to know who will succeed Merkel as Chancellor – (…) This gentleman Merz, who was Wolfgang Schäuble’s man – and, through Schäuble, in fact, a Helmut Kohl guy –, one can suspect in what direction he is going. I suspect that he might be able to understand the problem in all its magnitude, whereas, as regards the other candidates, I’m really not sure that they would be able to decipher the situation. No one can say today what would be Merz’s answer if he ever had to face the problem as a Chancellor, but he, at least, would be able to understand the problem itself, and to make the German elites understand it. Merz also comes off a defeat in the first round of the competition for the presidency of the CDU – which could ultimately turn out to his advantage. But I think that the decisive choice will be made within the next five years, and that it will be of paramount importance: the future of the whole of Europe – for, say, fifty years – will be determined by the capacity that [Merkel’s] successor will have – or not – to understand the nature of the situation and to provide such a strategic response that represents a lesser evil for Europe. We are a little short of good solutions.
Raoul Weiss: Let’s go back to the euro – or rather, to the forint. In France, today, many describe the euro as a trap. Assuming that it would also have been a trap for Hungary – which is not certain, as the initial parameters were quite different – we might say that Hungary managed to avoid the trap. There remains, however, the question of how far this preserved forint guarantees the monetary independence of Hungary – or, to phrase it very plainly: is the forint really Hungarian money?
László Bogár: There is a Hungarian saying – full of that bitter irony that characterizes us – according to which the only problem with the Hungarian National Bank is that it is not Hungarian, nor national, nor even a bank; in fact, it is the Hungarian local branch of the global financial power. This is a consequence of the dogma of the “independence” of central banks, which the liberal indoctrination has been inculcating to the Hungarian public by means of a gigantic media arsenal – the dogma states that the HNB has to be independent, that is to say that it should not depend on the Hungarian people and the strategic interests of Hungary. Nowadays, thank God, the Hungarian public discourse has been able to decode this idea, and people now see exactly what this “independence” really means: the obligation to serve the interests of the global financial power, starting with the first of them: siphoning out of Hungary – partly through exchange rates, partly in the form of interest on state debt – as much resources as possible. Concretely: the interests on Hungarian state obligations, which mostly leave the country, must be as high as possible, and the exchange rates, as little favourable as possible for Hungary. This is the real cause of the most serious conflicts which Viktor Orbán’s governments had to face over the last eight years, and it is highly likely that these conflicts – as the recent debates in the European Parliament – will only intensify in the near future, especially during the months before the European elections, but also afterwards. They are largely rooted in the fact that Viktor Orbán is one of those – still very few – European politicians who have identified this problem.
A famous Hungarian thinker of the twentieth century, István Bibó, said that the weakness of the Hungarian spirit is that it produces on the one hand hypertensive realists, who see what’s at stake in the world of their time, but do not know how to react to it and therefore prefer to take refuge in a posture of prophets, an ivory tower; on the other hand, false pragmatists, who adopt a cynical attitude of saying: “Come on, whether we like it or not, we will have to serve the world empire no matter who holds it, so why worry? The best way to help ourselves is to help the Empire” – except, of course, that, in doing so, they act against the interests of the majority of the people.
Raoul Weiss: The Gyurcsány type [Ferenc Gyurcsány, left-wing liberal, was Prime Minister of Hungary from 2004 to 2009, Ed.].
László Bogár: Indeed. And this is what makes Bibó say that what we would need are pragmatic realists: men able to understand the issues, to see that their homeland is cornered, but also to have a pragmatic conception, based on the idea that there is always a minimum of leeway: “Let’s try to loosen the noose!” And here is the origin of the conflict: nowadays, even such a search of a minimal leeway is perceived as a terrorist attack by the system of global financial domination.
Raoul Weiss: They got you rid of the IMF.
László Bogár: Yes, and to do that, it was even necessary to change the director of the central bank. Obviously, the Prime Minister and the head of the central bank have to work in tandem, in the closest possible collaboration, even perfectly synchronizing their communication. And everything seems to indicate that in the last eight years – at the cost of enormous risks, tensions and conflicts – Hungary has succeeded – as is now generally admitted – to reach a much more favourable financial situation than ten years ago. And the lesson this teaches us seem to be that, even if the leeway is not huge, even if it implies considerable risks – provided, of course, that the circumstances make it possible – fortune smiles on the audacious. This is why it takes a great deal of courage, intellectual courage, knowledge and determination for a politician to truly act as a responsible statesman, to be more than just a globalist collaborator – even though, obviously, some level of collaboration is always unavoidable. Indeed, direct confrontation does not make any sense either. But, that being said, the leeway does exist, and it is a fact that today, Hungary is more or less out of the trap, and enjoys some level of freedom. We remain, of course, subject to the global system of financial domination, but this freedom exists, and we may say that qualitatively Viktor Orbán makes a much better use of it than Ferenc Gyurcsány did – supposing, of course, that the latter really wanted to make good use of it, which is a different issue.
Raoul Weiss: Yet they’re still sucking your forints out of the country.
László Bogár: Of course they are, it’s beyond doubt. And the money pump is here to stay, but as a Hungarian proverb says, “saving a little time can save your life.” The simple fact that a local identity, moreover such an identity which was quite unlucky historically during the last century – the Hungarian nation – was able, within a decade, to avoid being deprived of, say, a few miserable billions of euros per year may be sufficient to bring about change – enough to give it, for example, small incremental odds in the field of demography. Because, as you know, in Hungary as elsewhere, that is the most serious problem: in the last thirty years, the number of our deaths exceeds by one million that of our births. The population is aging, which unbalances the age pyramid, and the working population is plunging – which has the temporary advantage of upgrading the value of workforce, which makes wage rises possible: the famine of labour is such that capital is obliged to consent to small increases in wages.
But most importantly, it seems that Viktor Orbán embodies a victory of the realistic pragmatic option – in other words: that his strategy is likely to succeed.
Raoul Weiss: At present, Hungary is getting richer and is industrializing a bit; but it was not the same in the 1990s and early 2000s. This is a point I would like to come back to, since, in Western European political debates – often even in those of the Euro-critical circles – it has become customary to present the V4 countries as clever parasites, who have become masters in the art of sucking the blood of the great economies of the metropolis through European funds. Now, following your activity as a publicist, I was confronted with a radically different point of view on many subjects, and especially on what was the real nature of these transfers of wealth between East and West since the fall of communism – mostly during the period immediately following the regime change.
László Bogár: This view of the situation seems extraordinarily wrong to me. Indeed, in the years preceding 2004 (the year of Hungary’s accession to the EU) – that is to say, a period of [14 years, but] we could even say twenty years, since Hungary, as early as the 1980s, had passed some trade agreements with the EEC which were even more disadvantageous [than the current agreements] – Hungary unilaterally opened its markets. Let us not forget that, as early as 1988, Hungary was open to inflows of foreign capital. In this perspective, Hungary, as a country that opened its economic space without compensations, has in fact made an enormous contribution to the wealth of the West. There is at least a one-digit difference between the total of funds that left Hungary, whether in the form of profits or as interest on the debt – since its creditors were obviously Western European countries – and the total aid received by Hungary since accession.
Hence, one could say that, to some extent, the opposite is true: during the 14 years since the accession of Hungary to the EU, Hungary has only recovered part (…) of what Western European countries had unilaterally punctured during the 20 to 25 years elapsed before the 2004 accession. The reason why it is nevertheless difficult to address this subject in the media is that explaining this reality, making it understandable is incomparably more complicated than to resort to the striking but false metaphor of the wretched little cynical and filthy parasite of the East, which everyone understands without difficulty – which is even music to the ears of Western European citizens, because it at least has the merit of providing a scapegoat: thanks to such metaphors, they finally know what to think: “Here’s our problem! That’s why there is never money enough for us! Because we have to help out those punks!”
And the same goes for Greece – the lousy and lazy Greek society: everyone forgets to tell you that during the Greek crisis, [financial circles] have, without the slightest sound motive, pushed up to 35% the interests on Greek state paper in euros, by means of artificial hysteria, spreading the word that Greece was going bankrupt, and that this is precisely why it was necessary to maximize the interests, in order to protect the creditors in case of bankruptcy. Yet Greece did not go bankrupt, but, of course, none of those huge interest gains was ever payed back by any of those creditors who had used that bogey argument to plunder Greece. Everyone knew that Greece would not go bankrupt: everyone was playing – and keeps playing – a game of incredible cynicism.
End of part 1/2. Read part 2/2 here!