In Their Own Words - Gábor Bojár on Elizabeth I, Price Controls and Cronyism
Updated: Mar 4, 2022
Gábor Bojár is a physicist, software engineer and entrepreneur who shot to local fame in the 1980s after creating a 3-Dimensional software package that helped engineers plan the cooling system for the reactors at Paks nuclear power station, then being built in central Hungary.
Photo: Gábor Bojár, in a screen shot when facing the press over Skype, 21/o2/22
Bojár then founded his company, Graphisoft, which developed and commercialised this software, dubbed Archicad, to become one of the leading architectural and design software packages globally. Bojár sold his stake in Graphisoft in 2007. Today, he is an adviser to Péter Márki-Zay, the prime ministerial candidate for the united opposition alliance in Hungary's general election due on April 3. He spoke to the Hungarian International Press Association on 21 February, ie three days before the Russian invasin of Ukraine. The following is part of that meeting. Gábor Bojár: First, if I can help Hungary with my advice, I always do, regardless of who is in government. So if any government is counting on my advice about how to foster entrepreneurship in Hungary, I am happy to help, independently of how I vote and who I like [politically]. At this time, however, I believe that Hungary is going in the wrong direction under the leadership of Viktor Orbán. And this is the main reason why I was ready to help Péter Márki-Zay in his campaign and in forming his programme. In our history of over a 1,000 years we have been part of many different empires, but never voluntarily. In the last of these we were part of the Russian [Soviet] Empire, but in 1989-90 we received an extraordinary gift from history: We became free. We had the chance – maybe the first time in our history – to decide where we belong. And in 2004 we decided.
There are differences in priorities among conservatives, liberals and socialists, but there is a firm consensus among 80% of Hungarians: We belong to the West. I do not agree with Viktor Orbán on many issues, but there are two fundamental issues where we do not agree in particular: as an entrepreneur I do not like the crony capitalism which Orbán is building. With this, Orbán is wasting an exceptional chance to raise Hungary. As an example, [I ask] why did England become the world’s richest and strongest country in the era of the Great Discoveries? Because of its great traditions in navigating the seas. Today, in the era of the Information Revolution, our strong mathematical traditions and skills could raise Hungary as high as England was similarly raised by its strong sailing skills some 500 years ago. But, in order to capitalise on our maths skills, we need real capitalism, based on fair competition, where the most innovative and creative firms succeed, rather than the friends of Orbán. If Elizabeth I had appointed her closest friend instead of Francis Drake to run England’s fleet, I think England wouldn’t have become the winner of colonization and the industrial revolution. Hungary has a chance now to become the winner of the information revolution, we just have to invest much more in education and build a system of meritocratic capitalism. Orbán is wasting this chance. This is my first concern with Orbán. I do not agree with Orbán's relation to the EU. He does not want deeper integration between the member states. His priority is his so-called “National Sovereignty”, but in fact he means his own personal sovereignty by this. Being part of the EU, we naturally have to delegate some of our sovereignty to the EU, but Orban wants to keep this to a minimum. He just wants to be in a loose free-trade zone for mutual benefits, without agreeing on common values. On the other hand, he very much likes the EU funds. But this is a contradiction. Fueling the economic development of the poorer member states from the richer ones' tax-payers’ money requires huge solidarity. But the shared values are prerequisites of this solidarity. I believe the majority of Hungarians share western values, not just the western money, even if there are differences about how deep the integration should go within the EU. I believe it should be deeper. For example, the two most visible achievements of the Union, the common currency and the free movement within the Schengen Zone, both are endangered without further integration: a common monetary policy will not work in the long term without a common fiscal policy and budget; and the free movement will not work without a common immigration policy and external border protection. Orbán is fighting against deeper integration, he is arguing that it would turn the EU into an “Empire” as opposed to the “Europe of Nations”. The latter may sound nice, but we have to see that our world is facing many global challenges, such as climate change, mass migration and mass terrorism, and there is no answer to these challenges within national borders. Without further integration, Europe will not be able to face the emerging powers of China and Russia either. My major concern is that Viktor Orbán does not like the traditional values of the West, such as the division of power, checks and balances, minority rights and so on. I think he believes the Western civilization is on a declining path and the future belongs to the East. He likes the eastern type of ruling much more, where his power would be uncontrolled. He likes Russia and China, and he is turning Hungary into a Trojan Horse within the EU. He may believe that with smart maneuvering between the West and East he may preserve his own sovereignty. But he is wrong. History has proven that the Carpathian Basin has often been occupied by one empire or another. Now we have received a gift from history that we can choose to where we want to belong. And we have made our choice. We remember (at least through our parents or grandparents) how our lives were within the Russian Empire. I hope very much that the majority of Hungarians will understand what is at stake now, and on April 3rd we will confirm our choice: We do belong to the West. Question Kester Eddy: Playing devil's advocate, I think Prime Minister Orbán would point to a country like China, and say: look at their success. Hungary is having ever closer relations with China as a result. How would you answer that? Gábor Bojár: I think trade with China is great, but shared values is not great. Anyway, everybody is arguing that the lack of democracy in China can prove that economically China is much more successful. I would like to highlight that the real lack of democracy was in the age of Mao Zedong, and since that age is over, China has become more democratic than before, so economic success can be [attributed to] at least a partial democratisation of China. But anyway, it's still not the western type of democracy, and Chinese culture is very different from European culture, and I would like to insist that we would like to belong to European culture, even if in the short term, it does not result in what is visually attractive economic development. Question Journalist: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently said, concerning Ukraine, that there could be hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of refugees in Hungary, and that would completely transform the political and economic landscape of the country. Do you think there is a high risk of having millions of refugees coming here? Gábor Bojár: Hungary is, unfortunately or fortunately, is a transit country. For the refugees, including Ukrainian refugees, the target country will not be Hungary, but richer countries of Europe. But this is a danger for Europe, for sure, so that's why we, not just Hungary, but the entire Europe, to do our best in order to prevent a real war. Question Journalist: The economic situation, and about the Fidesz policy of having fixed, mandated prices for some basic commodities. Do you advise any action about these if the opposition wins? Gábor Bojár: Of course. Fixed prices always lead to lack of supplies. No question. Already, we can see that at certain gas stations certain kinds of more expensive gas [petrol] types are not available. So, price controls always result in a lack of supply. Fighting against inflation, there are many ways. Longer term, for example, fostering competition. If there is fair competition, then the prices automatically go down. But in crony capitalism, there is no competition. That's the major problem. And the major problem behind the gas [price capping] is that they are artificially bringing small gas stations into bankruptcy, and they will be taken over by Mol [the Hungarian energy group]. I would call that robbery, rather than fighting inflation.
Editoial note 1: On the day of this interview, the government changed the regulations on the petrol and diesel price caps, limiting the fuel wholesaler prices to HUF 480 per litre, equal to the pump price to motorists. This price cap is valid until mid-May.
Editorial note 2: Since posting this, the government has announced further aid for the approximately 1,000 independent stations in Hungary. The Independent Filling Stations Alliance, formed recently to lobby for their plight, has said it is satisfied with the move. Many of these stations are family run concerns in rural areas.