Hungary’s finance minister references 1848 cholera pandemic while submitting 2021 budget

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Hungarian Finance Minister Mihály Varga submitted to the Hungarian Parliament the country’s budget for the year 2021 and used the occasion to reference the country’s devastating 1848 cholera pandemic, which killed an estimated 100,000 Hungarians.

In a Facebook video., he declared it “the budget aimed at rebooting the country’s economy” following the coronavirus crisis.

Varga said the budget will contain a special chapter about a health insurance and coronavirus pandemic defense fund of 3,000 billion forints (€8.55 billion). In the video, he had in front of him the budget the 1848 revolutionary government submitted to Hungarian Parliament then led by Finance Minister Lajos Kossuth, a national hero, which was published in separate of volume of the official government bulletin.

Varga pointed out that that budget at that time also had a 1,500-forint item relating to expenses for that year’s cholera epidemic.

The cholera epidemics that broke out in the 19th century were devastating across Europe. During Hungary’s first cholera epidemic of 1831, the mounting death toll partially fueled social instability and a rebellion that led peasants to attack people of high standing, including landlords, officials, doctors, and priests. The pandemic also claimed the life of famed Hungarian writer Ferenc Kazinczy.

While Varga did not go into detail in the video about the 1848 Hungarian budget — only saying that the budget was a “valuable material evidence of the country’s independence and sovereignty” — one of the 12 points of the 1848-49 Hungarian anti-Habsburg uprising was the need for an independent Central Bank, which became both a guarantor and symbol of Budapest’s financial independence from the Vienna Imperial Court.

“Thanks to the disciplined attitude of the Hungarian people and the government’s measures, we can now carefully restart life in Hungary, and next year’s budget was planned accordingly, and it will be the budget reopening the country’s economy,” Varga said.

In contrast with the practices of successive governments after the 1990 regime change in Hungary, which more often than not could only pass a given year’s budget in January of the following year, Orbán’s conservative government, which has been continuously in power since 2010, has introduced the practice of submitting and passing the budget for the subsequent year before the summer recess of parliament.

While Varga did relate what size of economic decline the budget contains, at the beginning of the month in an updated converge program to the European Commission, his ministry forecast a three-percent decline compared with 4.9 percent growth in 2019.

The European Commission’s official 2020 forecast for Hungary sees a seven-percent GDP contraction. 

Title image: Cholera hospital ward in Hamburg.

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