[While extremely important events are taking place in the United Nations, such as Venezuela’s acquisition of a seat on the Security Council, two explosive international events provide mainstream media with ample distraction. Always holding his finger on the pulse of geopolitics, Stan Goff comments on the eruptions taking place in Hungary and Thailand.—CB]
FROM BUDAPEST TO BANGKOK
FTW Military/Veterans Affairs Editor
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September 20th 2006, 1:34PM [PST] - When a system goes haywire, it doesn’t do it like a children’s story with a good protagonist and a bad villain. It is a lot messier than that. And the symptoms are often far more visible than the causes.
I am writing this on September 20, 2006. As I write, there are riots in Hungary, and an apparent coup d’etat in Thailand. What could possibly tie together these two social crises, on opposite sides of the geographic and cultural world, one in a former Soviet satellite and the other in a long standing US satellite?
In Budapest, Hungarian economist Laszlo Andor said in 2005, that while Hungary’s rich have become considerably richer over the last 15 years, for the average Hungarian the situation “can only be compared to the Great Depression of the 1930’s.”
In 1997, when the Clinton administration unleashed currency speculators organized as hedge funds on Asia to force conformity with the neoliberal Washington Consensus, Thailand was the first on the target list. The Thai currency (the baht) was devalued by 20% almost overnight, and the effects on the most vulnerable in Thailand were devastating.
The ostensible “socialist” Hungarian leader, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who models himself after Tony Blair, has been an avid supporter of neoliberlism in Hungary. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was elected as “the billionaire populist” (he is a cellular telephone tycoon), is reputed to have calmed a restive population down through savvy PR and a few policy bones to ameliorate the misery of Thailand’s poorest. He is also sometimes compared to Blair.
Given Blair’s fortunes of late, this has proven decidedly inauspicious.
The politics of both Hungary and Thailand are both especially Byzantine, and in today’s world that is surely saying something. What catalyzed these simultaneous events was Gyurcsany getting caught on tape stating that he has lied his ass off about the nation’s economic figures to get elected, and Shinawatra trying to purge the Army of unreliable officers and replace them with his own. Surely these are not alike, except that in both cases, the countries are deeply insecure and polarized, thrashing from one political demagogue to the next.
The rest of this story is two-fold. One, each of these countries is geographically situated adjacent to strategic hotspots: Hungary next to Ukraine, and Thailand smack-dab in the middle of the Indo-Chinese archipelago. Two, each of these societies is now deeply criminalized, with foreign Mafias (Ukrainian in Hungary, and Chinese in Thailand), a conduit for foreign drugs and a production site for others (both are suffering domestic crises of methamphetamine production and consumption), underpaid and corrupt police forces, and rampant sex trafficking and prostitution.
The beneficiaries of the current crises in Budapest and Bangkok are likely to be reactionaries. Certainly, the military coup in Bangkok is made by conservatives. In Hungary, the rightist Fidesz opposition will not only try to capitalize on the incriminating broadcast, but many suspect that Fidesz operatives may have acquired and leaked the tape that exposed Gyurcsany.
In either case, the masses of these crisis-wracked nations are trapped like bees in a bottle, that bottle being today’s Washington Consensus -- to which both sides in both countries are slavishly attached. Perhaps we can give this a new name for future political sociologists. The Blair Syndrome.