Anyone who’s ever tried their hand at journalism knows how it goes: certain interviews and events turn out just the way you imagined they would, others don’t. That’s what happened to me when I interviewed András Inotai, the famous Hungarian economist and director of the school of economics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. I wanted to know how bad the crisis in Hungary really was. He said that image of a country facing unsolvable problems was quite debatable. He would not whitewash the reality of the crisis and the florin’s recent woes, or the fact that without the IMF’s help the country would probably have gone bankrupt at the end of 2008.

But several times in the course of the interview he harped on this point: "People thought Hungary was going to be a textbook case of economic catastrophe, the black sheep of Central Europe, but clearly that wasn’t the case.” Quoting figures right and left, he showed me that every country in Central Europe (with the noteworthy exception of Poland, spared by the crisis) saw its economy collapse, that Hungary’s public debt isn’t that excessive compared to several EU countries, that the florin is no weaker than the Czech crown or the Polish zloty, and that unemployment is lower in Hungary than in Slovakia or Poland.

First round results not a total surprise

On Monday morning, whilst sitting in a Warsaw hotel watching the coverage of the first round of the Hungarian general elections, I recalled the unexpected turn that interview had taken. We’d all been expecting “catastrophic” results: a landslide Fidesz victory, which would give it the requisite 2/3 parliamentary majority to change the constitution; the Jobbik neo-Nazis winning nearly 20% of the vote to become the second-strongest political force, even possibly gaining a foothold in the government; the socialists straggling out with a mere 10%, and so de facto quitting the main political scene to become a minor opposition party.

The results of the first round weren’t a total surprise, but enough all the same to drop the word “catastrophe” from our daily diction. Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz got 53% of the vote. So after the first round it already has a slim majority in parliament. Still, that’s far from the 60 to 70% feared. And the socialists remain in the political picture with 20% of the vote. That’s a very good showing. It rewards the serious work done by Gordon Bajnai’s Socialist government, at least last year, nearly hoisting Hungary out of the financial and economic crisis, despite drastic budget cuts that put a painful dent in the standard of living for most Hungarians. And finally, some red-letter news: the Socialists will at least lead the political opposition. So there won’t be any so-called “revolution” in the Hungarian political system.

Some glad and unexpected tidings

As was to be expected, Jobbik, the anti-Semitic and xenophobic neo-Nazis, garnered 15% of the vote. That is a sizeable showing, to be sure. But it’s far from shocking compared to how extremist parties fare at the polls in other Central European and EU countries. That 15% isn’t all that worrying in view of the delicate situation Hungary is currently in. Moreover, the figure matches the Hungarian results for the European elections last year, which shows that the number of Hungary’s extremist adherents is stagnating. So before saying Hungary is heading down the road to Fascism, the Czechs should consider how well their Communist party has done at the polls over the past 20 years: after all, the Communists are as much of a threat to democracy as a party like Jobbik.

Finally, glad and unexpected tidings: the new centre-left environmentalist party (“Do Politics Differently”), which may be regarded as the successor to the Liberals or the Hungarian Democratic Forum, made it into parliament with 7% of the vote. The second round of the elections could still bring some changes. It will probably reinforce Fidesz. But one thing is already for sure: there will be no catastrophe in Hungary. And Hungary is not the black sheep of Central Europe either, it’s just another part of the herd.