Viktor Orbán: A collective portrait
As the months go by and it becomes increasingly evident that the Hungarian government’s performance by any objective standards is deplorable, people ask why Orbán is still considered to be a talented politician. These critics are not only political analysts and the educated elite who can hardly believe the destruction the second Orbán government has inflicted on the country. Ordinary people often have a better sense of reality than the “experts” who tend to complicate matters and get lost in the labyrinth of their own thoughts.
I frequently hear these ordinary people say on talk shows that in their opinion Orbán is a singularly bad politician. They don’t understand why commentators, when talking about Orbán, often add that he is a very talented man. Only a couple of days ago I read a comment by someone who is most likely a university student because he wrote his comment in response to the latest Orbán interview given to the student Internet paper called policity.hu. “Schaját” said: “In the very first paragraph [of the interview] it is evident that he became a law student because he was no good for anything else. Not even for becoming a football player. So, why does he think that he is good as a politician?”
The image of the brilliant young man, the fantastic orator, the far-sighted politician is fading fast. I don’t think that Orbán can change the portrait that has emerged in the last two years at home and abroad. He may say with George W. Bush that history will do him justice, but I’m sure he is mistaken. In fact, history will treat him more harshly than his contemporaries because he still has a following that believes every piece of nonsense that leaves his lips. But even their numbers are shrinking because his speeches are becoming less and less coherent and believable. One doesn’t have to be a high-brow egghead to know that there is something very wrong with the sentence: “I’m against tuition [tandíj]. I would like to have a system in which every student can cover the costs of his studies [tanulás költségeit].” Orbán used to be the master of double talk, but by and large it no longer works.
Recently Erzsébet Strassenreiter, a historian, wrote an op/ed piece in which she noted that Orbán’s poor schooling has led him to “often incomprehensible, contradictory, and muddled speculation.” His poor intellectual preparation wouldn’t be so glaring if Orbán didn’t cast himself as a deep thinker on global issues. But unfortunately he does, and therefore his insufficient grounding in what we commonly call the liberal arts is only too obvious. There is nothing worse than a man of scant knowledge portraying himself as a visionary genius. I’m sorry for the comparison, but when I hear Orbán speak about his “great issues” I think of Hitler’s Table Talks that I read a long time ago. Here was a half educated man marketing himself as an expert on practically all subjects on the face of the earth while his dinner companions listened to him in total awe.
Perhaps the most penetrating analysis of Orbán’s “political talent” came from Ferenc Krémer, associate professor of sociology at the Police Academy, on Galamus. Or rather he was an associate professor when he wrote the article entitled “Thoughts on political talents.” Since then he lost his job; his firing most likely had something to do with this piece. To summarize his message very briefly: there are two reasons that Orbán is not a talented politician. “Talent” is actually only an early promise that may or may not be fulfilled in later life. Orbán may have been a promising talent in 1989-1990 but this promise has not been fulfilled. Or rather, Orbán has a talent only for “acquiring the technical instruments of political success” or power, if you wish. Once he reached his goal he had no intention of using this power for the common good. In fact, it is very possible that his only goal all along was the acquisition of power which he can use to his own and his friends’ benefit. He has used his power not for the betterment of his country and people but for the opposite: the ruination of a democratic society that would enable Hungarians to live a decent and free life.
Another critic who made an impression on the anti-Orbán forces is András Bruck who wrote a long article in Élet és Irodalom. Since ÉS is available only to subscribers I read it in Amerikai-Magyar Népszava. Bruck first recalls the times of the first Orbán government and reminds his readers that the familiar Orbán methods were evident even then: calling people traitors, talking endlessly about the love of country, anti-Semitism (zsidózás), who is Hungarian and who isn’t, calling everybody he didn’t like communists. “All warmed up from the past; all shameful madness.” Orbán promised the past and not the future because catching up with the West, competing, modernizing is a slow and painstaking process that doesn’t bring immediate glory and fame. Most likely Orbán realized that his staff doesn’t have the know-how, he himself doesn’t have the perseverance, and perhaps the Hungarian labor force is not up to it either. Instead he turned to history and “became the cheerleader of national sorrow.” What a wonderful phrase.
After eight years of stirring up political passions, turning people against one another, he is back and is continuing where he left off but with an even greater concentration of power in his hands. What is his real goal? The Hungarian economy, mostly thanks to the unorthodox policies of the Orbán government, is by now in recession without much hope of a fast recovery. The popularity of the government is steadily sinking, but the powers that be don’t seem to be worried. In the middle of a serious crisis they talk as if nothing were wrong. How can that be, asks Bruck? What is the plan? Bruck’s answer is that although in Hungary there is no dictatorship yet, only its “pre-classical” variety, the idea of a full-fledged dictatorship is most likely on the minds of the Fidesz leadership because it is unlikely that Orbán and his friends could win the next elections in a still democratic regime. Bruck argues that if they want to stay in power–and there is no question that Viktor Orbán desperately wants to–”they can escape only in the direction of dictatorship. There is no return. They must go along that route.” Bruck’s final conclusion is that this can be done only if Hungary leaves the European Union.
Finally, I received from several sources an unpublished article of the late Péter Popper, a psychiatrist, entitled “I forgive, but I don’t forget,” apparently a quotation from Viktor Orbán. Popper recalls that way back in 1989 and 1990 he was a Fidesz supporter, but then he realized that he had bet on the wrong horse. A friend of his told him at that time: “‘Be careful, these are criminals!’ I didn’t believe him. Today I know they are. Viktor Orbán’s name became a symbol for me. The symbol of the final political depravity of a country that has been depraved for at least the last eighty years.” Harsh words. But there is a lot of truth in them.
Popper at the end of his essay wonders how Orbán will weather his inevitable fall. Well, if we are to believe Bruck, he doesn’t have to worry about such an outcome for a while.