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.

Stop Political Crime / flckr

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.

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19 comments

  1. “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. ”
    it is citation from custurica’s underground. but maybe orban used that phrase as well

  2. “it is unlikely that Orbán and his friends could win the next elections in a still democratic regime”

    OK, we can argue about the definition of “democratic regime”, but I’d like to see the argument behind this statement. Personally, I can’t see how Orbán can possibly lose in 2014, especially if we include Jobbik in his “friends”.

    It really is time the ‘opposition’ stopped indulging in wishful thinking and started to get to grips with reality.

  3. This little thing below is not mine, but I am going to translate it for the English speakers.

    “Magyarország ma olyan, mint egy koncentrikus virágkert.

    Középen van egy mákvirág, melyet napraforgók,
    azokat meg tátikák vesznek körbe.
    A legkülső sávban pedig sokmilliónyi árvácska!”

    Translation:

    Today, Hungary is like a garden of flowers…

    In the center, there is the poppy flower,
    [old-fashioned slang for scoundrel]
    He is surrounded with sunflowers.
    [they always turn in the direction of sun= government money]
    They are circled by dragon flowers, and
    [ape/gasp flowers in Hungarian].
    In the outermost circle, there are millions of pansies
    [orphans in Hungarian]

  4. hunleonidas :
    Reblogged this on hungarianvirus and commented:
    Orban and his “goodfellas” will deserve their destiny. No way back from here!

    I don’t think so.
    Orban’s destiny is to buy an island in the med and retire with his $50 million and be served hand and foot
    by his Felcsutian compreres.

  5. lysysloik :
    “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. ”
    it is citation from custurica’s underground. but maybe orban used that phrase as well

    To my knowledge, this phrase was originally used by Otto von Bismarck at a dinner discussion with General Wrangel. Bismarck later quotes it in his Memoirs:

    http://universal_lexikon.deacademic.com/315025/Vergeben,_aber_nicht_vergessen

  6. Paul :
    “it is unlikely that Orbán and his friends could win the next elections in a still democratic regime”
    It really is time the ‘opposition’ stopped indulging in wishful thinking and started to get to grips with reality.

    OV doesn’t need to destroy the opposition, they seem to be doing a good job of it on their own. There is not opposition for OV to lose to!

  7. Orban is part of a movement. His personal qualities are not central, talking about them is a waste of time. FIDESZ until now, is successfully navigating the muddy waters of international politics. FIDESZ was backed by people of power who by now probably regret it. FIDESZ turned on them and got away with it. No mean feat. FIDESZ is unfortunately far from finished.

  8. “I frequently hear these ordinary people say on talk shows that in their opinion Orbán is a singularly bad politician.”

    Depends on what your definition of “politician” is.
    If you mean someone like a Robert Kennedy or Nelson Mandela who attempts to use their political idealism to change peoples’ lives for the better then… well, Mr Orban is obviously a *bad* politician.

    However, if you analyse modern politics, then those who base their poltical beliefs and actions on those two role models are few and far between. In terms of the Machiavellian modern type of politician eg mass manipulative skills, lying with conviction, elastic and expedient idealism, then Orban is certainly in the Premier League.

    He is no intellectual heavyweight and he certainly doesn’t seem to have any core political belief beyond a belief in Viktor Orban but still he has kept a Stalinist control over the party now for 2.5 decades. He has persuaded a sizeable majority of the population that he does in fact knows what’s best for them (Ok threats and blackmail were also involved but remember 97% of the population bought his promises, for whatever reason, over the nationalisation of their private pensions). He has exposed the supposed moral guardian role of the European Union for what it is (ie non-existant). He has successfully shifted funds and influence to his buddies and colleagues in a style unprecedented in any modern democracy.

    In terms of how Orban would define politics, then he has been pretty successful.

  9. The same people who were crying because a non-socialist (excommunist) bunch won the last election, become more vocal and may I say ruder every day. In my opinion, this activity is mainly caused by not seeing a possible legal change in the near future. Alternating between calling all Hungarians stupid and morons and claiming generality from anonymous objections to the regime, will not push the wagon of the current opposition. Neither is cross publishing issues from Nepszava, Amerikai Nepszava, Galamus etc.,will increase to a majority voice. It is the same people chewing the putty… Although, at times, on Galamus sober writings are also published.
    There is no party that appears to have sufficiently significant popularity that could be viable in the next election against the current government. Calling members of the FIDESZ “idiots” or untalented idiots is not helpful either. If those idiots could beat handily the opposition in elections, then what can be said about the loosers????

    Where is a to be opposition party’s program that consists of more than that “I hate the current regime”??????

  10. Fidesz in those first few years after 1989 was so appealing – young, liberal, Western-oriented, anticommunist, and (so it seemed) determined to avoid the pitfalls of the past.

    Yes, it was to be expected that the idealism would eventually wear off and that they’d start acting more like other politicians. But who would ever have thought they’d become *this* corrupt, *this* authoritarian?

  11. Entirely OT – sorry – but our theatre has been renamed as the Nemzeti Szinház (but possibly without the capital letters – I’m never sure where and when they are used!). It used to be just the plain old Csokonai Szinház (Csokonai having been born and educated in Debrecen).

    Is this just Kósa blowing his little trumpet loudly again, or has Csokonai become a Fides non-person? His biography on Wikipedia is rather brief, but he doesn’t appear to have been a Jew or some form of proto-Communist – although he did have his professorship (of poetry) taken away from him only shorty after he was given it (“on account of the immorality of his conduct”!).

    PS – While I’m at it, can anyone explain the ‘Vitéz’ bit of his name, please? I know it is a Serbo-Croat word meaning ‘knight’, but I don’t know if this was a title or just part of his name. The Hungarian form of his name is Csokonai Vitéz Mihály, so, from an English perspective, it looks like it’s just part of his name, as we would expect a title to precede (or possibly follow) the name, even in the Hungarian form. Any light thrown on this would be appreciated. Thanks.

  12. PPS – (and OT again) – the plans for the new Debrecen foci stadium are on display in Kossuth Tér and I was fascinated to learn that the planned capacity is 20,020. The first time I’ve ever seen the capacity of a football stadium listed down to the last 20 people!

  13. Csokonai is considered to be one of the greatest Hungarain poets. He died in 1804, I can’t understand why the theater name change…

    The Vitéz is part of his name, as far as I know.

  14. Orban’s Felcsutian mindset is nowhere more apparent than
    the machinations with the monetary rewards for Olympic achievement. (Am I the only one who thinks that35 million Forints is gross? The amount apparently is double what was given at the last olympics.)

    So what’s really at play here? First, the generosity of Fidesz is on display. But there’s even more: already there have been echoes from some government stations on how well the government has supported and prepared the athletes. The natural progression of ideas–jumbled as the timeframe might be–is that Hungary’s success couldn’t have been achieved without the foresight and genius of the government.

    The film-flaminess of it all is sickening.

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