Who is Viktor Orbán?

I must admit that yesterday I was mentally and physically exhausted after trying to follow the day’s events and attempting to make sense of all that happened. In the course of my research I gained the strong impression that Viktor Orbán is no longer capable of fooling the world. He may still have a dwindling group of true believers, but according to the latest polls even that is no more than 18% of the adult population of the country.

Today being Saturday, all is quiet and therefore I can spend a day writing about the man whom György Konrád called “rossz ember,” an evil man. “Anecdote” called my attention to the interview that took place yesterday. Today I had time to watch it, and I was struck by the animation Konrád exhibited during the conversation. He is normally very low keyed, but this time he hardly let Olga Kálmán get a word in edgewise. I would like to remind the readers of Hungarian Spectrum that Konrád was one of the very few people who in the late 1970s and 1980s actively opposed the Kádár regime. He is also one of the signatories of the New Year’s message published here on January 2. Konrád reminded Olga Kálmán that in the late 1980s the Democratic Opposition categorically announced that “Kádár must go.” His message today is “Orbán must go.”

But who is this man who many fear can bring only misfortune to the country? Even people who have known him for a long time can’t quite decide what makes Viktor Orbán tick. I have a whole folder entitled “Viktor Orbán–Portraits,” and going through it I find that there are two entirely different assessments of Viktor Orbán’s career. The first and the larger group consists of those who express great astonishment at the change-over of Orbán from liberal to right-wing nationalist. According to these people Viktor Orbán was a wonderful young man of great talent who was a “radical anti-authoritarian” and who a few years later became a “radical Christian conservative.” Both descriptions were offered by Miklós Haraszti, another member of the Democratic Opposition, from 2002.

Orban 89-ben

 Orbán, the radical anti-authoritarian

Then there are those who don’t really see any huge change in Orbán over the years. One of them is Attila Csernok, an economist by training who has been writing popular history books lately. He wrote a piece in today’s Népszava in which he collected bits and pieces of opinions about Viktor Orbán and his party from the earliest days. He claims that if one carefully combs through books and memoirs written about the early history of the movement, later called the Association of Young Democrats (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége or Fidesz), one can discover telling signs of later developments. Some people found that “his eyes expressed a desire for power instead of compassion for those in the coffins” during the speech that made Orbán famous on June 16,1989. Indeed, even his speech wasn’t about the martyrs the nation was reburying but about his generation and their suffering during the Kádár regime.

His professor, László Kéri, discovered already in 1983 that “Viktor and his friends behave exactly like the Bolsheviks.” But even his fellow Fidesz leaders believed that Viktor Orbán’s leadership style was “somewhat Stalinist.” And who said that? Lajos Kósa, today’s deputy chairman of Fidesz and long-time mayor of Debrecen. Another member, Zsuzsa Szelényi, observed that “in Viktor’s thinking there is no room for consensus, only strength, fight, and victory.”

By 1993 the Fidesz leaders demonstrated that, after all, their socialization had taken place in the Kádár regime. During one of the conferences there was a secret voting procedure. One of László Kövér’s intimates said to the rest of the gang, “Come on, let’s go and vote and I hope you don’t mind if we see what you write on the ballot.” This is how voting usually took place in the Kádár regime. Klára Ungár, another early Fidesz politician, claims that “there was really no change in Viktor. He didn’t change from one day to the next as some people would like to believe … Instead he returned to his own true self…. Back to the roots that are getting their nourishment from smallholder values.”

I should note here that in the first half of the 1990s the smallholders were very much on the right of the political spectrum. At that time I was a member of an Internet political discussion group. One of our members said that he voted for the smallholders. Why the smallholders, I asked? Because the Smallholders Party was to the far right at the time of the first democratic elections in 1990!

Although Viktor Orbán as prime minister between 1998 and 2002 looked very much like a conservative gentleman in attire and demeanor, the general impression was that “Orbán’s government … behaved vis-à-vis the economy in a plundering way that was almost far-left in character. It re-nationalized much of the economy, and siphoned off immense resources of taxpayer money to the private accounts of ‘friendly’ companies, thus ending the possibility for the public to exert any control or supervision.” Again, the quotation is from Miklós Haraszti from 2002, right after Orbán lost the elections.

Orban, miniszterelnok

The outwardly conservative prime minister, 1998-2002

And finally there is the question of Viktor Orbán’s political abilities. The usual verdict is that he is an outstanding politician. Haraszti called him “Hungary’s most gifted post-modern politician.” However, I can recall the reaction of an ordinary caller to György Bolgár’s show that was a great deal less complimentary. The woman asked on what basis everybody considers Orbán to be an “outstanding politician.” Every time he was given the opportunity to form a government he made a mess of things. His first four years as prime minister were spent alienating practically everybody at home and abroad. His aggressive policies and the whole tone of his administration frightened the population. As a result he was voted out of office. His so-called political genius can be described as a constant striving for power and to this end he is ready to use any instrument, even the most vile. Blackmailing, character assassination, lying, cheating, you name it.

These are strong words and one could be more diplomatic just as György Konrád was in January 2010 in an interview with Le Croix, a French Catholic daily. Here he called Orbán “a hard-nosed Machiavellist who learned his trade early: strategy, rhetoric, and how one grabs power. He has the tendency to be a visionary who considers himself the source of all wisdom.” According to Konrád the leaders of Fidesz, including Orbán, inherited a kind of communist mentality that declares that the party, in this case his own Fidesz, is the repository of all power.

Orban ma

Prime Minister Orbán Viktor 2010-?

Konrád in the same interview talked about Orbán’s nationalism, adding that “even within the European Union one can remain a nationalist as long as that person doesn’t move beyond the level of verbal duels.” However, Orbán in the last year or so has been doing a little more than fighting verbal duels. He has been busily building a one-party system and undoing the democratic foundations of Hungary that were achieved unexpectedly, almost miraculously in 1989-1990. And this what the European Union mustn’t allow.



  1. Hoping: ” I fear that if an agreement is reached with the IMF (which I severely doubt by the way) then not enough people will have been woken up to realise that something fundamental needs to change in the way that Hungarians approach the idea of democracy and government.” THese were my exact worries in previous posts. The conditions that are attached to the IMF money is strictly to with money.
    An was mentioning that EU approval is mandatory, so my only hope is that the EU will put a stop on the money until certain democratic conditions will meet. If the money will come with no other conditions, I can pre-script Orban’s speech right now. He will tell the whole word about how Fidesz overcome the difficulties MSZP left behind, and how Europe recognized after reviewing the new constitutions that everything is well and dandy in Hungary. Everyone but Fidesz was wrong, especially Ms Clinton, and now the whole world will beg Fidesz for the recipe on democracy and media freedom, as well as on how to deal with similar crises. THey will move on to completely destroy the opposition, as there will be nothing left in their way. It will be a sad day for Hungary.

  2. My hope is that OV will exit soon (how is another topic altogether) and that the a coalition government will step in.
    For me a coalition government would be perhaps an interesting way for public interaction in democracy to be addressed. Any coalition at this stage would be raw, novice, it would be messy, with arguements and discussion and give and take. It would be necessary for all parties to concede ground in order to move forward. and from that point of view it would be interesting as a new way of thinking about governing and decision making would be necessary.
    No longer would there be one central daddy figure to tell us what should be done… it would be messy “democracy” (of a kind at least) that may (!) lead to a new kind of interaction and understanding of what the public’s interaction with government could be.
    At least there would be discussion and give and take, which would be quite a novel thing for Hungary I think.

  3. I Love Hungary: “I hate to say it, but Eva, you are far too liberal for me…. I am conservative to the point of being practically libertarian.”
    Red, I’m certainly not. I am liberal when it comes to social issues but quite conservative when it comes to economics and finances.

  4. Hoping: “My hope is that OV will exit soon (how is another topic altogether) and that the a coalition government will step in.”
    Can you see Fidesz politicians forming a coalition government with the opposition parties? And which ones? Jobbik too?

  5. Viktor Orban is guy from black hole in Central Europe.
    P.S. It is comedy or tragedy? I´m affraid than this type of politics is tragedy for polite people.
    After the rocky separation from the Czechs, Slovakia at first languished under the authoritarian rule of Vladimir Meciar. Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million people — about half the population of the Czech Republic — has come a long way since the 1990s. In that period, Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. secretary of state, called it a “black hole” in the middle of Europe after its domineering prime minister, Mr. Meciar, turned his back on the European Union and NATO.

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