Viktor Orbán’s revolution devours its own children: the case of László L. Simon

Culture and the Orbán regime. It’s a real oxymoron. Culture is the last thing that interests either Viktor Orbán or his football buddies. He rarely appears at cultural events and, if he does (he and his wife attended the production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman a few days ago),  it is not because of his burning desire to hear Wagner’s music but because he wanted to demonstrate his support for Szilveszter Ókovács, his controversial choice to be the new director of the Hungarian State Opera.

Viktor Orbán hasn’t been very lucky with his picks for undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs. His first choice was a Transylvanian poet, Géza Szőcs. According to people who apparently have some knowledge of the connection between Szőcs and Orbán, Szőcs was a favorite of Anikó Lévai, Orbán’s wife. Szőcs had no administrative or political experience and gave the impression of a blunderer with grandiose plans in a time of austerity. Viktor Orbán had cut back on state subsidies for culture; football stadiums took priority over theaters and concert halls. Moreover, if he spends money, let’s say on ballet, that money is allocated only to his political lackeys.

Szőcs simply didn’t work out, but he also had to be frustrated because he had less and less of a say in formulating cultural policies. Hungarian film making was taken out of his hands and given to Andy Vajna, an American-Hungarian producer of blockbuster movies, including the Rambo series, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and the multiple Terminator movies. The result? In the last two years no Hungarian movie was produced and for the first time in living memory there was no Budapest Film Festival this year.

Szőcs had to leave; instead, he was named a trusted adviser to Viktor Orbán. When a few months later he was asked what kind of advice he was giving the prime minister, Szőcs admitted that Orbán hadn’t yet availed himself of his wise council. I do hope that he will get a few dollars because, as far as I know, Szőcs is a poor man with nothing to fall back on financially.

Szőcs was replaced by another poet, László L. Simon. According to people who know the works of both Szőcs and L. Simon, the former is a truly talented man while L. Simon is not exactly a literary giant. However, L. Simon apparently does care about the state of Hungarian culture and was deeply saddened by the lost state subsidies in the field of culture. He began his activities by announcing to everyone that he will be able to represent the interests of the cultural institutions more forcefully than his predecessor.

Yesterday, eight months after L. Simon began his new career as undersecretary for cultural affairs in the Ministry of Human Resources, he was dismissed. Lately there have been rumors to the effect that L. Simon and Zoltán Balog don’t see eye to eye on many issues. One of these issues was the role of György Fekete as the head of the Hungarian Academy of the Arts. You may recall the controversy surrounding this new official institution that seems to serve as a spearhead of the Orbán government’s growing efforts to force liberal elements out of the cultural sphere and place cultural institutions in the service of the government.

In spite of strenuous objections Zoltán Balog decided to appoint György Fekete to head the Academy of Arts, and it seems that this was too much for L. Simon, who objected to his appointment. But L. Simon lost time and again to his minister. Balog, who never liked the ever active L. Simon, eventually lost his patience and decided to fire his undersecretary. The problem was that he had neglected to inform L. Simon of his decision before the media (Népszava, Magyar Nemzet) got hold of the story. And L. Simon simply couldn’t believe what was happening to him. He kept saying that he didn’t criticize Fekete and he swore that he would not resign. He was baffled. Only yesterday he appeared at a cultural event held at the House of Terror in his capacity as undersecretary in charge of culture while the media reported his dismissal as a fact.

During the event the dismissal was actually mentioned by the participants. Gergely Karácsony (PMP) told L. Simon, “Let’s face it, Laci, you lost this game,” meaning  the fight over the the Hungarian Academy of Arts. L. Simon haughtily answered that Karácsony was merely a parliamentary member without party affiliation and that his remark was shameful.

Circus Parade / The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Circus Parade / The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

And finally, let me translate a few sentences by Árpád W. Tóta, one of the best young commentators on Hungarian politics, on the fate of L. Simon. “One cannot be just a little Bolshevik.  It is not worth trying even at Heti Válasz.” What does Tóta want to say here? L. Simon tried to mitigate the harshness of the Orbán Kulturkampf, but the regime doesn’t tolerate half-hearted efforts. Yes, this is clear even for those who are not intimately familiar with the Hungarian political scene. But what about this dig about Heti Válasz? This weekly is supposed to be “the moderate” voice of Fidesz, but Tóta warns us that even there one shouldn’t try to stray from the official party line.

“Yes, one cannot be just a little ‘bolsi’ because there is in the waiting room of the big boss a 100% loyal man who is more ‘bolsi’ than he is, someone who will state in writing that he will not think, he will only serve.” Tóta doesn’t feel sorry for L. Simon. After all, it was less than a month ago that he was telling us that the problem with Róbert Alföldi, the director of the National Theater, was that Alföldi doesn’t have faith in the divine order and that his artistry is characterized by chaos and dilemma. So, it is understandable that the government wants to pick a director whose thinking is closer to its own ideology.

The government found someone whose ideology is closer to its own than that of L. Simon, the little “bolsi.” “How do you like it?” Tóta asks. Perhaps L. Simon should recognize that this is the logic of the regime. The party worked that way even in opposition and will work that way as long as it exists. What is going on in Hungary is “the triumphal procession of  unfit brown nosers.” We know who is responsible for all that: “the guffawing dwarf who is staggering in the middle of the circle with absolute power…. To be a little ‘bolsi,’ as it became clear, is not really worth the try.”

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28 comments

  1. Velkommen i censurklubben: Hviderusland, Tyrkiet og Ungarn.
    Forfærdeligt.
    Vi må håbe på Winter Rose Student Revolution vil vokse og få flere og flere på gaden.
    Det er den eneste effektive medicin mod onde og udemokratiske magthavere.

  2. Read in English, reply in Danish???

    To save others the trouble, this is what Google Translate makes of it:

    “Welcome to the censorship club: Belarus, Turkey and Hungary.
    Awful.
    We have to hope Winter Rose Student Revolution will grow and get more and more on the street.
    It is the only effective medicine against evil and undemocratic rulers.”

  3. Not the politicians, it’s the pople who cannot be trusted with such a serious business as democracy.

    Plus, how can one expect this government to be successful if poeple like L. SImon are acting against stated government goals?

    Is it already ‘bolshevism’ to ask for complete loyalty and merciless following of orders??

  4. The “the guffawing dwarf” or gnome is a reference to the infamous L. Simon poem below.
    I’m really hoping that some of these failed sycophants one day will spill the beans about Orban the 5th.

    Here is the literary masterpiece from Orban’s “poet laureate”, translated by the world famous translator, Mutt Damon:

    “The national art history forgot about me
    while I was already in Paris playing with puppets
    I founded a school
    and followed a guffawing gnome
    with whom we made molds
    of fucked Jewish whores’ asses”

    The original Hungarian:

    “The a hazai művészettörténet elfelejtkezett rólam
    miközben én már párizsban báboztam
    iskolát alapítottam
    és egy röhögő törpét követtem
    akivel szétbaszott zsidó kurvák seggéről készítettünk
    gipszlenyomatokat”

  5. I would like to share with you an adage of campaign consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein’s who counts Premier Orban as one of his numerous clients:

    “When you allow people to choose between the corrupt and the stupid, they will go for the corrupt.”

    This jibes with my own observation that the choice in 2010 was between the töketlen, s. Socialists and the pofátlan, c. Fidesz, and indeed people chose Fidesz by a large margin.

  6. So the way to beat Fidesz is to show how stupid their policies are, while the opposition should show less stupidity, more preparation and thinking ahead of possible Fidesz moves.

  7. gdfxx :

    I am sorry, but to call Orban’s reign revolution is an insult to any revolution, past and future.

    Well, in the original it is “revolution in the voting booth” but it was a bit too long a cumbersome to quote it in full

  8. ‘Revolution’ just indicates the degree of change – not whether it’s good or bad, backward or forward. Orbán’s coup, by any definition, is a revolution – it has turned everything upside down, and will require a tremendous amount of work to put it all back together when he’s finally kicked out.

  9. Well the glorious fifty percent (52.9%) of the popular votes became a revolution in the vocabulary of Orban’s goebbels squad. Every other person … I think I was an instant bolshevik when I asked the true believers why the 1998 Fidesz win wasn’t a revolution.

  10. The economy will contnue to shrink, there is no other way — as there have been no investments (well, there is some, but the volume fell by 50% in three years and the investments/GDP figure is now well below the rate of depreciation, by far the worst in the region).

    So rest assured the GDP can only go down. Even if we have a bumper year in agriculture; it has a 3.5% weight but can increase/decrease by 50% in a year, especially if the base is as terrible as last year’s.

    But the lack of investments in these years will be a gigantic burden on any new government, the GDP and the income to be distribued will have to contract further, generating further conflicts which Fidesz will nicely utilize.

    Also Fidesz just loves conflicts, loves to fight, loves to be the bully. They (whether Orbán, Rogán, Lázár, Kósa) just thrive on conflcts and fighting, this is their life after all.

    Until this generation (including Lázér who is below 40) is gone, the crazy cockfights will continue.

  11. London Calling!

    Secc Europe’s GDP is shrinking too – .6 % Germany; .3% France; and 1% Italy just this month – making three consecutive months of contraction.

    Lack of investment in Hungary has been a continuing theme – with bank loans drying up to a dribble.

    Car demand in Europe – arguably the only positive parameter for Hungary (due to a couple of new-plant operations coming on stream) – has fallen off a cliff with Fiat posting enormous unsustainable losses in Italy.

    Car exports to Europe are Hungary’s economic life-support machine – but even Audi are lnot renewing contracts in Győr.

    Orban has got a lot of bribing of the electorate to do to buy their votes at enormous cost to the utility companies.

    Yes – Hungary’s economy is becoming like a centralised (un)planned economy with the concomitant self-delusion that it is ‘performing’.

    With the delusion complete that the economy will “soar” in the second half of 2013.

    Pull the other one Orban and Matolcsy – you are living in cloud cuckoo land.

    A Neo-Communist economy, in a Quasi-democratic EU country.

    When the bond market collapses (brought about partly by Hungary’s thirst for bonds) as the money floods into equities – then bankruptcy will follow.

    Just after Spring of 2014.

    Regards

    Charlie

  12. Dear Charlie, the problem is, and please do not make this mistake:

    is that Hungary wants to catch up to the West.

    Therefore, Hungary would need to grow even if Germany etc. would be seriously contracting (which is not the case, mind you).

    Otherwise, we couldnot possibly (mathematically) catch up.

    Just blaming everything on the “West” is ridiculous (but that is Orbán’s strategy which many people swallow unquestioningly).

    It seems that if there is a modest growth in the West then Hungary can grow but with less than the Western magnitude and if there is a recession in the West, Hungary contracts more than the West — ie. the recipe for lagging and falling continuously behind even Easter-Euroopean peers. And this is what happened, we fell behind; there has been no catching up whatsovere in the last 8 years (just the opposite) not only to the West, but Poland, Slovakia, Baltic states left us standing.

    The problem is that lack of trust (please ignore the bond issues, they has nothing to do with fundamental investment, these reflect current liquidity on the global money markets, those monies will be ‘invested’ in higher salaries, higher pensions and a couple of sport stadiums) chased every reasonable investor (local and foreign) far away so that investments are half (compared to the GDP) as in Romania for example (not surprisingly Romania did not contract, but grew modestly in 4Q). The negative effect of this will come in the second half of 2014. And even if there would be a growth in investments in 2014 (which I doubd) there is a time lag until it shows in the figures. But perhaps more importantly, when there is a bigger competitiopn for every productive investment, we lost (will lose) years in this competition between receiving countries.

    Also, the leaving of 500k Hungarian people will be a huge drag on the economy which will show its effects in these years (in Romania or Poland people left much earlier so this base effect is not blurring and making worse the picture).

    This year and in 2014 the economy will continue to shrink, there is just no mathematical way to grow (only a bumper agriculture year may cause a minor, close-to-zero recession, but if 2013 will be good then 2014 the growth would be limited re agriculture, and other sectors will continue to suffer). Which is also big question for any new government too.

  13. London Calling!

    I was not expecting Hungary to ‘catch up’ with the west.

    I was just positing that Hungary is a car crash – If all the trading economies are contracting, then Hungary will have nowhere to sell its cars (And Germany IS contracting – a small percentage this month, on a giant economy – One of Hungary’s major trading partners.)

    Bonds are a factor because Orban is just rolling over cheap debt with more costly debt – so servicing it will rise and rise – with a contracting economy. Debt at double (at least) the cost.

    Bond holders are weighing up the likelihood of Orban devaluing the Forint against his political penchant for ‘unorthodox’ measures.

    No – no ‘comparable’ mistake – Hungary is a stand-alone mess.

    Regards

    Charlie

  14. Paul :
    ‘Revolution’ just indicates the degree of change – not whether it’s good or bad, backward or forward. Orbán’s coup, by any definition, is a revolution – it has turned everything upside down, and will require a tremendous amount of work to put it all back together when he’s finally kicked out.

    Would you call the Nazi takeover in Germany a revolution? Regardless of its definition, in my mind, and I think in many others’ the word has a positive connotation.

  15. Paul :
    ‘Revolution’ just indicates the degree of change – not whether it’s good or bad, backward or forward. Orbán’s coup, by any definition, is a revolution – it has turned everything upside down, and will require a tremendous amount of work to put it all back together when he’s finally kicked out.

    In contemporary Hungarian, revolution has positive meaning in the way of the 1848 revolution. Horthy was the only guy who called himself and his regime counter-revolutionary. Kadar called the 1956 uprising a “counter-revolution” to denigrate it.

    That is why Orban calls his forcing Hungary back to a feudal system a “revolution”.

  16. It is hight time that people realize that Orban is not ‘failing’ but succeeding mightily–he’s contracted for the failing of the country.
    WHO and WHY is what every well-meaning person should be working their skull about.

  17. petofi :
    It is hight time that people realize that Orban is not ‘failing’ but succeeding mightily–he’s contracted for the failing of the country.
    WHO and WHY is what every well-meaning person should be working their skull about.

    Petöfi, of course you can see it this way. I just would not suggest to keep such interpretation. Speaking of successes in respect to the Fidesz government means that a positive term is used to denote what exactly? That he has been able to install an autocracy based on intimidation only? If you say that this is considered quite an enviable feature in Hungary, alright, let’s call the past years of Hungary quite a success.

    I would instead concentrate on the aspects that make it obvious that this government has caused the biggest damage to Hungary for a number of decades. And that cannot, by definition, be done by people who are “successful” in whatever twisted logic. It is this twisted logic that makes people scared individually, and what is crucial, collectively. And it is because of this twisted logic – the belief that there could be such a think as being contracted for failing a country – that people do not see that OV and his buddies have just manage to seize the country but if people unite, they are far more powerful than this “inner circle”.

    Otherwise, we could also praise how very successful Hungarians are that they are so bravely accepting the steady and at times even quite rapid declines in living standards and civilisational standards.

  18. I suppose that having used the same word–failing–in one sentence has confused my meaning.

    I simply meant that Orban has been completely successful in his surreptitious, despicable aim–the destruction of Hungary.
    And that all decent Hungarians should be trying to figure out why he is doing this.

  19. gdfxx :

    Paul :
    ‘Revolution’ just indicates the degree of change – not whether it’s good or bad, backward or forward. Orbán’s coup, by any definition, is a revolution – it has turned everything upside down, and will require a tremendous amount of work to put it all back together when he’s finally kicked out.

    Would you call the Nazi takeover in Germany a revolution? Regardless of its definition, in my mind, and I think in many others’ the word has a positive connotation.

    I’d be interested in how many revolutions you can come up with that had positive results!

    And, yes. the Nazi takeover was a huge revolution – especially if you were Jewish, Roma, Polish, gay or communist…

    The key to the definition is the word itself – something that revolves/turns upside-down.

  20. “Kadar called the 1956 uprising a “counter-revolution” to denigrate it.”

    It’s just standard Soviet-speak for something they don’t like. The Revolution (capital ‘R’) was seen as the beginning of the new world, the great Moment of communism and the USSR, so anything that they thought might threaten them was labelled ‘counter-revolutionary’. It was their equivalent of a religious based society claiming something was blasphemous or a monarchy alleging treason.

  21. CharlieH :
    London Calling!
    Secc Europe’s GDP is shrinking too – .6 % Germany; .3% France; and 1% Italy just this month – making three consecutive months of contraction.
    Lack of investment in Hungary has been a continuing theme – with bank loans drying up to a dribble.
    Car demand in Europe – arguably the only positive parameter for Hungary (due to a couple of new-plant operations coming on stream) – has fallen off a cliff with Fiat posting enormous unsustainable losses in Italy.
    Car exports to Europe are Hungary’s economic life-support machine – but even Audi are lnot renewing contracts in Győr.
    Orban has got a lot of bribing of the electorate to do to buy their votes at enormous cost to the utility companies.
    Yes – Hungary’s economy is becoming like a centralised (un)planned economy with the concomitant self-delusion that it is ‘performing’.
    With the delusion complete that the economy will “soar” in the second half of 2013.
    Pull the other one Orban and Matolcsy – you are living in cloud cuckoo land.
    A Neo-Communist economy, in a Quasi-democratic EU country.
    When the bond market collapses (brought about partly by Hungary’s thirst for bonds) as the money floods into equities – then bankruptcy will follow.
    Just after Spring of 2014.
    Regards
    Charlie

    Charlie – a rare (but treasured) moment when we are in total agreement!

  22. Petofi: Orban has destroyed Hungary!
    I agree.
    Orban’s circle profited from destruction.
    Every day, their profits increases a little, while the destruction causes tremendous pain to all others.

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