A few months ago I had a debate about Viktor Orbán’s metamorphosis from liberal to right-wing populist with someone who has known Viktor Orbán ever since the beginning of the democratic opposition’s struggle for regime change. I insisted that no one can change that much and that fundamentally, and therefore, I submitted, Orbán was never a democrat. My friend, a well-known member of SZDSZ, insisted that yes, Viktor was a true liberal but power had a terrible effect on his psyche. I wasn’t convinced.
Lately I have been noticing a change of heart among those who worked closely with Orbán or who as members of the media have been following those Hungarian political events in which he played a prominent role.
Just today Endre Aczél, a seasoned journalist with vast experience with MTI in the 1970s and MTV in the late 1980s, wrote one of his short but sharp-eyed opinion pieces in Galamus. In it he expressed his “suspicion” that it was at least fifteen years ago that Orbán abandoned the idea of the “rule of law.” He recalls a speech by the freshly elected young prime minister that was delivered before the yearly meeting of the country’s ambassadors. Orbán suggested to Hungary’s representatives abroad not to emphasize the “rule of law” but to stress the “law and order” that his government wants to re-establish.
Tamás Bauer, an economist, former SZDSZ politician, and today deputy chairman of DK, also remembers the day when he knew that Viktor Orbán was not a democrat. It was also in 1998, on July 6, when during the debate on the government program in parliament Orbán said: “I ask everybody who wants to re-establish order and security; everybody who wants a child be important not only to the family but also to the state; everybody who wants to belong to the Hungarian nation; everybody who wants to make Hungary a country that cooperates with other European nations to vote for the program of the government.” It was at this point that Bauer truly understood, although he had had an inkling before, how Orbán imagined the exercise of power. Because Orbán made it clear that he envisaged himself as the man who alone represents the nation and who considered the opposition a group of people who don’t belong to the nation. After all, in normal parliamentary democracies, the opposition doesn’t vote for the government program.
Therefore Bauer knew way before 2010 what kind of rule Orbán was going to introduce, especially once he achieved the much coveted two-thirds majority. Although according to some interpreters the original Orbán constitution of 2011 was still a democratic document, Bauer disagrees. A constitutional committee was set up, but the majority of the members came from the two government parties. Thus the new constitution reflected the will of the government and the party, Fidesz-KDNP. There was no use participating in this farce. It was Ferenc Gyurcsány who first called for a boycott and his call was followed by MSZP and later by LMP. That constitution was about as legitimate as the 1949 communist constitution. After all, the 1949 constitution reflected only the will of the Hungarian communist party, and the 2011 document was similarly created by and for Fidesz-KDNP.
Yes, both commentators claim, Viktor Orbán hasn’t been a democrat for a very long time. Perhaps he never was, I might add.
In the last few days there is a video that has been making the rounds on the Internet. It originally appeared on the website of Népszabadság. The video was taken at the demonstration organized to urge János Áder not to sign the amendments to the constitution. The speaker is Péter Molnár. Perhaps not too many people remember him, although he was one of the founders of Fidesz and the group at István Bibó College where Fidesz was born. He even spent four years in the Hungarian parliament as a member of the Fidesz caucus. And then he left the party and politics. On the video one can hear him telling Áder: “That is not what we dreamed of, Jánó!” A few days ago I quoted Tamás Deutsch’s tweet claiming that this is exactly what they were dreaming of back in the late 1980s. Surely, this was an answer to Molnár.
I first encountered Molnár’s name in György Petőcz’s book Csak a narancs volt (It was only the orange / Élet és Irodalom, 2001). He was one of the contributors to the volume. He and the four other contributors left Fidesz completely disillusioned in 1993-1994.
What are Molnár’s recollections of the early days of Fidesz and Bibó College? According to him, László Kövér managed to create a lot of tension even in those days. At every meeting he insisted that all members of the college–there were around 80 students–must be politically active. Kövér and Orbán worked together and wanted to rule the community according to their own ideas. Molnár recalls that in the college there was a feeling of unity and solidarity but “Viktor’s political management destroyed it just as he destroyed [the original] Fidesz.” A good example of how this “solidarity” worked in Fidesz land. Once a member of the college group said that “Viktor can be certain that he can rely on his old friends in Bibó College.” Two years later the old buddy of Viktor lost his high position in the party and the government because he dared to disagree with him. “Solidarity existed only as long as the person followed the ‘correct’ policy. It didn’t matter whether he belonged to the inner circle or not, if he disagreed with Laci Kövér and Viktor, he was finished.” Does a democrat behave this way?
Let’s return for a moment to Endre Aczél’s opinion piece that appeared today. Its title is “Order? My own!” No, Orbán hasn’t changed his stripes.