Viktor Orbán on the levees: A political victory

This morning I discovered a short news item. In Mórahalom, a town in the County of Csongrád, a certain Ilonka néni died two days before her ninetieth birth. Let’s start with the Hungarian media’s annoying habit of calling every woman over the age of 50 or 60, at least if she is not a famous Budapest celebrity, “néni,” a word hard to translate. “Nagynéni” means “aunt,” but children address every adult female as “néni.” Students can call their female teacher “tanitó néni.”  In the case of an elderly woman, it simply means “granny.”

In any event, Ilonka néni, according to the mayor of Mórahalom, was so eager to receive the birthday card Viktor Orbán sends every ninety-year-old that she allegedly asked the mayor to read the prime minister’s greetings at her funeral. Even though she didn’t quite make it to her birthday, the mayor accommodated. Moreover, the card was buried with her. I think this says a lot about the modern version of hero worship in Hungary. Mind you, this is not new. Many of us still vividly remember the scene when another “néni” kissed Viktor Orbán’s hand. That was a long time ago during his first term as prime minister. At the time one of the members of my political discussion group felt that it would be enough to print thousands and thousands of posters depicting this scene to assure Viktor Orbán’s defeat.

The threat of massive flooding in Hungary provided the prime minister with a golden opportunity to demonstrate his managerial competence and personal compassion. Viktor Orbán’s staff must have put up at least a hundred pictures showing the prime minister in every possible pose as he took charge of protecting the nation from Mother Nature’s vengeance.

A natural disaster usually serves the government in power well if the operation is executed smoothly and the final result is satisfactory. Admittedly, Viktor Orbán’s decision to show himself as the man in charge of the operation entailed a level of risk. What if at the end scores of towns get flooded and several people lose their lives? In this case the prime minister’s heavy involvement might backfire.

Since I know nothing about waterways and flooding, I don’t know whether the Hungarian authorities could predict the maximum height of the water once it got to Hungary. We know that in Germany the damage caused by the flood on the Danube was great and scores of people died. In Passau it was only in 1501 that there was such a threat to the city. I heard less about Austria and I read that the city of Bratislava was spared. Therefore it is possible that the experts didn’t expect anything more serious than the floods of past years. If this is true, it wasn’t much of a political risk for Orbán to show himself as the man in charge of the whole operation. Exaggerating the possible trouble might also have served the prime minister’s political ends.

In any case, his admirers, who are numerous, have been writing  comments on Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page that are over the top. As early as June 4 Orbán, accompanied by István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, stood on the bank of the Danube which was not yet flooded and intently gazed at the river. This picture inspired the following comments: “The Prime Minister is there on the dike. He is not lazy. At last there is a real leader of the country. Thanks you for the unselfish work performed on behalf of the country.” And “Viktor don’t give in if the flood comes or if you fight against the European Union or the Bolshevik opposition. The Hungarians are with you.”

Practically every picture is entitled “Leading the defense….” There are several pictures showing Orbán intently studying large maps. Those who don’t admire him as much as some of the people who comment on his Facebook page made fun of his presumed understanding of the import of these maps.

Orban and mapThe picture that was copied over and over, and reproduced here, shows Orbán sitting with a huge map in front of him. Orbán isn’t looking at the map; he’s gazing off into the distance. But this didn’t bother one of his admirers, who commented: “This is what a decent Hungarian looks like. Someone who is truly interested in the fate of the country! We have an extraordinary prime minister!”

And he is a good Hungarian in other ways too. It cannot be a coincidence that the staff felt that they have to show the people that Viktor Orbán is one of them. Here is this fancy Ferenc Gyurcsány who cooks all sorts of weird dishes–Italian, Indian, Thai. No, our man eats “kolbász” that he himself helps make in Felcsút. And the comment? “Never mind the luxury minibus. He is frugal.” In addition, he suggests that those who criticize him should be built into the dikes. “At least they would be useful.” What an uplifting Christian idea!

Viktor Orbán leads while the others can hardly keep up with him / Photo Népszabadság

Viktor Orbán leads while the others can hardly keep up with him / Photo Népszabadság

But the most often repeated conversation from the many videos about Orbán’s days along the Danube is the one that tells the story of his trip from Komárom to Szentendre.

György Bakondi, the head of the whole organization in blue overalls, says, “The most important task is to fill the sacks with sand.” He calls it “localized filling.” Viktor Orbán is gazing at a map, looking at danger zones. Orbán then looks at Bakondi, who nods meaningfully. . . Orbán asks Bakondi: “How much is that?” Bakondi replies, “Meaning what? In time?” Orbán pointing toward the Danube: “Until it comes up.” At this point one of the experts who is standing by tries to explain the situation, but Orbán is waiting for an answer from Bakondi: “How much water? In your opinion how high will it come up?” Bakondi: “Where? There? Yes.” … Orbán: “Are we raising it to 85?” Everybody nods. Orbán: “Will the peak be tomorrow? It will come in then, isn’t it so?” Answer: “Friday-Saturday.” Orbán: “We will take over the water level at the border on Thursday.”

Orbán’s presence made no difference from a practical point of view, but in political terms it was a capital idea. I’m sure that his popularity, which has been sagging for at least a year, will soar after the flood. While pictures circulate about a playground where Ferenc Gyurcsány was working on the levees. The pictures show that the whole playground has been flooded since. The dike didn’t hold. That is the difference between an extraordinary prime minister and the opposition losers.

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65 comments

  1. I am sorry that I post a link to a Hungarian page, but these are MUST read comments on Facebook. Most often mentioned “God bless him”, but you will also find a suggestion of not holding an election next year as Orban was able to bring the country together. Election should be in 2-3 years when things are back to normal. I am not kidding:

  2. cheshire cat :
    Hungarians need guidance and enlightment

    That is a completely dictatorial attitude. We DO NOT NEED “your” (or Brussels’, for that matter) “enlightenment” and “guidance” (that is, to follow their economic interests instead of following ours) AGAINST OUR WILL.
    WE Hungarians will decide the course Hungary is going to take, not you. That is called democracy, however painful to you.

  3. cheshire cat: Until Fidesz can keep people in the dark they will cry for justice against those who try to let some light in. They can only keep it up until people do not know better, and who do know better have very little interest to enlighten others. When people do not know what they missing, they do not miss it. A winning strategy for Fidesz.

  4. JBoy, I don’t usually talk to trolls, but may I remind you that I am Hungarian. Before you shout my head off.

  5. Gyor Calling!

    Johnny Boy I can understand your aversion to ‘enlightenment’ and ‘guidance’ because you have only experienced them ‘Communist style’ because they had a different, and compulsory element to them. When ‘guidance’ was given by party apparatchiks it was really an instruction. Ditto enlightenment – like a good spell in the Gulag.

    In the democratic versions ‘guidance’ really is optional. You consider it and then incorporate it or reject it – simple.

    Ditty enlightenment – we just offer our experience and empirical knowledge to ‘enlighten’ the proceedings which are either accepted or rejected. Entirely optional, understand?

    That’s democracy, understand?

    It just takes an open mind, that’s all. Simple.

    An open mind, without needing to punch your fist on the table.

    Regards, Comrade

    Charlie

  6. Kirsten and Eva – thank you for your reply.

    Kirsten – I agree that Hungarians should not wait for the EU to solve all their problems, when they themselves are not willing to vote, or even answer pollster’s questions, so it’s difficult. The Economist meant general finger wagging, not just the nuclear option, when it suggested the EU should be very careful.

    I agree with Eva – Orban, in all likelihood, has threatened the EU that if they criticise him, extreme right and anti EU emotions will be triggered, and he himself will let it happen. But it should be clear to the EU, that even when they were being careful, Jobbik got stronger and Orban has supported their ideology.

    The EU cannot do the job of Hungarians when it comes to elections, demonstrations, taking cases to court, complaining etc. But the EU cannot not do anything when a member state decides to take a U-turn on democracy, rule of law, human rights etc.

    The trouble is, of course, is that the EU need total reforms in the economic, financial, banking sector and they need Orban’s vote in the council.

    But The Economist’s advice of “wait and hope the problem will go away by itself” is not policy, as The Economist knows very well!

  7. CC, what I am trying to say is that the EU needs alternative partners if they shall avoid relying on OV. So these have to be mobilised. The Economist stated quite comprehensibly what the EU will find tempting BECAUSE other “politically effective contacts” are missing.

  8. cheshire cat :
    JBoy, I don’t usually talk to trolls, but may I remind you that I am Hungarian. Before you shout my head off.

    Add me to the list of Hungarians.

    So, Johnny, are you implying that the majority of the Hungarians support the Orban government?

    What you call democracy is just a bunch of thieves with temporary majority in the parlament. Indeed they can do whatever they want. For now.

    Try to imagine Johnny when one day the Fidesz loses the elections and you will become officially WRONG …

  9. CharlieH :
    Gyor Calling!
    Johnny Boy I can understand your aversion to ‘enlightenment’ and ‘guidance’ because you have only experienced them ‘Communist style’ because they had a different, and compulsory element to them. When ‘guidance’ was given by party apparatchiks it was really an instruction. Ditto enlightenment – like a good spell in the Gulag.
    In the democratic versions ‘guidance’ really is optional. You consider it and then incorporate it or reject it – simple.
    Ditty enlightenment – we just offer our experience and empirical knowledge to ‘enlighten’ the proceedings which are either accepted or rejected. Entirely optional, understand?
    That’s democracy, understand?
    It just takes an open mind, that’s all. Simple.
    An open mind, without needing to punch your fist on the table.
    Regards, Comrade
    Charlie

    Charlie, you will soon be attacked here if you show me understanding…
    I understand that in a democracy guidance, provided it is based on good will, is optional.
    But what we experience is not of good will and does not seem optional. In fact, if we dare thank and not accept it, we get punished. Ask “chesire cat” if he is willing to leave the decision for us. It does not seem to me that way.

  10. Gyor Calling!

    Johnny Boy I think you are misunderstaken, as my Hungarian partner might say.

    The contributors on here are united in a love of Hungary and its people – as am I.

    All joking and teasing apart – believe me – but you do not have democracy in your country. It comes nowhere close.

    The people – and you – deserve better. I know, I am living here at the moment.

    Having taken democracy for granted all my life, believe me too – you need to get rid of Orban and his cronies for a fairer and more equal country.

    There is only one democracy – don’t swallow the rubbish that Szajer and Orban give you about ‘we understand a different democracy’. Completed balderdash.

    Your country needs to rebuild your disastrous health system; your disastrous economy; and your fractured society as your top three priorities.

    Believe me, you do.

    And your absolute top priority – dump Orban.

    And dump him quick.

    Regards

    Charlie – do we resume hostilities yet?

  11. Johnny Boy :
    But what we experience is not of good will and does not seem optional. In fact, if we dare thank and not accept it, we get punished. Ask “chesire cat” if he is willing to leave the decision for us. It does not seem to me that way.

    Charlie, It’s hopeless … for them criticism always will be an evil conspiracy. At least until the country votes them out of the parliament.

    Johnny, by the way it doesn’t matter if the majority or the minority agrees with Orban.
    If they grind up the democracy and rob the country blind, there will be criticism and the money will stop flowing eventually. The free world will not sponsor deviants. They will turn away and there will be no more help. Spin it any way you want. You guys were born in the wrong century.

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