Viktor Orbán showed his cards and thus his critics can do the same

It is positively liberating that we no longer have to be careful about what we call Viktor Orbán’s brave new world. Until now even the fiercest critics of Orbán’s regime were reluctant to describe the political system introduced in 2010 as non-democratic. They did not want to be seen as crying wolf, especially when foreign journalists and political analysts described Fidesz and the Orbán government as “conservative” or “right-of-center.” It is true that as the years have gone by it has become more and more obvious that the Hungarian political system introduced by Orbán is anything but conservative. So, then came a new turn of phrase: Viktor Orbán’s government was dubbed conservative-nationalist while at home the  adjective “autocratic” became fashionable. Autocratic as the Horthy regime was autocratic. But this description is also wrong. The politicians of the Horthy regime were true conservatives, and Viktor Orbán is anything but conservative. He is the same revolutionary he was in 1989, but then he wanted to transform Hungary from Soviet-dominated state socialism to a liberal democracy whereas in the last few years he has been busily working on turning a liberal democratic state into a one-man dictatorship. One no longer has to be careful about using such strong terms. He himself said that he wants to dispense with liberalism in favor of an illiberal state.

It seems that not only Hungarian commentators are liberated but foreign correspondents as well. Now he is called “Hungary’s Mussolini” by Newsweek, and Deutsche Wirtschafts compares Orbán’s Hungary to Putin’s Russia. After all, it was Viktor Orbán himself who announced his plans for the future. Let’s call Orbán’s Hungary what it is.

The idea occurred to some people years ago

The idea occurred to some people years ago

Some people might think that comparing him to Mussolini is an exaggeration and that if the opposition uses such language they make themselves less credible. However, there is no question in my mind that Orbán would be a second Duce and, like Mussolini, would use force if he had the opportunity to do so. But surely in today’s world he could not introduce a full-fledged fascist system based on the model of Mussolini’s Italy.

As Gábor Horváth of Népszabadság rightly pointed out, however, even a “softer” dictatorship is still dictatorship. The question is whether the European Union will meekly accept this “illiberal state” offered by Viktor Orbán, one that lacks the ingredients of what we call liberal democracy– individual rights, separation of powers, the rule of law, equal protection of human rights, civil liberties, and political freedom for all persons. For the time being there is no official reaction, but Jonathan Todd, the spokesman of the European Commission, tried to belittle the significance of the speech. After all, he declared, it was uttered at a summer camp. Surely, he continued, Hungary is not planning to violate the terms of the agreement with the European Union that Hungary signed. I personally beg to differ. He will violate it without any compunctions unless, of course, very strong action is taken. But even then he will do his best to circumvent all the restrictions imposed on him.

And finally, some of you watched the dramatic interview with G. M. Tamás a couple of days ago on the subject of Viktor Orbán’s speech. There was even a lively discussion of it to which Mr. Tamás himself contributed. Here is a short English synopsis of his thoughts on the subject that was originally published in Romanian in Criticatak.

  * * *

Mr Orbán’s régime is not fascist. Not yet.

Mr Orbán in his speech delivered in Romania – where he fancies himself to be a sort of co-ruler of Transylvania – has declared that

(1) his régime was building an illiberal state which will dispense henceforward with constitutionalism, the separation of powers and basic rights;

(2) that the idea of human rights is finished, it is obsolete as a basis for government and policy;

(3) that the welfare state is obsolete, too – in other words, he broke with (a) the rule of law, (b) with liberty and with (c) equality;

(4) that his political ideal was the present state order in Singapore, Turkey, Russia and China;

(5) that the West is dead;

(6) that the white working class in Europe should be defended against coloured immigration;

(7) that NGOs and human rights organisations are enemy agents paid by foreigners in order to subvert our national state;

(8) that the communitarian and ethnic Hungarian state is a work-based state, i. e., any social assistance would be offered only to those who are willing to work (there is already a labor service in the country replacing unemployment benefits, which means that many people work in their former workplaces for less than 20% of their former salaries, otherwise not being entitled to the dole);

(9) he wants autonomous, ethnic Hungarian enclaves in Transylvania (which has already provoked a storm of indignation and anti-Hungarian nationalist feeling in Rumania, congrats).

In short, Mr Orbán has decided that he and his government and his state which he rules single-handedly, are definitely of the extreme right, which is also shown by the rehabilitation of the pre-war authoritarian régime, elevation of anti-Semitic and otherwise racist public figures to high positions and a savage ethnicist discourse against (a) the West, (b) our neighbors, the ‘successor states’ and against (c) the Roma and the Jews.

Mr Orbán’s régime is not fascist. Not yet.

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33 comments

  1. I long maintained that yes, it was a fascist system, but every time I mentioned it, everybody rushed to say that it cannot be, because there are no journalists in jails. I have received this argument from Galamus, this blog, the New York Nepszava and heard it consistently time and again from Gyorgy Bolgar on Klubradio. This was a stupid excuse then and a stupid excuse now. The journalists are still not in jail and the appraisal of the system has suddenly changed. I wonder why.
    As a matter of fact, I have written about this here: https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/hungary-and-the-paradox-of-the-charlatan-part-ii-by-sk/

    The excuse about the journalists were particularly inane, because there is no need to jail journalists if the whole fabric of the press can be much simpler expropriated and then there is no need for journalists. Why bother with the retail methods, says Fidesz, if it can be done wholesale?
    The other problem of the universal denial is that those poo-pooing the accusation always regard the situation as a snapshot; the state of affairs as they are at the given moment. Whereas, it is a process and the question is not weather it is or isn’t a fascist system, but rather how far has the fascist plan been realized so far and how far does it seem to aspire.
    Now that it has been heard from the horse’s mouth, hardly can there be any doubt left. I intend to confirm this later in a somewhat more concrete manner and report about it here.

  2. Women of Hungary, start getting used to not laughing in public! The dear leader will probably implement what goes on in Turkey, as reported by Reuters: ‘Hundreds of Turkish women posted pictures of themselves laughing on Twitter on Wednesday to protest comments by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who had urged women not to laugh in public to “protect moral values”.’

  3. About women in general. I have another topic that is interesting. There is a crazy woman sociologist who is on some government panel looking into demographics. Not enough babies are born. In addition, the future of the state pension plan is in danger.

    This woman gave an interview in which she went on and on about women’s role in society and that at the bottom of everything is premarital sex. This interview is so outrageous that it might arouse even the very passive Hungarian women. They might actually become feminists. If I manage to get enough information on this issue I will let you know.

  4. Isn’t it odd: the question of tying the country to Putin’s Russia for the next 30 years in the Paks deal hasn’t even come up??

    So much for ‘independent’ media; so much for ‘independent’ thinking…

  5. Éva, sorry I didn’t get your email for some reason. Could you please send it again? Thanks.

  6. Some Mussolini/Orban quotes:

    “Our program is simple: we wish to govern Italy. They ask us for programs but there are already too many. It is not programs that are wanting for the salvation of Italy but men and will power.

    Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day

    All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

    Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived in their relation to the State”

    And one about the Fidesz/Jobbik electorate (as The Chief Shepherd,.. sorry, “lion” sees them)

    “An army of sheep led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a sheep”

    However, as an acquaintance who is a minor cog in the Orbanist Machine, pointed out to me yesterday “He sure may want a fascist state but there is zero chance of him makiing the trains running on time”. In other words, there is the image of the fascist state which Orban certainly is cultivating. There has been the rape of the free media and judiciary. The State wants everything from us.

    It will stoop to any level- racism, corruption, lying and Holocaust responsibility denial to maintain that power. But the actual mechanics holding up and attempting to operate the regime on a daily basis are a shambolic joke. Below the very top layer of the regime (and even there, look at Lazar for crying out loud) the regime is operated by incompetent idiots as Orban has a serious, paranoid mistrust of anyone with an independent thinking capacity.

    The truly fascist state will arrive the day, Orban trusts the professional technocrats and not his thick loyalists to run it.

  7. I maintain that what Orban says is shared by his and Jobbik’s voters. Most voters just don’t get what this fuss is all about. And Orban knows this.

    Together these two groups make up about 2/3s (now maybe less, say 60%) of the Hungarian voter base, but given the election system which Orban smartly created, he needs only about 35% and he can still keep his majority. The opposition will never outsmart Orban, nor will foreigners. None of them have the same will power and vision to rule in Hungary, they are “all weaklings like all these youngsters nowadays who do not know how good it is for them”, so in Orban’s mind they just do not deserve the helm.

    Like it or not, people love the idea of a work-based society: they want to (would love to) work and at the same time fervently hate those people who do not have traditional, regular jobs and thus are deemed parasites (ie, gipsies and rich people, who do not do ‘real’ work according to this majority). It is the same with the US white rural people of West Virginia etc. who always vote republican even though they take away their welfare and social services. But these white folk would want to work and be independent from the state this way. They don’t want welfare (that’s for blacks or gipsies), they want work and this is what the Republicans promise them (less regulation, less taxes — never works, but at least it sounds believable).

    Orban is here to stay. He is like Stalin or Kadar — note that both Stalin and Kadar are the most popular historic figures in their native countries. According to his advisers, in historical terms the loss of freedom is just a collateral damage, a sacrifice we have to make, because Orban makes the nation proud again, despite all the enemies like the EU (making us accept all the blacks and islamist immigrants) and the internal ones like gipises, jews who are not resting to destroy us.

    Orban is a revolutionary, I am happy that this is clearly written down now, who is currently creating a pro-Russian national socialist state. The EU officials will never get this because they do not want to get it. If they got it, the EU would have to do something, but it has no powers, so it can’t start to do something in which it will surely fail. Remember, the EU is all about laws and competences, they can’t just act without a basis — especially against lawyers like Orban. TGM would oppose to the term socialist of course, but this state is becoming one, despite the fact that there is no equality or that the underclass is neglected. Property is not respected, it is being taken away by various means, or taxed specially to appropriate it in a legal way, others are only ‘forced’ to sell their properties. The basis of a modern market economy, the respect of property is just lacking. At the same time entire professions like the teachers or enterprises are forced into corporations (obligatory chambers which are lead by loyal fidesznik troopers). But there is no middle class so it does not matter, most voters are poor. The left never realized that. There is democracy, only the majority are poor and uneducated folks, they have needs different from the middle class intellectuals.

    The power is with Orban, so people naturally align with him. There is nobody who will betray the leader. Oh yeah, he is here to stay.

  8. Orban is obviously a deeply cynical and bad person. He learned well the lessons of Kadarism in the 1970s and 1980s, and since the changes (or at least since the 1994 election) has consistently found a way to better understand the Hungarian “zeitgeist” and to adjust his politics to benefit. He has no philosophy other than power and winning. But he has developed the skill to tell a desperate people what they want to hear.
    However, the larger crisis for Hungary, which Orban is now exploiting, is a failure of the whole political elite. That crisis comes from the fact that since 1989 the country has failed consistently in translating the changes in a way that sufficiently and tangibly benefits the non educated/ non elite population, which was then horribly compunded by the larger world financial crisis starting in 2007/2008.. Because of this failure, primarily [but not solely] of economic reform, talk of liberalism, democracy, freedom and market based capitalism sadly rings empty in Hungary. Orban knows this (and with the help of a media he controls) easily can manipulate this.
    What will be unprecedented, I believe, in Orban’s continuing effort to remake the country as he wishes, is that Hungary (for the time being at least) has an open border. As such, those who cannot tolerate the direction of the country do not need to protest and become dissidents, they need to buy a plane or train or bus ticket out of here. Hungary in the last century has continuously bled people (usually the most dynamic and ambitious) to the long term detriment of the country. I imagine this trend will only pick up speed. [Aside: As professionals, my wife and I already have more Hungarian friends living outside of Hungary than inside.] The reaction to the political and economic catastrophe (within this I include the rapid deterioration of both the medical and educational systems) unfolding will be ever increasing migration. Of course, in the short term this will only be to the benefit Orban as those who approve stay and those who don’t approve, and are capable, leave. Hungary wont see another violent revolution in the near term. The end, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, will be not “with a bang but a whimper”.

  9. I’m not sure I agree with zenga kapus’s comparison of Hungarians with the white rural people of America. The Americans genuinely don’t want the state in their lives. Hungarians expect and demand it. And that is a crucial difference. And the exaggerated respect and fear of the state in Hungary prevents people protesting against it when it misbehaves. It is a deeply ingrained attitude that infects pretty much all sides of the political spectrum. And although we talk about conservatism in Hungary, it doesn’t exist in the American or English sense. Hungary is neo-Kadarist, not conservative.

  10. “There is nobody who will betray the leader. Oh yeah, he is here to stay.”

    Imponderables which make that impossible to say for sure:

    1. His physical health
    2. His mental stability
    3. Internal conflict within the Fidesz mafia
    4 Economic situation externally

    What follows though when he inevitably falls is perhaps an even more scarey prospect.

  11. It is interesting observing Magyar Nemzet in recent weeks. Today it was calling for the resignation of Szeszták (who replaced Simicska’s puppet, Némethné). Also this week it was calling for the resignation of Orbán’s press secretary Havasi, and even had the temerity to claim its independent credentials on the grounds of its opposition to extra taxes on the media, land and roads (which would seriously affect Simicska and Nyerge’s interests.)

    Magyar Nemzet is revealing itself to be the arm of Simicska rather that Fidesz and he is clearly miffed… So there is some chance that Orbán will be involved in a behind-the-scenes battle that he will lose.

  12. Now that the western media discovered Orbán’s speech there are some interesting descriptions of the man. The American Interest calls him “Putin’s Mini-Me,” and the Wiener Zeitung’s lead editorial is entitled “Der Feind im EU-Bett” (Enemy in EU’s Bed).

  13. To those on the blog that say Orban is in Hungary to stay, I say think again. Orban has ultimately sealed his doom by hitching his wagon to Putin on a geo-political level, We in the US are now entering a new and transformed cold war against Russia. I think the US foreign policy establishment fully understands that Putin will not yield to economic measures taken against the Federation, in fact the actions are likely to make Putin even more aggressive.

    The anti-military Obama administration has now declared Russia in violation of the SALT II treaty which opens the door for again increasing the intermediate distance weapons stock pile in Europe. Once the arms race starts again Hungary faces the potential of being required to allow tactical mobile weapons on its soil as part of an overall NATO strategy to bring Putin to his knees, if Orban refuses Hungary will be expelled from NATO and becoming a military client state of Russia.

    Russia must be confronted by the administration that will follow Obama, either Republican or Democrat, not because the United States has significant interests in Central Europe, but because China is watching. China as a rising economic and military power poses the real threat to the global power of the US and taking on Russia sends a message.

    On so many levels this is tragic, The US will be forced to gradually increase military spending at the expense of human services and Russia will be forced to direct more and more funds to its military. The EU in particular Germany will not be able to sit this out and will have to redirect funds to its military which has faced expenditure reductions. My recommendation to the Hungarian professional class is to invest your money in the US weapons industry because it value is going to grow qualitatively in the years to come. When Putin falls so will Orban.

  14. Comparison with Mussolini is more accurate than with Hitler. Especially when you consider Hitler’s later reaction to Mussolini, when he realised what a fool he was. I would imagine, if Putin doesn’t already feel this way about Orbán, he soon will.

  15. An excellent post from zenga kapus. Apart from HiBom’s point about the difference between Hungarians and white rural Americans, it’s a very accurate summing up of how things really are in Hungary.

    It doesn’t matter how much we rail against him on here, or what Westerners think of him, or what the EU can and (mostly) can’t do, the basic truth is that most Hungarians either want Orbán in charge (or don’t care), and most, even those who are not active supporters, think he is doing the right things.

    Orbán is successful because he understands Hungarians and simply plays back their own prejudices and worldview to them. It is a classic positive feed-back loop.

    If some miracle occurred and we somehow managed to depose Orbán and restore ‘liberal democracy’ in Hungary, many, probably most, Hungarians would oppose what we have done.

    It’s about time we came down from cloud cuckoo land, and recognised this reality.

  16. Now is the time to really emphasize the fact that democracies are (small-l) liberal, period. Within a (small-l) liberal democracy, conservatives, classical liberals, greens, social democrats and democratic socialists can all participate and compete in the democratic market of ideas. Moreover, a liberal democracy provides the only possible corrective mechanism for when any government errs, and that is a regular return to the polls for approval of the government’s performance or preference for another government, and a calm and peaceful transition from one government to the next.

    Let’s be clear: an “illiberal democracy” is no democracy at all, and Victor Orban, in promoting such an authoritarian system is, in fact, insulting the Hungarian people through his insistence that it is not suitable for Hungarians. Hungarian are far wiser and far more fair than Orban gives them credit!

  17. Thanks Éva, I finally got your email and responded. Let me know if by chance you didn’t receive my response for some reason…

  18. US stock markets are down sharply from their recent high today.

    Gross debt of the central government is around 25 trillion forints.
    The data for the net debt has been erased from the website of the Hungarian National Bank, retroactively.

    EUR/HUF is around 314
    PLN/HUF is 75

  19. The unrealized loss caused by Orban to the taxpayers from the MOL purchase is about 250 billion forints.

    Purchase price: 22,467
    Closing price today: 11,345

  20. tappanch
    July 31, 2014 at 12:32 pm
    The unrealized loss caused by Orban to the taxpayers from the MOL purchase is about 250 billion forints.

    For him it was never about how much Hungary can loose but how much he can gain! The two have nothing to do with each other. It will be the same with the Paks deal where there were no proper analysis ever prepared. Not to worry, there is still money left to have any other Peace March for Orban wit Bayer at the the helm, and paid marchers lending their support to anything that will bankrupt Hungary.

  21. tappanch: you make the mistake of thinking politicians or voters care about money or facts. You can’t understand Orban because you still care about numbers. That’s the problem with the rationalist, communist/capitalist people: they want to measure everything, express everything in numbers, constructing charts. Right-wing people like Orban resist this idea.

    Politicians and voters care only about their own salaries and the utility costs. Otherwise, as we know referring to facts is only a bolshevik trick.

    Try to be Orban once for a second, if you can. Not having to care about mundane things. Like state finances or the cost of the MOL shares. Who doesn’t give a s***t?

  22. tappanch wrote:

    “The unrealized loss caused by Orban to the taxpayers from the MOL purchase is about 250 billion forints”

    I have written it here before and will probably write it again, but this deal can mean only one of two things: the people who made it on the Hungarian side — the Orban government — were either massively incompetent, leading to a massive loss of the Hungarian peoples’ money or criminally corrupt insider traders who personally made a killing on it. I do not know which is worse.

    I still believe that the best case against this government can be made simply on the basis of its competence in planning and executing policy. Forget about personalities or ideologies, the bottom line is performance, creating a Hungary that can compete in the modern world. The failures of this government have long since dwarfed those of its predecessors. In a liberal democracy, the citizens, as voters, would have real options to vote in parties with alternative programs and, hopefully, more competence. I have no doubt that this regime will eventually end from its own failings, whether at the ballot box or in the jail cell and probably both, but I have increasingly little confidence that any alternative government will have the time, resources and ingenuity to get Hungary of the Fidesz-dug hole in anything less than half a lifetime.

  23. @GW
    You say: “…the best case against this government can be made..”
    – Where, please, tell!

    The real problem is that only Hungarians in Hungary would ever be in position to make their robbers of dignity and prosperity make to answer, and this project has the chance next to nothing.

    Being spineless cowards wouldn’t contribute much, obviously.

  24. Been watching Orbán to evolve in many years, alas from a distance, and I more and more convinced that he would use any means for reaching his goal, the ultimate power over Hungary and the Hungarians. I mean absolutely everything what may work, even if it means siding up with Nazis or the Tzar of Russia.

    In my opinion the orbanist state isn’t really fascist (not even two-thirds) but entirely national socialist, even called NAZI. Just look at it, then look up the signs define the Nazi. Tell me, if you’ve detected some discrepancies.

    If I remember well (well, you never know, do you) my first conversation with Eva have had happened about Orbán’s national-socialist tendencies way back in the Typepad times – then she have had only one other person with similar opinion in her acquittances and she wondered, why I would think so.

    Times fly and today there is no question about the fact, that our beloved leader indeed will sacrifice just about everything and everyone for that goal.

    To me this is a clear image, no question about it. The real question however remains: do we really have to accept being used for his purpose?
    (Even me, from the other side of the world, not only you next to him?)

  25. NWO: ” since 1989 the country has failed consistently in translating the changes in a way that sufficiently and tangibly benefits the non educated/ non elite population”

    Paul: “Orbán is successful because he understands Hungarians and simply plays back their own prejudices and worldview to them. It is a classic positive feed-back loop.”

    kapus: “people love the idea of a work-based society: they want to (would love to) work and at the same time fervently hate those people who do not have traditional, regular jobs and thus are deemed parasites”

    I am always impressed by these statements about the “Hungarians” being primarily, indeed only, able to follow some prejudices which they and their ancestors have presumably shared since honfoglalas. Unchanged for centuries, no, forever! (No matter what the circumstances, by the way.) Germans who argue in a similar vein immediately understand that this is somewhat problematic when such “sophisticated” theory is applied to them. (Nazis, forever?) So, this is – no matter how convincing this appears currently – only an excuse for not trying harder. Just a question to Paul, what would your wife do if her influential parents/brothers changed their minds? Would she not, as a good daughter, “change her mind” also? So why is that unchangeable? (Specifically, if people are only “sheep” and repeat all nonsense.)

    Clearly, the objective is not that people just repeat more “Western” ideas. No, they should be able to understand their meaning and application. As NWO very correctly stated, unfortunately, there has been insufficient regard to educational issues, specifically for those that have been left behind. Apparently even during Communist times Hungary somehow did not manage to raise the educational level on a very broad scale. It appears that the “traditional” ideas of some educated elite, sitting in Budapest, looking to the West and not caring or perhaps even despising the less educated and those not from Budapest have remained nearly as prevalent as before. We are the clever (and priviledged) ones, and because most people are (unchangeable) dull, nothing needs, indeed nothing can be done about their educational level. BUT: some education and also political education is necessary for democracy to work, as it depends on people themselves how their interests find a way into decision making.

    Now we can read that people support OV and they want only work and they do not want to be bothered with politics. That this might be the outcome of this unfortunate approach of mis-education and non-education, where of course it is – when the “politicians” were unable to explain to the public why they have created such a mess after 1989 with debt, corruption etc., when the “stronger” and more ruthless have taken over the mess only to increase it – then the “easiest” and “most convenient” and “preferable” way is indeed to say: sorry, we lost orientation. We have never been told how to orientate in this new world, indeed, it was rather impossible to understand why words and deeds have deviated so much and now OV says, we do not need to. Yes, this is what we want!

    This is how I interpret this alleged strong support for Orban. Which is why I believe it is absolutely necessary to give people better orientation in the jungle – even if that is very difficult in current circumstances – instead of choosing the convenient explanation that they just love their ignorance and prejudices and poverty.

  26. Interesting ideas from NWO, Paul, Istvan and Kirsten.

    I tend to agree with all four of you. But I have lost my ability to think about what will happen, what should be or could be done. I know many Hungarians who support Orban and their attitude is: Orban stands up for Hungarians, and doesn’t allow the West (banks etc) to order Hungarians about (ne parancsolgasson nekunk senki). Point any detail out to them about the reality of this standing up, they will quickly dismiss it by saying they don’t really know about the details. They have decided to believe him and that’s it.

    What then?

    I imagine that some of these people will change their minds as Orban’s wealth and power grows and the kingdom becomes unattractive, as all other parties (enemies) slowly disappear and poverty increases. Soon he will be held responsible for everything in the country. They will slowly lose heart first, and then their anger might start to grow. This is also a Kadar-man mentality. But that won’t happen for a while.

    I agree with those who say that Hungary badly needs a democratic conservative party to attract these supporters.. Currently Orban has the power to stop any such party from evolving – but if there are cracks within Fidesz, due to some disapprovement of some of his ideas or disagreement over some “money distribution issues”, the party could break into two. Then some of the ex-Fidesz newbie-democrats could explain in what way Orban has gone too far (not too difficult: Russia friendship, anti-democracy, anti-West — Hungarians would still prefer an Austria-like Hungary to a Russian!) and gain the support of these masses.
    But I can’t see that happening yet.

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