In the last few weeks we have talked about what in political science is called “high politics” or in Hungarian “nagypolitika.” But I think that the essence of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary can be captured, albeit anecdotally, at the microcosmic level. The story I will tell here brings home the kind of atmosphere that has by now engulfed the whole country. It is both suffocating and menacing.
The story takes place in Felcsút, a village of 1,600 inhabitants where Viktor Orbán spent a few years of his early life. It is here that a new football stadium for 3,600 sits right next to the house he built for a home away from home in the Buda Hills. Ever since he began his own football academy in Felcsút, the village became a fiefdom of the Orbán family and their supporters. Nothing can happen in the village which is not approved by Viktor Orbán himself or his faithful thanes. The most important of these is the mayor of Felcsút, a former installer of gas lines who today is among the one hundred richest people in Hungary. He achieved this feat in the last three or four years.
How did Lőrinc Mészáros become mayor in 2010 when the winner was György Varga, an independent candidate who had been the mayor of Felcsút since 2002? At the time there were jokes about the outcome of the election in Orbán’s village where the Fidesz candidate lost. Orbán was not happy. He became even more unhappy when Varga and the members of the town council refused to sell Felcsút’s small sports stadium and the land surrounding it for 20 million forints to the Puskás Academy. Apparently, the property was estimated to be worth 184 million forints. Well, that was that! Nothing of this sort could possibly happen in Felcsút to Viktor Orbán and his academy. Varga had to go. And he went. It was discovered that Varga owed a small amount in back taxes which allegedly barred him from public office. The election had to be repeated and, behold, it was Lőrinc Mészáros who took his place. That was the beginning of Mészáros’s spectacular career. Since then nothing happens in Felcsút without being approved by Mészáros or his many relatives.
Municipal elections will take place on October 12 and it is not yet known whether Lőrinc Mészáros, who is a terribly busy man nowadays, will run again. Until recently it wasn’t clear whether anyone would be brave enough to run against him or whoever else is designated by Viktor Orbán. György Varga, the former independent mayor who has been unemployed since 2010 because no one dares to hire him, announced in April that he will pick up the gauntlet, but then he thought the better of it. For a while András Váradi, a local sheep farmer who lost his land to Lőrinc Mészáros, was talking about running against Mészáros or whoever is the Fidesz candidate. He also abandoned the idea.
Now we have a woman, the owner of a small farm and stable, who has decided to try. Her name is Judit Horváth, who in the middle of August feared that “at the election I can only lose.” I guess what motivates her is that she, who has only 4 hectares, applied for an additional 26 for her 23 goats and received nothing. Later she learned that “they did not even open the envelope.” According to her, one got land around Felcsút only if one first went to Mészáros “to talk things over.” Horváth is quietly supported by all the democratic parties except for LMP. LMP’s decision is peculiar because from the interview Horváth gave to Magyar Narancs it is obvious that she is very interested in renewable energy and the environment.
To give you an idea of the hopeless situation facing anyone who dares to go against Fidesz and Viktor Orbán, Judith Horváth, when asked what would happen if by some miracle she wins, laconically answered, “then they will pass a new law that will enable them to remove me.” This is a slice of the new Hungarian reality. The hopeless lives of the former now unemployed mayor, the sheep farmer who has no land to feed his sheep, and a woman who knows that even if she wins the election they have all the means necessary to remove her.
Right now Judit Horváth is collecting signatures in Felcsút. András Pungor of 168 Óra followed her while she tried to talk to the locals about the chances of an independent candidate. A middle-aged man’s first words: “I refuse to say anything…. I live here while you just a visitor.” He was, however, ready to talk about life in Felcsút nowadays. He claims that the people in the village did not want to have the stadium but no one asked them. The monstrously big stadium interferes with wi-fi on the street that ends at the stadium. People have difficulties with their cell phones. In addition, the place is neglected. Last year the town built a community center but since then only an exhibition and a wedding were held there. More than twenty houses are for sale. Young people leave in hordes. In the last few years the town couldn’t even pay its electric bill; the central government had to bail them out.
Judith Horváth began campaigning in earnest and arranged with the town that last night she could have use of the new community center for a discussion about the needs of the village. When the journalists of Magyar Narancs arrived at the appointed time, they learned that permission to hold a political forum there had been withdrawn. They were shown a document according to which there was an “extraordinary meeting” of the town council on August 7 when a decision was reached that no political event can be held in a building owned by the town. Although there was such an extraordinary meeting of the council, this particular item was not on the agenda. The person who gave permission to Judith Horváth to hold the meeting in the community center only learned about this new regulation on Thursday.
Otherwise, very few people showed up. They said that the locals are afraid to openly declare their support for Lőrinc Mészáros’s opponent. Almost everyone Horváth invited to the meeting told her that they will not attend because they are afraid of reprisals. And for good reason. While all this was going on in front of the community center, cars from Mészáros’s firm stopped far too often in front of the building and one was permanently stationed next to the building so its driver could see who arrived for the cancelled meeting. As 444 noted,”Lőrinc Mészáros does not leave anything to chance.” This is what has become of Hungary in a mere four years under the rule of potentates with unlimited power.
Thuggery begets thuggery.
This is very reminiscent of Zimbabwe and the way President Thug Mugabe does things.
Brave people like Judit Horvath are even braver than we think.
In my village the local TSz supplies the locals with wood cut down from the local Danube surrounds.
If you are an out and out Fidobbik supporter you will get a lorry load – or two – of wood for your tile stove after being on the waiting list.
If you are not you mysteriously stay on the waiting list and when you enquire about a wood delivery you are told that there was not enough to go round! Annually!
The TSz is a strange organisation to this foreigner at least. How did they come about? (On a rare visit we saw lots of identical ‘gift’ packages (loads!) lined up in the office and were told that these were for the workers – strange!)
The TSz is not run commercially under a market system. Even if you didn’t pay for last year’s wood but you are a faithful Fiddeszbik you will get your wood.
We are known not to be in Fideszbik’s pocket – we especially made a journey to protest vote (the opposition alliance actually, and even photographed the ballot paper!) so have only ever been able to get wood once – before our political views were known!
Of course the local shop acquired a Tobacco concession – Fideszbbik to the core.
As outsiders we know the score – and buy wood elsewhere – but I am sure Judit will be subjected to many of these sorts of ‘inconveniences’.
We can only hope that the ballot in Felcsut is truly secret and people have the courage to vote for Judit Horvath.
For many the atmosphere in the village must be truly oppressive and suffocating – and the latent anger enormous.
We have heard of many injustices in Felcsút – not least the misappropriation of land by the Thugorban dynasty.
So not only at the National level – but at the local level too.
Corrosive destruction of what could be an idyllic country living – except for that awful football stadium.
I’m thankful that I don’t ‘live’ in Hungary.
Good luck Judit and the voters who vote for you.
‘Thanes’ to an Englishman is such an archaic word that it’s use is extremely rare! I have only ever seen it used in the context of Scottish law – which is rich in once-in-a-lifetime usage words!
It added a truly medieval – and apposite – flavour to your post, considered the subject and location!
For those of you who have never heard of Kitty Hart-Moxon OBE might like to hear her 10 minute testament about how she survived Auschwitz:
“Kitty Hart-Moxon and her mother were sent to the Nazi’s most notorious death camp in April 1943. More than a million people died in Auschwitz. Kitty tells Witness how she and others survived. ”
She is a Pole living in England.
Her story is harrowing and is the antidote for people like Schmidt and the holocaust deniers on here.
Re thanes. I used it purposely, of course.
Really funny what wiki has to say:
“one engaged in a king’s or a queen’s service, whether in the household or in the country”
Hail King Viktor!
But it’s really a sad story – Mafia comes to mind!
A lot of people want to serve. Not customers or clients of course, that would be too much work, but their bosses. Western people often underestimate the willingness of people to serve. Not all want to be free. It’s a tough situation with lots of responsibilities, it’s pretty tiresome and stressful. The boss’ power itself – by association – confers power upon such servants and allows the servant to be a boss over his/her smaller domain. This is fedualism but it seems it is a rather effective and easy way of organizing a country as we see from Orban’s system which perhaps still hasn’t peaked and as i see it is still attracting and converting formerly uncertain people.
Thanks for the link.
My parents met in Bergen Belsen but said nothing about it to us, ever.
re Jobbik and Jews:
Do you remember the film “O Lucky Man”? The main character undergoes a brainwashing technique were his eyelids are forced open and he must continually watch horror scenes.
So it should be with holocaust deniers. And, witness testimonies should be continually played in their ears, but much more graphic and horrible than what Kitty relates.
Is it creeping, old age or is it a reality that the world’s inhabitants seem to be growing dimmer
as we move on in the 21st century? How can Hungarians be so fooled by a transparent,
psychopathic, gangster as Orban? How can they tolerate a society of cheats and sycophants?
Charlie–What is “TSz”? Not living in an Hungarian village, I don’t know these things! Thanks.
What strikes me most in this piece is not the local situation per se – after all, there are other places in the EU, West included, where local bullies, well-connected to some political heavyweight in their country’s capital city, establish quasi-feudal systems through stick and carrot – but the fact that this is supposed to be the ‘hometown’ of the most powerful person in the country.
Generally, that characteristic attracts a lot of media (and public) attention, thus the town becomes a test case of good governance. It doesn’t seem to be the case at all in Hungary.
I must admit I had to look up thanes myself… We got a nice little card from our “Fidesz” mayor stating how nicely we kept our property and thanking us for helping make the city more beautiful. How nice!! I think I’ll vote for him…. well I would if I could…
Reblogged this on hungarywolf.
The twisted minds of CÖF, the militant pseudo-civil organization of the government (i.e. the Hungarian government itself) sent a letter to one Mr. Barack Obama.
Apparently Mr. Orban desperately wants to meet Mr. Obama and if he can’t meet Mr. Obama immediately then he says it will be like in 1956 when the West betrayed Hungary.
Yes, that’s right, Viktor Orban is taking his fat share of every Russian-Hungarian energy deal one can possibly think of and he still blames the US for the current HUngarian, CEE (?) political situation.
Note the usual clear goal: Orban is working on every conceivable photo-opp so that, like any decent dictator he could sell those to the doubting Hungarian non-fidesznik voters as an approval, endorsement by the big guy. (Of course the local fideszniks are divided about the US but even though they mostly hate the US a clear acknowledgement by the superpower would still be reassuring that their icon is still a ‘playa’.)
At the same time Orban and his friends would also like to score important points in a more insidious way: so that the any opposition voter would feel that their admired icons or ‘protectors’ (of their values) betrayed them for Fidesz.
This was the rationale behind the Kertész-affair, in which Imre Kertész (feeble though he was) all but endorsed the Orban government and which more importantly made the admirers of Kertész (usually non-Fidesz/Jobbik voters) understand in their bones that Fidesz can purchase, obtain, use any any everybody for its political purposes, and the non-fideszniks can’t feel safe at any moment, because anybody among them is a potential target. This is also the strategy behind enrolling jewish looking conservative jews from wherever to get their endorsement (whatever it is, it will be sold as endorsement) of the Maria Schmidt style history rewriting which is opposed by local Hungarian assimilated, secular jews. Looking at Ms. Schmidt’s happy face yesterday in Kötcse (the annual meeting of the fidesz right wing ‘intellectuals’) she seems to be winning.
TSZ stands for termelö szövetkezet – something like a workers cooperative or colchose …
My wife’s brother in law was boss of one of those in Kadar times – he likes to tell stories about those “Communists” …
Forgot the corresponding English article that tells the background:
TSz? I am told that it stands for Termelőszövetkezet – and is a co-operative for small farmers.
They existed during communist times and are very numerous – probably every farming village has one. They manage and maintain all the equipment and supplies that the farming community might need – and would have been very powerful organisations in the village hierarchy. Who gets first use of the combine harvester when the critical time arrives for harvesting?
I think they are now owned as private companies – plenty of scope here for corruption and nepotism!
Judit Horvath will probably rely on them for husbanding her goats in some way.
Being interested in farming – I’m sure Eva can help here! (Although I think her father made shoe lasts!)
Help us please Eva!
Wolfi! our posts crossed – I bow to your superior experience!
“The opposition will become annihilated (dissolve into oblivion) in October”
Petofi – A Clockwork Orange is the film you’re thinking of.
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