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.