Viktor Orbán: The brave prime minister who is not a communist

On October 28 József Szájer, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, gave an interview to Inforádió, a station close to the government party. To long-time readers of Hungarian Spectrum or those who have been following Hungarian politics in the last twenty-five years Szájer is a familiar figure. However, since we have a lot of new subscribers who might be less familiar with the leading figures of Hungarian political life, I should say a few words about this man.

Szájer is a real old-timer in Fidesz. He was there from the very beginning, living in the dormitory where Fidesz was born. He held important positions in parliament and in Fidesz between 1988 and 2004, when he was sent to Brussels as the leader of the Fidesz delegation. He is also one of  deputy chairmen of the European People’s Party. Since Hungarian politicians don’t consider the job of MEP a particularly important one, it is hard to fathom why the decision was made to remove Szájer from direct involvement in Hungarian politics. He is supposed to be brilliant although, at least in my opinion, he does not put his brain power to the best use.

Just because Szájer officially holds no position doesn’t mean that he plays no role in the party behind the scenes. For example, Szájer himself proudly announced that he wrote the text of the new Hungarian constitution on his iPad. When the Orbán government is criticized in the European Parliament, it is Szájer who leads the troops in defense of the Orbán regime. And when in March 2013 there was a U.S. Senate hearing on the state of democracy in Hungary it was József Szájer who was dispatched to explain the Hungarian position.

During the interview on Inforádió Szájer defended the introduction of the internet tax with his usual vehemence. A government that dares to tax internet usage is a brave one, he said. “There are times,” he claimed, “when one has to speak in the language of strength.” Such a tax is “no attack on the internet.” After all, we have to pay for our food, but that doesn’t mean that it is an attack against the freedom of eating. The very fact that I had a heck of a time translating this sentence means that the comparison is outright idiotic. I consider the example Olga Kálmán used more apt. Let’s say that we buy a book but we still have to pay extra for being able to read it. Indeed, that is exactly what the internet tax is. Internet subscribers pay for their service, which includes a 27% tax, but in addition the government wants to tax their right to use the material offered by the provider whom they’ve already paid.

The reason that I quoted Szájer’s belligerent words on the brave government that dares to tax the internet is because it took no more than three days for the government to decide not to be so brave. The reason? Apparently, a quick poll was ordered which showed that the people who were at the demonstrations had been apolitical until now. They seemed to have awakened from their long slumber, and that truly frightened Viktor Orbán. Many of the people chanting slogans never even bothered to vote and claimed that they are not interested in politics. Suddenly they became active. This is the last thing Viktor Orbán wants. Among them might be future political leaders who will force this authoritarian government to resign one day.

A typical Fidesz warrior: József Szájer in the European Parliament

A typical Fidesz warrior: József Szájer in the European Parliament

In Viktor Orbán’s interview last Friday there was one sentence that I found especially revealing. He decided to shelve the internet tax because his government listens to the people, and they certainly don’t want to do anything that is unacceptable to the people. After all, they are not “communists.” But the problem is that the governing style of the Orbán government closely resembles that of the Kádár regime. For all practical purposes there is a one-party system in Hungary today.

During the communist period it was the Politburo that made the decisions. The size of that body varied from eight to thirteen members. They met weekly and discussed the day-to-day running of the country. Today the situation is actually worse. As far as we know, there are no weekly meetings of the Fidesz executive board. Decisions are not made by the ministers either because cabinet meetings are exceedingly short and there are practically no discussions. Everything is decided by Viktor Orbán and until he speaks, as someone wittily remarked, no one knows what to think. The people started to see the strong resemblance between the two regimes.

I watched Henrik Havas’s Saturday political program on ATV where the older participants recalled that in the last parliament of the Kádár regime there was a discussion about the Czechoslovak-Hungarian dam to be built on the Danube. The population opposed it, but the government was determined that it be built. The president of parliament called on those who were against the dam to stand up. Twenty some people did. And that was during a communist regime. Today it would be unimaginable for Fidesz MPs to stand up in a similar situation. Or to dare vote against a bill they don’t agree with. This is illiberal democracy in action.


  1. Regarding Szajer, let’s not forget the person, who effectively controls the judiciary in Hungary. Dr Tunde Hando, who is Szajer’s wife, Mrs Orban’s BFF.


    Apologies for OT-ing from the extremely important Szajer thread, but this appeared yesterday in the New York Times and the familiarity of the M.O. would be chilling if it weren’t obvious that, here too, Orban has simply been taking a page from Putin’s little black book (or maybe some direct coaching): “<a href=""<Putin’s Friend Profits in Purge of Schoolbooks”

    Read and weep…

    “MOSCOW — The purge began in late winter. One by one, hundreds of textbooks that Russian schoolchildren had relied upon for years were deemed unsuitable for use in the country’s 43,000 schools. The reasons varied, but they shared a certain bureaucratic obstinacy.

    “One publisher saw all of his company’s English-language textbooks barred because he had failed to include their subtitles on the paperwork required for government approval. More than three dozen books that use a popular creative teaching style were dropped from a list of authorized titles because the publisher had submitted copies of supporting documents, rather than the originals…”

  3. Turkey and Hungary are converging.

    Both countries have elected tyrants at the helm, and the majority of both people hate foreigners.

    The majority of Turks do not like EU, US, Israel, but also China, Russia, Iran, “Pirez” Brazil and even fellow Sunni Saudi Arabia.

    Similarly, the majority of Hungarians do not like Gypsies, Arabs, Romanians, Africans, Chinese and “Pirez”.

    [Pirez is a fictitious people invented by pollster Tarki of Hungary]

  4. If one listens to the attached podcast from József Szájer on the adoption of the basic law one realizes that Eva’s point about his intelligence is well taken. I think his arguments in relationship,to the adoption of that constitution are sophistry, but they clearly overwhelm the interviewer.

    But my impression of him is that he is the smart school boy who is very academically bright but lacks what is sometimes referred to in the USA as grit. Meaning courage and resolve; strength of character.

    Effectively he seems to me to be what we call often in the USA a wimp, effectively a person who is scared, or WEAK or cowardly. He is an intellectual,role player in the Fidesz universe, even if he was close to Orban from the start he lived in his shadow and is a follower, not a leader.

    In many ways I hate to say it I have more respect for a quasi fascist madman like Vona than I do for the likes of Szájer who makes many of the same arguments as the Jobbik in a more intellectualized soft manner. He lacks the courage to be a real fascist and be put up against the wall for his intellectual transgressions against humanity. Wimp I think is the appropriate term.

  5. Éva “there are no weekly meetings of the Fidesz executive board. Decisions are not made by the ministers either because cabinet meetings are exceedingly short and there are practically no discussions. Everything is decided by Viktor Orbán”

    What we do know that every Friday morning Orbán, Habony, Rogán, Lázár, Szííjjártó – and sometimes Kósa – meet to decide on strategic issues. By now the Fidesz presidium has been sidelined, along with the cabinet ministers who then desparately try to find out more and become updated abou the key political decisions.
    Naturally no written record is being made on those Friday meetings..

  6. I’ve read this a few times now that Szajer is supposed to “brilliant”. I have followed his career from the beginning and just don’t get it, I’ve never seen any direct evidence to that effect. This must be a self perpetuating myth. He is one of the early members of Fidesz, he is a die-hard fidesz fanatic (far from being the “pragmatic Szajer we could talk to”, he’s revealed himself to be a consistent hardliner, the only thing is that unlike Laszló Kövér he speaks English), but brilliant? Also, for the new readers, he was sent to Brussels/Strasbourg because he is by all accounts gay, despite having a wife (Tünde Handó, the co-head of the judiciary, responsible for HR issues) and a kid, who is one of the besties of Rasi Orban. I know that quite a few members of the European Parliament used the opportunity to be far from home to enter into extra-marital affairs, I wonder if he did too. Of course that would be his business at a liberal party, but at a party preaching traditional family values, not so much.

  7. Max -“Naturally no written record is being made on those Friday meetings..”

    How do they decide the future of Hungary without being detected by unwanted listeners? Do they use a Get Smart type of incubators? Do they write down the questions and answers and pass it around in silence, and destroy it after each meeting? Hm….I just can’t stop wondering??

  8. The picture of Szajer apparently shows him during a vote in Brussels. Notice his hand signal:
    intimidation plus influence pandering…the practice of Democracy, Hungarian style.

  9. John Oliver… amazing!!! unfortunately his popularity means no more bugle podcast. Who cares about the Internet when all you want are workers for out sourced German factories.

  10. @PWT

    The names connected to MET and offshore firms from the article:

    Viktor Orban, Istvan Garancsi, Gyorgy Nagy, Benjamin Lakatos, Sandor Csanyi,


    I too am always surprised when anyone describes the likes of Szajer (or Orban) as “brilliant” or the like, when it is so monotonously obvious that they are simply seasoned users of familiar, low-grade, mechanical tactics for whose success the only two prerequisites are (1) complete lack of scruple on the part of the purveyor and (2) complete lack of either intelligence or scruple on the part of the consumer.

    In other words, anyone can do it: all you need is a sociopath’s mind and a mindless or sociopathic populace.

  12. Related:

    Tamás Deutsch claims in an interview that there is a long tradition in Hungary of the “national consultation,” and that Fidesz is just continuing a Communist institution:

    “A rendszerváltás előtt ezt „társadalmi párbeszédnek” hívták, és mindenki nagyon jól tudta, hogy a kommunista hatalom nem akar semmiféle beszélgetést az emberekkel.”

    “They called it ‘societal dialogues’ before the regime change, and everybody was well aware that the Communist powers did not want any type of dialogue with the people.”

    There you go, folks, straight from the horse’s mouth…

  13. @buddy

    Having read T.D.’s piece, I think they will introduce the internet tax with the slogan that it is needed to build the internet in rural areas.

    By the way, I just checked on
    Fidesz has not withdrawn the internet tax yet.

  14. I had to read it two, three times to understand it and believe it. Internet is killed for commercials/advertisement/propaganda.

    Apparently, Sony file a patent for saying things to the television, and once said it you can watch the program.

    So in the aforementioned article if you remove McDonald, and put Hail Viktor or I love Fidesz, etc. you can continue to watch the program(s).

    Big brother is not only watching you, it is telling you what to say.

  15. I don’t think one should underestimate the tactical capabilities of Szájer, nor consider his placement in Brussels as a banishment from the front ranks of Fidesz. Brussels is a strategically important hilltop for Orbán. Fidesz big guns, like Szájer, Deutsch, Áder, were not sent there to be out of the way but to ensure, the hilltop is not taken. Szájer wrote the constitution, Áder the electoral law, and Deutsch is now the internet-tax czar. Old-style kremlinology is not the best approach to understanding post-modern Hungarian politics. Fidesz uses the internet, social media, far more effectively than Hungary’s other political parties. This is no reason for Democrats to rejoice, but to redouble their efforts, to roll up their sleeves, .

  16. The Americans think they’re strong, when in fact they are weak and just a bunch of amateurs.

    Tamas Deutsch, the top Fidesz European MP tells the yankees to get lost and warns them to lower their hopes for any results of their political pressure, hheheehhee.

    “Ha van olyan amerikai lépés, ami semmilyen hatást nem gyakorol az állami korrupcióra, akkor ez az”.

    If there as an American action which has zero influence on government corruption than this is it [referring to the visa issue].

    A politikus szerint a belpolitikában sem lesz vízválasztó az ügy. Ezeknek „rövid a szavatossága”.

    “According to the politicians, this will not be a watershed matter in terms of domestic politics. These issues have a short shelf life.”!s0

  17. Pretty weak effort, Umberto. When you wrote that Deutsch “tells the Yankees to get lost” I was hoping for something great but “semmilyen hatást nem gyakorol” was quite a letdown. It’s not exactly telling someone to “get lost,” or even interesting at all.


    Back to Troll School for you!

  18. Istvan, thanks for tiping the Conrad inter. And Umberto, rise the level or get lost!

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