Viktor Orbán on a communication offensive: trying to undo the damage

Viktor Orbán’s “communication staff” is working on “the problem”–the record drop in the government’s popularity. Apparently, the leading politicians of Fidesz are belittling the gravity of the situation, pointing to 2010-2011 when the popularity of the government party was lower than it is now: only 20%. Moreover, there was a time when Gordon Bajnai had a higher ranking than Viktor Orbán, and Fidesz managed to regain its standing within a few months. Surely, with clever communication tricks the situation can be remedied once again. And the best spokesman for the cause is the prime minister himself.

Blikk’s Sztárchat, which I wrote about yesterday, was Orbán’s first attempt to “engage” the people. A day later he gave an interview to Napi Gazdaság and this morning an “extraordinary Friday interview” on Kossuth Rádió (MR1). The contents of the two interviews largely overlap.

Zoltán Lakner, my favorite “political scientist,” summed up Orbán’s message well on Facebook. “He repeated … all those items that are objects of our hilarity or our rage.” The great communication offensive so far is an attempt to explain to the Hungarian people that all the government’s recent decisions are actually good for them.

Let’s start with highway M0, which encircles the capital. The decision to make M0 a toll road is actually a benefit to the Hungarian people at the expense of foreign visitors, he explained. Orbán’s aim is to have the naive citizens of the country think that somehow the only victims of these new tolls will be foreign visitors who, upon entry, will pay a hefty price to be able to use all the toll roads. Hungarians, on the other hand, will be able travel for relatively little money within the borders of the county in which they reside. But what happens if they want to leave the confines of their county? Well, the prime minister did not go into such mundane details. But since he spent so much time on the question of toll roads, I assume that the revenue that is projected to come from this source is desperately needed.

The second topic was the proposed drug tests. The last time we talked about it, the word was that mandatory yearly drug tests for politicians and journalists are clearly unconstitutional and against European Union law and therefore the government will drop the idea. At the same time, we heard, there will be no compulsory drug testing of children, only voluntary testing. Well, it seems that Orbán changed his mind and now insists on mandatory testing of politicians and journalists. This is such an outlandish idea that it was immediately picked up by the Associated Press and this morning was already on the website of ABC television news. The lead sentence is worth quoting: “Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make Hungary into a ‘non-liberal’ state as he moves closer to Moscow, now wants mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians.” Here in one sentence is the core of what people in the West object to: Orbán’s illiberal state and his moving closer to Moscow.

Why, according to the prime minister, is this testing necessary? Because a drug mafia is hard at work in Hungary. So, “the government made the decision that in the next three years we will clean Hungary of the drug mafia. That is what we began now.” To see how minor a problem drug use is in Hungary, I highly recommend the European Monitoring Center’s interactive prevalence maps. Here Orbán is playing on the ignorance of average Hungarians who cannot distinguish between marijuana and cocaine or heroin, even as he implies that journalists critical of his government must be under the influence of drugs. As far as I know, so far only one Hungarian politician was caught snorting cocaine by a hidden camera. Because he happened to be a Fidesz politician, the investigators couldn’t recognize him clearly. Nothing happened to him. We know from past experience that Fidesz politicians can get away with murder but innocent opposition politicians are sometimes dragged into court. If this piece of legislation is passed, it will be an excellent club in the hands of Viktor Orbán against his political opponents. The same will be true of journalists he doesn’t like.

Let's calm down. The time of serene governance is beginning

Let’s calm down. The time of serene governance has started.

As for foreign policy, he will “continue the defense of the national interests” because Orbán anticipates attacks against Hungary coming from abroad. Orbán is convinced that behind every international dispute there are blatant economic and financial interests, and therefore “the government continually has to watch and struggle. But at the same time that it wages a battle outside, it has to create tranquility, stability, transparency inside. It has to promote the development of conditions in which the Hungarian people can live serene lives.” There is every expectation that this goal will become a reality because the country has moved in the right direction and soon enough will catch up to the western countries. Next year the government will start “the largest economic development project in Hungary’s history” which will provide “economic security, equanimity, quietude and happiness for Hungary.”

So, let’s see what commenters on and vastagbő had to say in reaction to these lines.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” I am already a nervous wreck.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” Did they find some experimental drug in Graz?

He has lied until now and he will be lying in the future. This is the only thing that is predictable.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” Why, did Viktor lapse into a coma?

Viktor, Viktor, you are stupider than I thought.

The program is: we CONTINUE. The stealing, the robbery, the blackmailing, and this sickeningly tasteless lying.

What kind of serene governing is this idiot talking about? Doesn’t he live in Hungary? He doesn’t realize that people are demonstrating because of the idiotic, stupid policies that irritate people? They should have sent him straight to hell a long time ago.

During the interview Orbán recalled that he said four years ago that he doesn’t want “popular ministers.” What is important is competence. As for the popularity of the government, he will take care of that. Well, I don’t think he has been doing a bang-up job lately.


  1. “What is important is competence”

    It’s a strange Alice in Wonderland world in Hungary at the moment. Nothing is quite as it seems. At least not to those of us not on drugs.

    And, interestingly, the last government that always went on about catching up with (and passing) the West was the old Soviet one…

    But, at the same time, I note that, although you quote the ‘it’s happened before’ defence put forward by Fidesz (and me!), you don’t actually refute it.

  2. Wow!
    Drug mafia?
    Are they running out of enemies so rapidly that he was simply forced to find up some – from thin air?

    However, he got his wish of four years finally fulfilled, the one that he doesn’t want “popular ministers”, completely…

    Oh happy day!

  3. What is clear is that the government is in a dilemma. “All those items that are objects of our hilarity or our rage” are fictional. There are no professional government employees in any Ministry, putting lots of people in the second echelon in a morality-loyalty dilemma.

    I’m recycling an old idea here: What if Orbán makes himself President and postpones elections because of “foreign threats” / “National emergeny” – however imaginativ? – Anyway, I would not take the next elections for granted.

    To my mind, Orbán will not give up his dictatorship if he is not forced to at gunpoint. The recent demonstrations are just that – demonstrations of all Hungary has to show for an opposition, Looks good on a photo, but basically is no more than folklore – too little, too late. Mainly: too little, after all. Those demonstrations are not “riots in the streets”.

    The polls: interesting. But we know from tappanch that even the last elections were rigged – and not even the OSCE protested. They all just wanted to get their last flight home…

  4. I found the drug Mafia comment interesting too, from what I can tell the same organized crime networks that are involved in Human trafficking, numerous other crimes, are also involved in the illicit drug trade. The Bratva from Russia which has links to some of the oligarchs is one organized force and I am sure Orban’s eastern opening orientation will help curb that problem. Bulgaria has an outstanding Mafia.

    A 2005 U.S. diplomatic cable on Bulgaria released by WikiLeaks is worth quoting given the disturbing portrait it paints of Bulgaria’s descent into mafia statehood. The cable read, in part:
    “Organized crime has a corrupting influence on all Bulgarian institutions, including the government, parliament and judiciary. In an attempt to maintain their influence regardless of who is in power, OC [organized crime] figures donate to all the major political parties. As these figures have expanded into legitimate businesses, they have attempted — with some success — to buy their way into the corridors of power. . . . Below the level of the national government and the leadership of the major political parties, OC “owns” a number of municipalities and individual members of parliament.”

    The problems relating to organized crime will not be solved by drug testing. The biggest impediment to dealing with organized crime is the fact that Orban is running an organized crime network himself through Fidesz as we have all discussed before on this blog. When everyone is free to shake down whoever they want as long as they show minimal restraint and give the Fidesz structures their cut of the proceeds any thought of combating organized crime is absurd. It’s similar to Chicago where we have been putting politicians in jail for years for being on the take from organized crime, yet these same politicians before their arrests were touting their hard stance on crime and drugs in poor communities.

  5. I am just curious how will this play out. Let say a reporter from CNN arrives to Hungary. Will they draw his blood or has to pee in a cup upon entry? Will they take away their journalistic license if he/she fails the test? Do you need to have a license at all in Hungary to “report” on something. I know you need a driver license to drive, but will journalists must have some license? International journalistic license? WHat happens if you are on your free time, and not reporting? You must provide samples when the pee-brigade knocks on the door? Who will take the samples? Does the nurses have to have police with them in order to secure samples? What kind of drugs can be in your system? SOme medicine do have codeine for example. My daughter is taking a heavy cough syrup with codeine and a puffer with other drugs in it.
    So many questions, and so little time…

  6. Re the toll:

    Orbán is really talking nonsense here – did no one think about telling him?

    “foreign visitors who, upon entry, will pay a hefty price to be able to use all the toll roads.”
    This already happens now, like when my friends want to watch the Formula 1 race – the moment they enter Hungary near Györ, they have to pay. The same goes for all those Romanians or Serbs who use Hungary for transit – for them nothing changes.

    Only the Hungarians who want to get from A to B via a shortcut on the M0 (or similar körut) have to pay extra!

    PS and a bit OT – and funny too:

    We get to the Balaton from Graz, so we don’t use the Hungarian motorways at all – only when we visit relatives in Budapest or the east.

    Or navigation system/GPS however always tries to make us use the connection from Graz via Slovenia – that would mean we buy a Hungarian and a Slovenian matrica for just 150 km of motorway and maybe 20 min of time saved …

  7. @Webber:

    I thought using the Hungarian might help … 😉

    OK, I’ll use the Austrian Vignette or Pickerl 🙂

    Btw slovenians also use the word “vignette” (you have to put it on your windshield like in Austria, it’s not computer-based …) on their English site – is there no translation?

  8. Addendum:

    Here you can see those small stretches of toll-free motorway which would no longer be free if the new proposal comes to be – not only Budapest but around half a dozen medium sized cities would suffer if the local traffic would try to avoid those routes.
    Unbelievable idiocy!

  9. @ Wolfi Vignette is the world used in english,the word vignette is of France orgins and it was imported in to English language.

  10. Back to the heavy subjects.

    There is a chaos in Hungary. No decent center right or center left leadership represents the nation.

    The arrowcross crowd is at ready position for an ambush.

    The economical czars will support the arrowcross junta to continue the corrupt profitable activities.

    Who is guarding the freedom in Hungary? Probably nobody, because the majority is not afraid to be permanently stripped of freedom.

  11. @wolfi: the use of ‘vignette’ in this context is a Swiss thing from the ’80s. It was probably borrowed from the ‘vignette automobile’ in France (a tax on vehicle ownership from the 1950s to 2000, the proof thereof had to be displayed on the windshield).

    Btw, ‘vignette’ as a typographic ornament can be found in Theodor Heinsius’ dictionary of the German language (1820). I guess it also made sense that the Swiss would choose a word which was already in use in both French and German.

  12. Just to report that I have been on four different forms of public transport this morning in Bpest and every single one has had anti-regime/Orban stickers or posters recently put up. I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the importance (the majority of the passengers paid no attention whatsoever to them) but still, it is the first time since I have been here that I have seen the pro-democracy forces so proactive.

  13. The bedrock of the country is its people’s pervasive anti-semitism.

    The bedrock of Fidesz popularity is its sly, sub-surface, and continuous, anti-semitism.

    In the long run, the people will not do without its pablum of anti-semitism.

    No political party has served up anti-semitism with the continuity and intensity of Fidesz.

    Ergo, Fidesz is here to stay, long-term.

    Enjoy it.

  14. I do not think journalists will put up with the drug tests. I simply cannot see it. Of course the Fidesz media will be marching in happily, and sport this to the end, and maybe that is the point.

    Just to expand on the questions I asked above, does foreign correspondences have to submit to drug tests? If someone publishes articles or quotes from foreign magazines, does the publisher, translator, editor considered to be a journalist and have to submit to drug testing?

    If the other reporters than Fidesz media boycott to report on Fidesz doings, wouldn’t that be benefitting Orban? Maybe that is the goal. If the reporters would protest, Orban and his band’s answer will be “You do not have to report on the Hungarian government, you can report on the uncleaned sidewalks, as we do not do drug tests on “street reporters”.

  15. I found it interesting that the toll roads in Hungary are still using the more expensive sticker system for payment, even though I have been on them I didn’t recall that. It’s far more labor intensive than the transponder system. My state has a large system of toll roads run by a state agency, it has a very high number of what we call patronage employees and a history of corruption. Electronic tolling easily eliminated 20% of the patronage work force and hugely reduced corruption.

    It makes a lot of sense for Fidesz to expand the toll roads, they will be able to give out more jobs to supporters and reap revenue at the same time. But the fact that the people of Hungary are figuring out it will cost them more shows the people are not stupid sheep when it comes to their self interests. The more Fidesz hurts the pockets of people the more the people will turn against the party. There is no PR solution to that problem.

  16. @Istvan – sorry for the misunderstanding:

    No, Hungary doesn’t use the sticker system any more (Austria and Slovenia still have it) but something they call the E-matrica or e-vignette. Gas stations have a little terminal where your licence plate number is put in via keyboard and you have to countersign a receipt (acknowledging that your licence no is correct, you also get a copy …) and there are cameras watching those plates – sometimes they also have cars with cameras on exits.

    You can also pay via internet and your credit card (which of course many Hungarians don’t have …).

    A bit OT:

    Maybe Orbán read about a German government initiative to have foreigners also pay via vignette (until now German motorways are toll free) but there they also got some crazy ideas:

    They want only foreigners to pay – but that’s against EU rules – so they had the idea that everybody pays but German car owners pay less tax as a compensation – right now nobody knows what the new system will look like, but everybody is angry at the government because of its stupid ideas, almost like in Hungary …

  17. Petofi, your obsession with anti-semitism is getting embarrassing. Yes, there is anti-semitism in Hungary and it would be better if there was not, but it is not the central issue facing Hungary today and to try to interpret everything through this single prism is just as fatuous and ill judged as the fascist loonies who do the same in reverse.

    Fidesz enjoy the power they do because people like you voted them in in 2010. Or do you deny that you voted for them?

  18. @HiBoM

    Hmmm…some tricky questioning there, HBM, since I’ve already admitted on this blog of having
    voted for them…or rather, against the obvious looting of MSZP. But I was wrong: MSZP were just thieves; Fidesz are dictatorials who are not only out to steal but to entrench themselves
    for many years, and to repeal the hard-won, minimal rights that the people had had since 1989.

    But you, as most Hungarians, you pooh-pooh the importance of anti-semitism but I have gone to some lengths to suggest that Hungarian ‘pride’, ‘exceptionalism’…and the like, are intricately connected to the immense, deep-seated shame of having sent 500,000 more jews to the gas chambers than was asked for by the nazis, and to have looted jewish holding en passant.
    At no point in Hungarian history has this ever been addressed. Let me add, that while Lithuanians and Ukrainians happily massacred their jews, no nation has as cold-heartedly sent
    5% of their population to be massacred simply to steal their belongings. If that isn’t a good enough cause for Hungarian mass psychosis, I don’t know what is. To continue along this line,
    Hungarian Nationalism is the ideal curtain to hide behind and never come close to dealing with
    the guilt problem. Well, now you have a population neatly hemmed in by its own psychosis,
    and easily the prey of the KGB Pavlovians who know well how to swing the weak and infirm
    any way they please (And that, of course, includes the leading light–Orban).

    No, sir, the question of Hungarian anti-semitism is a major root of Hungary’s problem; and it
    will have to be dealt with at some time.

    Suggesting that my repeated mention of anti-semitism is the other side of the coin of Jobbik
    tactics is just asinine.

  19. Orbán could always mobilize the violent riffraff as he did in 2006, if masses would threaten his power. In the meantime, it is clear; the democratic opposition is not capable to exploit the weakness of the Orbán regime.

  20. In English, the word “vignette” has nothing to with highways or stickers – it means a short story that is illustrative or descriptive or something else, e.g. “This novel is full of vignettes of small-town life.”

  21. Orbán’s comment about the M0 toll is the most asinine piece of non-logic I have heard from the leader of a European country (outside of Russia) since the end of the Warsaw Pact.

    How is a foreigner going to get to the M0 in the first place? He or she would have to drive on one of the other toll roads (with the possible exception of a very few Slovaks), or consciously avoid them. These foreigners would then already have paid for the nation-wide toll (for a whole week, regardless of how long they would actually stay in the country), or have avoided the toll roads entirely somehow, which means that they would also avoid the M0.

    Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who occasionally use the M0, but not any of the other toll roads, to get around Budapest. I don’t know anyone who would pay for a 10-day toll pass just to save a few minutes on one unusual occasion, rather than just save the 3000 forints and take a side ride. Once again, the M0 is going to be deserted, except for where the foreigners use it to avoid going through Budapest (which also happens to be the last section they are finishing).

    I think they are going to lose money on this deal, because it’s going to cost more to put up the signs and number-plate-readers and maintain the system than they will actually get in tolls. Maybe I’m wrong, though, since many people in the suburbs would just buy a yearly pass, since there’s no other way to get to work easily. Certainly those people won’t be too happy that Orbán has decided to punish them for living in the suburbs, where housing is cheaper. I imagine that the parliamentarians who vote for this and who use the M0 to get to work every day will be able to have the government pay their extra cost for them.

    I hate Fidesz even more now, which I wasn’t sure was possible. I hope they all end up in prison for the rest of their lives, and soon.

  22. Sorry, Wolfi, you said the above more succinctly than I did, and well before me. I guess I just couldn’t wait to post, so didn’t read all the comments first.

  23. Googly, no problem – and I’m as flabbergasted (ain’t that a nice word?) as you by this latest idiocy of the Hungarian government. We say in German:
    Doppelt genäht hält besser …

    Totally OT:

    We were on the Xmas fair in Tübingen this afternoon – felt like millions of people out for shopping, drinking mulled wine, eating, watching – really festive, more than say in Keszthely were we also go …

  24. Of course, the most urgent task is to remove the dear dictators, who faked some rigged elections, but rule against the majority.

    Petofi has stated an important recurrent problem clearly. Anti-semitism is a major problem, and thoroughly exploited by the changing sets of dictators.

    Thanks to Deak, Hungary or more precisely, Budapest gave birth to a vibrant, but small class of creative Jewish citizens.

    That has been destroyed by a sizeable murderous group, while watched passively by the scarred majority,

    A good number of decent Hungarians were upset, like the Balogh family in Pecs.

    Other Hungarians have not even tried to seek a change.

    Do we agree on this?

  25. Trying to find reason – beside the verification that his own survivor-insticts working yet for another day – seems rather pointless.
    There is no such thing since awhile.

    All his communications endeavour serves only one purpose – to calm down/ensure the masses that he is still in control, in spite of all the mess piling high. All he does is trying to keep up appearances, while desperately scraping the pennies needed to keep the façade from tumbling down.

    All what matters is to put the Paks pact with the Russians in motion with no chance to return, hereby ensure that all his clan vill prosper ad infinitum – the rest is uninteresting really.
    Never mind, that – as I heard myself from one of the peoples in charge of the evaluation – they calculated the price and profitability (ROI) of the electricity generated by the yrt to built nuclear power plant based on a sixty (60) years of average !!!!!

    Think about it: the Paks power plant supposed to work for 60 years, and if it does, the price of electricity will be cheaper as it it is produced today by any European (western, that is) counterpart, so it will be profitable!

    I was totally awaken, as opposed to the man speaking, so I’ve heard right, albeit I could hardly believe to my own ears.

    Anyway, in my opinion Orbáns main interest is to make the scam of the century reality, the rest only icing on the (his!) cake.

  26. @ Buddy if one word describes something in one domain,it doesn’t mean it can not describe something else in another one,here is the disambiguation list for Vignette form wikipedia

    Vignette (graphic design), decorative designs in books (originally in the form of leaves and vines) to separate sections or chapters
    Vignetting in photography, any process by which there is loss in clarity towards the corners and sides of an image
    Vignette (literature), short, impressionistic scenes that focus on one moment or give a particular insight into a character, idea, or setting
    Vignette (road tax), a small, colored sticker affixed to motor vehicles in some European nations to indicate road tolls have been paid
    Vignette Corporation, a Texas-based commercial software company
    Vignette (vineyard), in viticulture, part of a larger consolidated vineyard
    Vignette (philately), the central part of a stamp design
    Vignette (psychology), a short description of an event, behavior or person used in a psychology experiment to control information provided to participants
    Vignette, sometimes used to describe an image that is smaller than the original
    Vignette (model), a form of diorama

  27. Karl Pfeiffer – In a way, I agree with you about Fidesz being able to mobilize riff-raff (as you put it), certainly in the sense that they personally are riff-raff, in that they have absolutely no morality. In anther way, however, I havenews for you: Football hooligans in Hungary now hate Fidesz deeply. I won’t give you all the reasons, but one is the vein scan they have to go through to attend matches.
    Football hooligans from some teams have songs about Orbán now. Rather disgusting ones.
    Just watch this – and note this happened well before the latest scandals:

    Or this, from min. 5:51:

    Quite a lot of them HATE Orbán.
    I don’t want to see them mobilized on the streets, as they were (by Fidesz) in 2006, but they’re clearly ready to make trouble again.

  28. Re the motorway toll:
    Orbán is reported by as having said:
    ” Meanwhile, those (foreigners) who only pass through Hungary, will pay more and thus extra revenues will be generated for the budget. ”
    I interpret this as a planned raise of the “regular” toll – and of course it concerns all drivers who use not just one county’s road …
    So again there is this difference between what he is telling the sheeple of Hungary and what he will really do!

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