In Viktor Orbán’s absence anti-regime forces are gathering

The Hungarian media is full of articles and opinion pieces about Viktor Orbán’s disappearance since Christmas Eve, when he posted a silly selfie peering from behind a Christmas tree. He missed his customary New Year greetings and was not spotted anywhere getting in or out of his Volkswagen minibus. Given the less than friendly domestic atmosphere, the media and the public suspect that he’s in one of his alleged depression cycles that usually happen when things aren’t going well for him. When asked, the chief of the prime minister’s press department claimed that he is not on vacation. He is working as usual, but from home. And those Hungarians who can scarcely wait for one of his Friday morning monologues will be happy to know that the prime minister will deliver his pearls of wisdom tomorrow.

Orban 2014 karacsony

In Hungary everything revolves around Viktor Orbán. If he disappears for over two weeks, the domestic news flow shrinks to practically nothing. Issues that are currently making waves are the results of earlier bad decisions, like the law on Sunday closings and the introduction of tolls on roads that were until now free.

Since nothing is happening on the government front, I’ll turn to a recent article by András Bruck, one of my favorite political commentators. About this time of the year, a day after Christmas in 2013, I wrote a fairly lengthy summary of one of  his essays entitled “The Sign” that appeared in Élet és Irodalom. Unfortunately, the essay is not available for non-subscribers to ÉS, and therefore I suggest that you read my post, “András Bruck’s new encounter with George Orwell’s 1984.” In brief, Bruck recalls that in the early 1980s, when he was first able to read 1984, he was disappointed. The book was about “a different bad world” from the one in which he lived. While making love he felt neither fear nor hatred. He didn’t consider the three famous slogans of Ingsoc, WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH appropriate for Kádár’s Hungary. However, re-reading the book, he came to the conclusion that “every word of that book from the first to the last is about this sick, deformed regime in which, just like in the novel, the binding agent of power is lying.” His conclusion is that Hungary is a dictatorship pure and simple and that those who claim that Hungary is still a kind of democracy are kidding themselves.

Lately, András Bruck’s essays no longer appear in ÉS but in HVG, perhaps because he would like to reach a wider audience. Earlier he wrote infrequently, but since early November he has published two articles and gave an interview to Sándor Friderikusz on ATV. This radical critic of the Orbán regime seems to be optimistic for the first time in the past five years. The title of his November 7 article is “Before newer demonstrations.” He correctly anticipated that the first large demonstration would be only the first of many. As he said in the interview, he had enough of “a regime in which a well-developed socialism came into being for the rich minority and an underdeveloped capitalism for the majority.” This rich minority receives undeserved benefits without competition while the majority gets only the burdens of a poorly developed capitalism.

It is this deformed political system which at last is meeting resistance, not only by those who went out to demonstrate but also by those hundreds of thousands who are by now openly critical of the regime and want to put an end to it.

Bruck maintains that although a lot of people charge that Orbán’s political decisions are ad hoc, the truth is different: “Here everything happens according to a master plan.” It all started with two concepts cunningly devised: (1) a centralized political field of power that ensures permanent governing with a weak opposition and (2) the introduction of unorthodox economic planning. These two concepts, once put into reality, “enabled Viktor Orbán to establish a one-party system and his own personal rule.” His “illiberal confession” last summer merely marked the finished job.

Just as the socialist one-party system was impossible to reform, the Orbán regime cannot be “corrected” either. But the good news is that “this sick, deformed regime … has as much chance of survival as all its similar predecessors.” And “this new mass on the streets last week sent a clear and understandable message and for a moment the government took notice.” But only for a moment because they are convinced that they will be lucky and “there will never be a last straw.” In dictatorships it is quite often the case that there is a “total lack of any sense of danger” among the perpetrators. The people who have been serving this regime believe that they have nothing to worry about. It doesn’t occur to them that one day a new parliament may declare the present system a dictatorship and hence illegitimate. They think that their clever lawyers will save them and that their wealth will be safe stashed away somewhere outside of the country. But this time these sins shouldn’t go unpunished. Only unblemished individuals should sit in judgment. Some opposition politicians are not worthy of the task.

Bruck finishes his essay by quoting Gergely Gulyás, whom he describes as “the young star of Fidesz’s good cop department,” who said in Berlin recently: “Hungarians know very well the difference between democracy and a one-party system, the rule of  law and dictatorship.” Bruck added, “He said that well. Yes, we know it.”


  1. Completely off topic but when Viktor Orbán wants to have less schooling for Hungarian youngsters I just received the following news alert from CNN:

    President Barack Obama says he’ll propose making two years of community college “free for everybody who’s willing to work for it.”

    “We … have to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages and better benefits,” the President said in an announcement the White House posted to Facebook and Vine on Thursday.

  2. My input: President Obama will use his last two years to make his mark as one of the very best American presidents, especially now that he has been able to free himself from the congressional forces that have hamstrung his first six years. His community college initiative is bold and vital. See in today’s New York Times:

    The following quote is particularly significant. Hungary could very well attend more vigorously to the development of human capital among all its young people:

    “The roots of President Obama’s ambitious proposal for free community college can be found in a 2008 book by the economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz called “The Race Between Education and Technology.”

    “The book, a combination of economics and history, tells the story of how the United States built the world’s most successful economy by building its most successful education system. At the heart of that system was the universal high school movement of the early 20th century, which turned the United States into the world’s most educated country. These educated high school graduates — white-collar and blue-collar alike — powered the prosperity of the 20th century, Ms. Goldin and Mr. Katz demonstrated.

    “The 20th century was the American century,” they wrote, “because it was the human-capital century.”

  3. OT, but not really.

    President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka was voted out from his long-held post.

    Rajapaksa was a dictator and was not only a war criminal (“ending” the long civil war with the Tamil Tigers) but he regularly sent his underlings to murder annoying journalists. He also imprisoned potential competitors.

    But Rajapaksa was similar to Orban in corruption, preferring family and friends (many acted as Strohmanner just like in the case of Orban).

    Orban is using EU funds and Russian money he can amass from energy deals, Rajapaksa used Chinese funds (who want to create a friendly state close to India and on the cargo route to Europe). Also the Sri Lankan economy grew hugely so he thought he could loot the treasury.

    Sri Lanka has a kind of democratic history like Hungary, so it happened that people at one point got fed up with his crazy antics and voted him out. Probably not much will change, but at least this dictator will disappear.

    Let’s see.

    Fico was voted down, Ponta was voted down, and now Rajapaksa. If there is one (as opposed to half a dozen) opponent, it seems that corrupt, repulsive people can be voted out (even if the margins were slim, underscoring the lock of the incumbent on the minds or many).

  4. “Orban is establishing the neutral/non-aligned Hungary”. In this regular Friday speech Orban apparently said something about not being beholden to the US or any allies.

    Lawyers close to Orban, before his coming to power in 2010 let it slip that they wanted a completely new constitution. But these slips were not picked up. On (a business news portal owned by oligarch Zoltan Speder) there were articles about the idea of the potential nationalization of the private pension funds, but again nobody picked them up.

    Orban actually talks quite openly. Orban came to terms with the idea of Hungary’s exit of NATO. Orban is only waiting for the political opportunity to do so. He is actually waiting for the collapse of the West, as it were, a huge crisis for the euro or something similar — he is a real believer of the ideas of Dugin and those of the “preppers”. He is convinced that the collapse is near and then he will lead Hungary out of this collapsing West. I shit you not. Orban made up his mind. He is not saying it loudly yet, but he is letting it be known to those who want to hear it.

  5. Luise, I would include to your analysis the complicated political system of Hungary, which would allow for Orban to stay in power for a much longer period of time.

  6. The Hungarian government has now done two small things that might irritate Russia: A week ago Hungary re-started reverse transfers of natural gas to Ukraine. The Hungarian government finally sent solid evidence to Brussels to support the request to remove Jobbik MEP Bela Kovacs’s parliamentary immunity (accused by Budapest of being a Russian agent), and Brussels has now said that the evidence appears to be sufficient. Assuming that Brussels will remove Kovacs’s immunity, it will be up to the Hungary to start a serious investigation and prosecute Kovacs.
    Admittedly, Moscow might be uninterested just now in reverse transfers of gas, because Russia too has resumed gas sales to Ukraine. And Moscow might view the prosecution of Kovacs as a message from one gangster to another that Jobbik is the opposition.
    One shouldn’t discount the possibility that Orban views himself as a sort of Hungarian De Gaulle – a constant irritant to Washington and NATO, and a maverick, but still a committed member of the alliance.
    Otherwise I agree with Bagoly-vaári – based on everything else that has happened, leaving NATO would be a logical step for Orban to take.

  7. @Webber. I just read yesterday that Ukraine no longer wants gas from Hungary. They haven’t forgotten Hungary’s decision to stop shipments when Ukraine needed gas most.

  8. @Eva. In Kiev, the Hungarian government is considered a vassal of Moscow. Since that’s the view in Moscow, as well, it’s perhaps not a surprise.

  9. I can’t believe even Orbán wants to leave NATO. It’s Hungary’s only protection from creeping Russian expansion.

    It’s all very well trying to play Russia off against the West (if you like playing with fire – knowing full well how it will end), but is the man who started his political career by making the “Russians go home” speech, seriously going to let the Russian Empire reabsorb Hungary?

  10. @Paul – Dear me, there is no Orbanian intent to ‘protect’ Hungary from the Russians, au contraire!
    You may try and get familiar with the idea that Orban’s only interest is all about Orbán and NOT about Hungary. Sounds strange,considering he is the Hungarian Prime Minister, I admit that much, nevertheless, this is it.
    As long as he gets his stadium and all the funds needed to fuel his favourite pastime, he is completely happy and satisfied, particularly when all his vassals prising him 24/7.

    So, if the price for maintaining the status what he prefers is to give away Hungary to the Russians he will not hesitate for one single minute.

    That’s what’s going on, by the way, for awhile, camouflaged as “National Interest”!

    And the populace even support the idea being sold out.
    Go figure!

  11. I used to hear that a picture worth more than a thousand words.
    As is right here, above.

    There are occasions when a public figure should appear for one reason or other, I know.
    Yet, I would be reluctant to let myself pictured openly when I have such serious hangover, but then again, I’m an old fashioned guy with some manners ‘von haus aus’, not tho mention, living outside of Hungary since a quarter of century, so how could I know to do the right thing on the Orbanian way?

    But still. besides that ‘he’s got balls’ hanging on that christmas tree, the rest is rather pathetic

    Did anyone seriously considered this picture as something what will strengthen the image of the “Great Leader”?

  12. @Paul – When Russia and Hungary weren’t delivering gas, Slovakia and Poland were – through reverse transfers of gas from their systems. Now Russia is delivering gas again.
    Poland, allegedly, has large reserves of gas locked up in shale that will be brought online in the near future. If the information I’ve read is correct, Poland’s gas supplies will make it an exporter. They are more than enough to cover all of Poland’s needs.

  13. The BBC has just reported that Orban will join other European leaders at the rally in support of Charlie and freedom of the press to be held in Paris at the Place de la Republique on Sunday.

  14. “Left-wing newpapers contend that the Charlie Hebdo murders should be interpreted as an act against free speech. A pro-government columnist suggested that the cartoonists were not respecting the sensitivity of Muslims, and that in future such cartoons should not be published so that similar tragedies can be avoided. Liberal and leftish bloggers and journalists dismissed such ideas and joined in solidarity with their French colleagues.”

    Obama is a partner of the Hungarian government papers.

    Orban and Obama should be excluded from the Paris meeting.

Comments are closed.