Signs of internal divisions within the Hungarian governing party

In the last few months, as the popularity of Fidesz has been steadily declining, signs of serious internal divisions within the party have been proliferating. Ever since November one opinion poll after the other has reported serious losses in popularity for both Viktor Orbán and his party. Fidesz still leads, but the parties on the left are gaining ground. In fact, for the first time, the number of voters favoring all the democratic opposition parties combined is slightly higher than that favoring Fidesz.

It was almost inevitable that Fidesz’s political leadership would start looking for explanations for the waning popularity. Of course, the most obvious target should be Viktor Orbán himself. After all, Fidesz is a monolithic party where, according to grumbling party leaders, all decisions are made by the prime minister, who is also the head of the party.

His confidants nowadays are not the grand old men of Fidesz but upstarts like Antal Rogán, János Lázár, or the mysterious Árpád Habony who allegedly has no position either in the party or in the government yet is privy to the most confidential information if not state secrets. The old Fidesz leaders who joined the party twenty-five years ago either left a long time ago or Viktor Orbán set them aside. The less important characters had to be satisfied with positions inside state companies or insignificant administrative offices; the more important ones were either given positions that have clout on paper only, for example János Áder and László Kövér, or were shipped off to Brussels. Zoltán Pokorni, who at one point was chairman of Fidesz, had to be satisfied with a humble district mayoralty.

Until last November Fidesz spoke more or less with one voice, the voice of Viktor Orbán. If there were doubting Thomases, they became convinced by the cleverly orchestrated elections that, after all, “Viktor was right.” In fact, he is a political genius who can overcome all obstacles and lead the party to victory not just for the next four or eight years but for a very long time. Now, however, it looks as if Orbán has lost his touch. Instead of being able to correct his mistakes, he piles new ones on top of earlier ones. Moreover, several times in the last few months he had to retreat, which must have shaken the confidence of his closest associates.

I suspect that we are still not at a point that we will hear open criticism of Viktor Orbán himself. Instead, the criticism is directed against the men around him. The first public quarrel occurred in December when Zoltán Pokorni said a few disapproving words about the extravagant lifestyle of János Lázár. Kövér chimed in, taking Pokorni’s side. It is a well known fact that Kövér is no friend of Lázár, who runs the government’s daily business, serving as de facto prime minister, while Orbán himself acts like its all-mighty president, moving effortlessly on the stage of world politics. The quarrel didn’t end there. Lázár shot back and told Kövér that “a political veteran should think twice before he attacks us out of personal resentment or for political gain because he not only weakens us but also weakens or even executes himself.” I guess in this instance “execution” means the end of this veteran’s political career. This is not an idle threat. When after the lost 2006 election Orbán found out that some of his political friends at a party had discussed the desirability of replacing him because of his mistaken election strategy, they were promptly sent into political exile. The most prominent victim was János Áder. More recently, Tibor Navracsics, who as minister of justice criticized the legislative practices introduced by the prime minister’s office, soon enough found himself in Brussels.

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In January we learned that József Szájer and János Kövér also have their disagreements, primarily over Hungary’s relations with the European Union. Szájer is an old timer all right. He was one of the founders of Fidesz but, as opposed to the provincial Kövér, is now serving his third five-year term as MEP in Brussels. In his case, Brussels is not a political exile. He is still a very close associate of Orbán. In fact, Szájer’s wife is perhaps the most important person in the Hungarian judicial system today. In any case, the two old friends from college don’t see eye to eye on the European Union. Kövér belongs to the right wing of Fidesz, a Euro-skeptic who ordered the removal of the EU flag from the parliament building and instead put up a newly-designed flag of the Szeklers living in Romania. About three weeks ago Kövér in an interview expressed his dislike of the European Union and said that it might not be a bad idea to think about leaving. Szájer openly expressed his dissatisfaction with Kövér’s ill-considered statement in an interview on ATV.

Then came another open disagreement, this time between László L. Simon, undersecretary of János Lázár in the prime minister’s office, and Gergely Gulyás, the right-hand of László Kövér and head of a parliament commission dealing with legislative matters, who talked about the likelihood of modifying the law on freedom of assembly. This announcement was unfortunate. It looked as if the Orbán government was planning to restrict the current law and was thereby intending to limit the kinds of demonstrations that took place recently on the streets of Budapest. L. Simon immediately announced that the idea was Gulyás’s private opinion. The government has no intention of revisiting the law on assembly. A very wise move on the part of the government.

Then about ten days ago Zoltán Illés, earlier undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture in charge of the environment, decided to go public with his criticism of the Orbán government’s nonexistent environmental policies. Illés is a committed environmentalist and was useful to Viktor Orbán when Fidesz was in opposition as he attacked the socialist-liberal governments for their neglect of environmental issues. Illés was everywhere a tree was cut down. He organized demonstrations and blocked several projects because of environmental considerations. In 2010 he most likely saw himself as the next minister of the environment and must have been taken back when the ministry was abolished and he became only an undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture. But, as he explained recently, he still hoped that even in this position he could be effective. That turned out not to be the case. His position was stripped of practically everything that used to belong to the minister of the environment. Between 2010 and 2014, while in office, the formerly vocal Illés was quiet as a mouse for example when hundreds of trees were cut out overnight around the parliament building. Eventually he no longer could stand it. He was the only Fidesz member of parliament to vote against building a new reactor at the Paks nuclear power plant. That sealed his fate. Not only is he no longer an undersecretary, he didn’t even receive a cushy job. Now he “tells all” everywhere he has the opportunity.

In the last few days there have apparently been open disagreements between Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán on immigration; between Zoltán Balog and Károly Czibere, his undersecretary, on the segregation of Roma children; between Antal Rogán and László Trócsányi, minister of justice, on the necessity of new legislation in defense of religions.

Finally, newspapers reported yesterday that János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament, published a long critique of his party and the government on his own website.

The parrots are starting to learn words of their own.

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39 comments

  1. From your pen to God’s ears!
    I fear it may all just be squabbling over who gets a bigger piece of the pie at the boss’s table.

  2. Webber I agree with your point. However, the Fidesz mayors around Budapest are not backing down regarding this new toll of the M0 and M2. Btw I just watching ATV an Interview with Fonagy and Kalman about, among other things, the matrica. Theu still try to sell it to the public.

    Furthermore, I hope that RTL Klub does not change their reporting since Fidesz is try to make amends.

    And further I am so curious what Merkel is going to say.

  3. @Ron: It doesn’t look very good for Dirk Gerkens, the CEO of RTL Klub. It seems that the Orban government started talks over his head, with RTL Group’s management in Germany.

    “As luck may have it, 444.hu reports that Gerkens’ contract with RTL Klub is set to expire, i.e., it’s up for renewal. While Gerkens himself is not part of the meetings between the government and RTL Group. According to a source close to the matter, “peace talks” between the government and RTL Group are close to being finished and the following can be expected:

    The government will decrease its current tax that unduly targets RTL Klub to 10, possibly 5 percent, (down from 50 percent),
    Dirk Gerkens will leave his position as CEO of RTL Klub,
    RTL Klub will tone down its coverage of politics in its news broadcast.”

    http://budapestbeacon.com/featured-articles/govt-negotiates-bertelsmann-rtl-klub-lead-merkel-visit/

  4. An I believe that Dirk Gerkens carried out orders from above. I am pretty sure that he is part of the negotiations (perhaps not in person), but at least he is kept in the loop, in so far we know these type of things.

    And as I understand he may be after 20 years looking for something new. Perhaps a Board position?

  5. Ron, there are no “board positions” in Hungary at least not as they exist in the US. You either have a job or not. These positions in Hungary are totally meaningless for young and active people like Gerkens.

    Fidesz wants Gerkens and Kolosi (why him is exactly a good question, I guess he was too successful and there are some personal issues regarding him or his dad etc.) fired and Fidesz always gets what it wants.

    More importantly, Fidesz wants to send the unequivocal message to local managers of any foreign company that they should always cooperate when they get a message from the government because in the long run their bosses in Germany, France, Italy will fire them anyway as part of a deal. So Fidesz suggests that they should effectively become representatives on behalf of the government vis-a-vis their foreign bosses, explaining and even defending unfavorable government actions.

    It’s not a surprise that no local Hungarian or even expat foreign manager raised their voices against the banking taxes, energy company taxes and other regulatory restrictions. These local managers became effectively representatives of the government defending the government (and of course their seats) by advocating calmness with their bosses. People also tried to keep calm because they knew they couldn’t really count on their foreign bosses, who were always ready to cut a deal with Orban. (eg. denying repeatedly that a certain company would be for sale when in fact negotiations have been ongoing for months.)

    Now Gerkens and Kolosi will soon realize that nobody messes with Fidesz but especially not employees of German companies.

  6. On June 12, 2013, I estimated that the [unnecessary] offshore companies that sell Hungarian residence permits earn 69,000 euros per permit, while the Hungarian state earns very little.

    A new estimate by index.hu puts the profit of the offshore companies (connected to Rogan) at 74,000 per permit.

    Since the interest rates have decreased on the open market, the Hungarian state now actually loses on each permit.

    The Rogan scheme deprived the Hungarian treasury of 164 million euros or 51 billion forints as of December 31, 2014.

    http://index.hu/gazdasag/2015/01/29/valaki_boduleteset_kaszal_rogan_otleten/

  7. I don’t understand why anybody would see the deal between Lázár and RTL as a loss for RTL and actually blame RTL for closing a deal like that. One year ago RTL wasn’t broadcasting any politically sensitive news – they are an entertainment channel. Only because Fidesz didn’t like that RTL was independent they wanted to punish them. As a reaction RTL started showing critical news. Now Fidesz is undoing the taxes, so RTL wins and Fidesz is losing face because they failed in their plan. Next to this it’s out in the open now that Fidesz did introduce the tax only to harm RTL and that they are willing to take losses to avoid critical news.
    If everybody blames RTL for this Fidesz wins.
    I really don’t understand though what RTL is to blame for. Why would they spend billions of forints (and with that not being profitable anymore) just to offer some independent news? It’s a German company that is here to make profits showing easy-entertainment.
    Blaming the western-multinational is really the rhetoric that Fidesz would use.

  8. Theoretical question: Does the government (its politicians, employees, ministers, etc) offering an incentive in exchange for certain services that is not in any interest of the Hungarian public, would consider bribe?
    Simply, Lazar is out there offering money from the taxpayers pocket (lowering taxes) to RTL in exchange for them not to report the ams way on the government and its employees as it currently does. I did not agree with the “special tax” at he first place, as it was simply a way for the government to get rid off RTL. But the tax now is in place. The government either removes the tax, or not. If there is some discussion, why is it between one person and Janos Lazar? Why are the other parties (ATV) were not at the table? There is something fishy, and it is called, bribe!
    I understand that Germany cannot put a “no travel” ticket on certain individuals, but the USA can and did. RTL in fact plays hundreds of USA animations, documentaries, and films. Such bribe indirectly does affect the interest of USA production companies.
    I ca only hope that Lazar will end up on the list in the company of other disgraced Hungarian politicians who use the Hungarian taxpayers money to better their political position.

  9. @Miki – Because some of us are naive enough to believe that the free press is a value in and of itself.
    Media companies that share this belief erect an iron wall between their business/entertainment operations and their news operations. RTL Klub has already proven that no such iron wall exists. When Fidesz was RTL’s friend, news coverage was soft and mooshy (In 2002, I did an interview with Gerkens in which he declared that Fidesz was much less intrusive into news coverage than the MSZP had been.) When Fidesz became their enemy, Gerkens ordered the news team to get tough.
    If RTL were a real news organization, they would have been tough on all governments of all political stripes all along. They weren’t.
    Now, they have a golden opportunity to stay the course of hard-hitting news coverage. Sadly, it looks like they are going to retreat the same old rut of “what’s good for RTL’s bottom line is good for our news team.”
    For this, RTL is to blame. It is simply shameful

  10. An other thought.. Cam Merkel “strike down” on RTL as a company that takes bribes? I mean if they will “soften” their approach for gaining incentives offered in the form of lightening up of taxes, that is still accepting bribe….. Isn’t it? Orban and Lazar offers or pushes a bribe from taxpayers money on RTL, but if RTL softies that is actual acceptance of the bribe.

  11. Of course this is giving and accepting bribe, but considering that independent media doesn’t exists in Hungary it’s not realistic to expect the RTL group to spend so much money doing it either. Next to this I think it’s a big difference between RTL and lets say CNN. RTL doesn’t have investigative journalism in their profile. I am sure they won’t suddenly broadcast good news about Fidesz, they will just stop showing political news – just like they did before the advertisement taxes was introduced. They (as many other multinationals) want to be a-politic.

  12. Miki, c’mon.

    RTL Klub is under statutory obligation to provide balanced news programs which inform people. Prior to the tax RTL was in flagrant breach of this obligation and got away with it.

    Since the tax, RTL decided to comply with its obligations. RTL was balanced and fair as its new programs were factually true, accurate and RTL certainly did not promote the opposition (note that there were no libel actions etc. only political complaints). RTL finally did what its duties were.

    Now, however, RTL – for money (abolishment of taxes) – has undertaken a deal pursuant to which, again, it will not comply with its obligations, not show news segments (will fail to inform the public about news) which may be deemed as detrimental to Fidesz’ political interests and this behavior will be accepted by the regulator (even if that will be a clear violation of the media laws). Is this corrupt or not?

    I propose it is.

    Even assuming RTL is a for profit company and oblivious to the fact that it operates in an effective dictatorship (the very fact of the deal is a symptom of a dictatorship, as no democracy would force a media company into such a deal) no company may agree (undertake, create an understanding etc.) with a state regulator to receive special tax treatment, a tax waiver in exchange for abandoning its statutory (and moral) obligations.

  13. I wouldn’t read too much into the bickerings between top Fidesz politicians. Illés was never a serious insider. He was and is a lightweight maverick. The people sent off to Brussels were not sent there to wash bottles, but as trusted leutenants of Orbán, to lead the battle against the momentum of Orbán’s kleptocracy. The public bickering is due to nervousness among the kleptocrats, that they may all lose their extraordinary privileges if they get booted out. Orbán’s fortune has already been made. It is not at all far fetched to suggest, that he will not be running for the Prime Ministership in 2018. The insiders know this. Members of the inner circle are jockying. for the succession. A new, gentler, kinder Fidesz, with very effective grass-roots networks throughout the country, facing off against a democratic opposition, that can’t tie its shoelaces, stands a good chance of being reelected. Remember….it ain’t over until it’s over….

  14. @Miki

    Re RTL.

    The fact of the agreement was leaked by sources close to the government and this was acknowledged by 444.hu which broke the news. This alone proves that this will not be a loss of face for the government.

    The reason for the leak was clear.

    The agreement shows to the naïve opposition-leaning people that they are alone and there is nobody to help them in any way. They have no media, especially as Orban – through its rearrangement of the state media and the cable channel packages – will soon totally control the minds of his subjects, just as Berlusconi did or Putin does.

    The last hope for a more balanced information of the public was dashed.

    More importantly, Orban showed to the opposition that he still has full power and influence even on supposedly powerful foreigners (the almighty multinationals).

    “The West” still – after all the obnoxious and corrupt operations of Orban – supports him, because it (eg. RTL) dances to his tune.

    The picture is clear: the mighty Mrs. Merkel can’t and won’t interfere, she just doesn’t care even when the support of RTL Klub would be politically invaluable.

    She is actually so powerless that she can’t even tell Orban to abolish an otherwise unfair and illegal tax, so that RTL has to deal and wheal and give up the most important part of any editorial room, its integrity.

    Orban by this move dashed any naïve hopes of the opposition-leaning people that they will be helped by anybody. They naively trusted the West, but the West abandoned them yet again. And Orban and Lazar never enjoy the fun more than when they see the liberals outraged.

    Of course I think Hungary is for Hungarians to reform and change. But in an effective dictatorship, in a poor country, with total media control how does one do that without some help, especially at the start up phase? When even foreign multinational are allowed (forced) to breach a law and may abandon their duties?

  15. Today, after ‘consultation between the government and RTL, the tax created last year specifically for RTL of 50%…has been reduced to…5%.
    Is this modern governance?
    Is there any government in the world that would effect such gross intimidation, and
    manipulation of government powered??
    None.
    And woe be to the mindless Hungarians, as citizens and a society, who have not the
    wherewithal to see where this will lead.

    (Of course, there is mother Church which solemnly intones: “Our Viktor, he’s
    working tireless on your behalf.”)

    Indeed.

  16. You really shouldn’t expect too much from “The West”!
    Hungary got its chance in 1989 and if Hungarians can’t adjust to democracy (and capitalism …) it’s their own fault – Mrs Merkel might think along these lines.

    And any way Hungary is just one of those not too important countries on the fringe of Europe. To illustrate this point I often use a simple example:
    When we buy electronics or some food specialty (whether it’s pizza or some Mexican stuff) in the Aldi/Lidl here in Keszthely I look at the description and find it in ten or more, some times even over 20 languages …
    So if the producer lost the Hungarian market that would mean less than 5%, ok – sh*t happens but it wouldn’t kill the company …

    Back to reality:
    Today we heard from our neighbour that he lost his job as a builder, actually his boss said he might continue but only as a “black worker” which he declined. He already phoned his former boss who will send him again to work in Vienna. So he will appear again in the stats as working – but outside the country …
    And on similar lines:
    http://www.bbj.hu/economy/ksh-retail-sales-increase-51percent-in-november_91668
    In 2014 sales increased in comparison to 2013 by around 5%, but why?
    One reason might be the introduction of those new cash registers – it ain’t so easy any more to sell something without a receipt …
    Even our masseur writes a “számla” now and then and asks us to keep it for the tax authority …

  17. You may all right about the moral obligation of RTL to bring independent news and inform their viewers to their best capabilities….but this is still just a company that has one main goal which is making profit.
    To me this deal shows two things. Fidesz wanted to get RTL out of the country and they failed, they didn’t wanted to silence the critical voice of RTL because they didn’t have one before the advertisement tax. The other thing that this shows is that Fidesz openly spends tax money on bribing companies.

  18. I love it how Western people always love to negotiate, hold meetings.

    Orban punished RTL in the form of a tax or simply Orban just wanted to purchase RTL on the cheap and it made RTL pay. The tax is probably illegal under EU law. (Orban also regulated the cable industry which caused additional losses to RTL .)

    But instead of Germany or Luxembourg protesting loudly and calling up Orban to abolish the illegal tax there comes pressure from German/Luxembourg politics on the victim, RTL, to appease its aggressor Orban.

    It seems it was politics which forced RTL to sit down and negotiate the tax.

    But what can RTL possibly give (negotiate away) to Orban?

    What could Orban possibly want? What is it that Orban likes above all?

    Why does European politics think RTL has to give something to Orban, when Orban was clearly acting illegally and in a predatory manner?

    Why appeasement is always the immediate reaction of Western politics to aggressors?

    Ohhh, dear doubting commenters, Orban and Putin are so winning.

    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20150129_Diplomaciai_nyomasra_ult_le_Lazar_targyal

  19. Miki, you are entirely right on this one. This odd belief that as OV managed to intimidate and frighten apparently close to all Hungarians means that if foreigners do not care much, they are also intimidated and frightened, is just absurd. For RTL it is business, for the Hungarian citizen life. What use does this moralising about the behaviour of people from other nations have except making Hungarians feel that “do you see: nothing can be done about Orban”. And in that people have to be disillusioned and disappointed: of course Hungarians can do something, it is after all their country.

  20. I’m afraid the Fidesz (aka Hungarian Government) – RTL deal – if its true – is clearly criminal act.

    Yes, a plain and simple ‘extortion’: “I’ll make you pay dearly, unless you do what I say!” with the right amount of “official misconduct,” since the lawmaker ‘dealing’ with it’s official capacity: “I can change the law to your behalf, if you do as I say!”

    This is much more serious breach of the ‘freedom of speech’ or/and the ‘freedom of expression’ than it looks at first sight!

    How comes, that there is no international, at least German – Hungarian uproar about this?

    Ar we managed to get so accustomed to the dealings of the Orbán-mob that it became the ‘norm’?

    If I was RTL I would certainly find a way to record and document all this, and air it in every country they have at least one single channel – and see, what happens.

    In a normal country – let alone, it wouldn’t happen – the government should go right away, after it came alight that they acting such unlawful way, I have no doubt.

    However, Hungary is another kind of country, I have no doubt about that either…

  21. Regarding the RTL deal if it is true is not only extortion as described by spectator, apparently it is also black mail. According to Portfolio (see link below) “Lázár did not leave anything to chance and arrived in Berlin with a folder containing the sensitive personal business deals of Rudas, the paper added. ”

    http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/hungary_would_lower_ad_tax_for_rtl_if_station_cuts_govt_criticism_paper.29076.html

    And regarding to earlier comment of Vilmos Fogg regarding Board position. I was talking about Luxembourg or Germany. Why would you like to be Board member in Hungary? Only problems and no business.

  22. Kirsten,

    RTL Klub is a Hungarian company, make no mistake about it. It is only owned by a foreign corporation, but it is a Hungarian company nonetheless. RTL is not just any foreign entity which is entitled to do whatever it wants to do.

    Electronic media (broadcast TV) is heavily regulated all over Europe and RTL Klub must operate according to Hungarian *laws* which duly prescribe independent information of the public and not just the provision of empty entertainment.

    Media doesn’t just exist in the world and exactly because it plays an important part in our lives it has important moral (as well as statutory) obligations too. Especially in a quasi-dictatorship with a much-criticized media law and a heavily controlled media scene.

    I am a bit surprised that some commenters here suddenly defend RTL’s reprehensible wheeling-dealing by simply saying that it’s a for-profit company, it’s only natural to work for an agreement (understanding, or whatever it will be) with a hateful dictator to concentrate on (transition into slowly, so as not to make the change too sudden) showing five headed flying cats and refusing to criticize the dictator. Making money off people kept deliberately stupid and ignorant. And that’s in the EU with all the haughty principles about human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Oops, kiddo, business is business, you gotta understand…

    No drug company would deny that it would have to do research in an ethical way or that its business actions could potentially raise serious ethical issues. That’s the nature of the business they chose to operate in and RTL’s situation is no different.

    RTL certainly should not operate according to deals hammered out in secret, back room negotiations after which Fidesz would undertake to overlook the abandonment of its obligations in exchange for a tax relief. There can be no excuse for that in my view.

  23. I agree with Kirsten. RTL won.
    Look at the timeline.
    RTL was never, ever interested in reporting critically about whatever govt. was in power (I include the pre-Fidesz era in that never, ever). RTL was always only interested in making money.
    Fidesz introduced a grotesque tax targeting RTL, to try to force the station out. I always assumed the goal was to leave people with only entertainment on channels owned by people close to Fidesz (bigger market share=more advertising revenues).
    RTL then, for the first time, began to broadcast news revealing corruption in the Fidesz government.
    Fidesz upped the ante with threats against RTL management and more taxes.
    RTL didn’t stop the critical news.
    Fidesz got critique from abroad for all this.
    RTL news became the most watched news program in Hungary.
    Fidesz’s ratings fell as RTL news’s ratings rose.
    Result –
    Fidesz will drop the tax.
    So, I’ll say it again: RTL won – on its own terms. Fidesz backed down.
    Admittedly, it’s a shame for Hungarians that RTL may stop critical reporting now.
    But RTL never cared about Hungarian democracy. It cared only about profits.
    Back to watching ÁTL news.

  24. @ Heike

    “Orban and Putin are so winning.”–Not.

    Actually, the house of cards (in both countries, and now Greece, too) will be tumbling.
    With all these Russian bombers flying all over the place, I expect to see an accident soon.
    “Oh, sorry. Couldn’t be helped.”

    Mind you, the constriction in ‘elvtars’ domain doesn’t much worry him–he could easily do
    with about 50 million fewer Russians. After all, how many people do you need to cater
    to your one and only asset? And, with the long term gas deal with the Chinese, they might
    even farm the labour out to them, too.

    Now, Greece is a lovely story. How did they manage to pull 600 billion out of the EU?
    Beats me. No wonder Mr. Opportunist, our very own Mr. O, came galavanting on his
    white horse to declare to all and sundry, “We have the same problems, too!” But sigh,
    no one bought it. Not a bad try, though.

    Back 15 years ago when we traveled though Halkidiki, the men in the various towns, with
    shiny new cars and freshly painted guest houses, had never-ending complaints of how
    bad things were. Their wives, who cleaned house and cooked, never said a word. The husbands, by early afternoon, were mostly gone to their poker game.

    And the third Muskateer of this infamous try-some, Hungary. Do people really think Orban
    is doing well? Just because RTL buckled? When, exactly, did a company defeat
    a government in modern times? But it’s a pyrrhic victory. The shit will soon hit the fan,
    and the mustachioed Hungaricoes, dumbfounded, will ask: “Where did this come from?”
    And the answer will come from Orban and mother church: “The Jews!! The bloody Jews!!!”

  25. @Webber

    I like your logical thinking and you had a point if this was an abstract game. However, the terms of the game keep changing, so to say. You never enter the same river twice, and this is not about narrative consistency. Every game is a new game. As Andre Kostolanyi said about investments, you cannot ever win back your losses. You can make profits which compensate for the losses, but every investment is a separate game.

    Whether of not RTL was failing its obligations for a long time and still managed to get away with it (with the support of politics) does not negate the fact that going back to that approach would be a clear breach of law and of moral obligations.

    Forcing rich foreigners, who own and control – and even you don’t deny that – the single most important media company into abandoning its critical stance (it’s actually very misleading to call it critical, because it only shows the reality — what other channels deliberately refuse to) is a victory for Orban and an unbelievable loss for democracy.

    Such a loss, I posit, that that no Western manager sitting in Gütersloh or Brussels overseeing dozens of foreign media markets could really understand its importance at this juncture. Merkel having grown up in the East might have an inkling, though she certainly wasn’t the rebellious type. They just don’t know how such a rotten system works from the inside, they remain observers/players of (which is for them) a game, which is bloody serious for the citizens of Hungary.

    Hungary is not the same country as it was in 1997 or 2005 or 2010. It is now an effective dictatorship with a deranged leader and an unimaginably corrupt crime family at the top of the pyramid.

    To sell the muting, taming, subduing of the only media company with the ability to spread knowledge about the most thorough corruption (and in a corrupt deal, no less) as a victory for RTL is totally shameful.

    You actually make a favor to Orban. He lets you think you (RTL) won, when in fact his single biggest headache is gone, how can that not be a huge victory for him?

  26. What “unbelievable loss for democracy” are you talking about? How should RTL save Hungarian democracy if we read here daily that nothing is less important to Hungarians than some Western ideas about rule of law (too complicated!) or citizens’ participation? It is important to “win like Putin”! Only some dull Westerners consider democracy important in their unfailing naivete! People in Hungary do not care about complicated politics and if they happen to care at least about their own grievances in Orbanisztan they immediately add that they would like their complaint to be understood as apolitical, not bound to any “party” or movement, just a personal observation. Definitely we should not believe that they are in the company of… (any other person who might be a potential ally but cannot because of whatever “moral failures” can be found in its life). It is this environment of uncertain terms and fuzzy notions of everything related to society, politics, some common action and apparently also “moral behaviour” that creates the situations where the only thing that you can do is “morally fail”. This moralising about everything, connected with individual survival strategies that are far from some moral doubts, is unproductive.

  27. Maybe I’m missing something, but in a sense, RTL Klub did win, simply because it’s staying in business. With the 50% tax, it was only a matter of time before Bertelsmann shut RTL Klub down. No government was subsidising the television channel (unlike, say, RT or Al Jazeera), so a responsible corporate management team would eventually shut down a money-losing operation, or face consequences from shareholders.

    Of course this is horrible in many ways, but Orbán did obviously want to destroy RTL Klub for whatever reason, and he was thwarted. Yes, RTL Klub still has to pay 5%, so it didn’t escape without a scratch, but it’s better for Hungarians that there is still an independent broadcaster of significant size in Hungary. If they kept showing honest news, they would be gone. Now they are back almost to where they were. The bear attacked the hedgehog and limped away with quills in its mouth, but no serious damage. The hedgehog certainly suffered some damage, too, but also not serious. The only real losers are democracy and the Hungarian people.

  28. Prof Balogh,
    Small point, given the focus on RTL, but the dates re Mr. Illes in office – don’t you mean 2010 – 2014?

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