The Orbán government is at a loss: Which way to turn?

Today even Válasz had to admit that the Hungarian government’s PR stunt that followed the less than successful Merkel-Orbán meeting was a mistake. Referring to the false news about mega-investment,” Valóság, after an earlier glowing report, had to retreat and acknowledge that “there is no BMW, there is no new Mercedes factory and Fidesz doesn’t seem to be successful in the RTL Klub affair either. This wouldn’t be drama if the government had the guts to deny Vs.hu‘s news. But now we do have a small drama.”

I don’t know whether we can call it a drama, but that the Hungarian government’s already tarnished reputation now has an ugly rusty spot as well, that’s for sure. AFP picked up the news about the gigantic German investments that were agreed on during the meeting between the German chancellor and the Hungarian prime minister, but unlike András Kósa, the author of the Vs.hu article, AFP, before publishing the article, did go to the “spokesman for the Hungarian government [who] declined to comment.” Not did the spokesman not deny the story, as Válasz would have suggested, but he purposely spread the disinformation. That leaves me to believe that this PR stunt was concocted by the large communication team around the prime minister’s office.

What can one say about a government that engages in such cheap tricks? Keep in mind that the team around Viktor Orbán was handpicked by the prime minister himself. The members of this team are the ones who manage “communication,” which seems to be the most important aspect of politics for Viktor Orbán. He is like a salesman who has only one goal: to sell his wares regardless of their value or even utility.

What were these communication wizards thinking? Surely they had to realize that sooner or later reporters will ask these companies about their alleged plans and the truth will be revealed. Indeed, Mercedes and BMW have already denied the leaked information about their plans to build factories in Hungary, and this morning we learned from the Siemens spokesman that Siemens is no longer active in industries connected to nuclear energy and therefore the news about their involvement with the Paks Nuclear Power Plant is untrue. As far as the helicopters are concerned, apparently no decision has been made. It is possible that after the meeting Airbus, the French-German company reported to have won the contract, might not be the favorite.

I can only hope that the story of this ruse will reach Angela Merkel’s office, not that I have any doubt about her assessment of the Hungarian prime minister’s character. In any case, the Orbán government’s courting of Germany as a counterbalance to the United States did not work out to Orbán’s satisfaction. Of course, he himself is partly to blame for the fiasco with his public defense of “illiberal democracy.” Even Gábor G. Fodor, a right-wing “strategic director” of Századvég, a Fidesz think tank, said that Viktor Orbán made a mistake when he openly defended his vision of “illiberal democracy.” In fact, he went so far as to say that “this debate cannot be won,” especially not before a western audience. If this absolutely devoted Orbán fan considers the prime minister’s defense of his ideology to have been a mistake, then, believe me, the mistake was a big one.

So, here we are. After all the effort the government put into good relations with Germany, it looks as if Angela Merkel was not convinced. So, where to go from here? There seems to be a serious attempt at improving U.S.-Hungarian relations. This effort was prompted by the long-awaited arrival of the new U.S. ambassador, Colleen Bell, who shortly after her arrival began a round of visits and attended to a number of official duties. Her first trip was to Csaba Hende, minister of defense, which was reported by Hungary Today, a  newly launched, thinly disguised government propaganda internet site. The news of her visit was coupled with the announcement of Hungary’s plans to purchase a new helicopter fleet. The fleet will consist of 30 helicopters that will cost 551 million euros. Discussing the helicopters and Colleen Bell’s visit in the same article was no coincidence. Most likely, the Hungarian government wants to give the impression that there is a possibility that the helicopters will be purchased from the United States.

Even more telling is the paean on the Hungarian government’s website to “successful Hungarian-U.S. economic cooperation.” The occasion was the opening of Alcoa’s “expanded wheels manufacturing plant in Hungary.” It is, if I understand it correctly, an expansion of facilities that have been in place ever since 1996. The construction cost $13 million, and it will create 35 new permanent jobs. The facility was officially opened by Colleen Bell and Péter Szijjártó. Szijjártó was effusive: “with Alcoa’s new investment, a new chapter has opened in the success story of Hungarian-U.S. economic cooperation.” We also learned that the Hungarian government “granted one billon forints for the project.”

Photo by Márton Kovács

Photo by Márton Kovács

Bell, for her part, appealed to Hungarian pride by reminding her hosts that, although Alcoa has existed for 125 years, “this is not very long in terms of Hungary’s 1000-year-old history, but for the United States, a 125-year period covers half of its existence.” Music to Hungarian ears. Of course, she also promised that in the future she will work hard to create new opportunities for both U.S. and Hungarian businesses and to further improve their cooperation. The mayor of Székesfehérvár, the city where the Alcoa factory is located, announced that the wheels of buses in the city will gradually be replaced with Alcoa products.

I somehow doubt that courting the United States in this manner will make Washington forget about the anti-American rhetoric of  pro-government papers or the incredible performance of the Orbán government in connection with the U.S. banning of Hungarian nationals because of corruption charges. Somehow I have the feeling that courting the United States without changing government policies will be just as unsuccessful as Orbán’s earlier efforts in Germany.

And one final note. Today Orbán announced that the fate of cheaper utility costs depends on his successful negotiation with Vladimir Putin on the price of gas and oil to Hungary. If he is unsuccessful, the current low utility rates cannot be maintained. The message? The Hungarian people should support his Russia policy. If not, their utility bills will rise again. Let me add that the team that came up with the idea of reducing utility prices hit a gold mine. The Orbán government’s popularity in 2012 was even lower than it is now. Yet a year and a half later the popularity of the party and the government soared. For Orbán utility rates are terribly important, and therefore I suspect that he will do everything in his power to strike a deal with Putin. The question is at what price.

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37 comments

  1. The Merkel visit was just a sideshow, it was never going to be anything more – it’s Putin’s visit that really matters.

    Orbán has already entered into a Faustian pact with the Devil, now, perhaps, we’ll start to discover the true cost of that deal.

  2. Fidesz is very successful in spreading “spin”, which was used most effectively the first time by Edward Louis Bernays, (1891-1995) Austrian-American public relation man. He did study crowd psychology, as well as traditional psychology.
    Edward Bernays regarded society as irrational, therefore it should be manipulated. The short definition of “spin” is to spread false news in every media available and retract it later in a few. That false news will remain in the minds of the large majority of the people, the retraction will be forgotten soon, it will be read by most of those, who did not believe the story to begin with.
    Edward Bernays is named in Life Magazine as one of the 100 most influential Americans.
    The nazis, with Goebbels in control, used the spin effectively to influence the entire population of Europe and partly America too.

  3. Eva: “which was reported by Hungary Today, a newly launched, thinly disguised government propaganda internet site”.

    I was wondering why launch a new English website? Apparently, if you Google Hungary, and then select NEWS, you use to get say ten plus hits on the news of the day from various sources. Now you get ten plus hit of which six are Hungary Today.

    So even Google is manipulated by VO and his minions.

  4. @Ron

    Search result manipulation is legal. Plus you can pay google legally (that’s how its business model works). It’s effective, it works.

    The “communication” for Orban is key. Its importance for him cannot be overstated.

    This BMW, Siemens lie – as this was a clear lie Putin style – worked. In the Hungarian media nobody even deals with the fact that this was a lie which was repeated countless times.

    I tested many colleagues and while they had heard about the fantastic “deals” until late afternoon yesterday they had not heard about the reality (only from me then). The retraction of any news is received by half of the people who heard about the original sensations.

    Orban masterfully moved away the discourse from politics to business and give people hope (whoa, we’ll have BMW and even if not trues, it would be so nice, daydreaming is nice). For those people who don’t follow news on a daily basis the trick worked.

    Today, there is a new cycle of news and nobody cares about Merkel or foreign policy any more.

    The state tv channels already made up stories and had fake interviews with “random people of the street” who turned out to be lesser known actors. (But the viewers of the state tv channels wouldn’t know about that of course.)

    Orban will do what Putin has been doing because – let’s face it – it worked for Putin, who is more popular than ever. No Western politicians may dream of the popularity and commitment Putin is now enjoying. Since there is no downside for Orban, he will try to emulate that success.

  5. wolfi, I read this and I have to say it’s irrelevant. Any such diagnosis doesn’t explain anything and leads us no closer to any kind of solution of any outstanding issues.

    Moreover the definition of Asperger’s is so vague and problematic that even if true, we wouldn’t really know how to deal with the diagnosis. The related autism is also a very debated area of psychiatry.

    I think such a conclusion and even contemplation of such a ‘diagnosis’ replaces and directs away from more important issues.

    For example Orban clearly has serious neurological issues, I would bet a huge amount that he’s been on prescription drugs for long, but what does that mean? That he is not responsible for his actions?

    I think Orban may be legitimately called crazy in everyday language, but he functions well enough and he commands his “army” and rules his domain as ever. So we have to deal with him.

    A diagnosis of a physical (potentially life threatening) illness would of course be an entirely different issue, but we have seen no indication of that, though I agree that if Orban was sick Switzerland would be a logical place for treatments.

  6. @Gelb:
    Of course you’re correct, but still the question remains:
    How could people like Putin and Orbán reach these heights of power – in so called democracies?

    Totally OT but relevant in a way re Mercedes-Benz:
    http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/daimler-macht-milliarden-gewinn-zetsche-will-noch-mehr-sparen-a-1016816.html
    Their business was so good last year that they’re not only paying a nice dividend – every one of their 135 000 workers in Germany gets an extra bonus for last year of 4350€!
    That’s more than some of my neighbours here in Hungary make in a year with a full time job …

  7. Ron
    February 5, 2015 at 2:15 am
    So even Google is manipulated by VO and his minions.

    If it is manipulated it is simply by hiring people who know how to work with html, http tags (keywords), content, content generators, putting together a correct “maps”, meta tags, no url redirects, ALT, etc. Google crawls the sites, and although real people could check on sites that is simply to make sure that the site complies with certain non-crawlable guidelines. Frankly Fidesz does what it always did, and that is to spend money on communication. Their propaganda machine costs a lot. THat is an area every other party have been neglecting. THeir other parties hire week PR people, and hardly put any money toward communication. Fidesz hired PR firms from Britain, the USA, etc. Fidesz is pouring money into all of his press. THe past independent Origo gets 4times more advertising revenue from the government that before it became a Fidesz outlet.
    This is not new problem, as I recall writing about this for 6-7 years now on this site. One of the reason Fidesz keeps winning is their PR. THey buying up the media, and they make opposition media silent. They spend actual money on PR, not like the opposition.

  8. Eva S. Balogh
    February 5, 2015 at 7:55 am
    Today. I’m mad too. Hungarian Spectrum is no longer listed by Google Alerts but half the news comes from Hungary Today.

    Let me look into that.

  9. Eva, I am not sure what you are referring as Hungarian Spectrum is posted under web. It is that it should be under Blogs? I will send you a private email.

  10. Wolfi and Gelb: for me the USA Today article was most interesting when it dealt with the Movement Pattern Analysis of Putin, Medevyev. MPA can reveal decision-making behaviors, social preference (crowds, being alone/isolated, etc). This is good information to have when dealing with anyone! I agree, the Asperger’s dx doesn’t help much. Warren Lamb developed this material, based on Rudolph Laban’s theories and ideas about movement.

  11. A deal’s a deal. You can’t say you can’t deal with Lazar. :-DDDDDDD

    As many may remember Origo.hu which is owned by Magyar Telekom (in turn owned by Deutsche Telekom) fired its editors and most of the rest left as a protest against the political meddling some months ago.

    It was suspected (actually acknowledged by all people involved except naturally for Telekom itself) that Origo’s total castration was part of a deal between the Germans and Orban as origo.hu was too popular and – according to Fidesz – too critical, or at least dealt too much with politics.

    Since Orban has the power to tax and nobody likes to be taxed, the Germans realized after some nudging that they had to give.

    Now, since the restructuring of the site – which is still extremely popular, mainly due to its default site status when Telekom installs internet services – it became openly pro-Fidesz.

    The best part is that since the “unfortunate events” origo.hu somehow managed to increase its revenues from state entities – which have enormous influence on the Hungarian advertisement market – wait for it – fourfold.

    Mark may words, RTL Klub will end up similarly, ever so gradually during the summer season when viewership anyway drops the political news will be phased out so when the new season begins in September nobody will even remember RTL had political news. A deal’s a deal and the Germans are a thankful people.

    http://cink.hu/negyszeresere-ugrott-az-origo-allami-reklambevetele-1683924981

  12. Also interesting is that via these media purchases (which are unnecessary and totally phony, make no business sense for the state-owned entities) the pro-Fidesz TV2 received last year a whopping 10bn HUFs of state subsidies.

    It is worth remembering that TV2 was purchased by two fronts (managers of the company) who act on behalf of an oligarch Zsolt Nyerges and they did not pay anything upfront but rather undertook to pay the purchase price in instalments and only from the cash flow of the company itself.

    In other words the Nyerges/Simicska-clan-related owners of TV2 are purchasing the station from taxpayers’ money.

  13. Re origo.hu. Evan as late as in 2012 the revenue from such state entities was zero forints. Now it’s more than one billon. Pretty impressive growth. Nudging works.

  14. Re communication – the standard answer from the Fideszniksz, when something goes so wrong that even they have to admit it, is that it wasn’t the policy/action/whatever that was wrong, “it just wasn’t communicated properly”.

    It’s the only criticism of Orbán you’ll ever hear – that sometimes he gets the communication of things wrong.

  15. It is not just Origo, although that is the only one I have mentioned above. There are other media that also gets way more money that the others. A few month snack I posted the exact figures, but the new figures are even more scary. One interesting change is that Simicska’s media empire is fallen victim of the “new world order of Hungary”, and receives way less money then the time when Orban and Simicska were best buddies. Very telling.

  16. OT:

    Did anybody by chance happen to hear György Bolgár rip into Tibor Szanyi on Bolgár’s show ‘Let’s Talk About It” about an hour ago? Oy vey.

    Let’s just say that Szanyi isn’t doing his party any favors. If I were a Fidesznik, I would have been highly entertained by the entire exchange.

  17. @nini63 Search result manipulation is legal. Plus you can pay google legally (that’s how its business model works). It’s effective, it works.

    No this is not the case. About the fact on a search item you pay to become first I get this and I think it is in line with the business model.

    However, I am talking about if you do one search (in this case Hungary), you get 10 plus hits, and six of them are Hungary Today. That is not correct.

    Furthermore, my experience is that it take about a half year after starting a website you will be start to get noticed by Google. I do not know when Hungary Today was launched (their first Facebook article was on July 4, 2014). So I assume it was June 2014, so it took them 7 months. This is too short. Something fishy is going here.

  18. “Movement pattern analysis means studying an individual’s movements to gain clues about how he or she makes decisions or reacts to events. First developed in Great Britain in the 1940s by Rudolf Laban, a Hungarian movement analyst and dance instructor…”

    They really do get everywhere!

  19. “The Orbán government is at a loss: which way to turn?”

    – How about belly up?
    Long overdue already…

    Quite depressing to watch how these really primitive and low communication-stunts still working after so many years, and will again next time.

    The intellectual ‘black hole’ effect already so great, that pretty soon Hungary will not reflect any light at all, I’m afraid.

  20. @Ron, I am not sure where you get your info in Google but it is not how it works. NOthing is legal about manipulating the results. You can pay for paid placements but that’s very clear. Legal???? Is there a law I am not aware of? At any case Google heavily punishes those who try to manipulate their site for better placement. Although google uses an algorithm, some of the sites are checked by real people for various reasons. It does not ale half a year to get on Google if you know how to do it. You have to understand metas, references, algorithm, but you can get on as little time as 48 hours, if you use the right google tools. I know this as a fact! Hence my original point that people who work for Fidesz know what they are doing, not like those who are guessing.

  21. Some1 Sorry my information on google is limited. And for the record I do not believe it is legal to manipulating the results.

    However, I can imagine that a website will come out first in a search (with or without payment), but six times? That is something entirely different. Something is not right.

    I hear rumors that you can pay some poor guys and gals to like you facebook, but I never hear anything similar regarding search results in google.

    Again I do not know too much about this.

  22. @Webber, I read something this morning. Maybe just a sentence somewhere in a Hungarian-language article that one cannot rely on the United States because it is only interested in the region if it happens to be in its own interest. I don’t know what’s wrong with this. After all, just yesterday Orbán said that Hungarian foreign policy should be based on self-interest.

  23. Totally OT but I just want to reply Ron. Yes you are right, for Facebook and Twitter you can buy likes by the thousands. THere are companies set up oversees to like handle thousand of accounts to like your page. For example IMDB has a ranking system that depends on the clicks of the actors’ IMDB page, how many people lie their twitter, Facebook, how many times they are mentioned in the press. Google data can be manipulated but not on google but at the page source. If and when Google finds about that they would kick you off from google. Of course hackers are a head of any tools, so yes it is possible that someone manipulates the data, but it is not at the end of google. If you find out some sites manipulation, you can actually report them. Now, reporting a news site is tricky. What are you reporting on? You can only report if they dirt the traffic or ranking some funny way to their site of it is clearly a shill site.

  24. Hungary Today publishes a dozen articles daily. No wonder their search engine results are good on “Hungary” in general… at least, at times when the country doesn’t make front page news in the Foreign english-speaking press.

    As for the HS not being listed any more in Google Alert/Google News, I hope someone can sort things out. A problem with sitemaps, perhaps?

  25. @Eva S. Balogh – Based on what Orban said about Russia’s greater importance to Hungary than the US, the question is why is Hungary still in NATO?

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