A different kind of media war: Lajos Simicska versus Viktor Orbán

What a day! A shakeup–no, an earthquake–at Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Nemzet Online, HírTV, and Lánchíd Rádió, all part of Lajos Simicska’s media empire.

For those who have been following Hungarian politics over the last few years Lajos Simicska needs no introduction. He was the favorite oligarch of the Hungarian prime minister. His companies won about 40% of all government contracts financed by the European Union. What fewer Hungarians remember about him is that in the early 1990s it was Lajos Simicska who saved Fidesz from financial collapse. As Zsolt Bayer, a friend of both Simicska and Orbán, admitted, “without [Simicska] there would be no Fidesz today.”

This is not the place to go into all the gory details of this financial rescue operation. Suffice it to say that the young democrats received a piece of property from the Hungarian state for a party headquarters, which they subsequently sold. They invested the proceeds in all sorts of business ventures that failed, one after the other, leaving behind millions in company debt and unpaid value added taxes. It was Simicska and a lawyer friend of his, Csaba Schlecht, who came up with the master plan. They “sold” the failed companies to bogus individuals who couldn’t be traced. Among them were homeless people who for a few forints agreed to go to a notary and sign anything that was put in front of them. Two of these people became especially infamous. Simicska and Schlecht got hold of the passports of a Turkish guest worker in Germany, Ibrahim Kaya or, as he is known in Hungary, Kaya Ibrahim, and a Croat named Josip Tot. The scandal broke during the first Orbán government, and naturally the police made no serious effort to find the culprits. One could say that Fidesz was born in sin.

For the better part of a year rumor had it that the relationship between Orbán and Simicska had soured. All sorts of hypotheses were put forth about the reason for their fallout. The most prevalent was that Orbán no longer wants to be beholden to one person and would like to widen the financial circle around Fidesz. Soon enough there were signs of Orbán’s efforts to loosen the ties with Simicska, and of Simicska’s response. By last fall a number of journalists who were absolutely devoted to Viktor Orbán were sacked at Magyar Nemzet. In early January we learned that Orbán no longer wants to help the Simicska media empire with advertisements by state companies. These media outlets have to stand on their own feet; he will throw his financial support behind the state television and radio. It was clear that something was brewing, but what really brought matters to a head was the announcement yesterday that the Hungarian government will substantially lower the advertisement tax on RTL Klub and, instead, every media outlet, even the smallest ones, will have to pay a 5% tax on their advertising revenues. That was the last straw for Simicska, who went on a rampage today.

Source: Magyar Narancs / Photo: Dániel Németh

Source: Magyar Narancs Photo: Dániel Németh

First, Simicska got in touch with Népszava last night and told the social democratic paper that “the media war will most likely become total” from here on. He told them that he considers the government’s proposed tax on advertisements “the latest attack against democracy.” In an interview with Origo he claimed that it is not money that is his first consideration, but “what will happen if one day Viktor Orbán scratches his head and decides that he will double the tax?” In brief, he is complaining about the same thing the German businessmen did to Angela Merkel.

When Simicska really lost his cool was early afternoon after he learned from his own paper, Magyar Nemzet, that Gábor Liszkay, editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet and CEO of HírTV; Ottó Gajdics, editor-in-chief of Lánchíd Rádió; Gábor Élő, editor of Magyar Nemzet On Line; Péter Szikszai, deputy CEO of HírTV; Péter Csermely, deputy editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet; and Szabolcs Szerető, deputy editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet, had resigned. Their conscience, they said, does not allow them to work for a paper not in the service of Viktor Orbán.

Well, at that point Simicska went berserk. The man who in the last twenty years hardly ever appeared in public and who never gave an interview suddenly gave interviews to everybody who phoned him. He answered the phone himself and, in response to questions, spewed an array of four-letter words. First he talked to József Nagy of Hír24 and allowed him to publish their recorded conversation. He accused Viktor Orbán, whom he repeatedly called “a prick,” of being behind the resignation of his top management. He also talked about a war between two men, one of whom will fall and that fall can be “physical,” which may mean death, but he is ready even for that. “They can kill me! They can shoot me or there will be a hit-and-run accident.” From an interview with Origo we learned that Simicska and Orbán haven’t talked to each other since last April.

Perhaps the most revealing interview with Simicska was conducted by Magyar Narancs. Here he insisted that he “maximally disapproves of the government media policy” which in another interview he explained involves dividing media outlets into three categories: those who are absolutely loyal to Viktor Orbán and the government; those who here and there are critical; and the enemies. Of these three Orbán can tolerate only the absolute loyal ones and will systematically eliminate all the others.

Apparently Simicska doesn’t like Viktor Orbán’s pro-Russian foreign policy either. And let me quote him verbatim on the topic. “No, I don’t like it at all. I grew up at the time when the Soviet Union was still here and I don’t have pleasant memories of the activities of the Russians in Hungary. I can’t really see any difference between the behavior of the former Soviets and the political behavior of today’s Russians.”

At this point the interviewing journalist interrupted and reminded Simicska that, according to rumors, his disagreement with Orbán has more to do with business than anything else. For example, he was left out of very profitable business transactions connected to Russian natural gas. But Simicska insisted that “there are more important things in life than money.” He and Orbán initially got together “to dismantle a dictatorship and the post-communist regime. It turned out that this is not an easy task. One must work at it. But I did not join Orbán to build another dictatorship to replace the old one. I’m no partner in such an enterprise.”

After the journalist reminded him that he and Orbán have been close friends for thirty-give years and therefore it must be hard to part in this way, Simicska said, “I must admit that it is a great disappointment. I thought he was a statesman, but I had to come to the conclusion that he is not.”

Simicska didn’t have much time to waste. As he said, Magyar Nemzet must be published tomorrow and he has to appoint a completely new top management. Moreover, Gábor Liszkay, editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet and CEO of HírTV, was a shareholder in these companies. Simicska had to buy him out. Within a couple of hours the deal was completed. Simicska apparently paid Liszkay 100 million forints or “thereabouts.” Gábor D. Horváth, the only top journalist who didn’t quit, became the editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet, and Simicska himself took on the role of CEO of HírTV. And who became the editor-in-chief of Lánchíd Rádió? You won’t believe it. The same old Csaba Schlecht who managed to “sell” the bankrupt Fidesz companies to Ibrahim Kaya and Josip Tot.

I’m looking forward to seeing the articles published in the “new” Magyar Nemzet tomorrow and the days after. Will the pro-Russian and anti-American articles still appear, or will there be a noticeable change in the coverage of Hungary’s relations with Russia, the European Union, and the United States? If yes, then Simicska’s claim to having serious disagreements with Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy can be taken seriously. Otherwise, it is just a lot of hot air.

53 comments

  1. May I offer a haiku on this occasion?

    “Orban is geci”
    Works in English or Magyar
    Schadenfreude complete.

  2. Lajos Simicska could end up like Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky did in Russia when Putin put him in jail. Possibly Simicska and Khodorkovsky can have coffee together in Switzerland once this is all over. I am sure like Khodorkovsky that Simicska has fully loaded Swiss bank accounts. It was really fun to listen to the recording of Simicska ranting about OV, thanks for the link.

  3. I wonder what Viktor is doing tonight?
    What merriment is Viktor pursuing tonight?
    The candles at his house, they never burned so bright,
    I wonder what old Viktor is up to tonight?
    (With apologies to the songwriters of the 1968 film ‘Camelot’)

  4. @Marcel Dé

    The spelling is different, n’est-ce pas? I do not think straight French women like the word…

  5. What I fail to comprehend in the y/y debt numbers is this:

    On the one hand,

    Growth of the net debt > growth of the gross debt > 8%

    On the other hand,

    Reported deficit to the EU < 3%

    This is a bit of a contradiction, isn't it?

  6. @Istvan

    Khodorkovsky is Jewish, so it was not difficult to put him in jail. Simicska is not (although I already saw comments today that made him an “honorary” Jew to be eliminated)

  7. It is not Orbán – and his henchmen – that Simicska has to worry about, but the Russians. If Simicska kicks the bucket of fecal material which is the dealings of Orbán and the Fidesz in the last 25+ years, and because of it Orbán ends up out of power, Putin will lose his puppet inside the NATO and the in EU.

    I would be very hesitant to get on the same plane with Simicska when he leaves for a week of well deserved vacation.

  8. SQUALOR AMONG THIEVES

    What is striking is what low-lifes both Orban and his foes (and former school buddies) like Simicska really are. And they are dragging the whole country down with them — enough of the populace along for the ride willingly to furnish Orban with an on-paper 2/3 majority twice in a row, enough to make a shambles of the Constitution and the rule of law. It is embarrassing. It is sinister. And how much worse will it have to get before the populace finally decides to rid itself of the whole shameful lot?

  9. The interview with Hir24 just confirms what was said many times on this blog: this whole group is a gang of the worst kind. The language Simicska is using is probably worse than what one could hear in any Mafia movie. And I guess he was until recently an insider. So this is the level of this “leadership”, now it is in the open. If they are reelected into a majority ever again, I would say that petofi – not Sandor, but the one in this group of commenters – is right (as much as I would hate to admit it).

  10. @gdfxx

    I would trade all the brownie points of ‘being right’ for the opportunity to live in a country led
    by decent, law-abiding men under the rule of law.

  11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leviathan_%282014_film%29

    The Russian film Leviathan is a master piece that everybody ought to see. Among other things it demonstrates the horrendous foul language used within a corrupt mafia. Although the film was released in 2014 it was first shown in Russia two days ago, and all the bad words were, according to Russian law, muted out. They could only be enjoyed by those who can read lips. Not so with Simicska’s recent interviews.

  12. @tappanch: I submitted a question to the Deutsch consultation:

    “Do you support that the ban on Sunday opening in the retail sector be withdrawn?”

  13. Magyar Nemzet has been pro-Russian, anti-US and anti-EU for well over a decade, perhaps for longer. It’s not just the readers who expect this line, but the entire staff is like that, they can’t change overnight. I agree that we have to wait and see if something substantial happens or not. By the way Metropol and ClassFM are more important that these media and also Heti Valasz is Simicska’ and Andras Stumpf a youngish pro-Orban pundit also left to Mandiner yesterday (he of course attributed his sudden leave to other factors, but nobody believes those).

    I guess Szazadveg is busy conducting polls now to find out whether Orban is expected to act by the voters to solve this challenge to his authority. Probably only a few people even heard about this incident.

    The Magyar Narancs journalist also wrote on his blog that he had the feeling after the long interview that Simikcska was deeply afraid (retteg).

  14. I’m of the opinion that there’s a good chance this whole thing will blow over really quickly, and Simicska’s comments about getting shot or hit by a car or whatever will turn out to be vastly overblown.

    I think Simicska’s most revealing comment was in his mini-interview with Népszabadság, when he said, “today I call him a prick. I might not tomorrow, because I’m angry [now].”

    That suggests to me that the whole point of causing a big ruckus was just to insult Orbán in the most demeaning way possible and make sure it gets printed and read by a large number of people. Notice how many times Simicska told journalists to take down his exact wording.

    Do not underestimate the enormous satisfaction you can get by calling our extremely-vain prime minister a “prick” in the media and get away with it. As my wife put it, “No one could have said that in the media about Rákosi,” which is prima facie evidence to everyone that Orbán is not as omnipotent as he would like to believe he is.

    One of the memes I saw yesterday was a billboard that said “Hungary’s Prime Minister” and showed Simicska’s face, which I think makes a similar point.

    I suspect that the bad blood between the two men will continue, but in time Simicska will go back to supporting the Fidesz party line.

  15. @buddy: that’s not the way I see it at all – SL is a powerful businessman who became completely exasperated with OV’s way of ruining this country. As he said himself, he is no longer motivated by money (he has plenty). I believe he is sincere when he says only one of them can survive. And if anyone has the necessary dirt to bring down this government, it’s him. I’m hoping this will result in the end of VO’s power trip. It’s the most important political event of the last 8+ years. If VO survives this, I fear nothing will stop him. He would be more confident, and therefore deranged, than ever. For all who hope for an end to VO, this may have been the pivotal moment.

  16. @ Live long and prosper

    “For all who hope for an end to VO…”

    Get a grip on yourself: for uppity challengers, Viktor probably has a polonium
    sandwich or two…

  17. I enjoyed Hír t.v. last night. The news readers, who spent the past few years lying with smiles on their faces, looked like they were in shock. There were even a few comments critical of government. I may even start buying Magyar Nemzet again.

    There’s another aspect of all this related to that other media empire owned by Gábor Széles and containing Echo T.V. and Magyar Hírlap. Széles just gave an interview very critical of Simicska. Széles’s media has always been much, much farther to the right, and also more pro-Putin than Simicska’s ever was.

    So I wonder – could all this be taken as yet another sign that Orbán really is going to fully embrace Putin and dump the West? I’m truly asking, because we’re all stuck now in the arcane, misty world of Kremlinology, or Orbanology.

  18. @petofi: you seriously think he would resort to murder? I really hope you are wrong that things have reached that stage. But even if he did, it would also seal his fate – who would believe any denial in case of the unexpected death of SL? I think his play may have entered the final act. ….Unless he cancels the next election….

  19. Shit happens. And this with Simicska is only now. I am sure he has some dirt on Fidesz and VO and they on him. So I do not expect major changes.

    However, what worries me is why the opposition is soooo quiet, and when do they start to unite??

    Fidesz rules, and I am afraid this will continue for a while, unless the opposition start working together.

  20. It is possible that Orban added the worst to his recent series of blunders. Not because Simicska is such great threat, although he is a formidable man, but because Orban neglected to size up his chances against the media.
    It is not yet forgotten how Richard Nixon got into a war against the media and how miserable results he gained from that. This entire spat may also be a test of how much democracy is left standing in Hungary. Sure, Orban can turn to force and violence, but if the press gets onto his case, (and Simicska is in possession of the most damning secrets about Fidesz, he can blackmail probably all of them), he can soon find himself on the bottom of a very steep slope, fighting an uphill battle.
    Orban made a terrible mistake when he turned against his own media far too soon, before the state media were ready to extol him. For the next 4-6 months he is without the massive propaganda machinery that kept him going, but made enemies of his supporters. This may prove to be fatal.
    The question is whether Simicska is talented enough and angry enough to scuttle Orban.

  21. I would love Live Long and Prosper to be right, but I fear it will all blow over, as Buddy says, barely creating a ripple outside Bp and the chattering classes.

    But, on the bright side, this is still something no one who has watched Orbán over the last decade could have predicted – the master of propaganda and control slipping up so badly. If nothing else, it is yet another indication that things are beginning to unravel and that perhaps we are, at last, seeing the beginning of the end.

    Although how long that end will take, and what it’s result will be is anyone’s guess. But I fear, whatever the outcome, it won’t be good for Hungary.

    As for Ron’s question “where are the opposition and why are they so quiet?”, it’s almost as if MSzP have ceased to exist. Are they so ineffective that they just don’t know what to do, or have they simply given up, or, as is often speculated about on here, have they been paid off by Fidesz?

  22. One minor correction: Csaba Schlecht is not a lawyer and has never been, but a history/cultural education graduate of ELTE’s Faculty of Liberal Arts, as well as one of the leading distributors of samizdat publications in Budapest throughout the 1980s. He was recruited (in 1989/1990) to help the publisher Janos Gyurgyak (his close teenage friend) in emerging businesses that eventually got closely linked to Fidesz. Hence the Simicska connection. I do not know how he evolved since 1990 (when I met him for a last time) but until then he was an impeccably good man with his heart and mind at the right place. But yes he has always been naturally cynical with not much respect for law.

  23. Orban looked at yesterday’s meeting between Hollande, Merkel and Putin and realized that Putin has won.

    The united French-German “axes” couldn’t push him down. It turned out that Merkel and Hollande didn’t travel to Moscow to present any serious peace plan but because Putin (yes, the aggressor) was sending demands to Berlin and Paris that the West accept a rebel controlled area of Ukraine which would be even bigger than what the rebels hold today. In other words Putin took the initiative, upped the ante and the West couldn’t do anything.

    This is all Orban needed. It’s clear that Putin is strong, the voters adore him and the West just doesn’t know what to do, but even if it “knew” (there was an agreement on something) they couldn’t defeat Putin, after all Putin has the nukes as a last resort and his treat to use it is much more credible than any such potential threat made by any other nuclear power.

    In other words, Putin is currently pushing the West into a game which Putin will anyway win (Russia will commit more people and arms to the conflict than the united West is willing to) and which victory will create a new Tzar out of him and make the West look like even more of an impotent entity it is now. And this is the ultimate victory for him, to show the world that the West is weak, it’s no match to the Russian Empire. Orban hopes that Hungarian voters will also realize that it’s better to align with the winner than with the losers.

    This is the kind of performance by a “statesman” which an Orban admires.

  24. What rubbish, Benya. Where do you learn such stuff?

    Hollande and Merkel went to Russia as a face-saving measure for Putin. ‘Face saving’ for a Russian is even more important than saving his ass. Putin is rapidly becoming the leader of
    a country heading directly into a recession. We’ll see how long his popularity lasts then.
    What Orban should be learning is that the West can act in concert against an aggressor and
    the lesson is a long and drawn out one…if he’s learning anything at all.

  25. Petofi beat me to it – from the reports in the German press Merkel made it clear that the EU will not tolerate Russia’s aggression! She said something like: I grew up behind the wall – I know how it is …
    And the economic pressure on Russia is helping her, so Russia is not a good example to follow for Orbán.

    Re the EU and the slowness of the democratic processes we have a saying:
    Gottes Mühlen mahlen langsam – aber trefflich fein. Freely translated:

    The EU’s mills take a long time – but the grain will be very fine …

  26. Petofi, Wolfi:

    As much as I’d like to believe you this is what Chancellor Merkel had to say: “Ukraine crisis will not be solved by military means.”

    Recession or not, Russians can endure a lot and even if not, what can they do in a police state? Not much. To organize a nationally distributed party is an almost impossible task in small Hungary then imagine that in Russia where the successors of the KGB maintain the same internal spy network as KGB did pre-1990 and you have ten time zones and a crazy media scene that is almost impossible to imagine even in Hungary.

    For now, Putin is literally adored and loved, any kind of criticism of him is seen as traitorous. Putin is prepared to throw any resources behind the “rebels” (Russian soldiers in all but name) especially as this will provide his legitimacy. And what can the west do? Put another dozen people on a list or prevent Russia from issuing bonds or whatnot? I have not seen any instances in world history in which economic sanctions would have worked. In our case it was the oil price which caused some damage but Russia can endure a lot with its rainy day fund and the crude price can increase too (as it actually did some 20% since the bottom). Anyway, I don’t see Putin losing anything (his people in Ukraine continue to capture more and more land and they will hold on to it) and Orban just loves people treating the west like that. He is reassured that Putin’s power is for real.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/07/ukraine-crisis-will-not-be-solved-by-military-means-says-angela-merkel

  27. I would like to bring in the attention to those who read Hungarian a document that was signed by Viktor Orban on January 19, 1988 in solidarity wit the Romainans.
    http://beszelo.c3.hu/cikkek/szolidaritasi-nyilatkozat
    Her is s short sample:
    “Today we know: [Caucescu] did not sought the independence of the country, but fought for the decoupling of his dominance, and for his undisturbed personal power. Today, a whole country suffers, as the family clan ignores their own nation as well, ignores and mocks their elementary interests and needs. ” etc.

    “Ma már tudjuk: nem az ország függetlenségére, hanem csak saját egyeduralmának függetlenítésére, személyes hatalmának háborítatlanságára törekedett. Ma már egy egész ország sínyli meg, hogy a családi klán mennyire semmibe veszi saját nemzetét is, semmibe veszi és gúnyt űz legelemibb érdekeiből és szükségleteiből. Az anyagi, szellemi és erkölcsi nélkülözés olyan létfeltételeit teremtette meg, amelyek súlyos következményei több nemzedékre kihatóan veszélyeztetik az ország népét és sorsát.

    A totális diktatúra a szabadság teljes megvonását, az éhínséget és a szellemi elsivárosodást a nemzetgyűlölet felszításával akarta elfeledtetni. El akarta hitetni, hogy a román nemzet számára a kisebbségek jelentik a fő veszélyt. “

  28. @Benya – in the short term, you may be right. In the long term, Putin is playing a game he can only lose
    As to the German and French efforts – Merkel and Hollande clearly want to be seen as a peace-makers. Good for them! That’s noble. If they have failed, the failure is not so much theirs as Russia’s.
    Both Merkel and Hollande can return to their electorates, and can say to Europe that they did the best they could. They can now say that Putin wants war, and is unwilling to compromise. And they can push for more sanctions. Nobody can say, now, that they did not try.
    Russia is losing a lot in other ways. Russian boys are dying in Ukraine. The Russian economy is floundering. Russia has destabilized one of its neighbours, has ruined its neighbour’s economy, and has sown the seeds of hatred. A generation of young Ukrainians are learning to hate the regime in Moscow. Ukrainian identity is being solidified like never before. All of this will have long-term effects on Russia. An impoverished Ukraine will not lead to a wealthy Russia – far from it! Russian investments, also, have been destroyed.
    Moreover, Russia has strengthened NATO, and has focused its attention. Just a few years ago America was talking about moving its forces toward the Pacific, and many in Europe and Washington wondered why the alliance even existed. That question has been answered definitively by Putin.
    As to Orban and his view of Putin and his cosying up to Russia: Assuming you are right, and Orban has committed himself to Putin – It’s nice of Orban to show Hungary’s supposed NATO allies just what the alliance means to the Hungarian government. You can be sure that the lesson has been taken. Better to know now, than in a critical situation. Information channels have surely been narrowed already. IF (still an if)Hungary really decides to go with Russia, the alliance can expel Hungary, or Orban can take the country out of it. The sooner the better. But if Orban is committed to the NATO alliance, the sooner he shows it the better. Right now, it doesn’t look like he is, does it.

  29. It’s difficult to read about the long term in politics (history), like Putin is doomed in the long term or Russia is losing in the long term. Sure, I mean these are all probably true and one can even say that communism (really existing socialism) we now know was doomed from the beginning. But that’s not a huge comfort for people who have to endure the present and the near future. I just don’t see how in the short term Putin can lose this game into which he is pulling, forcing the west. It’s a bit like when Orban purposefully pulling the opposition into discourses which the opposition cannot possibly win (immigration, German memorial etc. – if the opposition enters the discourse it will be apparent that it is unpopular and it is the same old liberal entity people love to hate). Russia’s provoking the west knowing full well that nobody can do anything, it’s a security council member with thousands of nukes. Orban himself will not leave any alliance, he will keep provoking the alliances as he has been provoking the EU by his kleptocratic system which is now effectively a parasite of the EU.

  30. I think Webber’s logic makes more sense. Russia is only a big country geographically, in reality it is poor and weak. Putin is basically trying a bluff, backed up by his military power. But as long as the West refuses to play the military game, and sticks to economic and trade sanctions, Putin will lose (or go out in ‘glory’ – but is even he crazy enough for that?).

    As for “what can they do in a police state?”. The answer is the same as they have already done once, in 1989. And the people of Hungary, Romania, East Germany, etc. All of whom lived in a police state that looked impossible to defy and seemed to be eternal.

    What did it for those police states, with all their power and terror? Economic collapse – aided and abetted by the enormous economic power of the West, and loss of faith in the system by the people.

    How long before Putin’s police state (nowhere near as all pervasive and powerful as the USSR’s) begins to crumble as the people get poorer, life gets harder, and more and more of their sons come home from a very unpopular war in boxes and bags?

  31. The truth is, Putin had an opportunity, early on, to swing the economy away from its quasi-colonial status (if we define a colony as exporting raw materials and importing finished products, then, yeah, Russia is a colony) towards something fundamentally better for his people, but instead, he stuck with the low-hanging fruit of exporting oil and gas and has not created either a significant export manufacturing base or a high tech services base (beyond the few rooms full of programmers doing anti-virus work.) This has inevitably meant an economy that depends entirely on the world price of energy and a western customer base. So he may be able to show some short-term swagger, including making a mess of Ukraine and perhaps other neighbors, but his long-term prospects are extremely limited and the increasing nationalism and authoritarianism is simply the inevitable result of his desperation.

    I think the scenario in Hungary is similar and that the present breath between Orban and Simicska was similarly inevitable, in that the low-hanging fruit of Hungarian wealth and resources — central bank reserves, retirement accounts, credit unions, immigration “bonds”, EU subsidies, tobacco and radio licenses, insider trades on stock deals and secret government contracts, government-placed advertising etc. — are now exhausted and there are simply no more goodies to hand out without actually generating real income from production and exports. We are now seeing the beginnings for a mad scramble for any remaining crumbs, on the one hand, or for placing one’s wealth safely abroad, on the other, and there’s going to be a lot of political blood spilled in the foreseeable future over both.

  32. Paul, dictatorships evolve and learn from their predecessors’ mistakes. Orban will surely not be so wussy as the old communists of 1989 were, similarly the hardline Russian siloviks will not let power out of their hands so easily just because some people had the idea of introducing “democracy” in Russia. Those days are over. I’m not saying regime change is impossible, but not too likely either. In the Eastern block many things happened at once in 1989. Communist ideology collapsed (it had been hollowing out for long years with empty shelves, waiting lists etc.), economy collapsed and the west as a brand, as a symbol, as an ideology was still ascendant. These postmodern dictatorships with sophisticated power structures, however seem to me much more resilient than the rigid communists were. They all try to build on nationalism everywhere, Hungary, Russia, China, Turkey etc. In really existing socialism that wasn’t the case, which may have contributed to the undoing of those regimes. Nationalism works and people like Orban or Putin know this well. In Serbia under Milosevic people willingly endured almost unparalleled hardship (at least in the post-1945 era) in the name of nationalism. Both Orban and Putin have enormous contempt for the failing communists who never dared to use nationalism, started to negotiate and gone weak. That’s not gonna happen again. In their view once a strong leader starts to be seen as weak, starts to make “compromises”, the system collapses inevitably. That’s the big dilemma for Orban too (and this is why I don’t think Putin can be forced into a compromise, he can only be defeated). If Orban doesn’t do anything conclusive in the face of such an unheard of insult from an oligarch, especially after a few of his quasi/almost retreats (internet tax, RTL etc.) his perceived power, his “dignity” as a “leader of the nation” will suffer irreparably and he knows that.

  33. @Benya and Medence

    The joker in Putin’s deck is not the populace or any kind of organized opposition, but the billionaires and millionaires who suddenly have to give up on purchasing real estate in New
    York, Miami, and the Riviera for hundreds of millions of dollars simply because Putin is
    intent on playing ‘chicken’ with the West. Among those uber-wealthy, there are more than
    a few army and KGB higher-ups who would object to the steady wealth gathering that they
    have been involved in. Those segments are the real opposition to Putin…

  34. Getting back to domestic affairs…

    Paul, I’m not at all convinced that Orbán has slipped up at all by making Simicska upset. If you consider what Orbán has been planning with the media, then this fight was inevitable sooner or later, and anyway it’s been brewing for some time now. I don’t think there’ll be much long term fallout for the Prime Minister.

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