dictatorship

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.”

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What happened on June 16, 1989? Another falsification of history?

Time flies. It was twenty-five years ago today that the remains of Imre Nagy, Miklós Gimes, Géza Losonczy, Pál Maléter, and József Szilágyi were reburied. On Heroes’ Square a large crowd gathered to listen to speeches. Six coffins were displayed. The sixth, empty one symbolized those people who were killed (or executed) during and after the revolution.

Negotiations over and preparations for the reburial were conducted by the Történelmi Igazságtétel Bizottság (TIB), whose members had spent years in jail after 1956 because of their participation in the revolution. (One member was Imre Mécs, who in the last two months has been demonstrating against the erection of the memorial that commemorates the occupation of the country by the German army.) Although the relatives and the majority of TIB wanted to have private reburials, eventually a large public event was organized with the approval of the opposition parties. Originally, only well-known participants in the revolution were supposed to speak: Béla Király, Sándor Rácz, Miklós Vásárhelyi, Imre Mécs, and Tibor Zimányi.

How did the young Viktor Orbán, one of the leaders of a youth organization, end up being included in this group of illustrious revolutionary veterans? István Csurka, the writer and one of the leaders of Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MD), suggested in a radio interview that “representatives of young Hungary should be included.” It was decided that a leader of Fidesz should deliver a speech right after the veterans of the revolution. So, in a way, Viktor Orbán must thank the late István Csurka, subsequently the founder and leader of the anti-Semitic Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja (MIÉP), for an auspicious beginning to a very successful political career.

In the last few years Mária Schmidt has become Fidesz’s history ideologue, entrusted with crafting an interpretation of the past that suits Viktor Orbán’s political agenda. I wrote at length about her efforts at rehabilitating the Horthy regime, but in the last few weeks, most likely in anticipation of the 25th anniversary of Viktor Orbán’s most famous speech, she also embarked on rewriting the history of 1989-1990. Schmidt in her speech in Washington practically attributed the whole regime change to Viktor Orbán. He was the only person who dared to openly demand the departure of the Soviet troops.

The young Viktor Orbán, June 15, 1989

The young Viktor Orbán, June 16, 1989

Yes, it was a brave speech but not because Orbán demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops. In fact, only about half an hour earlier Sándor Rácz, chairman of the workers’ council in 1956, in a very harsh anti-communist speech demanded the troops’ departure. What was new and significant was that Orbán was the only speaker to call attention to the incongruity of party and government officials standing by the coffins of those who were killed by the same regime that they represented.

The speech was different from the others in another sense. It was not a eulogy but the kind of speech that is normally delivered at a political rally. The significance of the speech didn’t lie in its anti-communist rhetoric. The others were equally anti-communist. But as Zoltán Ripp, a historian of the period, pointed out, his speech “was a denial of national reconciliation and not only considering the past.” The message was that the Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt (MSZMP) is and always will be the enemy. Therefore we should not be surprised that shortly after the 2010 election he seriously contemplated banning MSZP as the legal successor to MSZMP.

While Imre Mécs wanted the members of the audience to hold hands, Orbán wanted to wipe out the past and all its actors who, in his opinion, were guilty, regardless of what they did or did not do during their lifetimes. I think that this speech explains a lot both about Orbán’s character and his rather undifferentiated worldview. I always complain about his lack of differentiation with regard to the Stalinist period, the early Kádár era, or the years of the 1980s. For him, judging from this speech, it was all the same. And, let’s not forget, Imre Nagy and the rest of the bodies in those coffins had been members of the communist elite. Later Orbán unequivocally stated that “Imre Nagy is not our hero.”  I’m certain that he was not his hero on June 16, 1989 either, but he had to give an oration at the funeral of the man after all. So, he carefully but obviously made a distinction between the communist Imre Nagy and the one “who could identify with the will of the nation and who could set aside the holy communist taboos, that is with the unconditional service of the Russian empire and the dictatorship of the party… We learned from their fate that democracy and communism are irreconcilable.”

Viktor Orbán was not present at the 25th anniversary ceremony, attended by the presidents of Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland. Instead, he delivered a speech at a meeting of the European People’s Party held in Portugal. Earlier, however, he gave an interview to Bild, on the basis of which the journalist came to the conclusion that it was Viktor Orbán who “knocked the first stone out of the wall.” So, President Reagan ordered Gorbachev “to tear down that wall” and Viktor Orbán grabbed a hammer. This is how historical myths are created.

In the same interview Orbán said that “the struggle against the communists nowhere lasted as long as in Hungary…. I have to admit that our opponents were talented when it came to hanging onto power … They were good fighters. It took me twenty years to defeat them.” According to him, that fight lasted until 2011 when Hungary had a new constitution. So, it seems, Viktor Orbán hasn’t changed as much as most people claim. His attitude toward his opponents has not changed in the last twenty-five years.

Mária Schmidt’s interpretation of the end of communism stands in sharp contrast to Viktor Orbán’s. According to the former, it was Viktor Orbán who first talked about free elections and the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and, since the armed forces didn’t break up the meeting, it was clear to everybody that “we buried communism on that day.” On the other hand, according to Orbán’s interview in Bild, communism ended only in 2011. Complicated, isn’t it?

Mária Schmidt was also in charge of the celebration to commemorate Viktor Orbán’s historical role on June 16, 1989. She declared that it is supposed to be “a day of rejoicing,” and so the organizers invited two rock bands from the 1960s and 1970s–Omega, a Hungarian group, and the Scorpions, a German group–to give a free “Concert of Freedom.” The granddaughter of Imre Nagy, the wife of Pál Maléter, and the daughter of József Szilágyi protested. To them June 16 is a day of mourning because it was on that day in 1958 that the people who were reburied in 1989 were originally killed. To make a day of joy out of it is sacrilegious.

June 16, 1989 was, of course, more than a day of remembering and paying homage to the dead. It was a political event of national importance. It was part of a process that ended in the collapse of the Soviet empire. But Mária Schmidt distorts history when she tries convince us that it was Viktor Orbán’s speech that ended communism in Hungary and forced the Soviet troop withdrawal. And Viktor Orbán’s idea that communism in Hungary ended only in 2011 is outright ridiculous. Another falsification of history has begun.

István Tisza and the National Party of Work revived

On Monday, on the newly reconstructed Kossuth Square another old/new statue of István Tisza (1861-1918) was unveiled by Viktor Orbán. Few people were curious enough to stand in 40ºC (104ºF) heat to witness the great moment but Viktor Orbán, about half an hour later, delivered another ringing speech.

Tisza, who was prime minister of Hungary twice, once between 1903 and 1905 and again between 1913 and 1917) was not a popular man while he was alive. Already before he became prime minister, Endre Ady as a young newspaperman in Nagyvárad/Oradea, wrote an article in which he described Tisza as the most unpopular politician in Bihar/Bihor County. Tisza was assassinated on October 31, 1918 by roaming armed soldiers, and prior to that time there were three other attempts on his life. Ady, in one of his famous poems, called Tisza “the madman of Geszt,” Geszt being the center of the Tisza family’s landholdings in Bihar.

The Tisza statue that now graces Kossuth Square is a reproduction of the statue that was erected on April 22, 1934 and that was damaged during World War II. (The 5m tall István Tisza was not damaged, but his later “admirers” toppled it and not surprisingly the new regime after 1945 did not restore it.) The statue is monumental, and here the word “monumental” does not imply greatness. On the contrary, artistically speaking the general consensus is that it is a singularly worthless, if not outright hideous, work of overwhelming size–17 m tall with a huge lion on top. It is the work of  György Zala, who created the original Archangel Gabriel statue on Heroes’ Square.

The original statue / Source Magyar Hírlap

The original statue / Source: Magyar Hírlap

Since István Tisza was murdered on the very first day of the 1918 revolution, the “counterrevolutionaries” soon came to adulate him. István Deák, the well-known American-Hungarian historian, described him as “steadfast, cunning, intelligent, cautious, and tolerant if necessary, but just as often ruthless. A pessimist by temperament, he was nevertheless imbued with a fanatical belief in the divine mission of the nobility which, in his eyes, was identical with the nation.” Others have viewed him as a social reactionary who stubbornly opposed the breakup of the large landed estates as well as even the most modest reform proposals–for instance, one that would have granted suffrage to soldiers fighting at the front. At this time approximately 10% of the population was eligible to vote in Hungary as opposed to the Austrian part of the Monarchy where there was practically universal male suffrage.

Today István Tisza is regaining the popularity he enjoyed during the Horthy period. I discovered a hospital named after him, and there is an István Tisza Association whose members describe him as a great liberal. His admirers usually point out that he was the only politician of the Dual Monarchy who initially opposed the war. What they neglect to tell is that once he decided that the Monarchy must take part in the conflict, he became its strongest supporter until, in 1917, he announced in parliament: “Gentlemen, we have lost this war.”

Tisza Istvan2

And in living color today / Source: temesvarihirek.ro

So, let’s see what Viktor Orbán had to say about István Tisza and his “message” for our own age. (Politicians always discover messages sent from bygone days to the present!) Well, Tisza’s message seems to be that after a disastrous liberal period, Hungarians can now build a successful “national period” which has been prepared for by Viktor Orbán’s government in the last four years. The toppling of statues usually signals the end of a regime, while the erection of new statues signifies a regime’s beginning.

Orbán often finds a fleeting theme in the life of a historical figure and out of it creates an entire political philosophy for the man. In this case, it occurred to him that the name of the party István Tisza established might come in handy to help define his connection with Tisza. Tisza’s party was called the National Party of Work. As we know, one of Orbán’s favorite themes is that society should be based on work as opposed to financial speculation; moreover, he stands solidly on a national platform. He emphasized in his speech that a party that stands for work does not have to be communist or socialist, it can also be national. According to Orbán, Tisza knew and fought against liberalism and socialism in the name of the nation. Just as he himself had to rebuild the country after a disastrous liberal period.

Oh yes, those liberals and socialists. They gave the Hungarian political elite of Tisza’s time a lot of trouble, and today these “self-appointed democrats attack us in the name of some foggy notion of European identity.” But he can tell them what Tisza told his liberals and socialists. “We admit that we stand on a national basis. According to some super modern critics we are nationalists … and they talk about nationalist prejudices. We don’t care about the flourishing of mankind if it is not connected to the progress, flowering, greatness of the Hungarian nation.” Tisza explained that the destiny of the Hungarian nation was assured by taking over only certain “healthy buds of western culture” which were then stamped with the Hungarian national character and the special conditions existing in the Carpathian Basin.

As usual, Orbán’s speechwriters culled the writings of István Tisza to find the perfect quotations. But there is a serious problem with all that gazing at the past. Getting inspiration from a bygone day and quoting nationalistic speeches uttered a hundred years ago does not justify an anachronistic worldview. And it certainly does not justify an attempt to recreate a one-party system. As Freedom House correctly noted, another year of Viktor Orbán’s rule and Hungary will no longer be considered a democracy.

A one-party system is a one-party system quite independently of its ideology. Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, the Soviet Union, the countries of the Soviet bloc after World War II were all dictatorships of various degrees of harshness. Viktor Orbán is now building a “national” dictatorship and unveiling the appropriate statues to mark his new regime.

András Bruck’s new encounter with George Orwell’s 1984

Before the holidays I wrote two posts dealing with different interpretations of the system Viktor Orbán established in Hungary in the last three and a half years. Now I offer yet another analysis, this time by András Bruck. It appeared only a week ago in Élet és Irodalom.  Bruck is one of the most astute, and most radical, observers of Hungarian political life. His conclusion is that all those on the left who claim that Hungary is still “a kind of democracy” are kidding themselves. Bruck makes no bones about it: he considers Orbán’s Hungary a dictatorship pure and simple. His essay, which I summarize here, deals with the similarities between George Orwell’s nightmarish Nineteen Eighty-four and Orbán’s Hungary today.

Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four were on the list of forbidden books in Hungary until the mid-1980s, but a few people did manage to get copies already in the 1960s. I personally received requests from friends to bring them along in either 1967 or 1968. It seems that Bruck managed to get hold of a copy only sometime in the early 1980s. 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.

This spring he found his copy of Nineteen Eighty-four in the bottom of a box: “it lay there like a skeleton but this time the dead came to life.” Bruck reached 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.” Everything  means the opposite of what it is officially called. The Manifesto of National Cooperation is the document of national division; the Peace March is actually a battle march, just as in Orwell’s book the Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war. The leaders of these marches are the messengers of hatred, men like Gábor Széles, Zsolt Bayer, and András Bencsik.

Today’s government party has its own Emmanuel Goldstein–Ferenc Gyurcsány, the number one enemy of the people whom it is a patriotic duty to hate. Many of those who are the loudest in his condemnation know nothing about him just as Julia, Winston’s lover, doesn’t have the foggiest idea who Goldstein was.

In Orbán’s Hungary words have lost their meaning. In his world “Hungarian ownership” actually means handing property, factories, land to his own family, friends, and minions. To be national and Hungarian means to agree with his and his government’s decisions. If he says that Hungary’s economy is the most competitive in the region, it means that the country is sliding downward. When he says that everybody in Europe is envious of us this means that everybody is horrified at the changes that have taken place in Hungary since 2010.

Orwell 3

Hungarians are often amazed at Orbán’s temerity when they hear that he is capable of saying one thing one day and on the next its exact opposite. But in Orwell’s novel Winston Smith wonders how it is possible that one day the announcement is made that the chocolate ration was reduced to twenty grams and the next day people are told that it was raised to twenty grams. “Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it.”

Then, Bruck quotes a few sentences from Nineteen Eighty-four that he finds appropriate:

“If the facts say otherwise then the facts must be altered.”

“The fabulous statistics continued to pour out of the telescreen.”

One “should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It doesn’t matter whether the war is actually happening.”

“To change one’s mind, or even one’s policy, is a confession of weakness.”

“The proles are not human beings.”

“The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred.”

Bruck finds all these in Orbán’s system. Even anti-Orbán analysts don’t understand the nature of the system. They simply refuse to acknowledge that there is dictatorship in Hungary. “But if you deny it you must act as if there is democracy or in the worst case it is a mafia state.” After the disgraceful speech Orbán delivered on October 23 in which “he tossed half the nation in front of a coming train” left-wing analysts on ATV had barely anything to say. “They analyzed. They know and declare that there is no morality and decency in the world of politics and if cannibalism would bring votes then it is the good politician who would chew half an arm right there in the studio.”

Winston Smith, although well versed in the system of Ingsoc, understood how the regime operated but “he didn’t understand why.” In Hungary the left-wing intellectual elite, very much like Smith, can’t understand why Orbán hamstrings the schools, why he drains all the assets of the banks, why he creates hatred, why he makes the lives of the poor even more miserable, why he appoints all those half-wits to important jobs, why he isolates his country, why he turns to the dictators of the tundra, why he wants to see his political opponents in jail, why he takes others’ money, in brief why he is behaving like a dictator. Surely, Bruck continues, all this is not done only to let the mafia state move money more easily from one oligarch to the next. Was all this barbarity introduced only to make it easy for one company to get all the tenders offered by the state? Clearly, Bruck doesn’t believe in the theory of the mafia state.

The answer to Smith’s question about the “why” of the Orwellian state comes from O’Brien: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.” Bruck here says, “At last! Someone at last said it. In the depth of my soul I wished for such a sentence. So besides the sheer wanting of power, besides the psychology of the totalitarian mind, there is nothing else…. there is no ideology, no vision, no ideas about the future.”

In order for a dictatorship to function one needs consciously created ignorance, which goes together with the falsification of history. According to Bruck, Orbán and Fidesz began by falsifying the history of the first twenty years that followed the regime change. Then they rewrote the history of 1944, and on October 23 they began the falsification of the history of ’56. Winston Smith says in 1984 that “if the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened–that, surely, was  more terrifying than mere torture and death.” Or later: “And if all others accepted the  lie which the Party imposed–if all records told the same tale–then the lie passed into history and became truth.” After all, Bruck adds, a new historical institute is already planned whose name will be Veritas. Perhaps in a better future it can more appropriately be called the Institute of Mendacity. “What else is waiting for us? A few more years and we won the battle of the Don. And not one Jew was deported because the governor didn’t allow it…. Not even the present is taboo anymore. Only recently the prime minister announced that there was no revolution in 2010 when he himself earlier said that there was one, which was endorsed by parliament.” O’Brien has something to say about this also: “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

Bruck bitterly concludes his essay with these words. “So, luckily we don’t have to worry because the prime minister himself denies that there was a revolution in Hungary while the whole Hungarian left denies the existence of dictatorship. So, it seems all is well.”

“What shall I call you?”* The political system of Viktor Orbán

You may recall that a few days ago I published a lecture of Gábor Demszky, former mayor of Budapest, delivered in the Library of Congress. After the text of the lecture I described an exchange between Anna Stumpf, political attaché of the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, and Gábor Demszky. Stumpf, the daughter of Viktor Orbán’s right hand man during his first administration and today a member of the Constitutional Court, took exception to Demszky’s description of the dire situation of the media in Hungary today when he claimed that in some ways it is less free than it was in the Kádár regime’s last few years. She exclaimed: “You are not serious!” Gábor Demszky’s answer was, “Yes, I’m serious. I lived in it.” Within a couple of days this footnote to Hungarian Spectrum‘s coverage of the lecture made the rounds in the Hungarian media. It made a splash even in the liberal press because the Hungarian opposition doesn’t quite know what to call Viktor Orbán’s political system. Moreover, they are reluctant to describe the “System of National Cooperation” as a regime that is perhaps worse than the “soft dictatorship” of János Kádár. Bálint Magyar and his coauthors from many disciplines describe Viktor Orbán as the Godfather, the leadership of Fidesz and their friends and relatives as mafia, and the political structure as a “mafia state.” The book this group of political scientists, philosophers, economists, and sociologists published became a bestseller in Hungary since it appeared a few weeks ago, and references to the “Hungarian Octopus,” the title of the book, appear frequently in the written and electronic media. Yet some people are not entirely satisfied with the description. There are a few people, especially those who publish mostly in German, who consider Orbán’s system “fascism” pure and simple.  Magdolna Marsovszky is one of the chief proponents of this theory. Only today she commented on an article in the German-language blogPusztaranger, which dealt with a conference organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. One of the guests was Attila Vidnyánszky, the new director of the Hungarian National Theater. What Vidnyánszky said at the conference led Pusztaranger to call this new National Theater a “faschistiches Erlösungtheater,” that is, a fascist redemption theater.

A telling pictorial description of the political system of Viktor Orbán. A combination of old socialist and nationalistic sybols

A telling pictorial description of the political system of Viktor Orbán. A combination of old socialist and nationalistic symbols / http://www.deviant.com

A few days ago Ágnes Heller described the present situation in Hungary as “Bonapartism,” which is defined as “a political movement associated chiefly with authoritarian rule usually by a military leader ostensibly supported by a popular mandate.” When pressed, she elaborated by saying that Bonapartism is at its core striving and acquiring power for its own sake. Moreover, such a system, according to her, cannot come to a resting place, a consolidated state of affairs because the very essence of Bonapartism is the continual striving toward greater and greater power and glory. Such a quest, however, must eventually fail. Society cannot be maintained in a constant state of ideological, national, and social warfare. Others, like János Kornai, agree that Orbán’s system is a dead end but, as he wittily said, one can live on a dead end street for a very long time. A society can live under such circumstances for perhaps decades. That was certainly the case with the Soviet Union. Not a pleasant prospect for those people who believe that Hungary’s future lies with the West, which entails a break with its authoritarian and communist past. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the main outline of Viktor Orbán’s devilish plans for his “revolution” were in the making most likely years before the 2010 electoral victory. László Lengyel, a political commentator and economist, thinks that Orbán and his closest collaborators had a completely defined plan for the political edifice they intended to build way before 2010 because as soon as the first session of parliament gathered, the plan for the System of National Cooperation (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere or NER) was ready for immediate implementation. And commentators are starting to realize that Orbán’s regime is more than populism. The word “dictatorship” is an increasingly common description. There are just too many signs that Orbán’s world bears a suspicious resemblance to the communist times when one had to fear the authorities. Comparisons are made to the Rákosi regime instead of to the milder Kádár era. By the late Kádár period people’s property, for instance, was left alone. One didn’t have to worry that one day some official would arrive and take away one’s car or apartment. But nowadays private property is not at all safe. If the government decides to take away the livelihood of thousands of slot machine owners, it can do it from one day to the next. Or steal millions in savings. It can do it with impunity. Often the goods taken away are passed on to others who are favored by Viktor Orbán and his friends because they are on the right side, the national side. Again, the charge is that a complete change in ownership structure is being contemplated and slowly achieved. Here again the point of comparison is the Rákosi regime. But at least then the state didn’t turn around and sell the confiscated property to its own clients. Then it was done for ideological reasons. And then comes the soul searching. What did we do wrong in 1989-1990? At first, the participants were certain that their peaceful political and economic transition was ideal; it was certainly judged to be the best in the region by outside observers. A lot of people still cling to that belief. But, others argue, perhaps the introduction of a great number of cardinal laws, which need a two-thirds majority to pass, was a mistake. Ágnes Heller charges, not without reason, that the Budapest intellectuals who made up the democratic opposition really didn’t know the people of the country they lived in. Others rightly point out that the democratic education of the population, especially of the youth, was completely neglected. On the other hand, one cannot accuse Viktor Orbán of not knowing his people. He knows them only too well, and this is the key to his success. But more about this tomorrow. —— *I borrowed the title from one of the best known poems of Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849). The original and its English translation can be found here.

The zeal of Viktor Orbán: Where will it lead?

In some respects the present political leadership reminds me more of the Rákosi regime than of the Kádár period. Before someone jumps on me, let me emphasize the words “in some respects.” First and foremost, I think of the zeal with which the Orbán-led political elite began to rebuild society. This entailed a radical change of everything known before. The Fidesz leadership seems to be very satisfied with the results. Just the other day László Kövér claimed that under their rule all the nooks and crannies of society that had developed since the regime change of 1989-90 were reshaped. Everything that came before 2010 had to be altered in order to build a new Hungary.

The last time we saw such zeal was in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the communists wanted to turn the whole world upside down or, to use another metaphor, to wipe the slate clean. As one of their songs promised: “we will erase the past.” And they began in earnest. They wanted to build an entirely new political system–immediately.

Such attempts usually fail because such rapid change cannot be achieved without ransacking the economy. If one lets the experts go for political reasons and fills their positions with people who finished at best eight grades, the results are predictable. If you get rid of the former manager of a factory because he is deemed to be reactionary and you hire a worker without any experience in management to run the newly nationalized factory, we know what will happen. And indeed, in no time the Hungarian economy, which had recovered after the war with surprising speed, was in ruins. Food rations had to be reintroduced in 1951 or 1952.

This is the same kind of zeal that one sees with the Orbán government. Only yesterday Tibor Navracsics proudly announced that in three years they managed to pass 600 new laws. He added–because Orbán and company can certainly compete with Rákosi and his gang when it comes to bragging–that these laws are of the highest quality. In fact, legal scholars are horrified at the poor quality of the legislative bills pushed through in a great hurry with last-minute amendments.

By contrast János Kádár, who became the first secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party (at that point called Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt), moved slowly, hoping to gain acceptance after the failed uprising. In fact, the whole Kádár period was known for its cautious, deliberate move toward a less oppressive regime. It was still a dictatorship but it was based on an understanding with the citizens who were ready to make some political compromises in exchange for a better life. By the 1980s, although there were some taboo topics,  intellectual freedom was greater than in any of the other satellite countries.

Intellectual freedom. Unfortunately the present political elite’s attitude toward literature and art greatly resembles that of the Rákosi era when there was a long list of forbidden books and when, as far as art and literature were concerned, socialist realism was the only accepted form. The situation today is not very different. The government supports art and literature that is “national.” Modernity is out and the nineteenth-century classical style is favored. Fidesz politicians on both the local and the national level make sure that only theater directors who cater to their taste are appointed. The very successful director Róbert Alföldi lost out in his bid to continue with his work at the National Theater to a man who talks about the National Theater as a sacred place that he plans to have blessed by a Catholic priest. The plays he is going to stage are mostly written by Hungarian authors. The emphasis is on Hungarian, not on quality.

I could easily be charged with overstating the similarities between the two leaders and their governments. For instance, one could retort, don’t compare the poverty of the Rákosi regime to that of today. But don’t forget that in the late 1940s and early 1950s Hungary was still paying war reparations to Russia while today Hungary is getting handsome subsidies from the European Union. Believe me, without that money Hungary would not be able to meet its financial obligations. Another difference is that today there are still large foreign companies in Hungary which by the way are practically the only source of Hungarian exports. Without them the country would be in even greater economic trouble than it is now. However, Viktor Orbán is working hard to take over some of the foreign companies and banks. And if he continues with his onerous tax policy, the owners of these businesses will most likely be glad to sell to a state that seems more than eager to take them over and that, so far at least, has not balked at overpaying.

Viktor Orbán as some blogger sees him / ellenallas.blog

Viktor Orbán as a blogger sees him / ellenallas.blog

As for the clientele of the two regimes. The Hungarian communists in 1948 and afterwards wanted to obliterate the old upper and even lower middle classes and give power to the working class. The better-off peasantry was also considered to be an enemy of the people. They made  no secret of the fact that they wanted a complete change: those who were on the top would be at the bottom and the poor peasants and workers would be on top. They didn’t even try to hide their intentions. Orbán is undertaking the same kind of social restructuring, albeit with different winners and losers. His goal is a complete change of not only the business but also the intellectual elite. Those who sympathize with the liberals or the socialists will be squeezed out and politically reliable Fidesz supporters will take their place.

People I know and whose opinion I trust tell me that Magyar Televízió and Magyar Rádió had more balanced reporting in the second half of the 1980s than they do today. This is where Hungary has ended up after three years of frantic Fidesz efforts to remake the country.

András Bruck in a brilliant essay that appeared a few days ago in Élet és Irodalom insists that despite appearances Hungary today is a dictatorship because what else can one call a system in which every decision is made and put into practice by one man? And what is really depressing, says Bruck, is that the dictatorship prior to 1989 was forced upon Hungary by Soviet power. Today there is no such outside pressure. Hungarians themselves gave Fidesz practically unlimited power and for the time being show no signs of wanting to get rid of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. In fact, 1.5 million people are devoted to him and in a nationalist frenzy are ready to fight against the colonizers of the European Union. A shameful situation.

Two views on today’s Hungary: Al Jazeera and Dokuworld 2013 (Germany)

Hungary’s liberal world is buzzing with news of the documentary shown on Al Jazeera, an independent television station broadcasting from Doha, Qatar.

I received the following from our friend S.K. this morning:

Unexpected irony from an unexpected corner: Hungary on Al Jazeera

The neo-Nazi Jobbik party is known for its frequent sympathy demonstrations towards Arabs and specifically towards the Palestinians, using this as a cover to express their anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments, if not hatred. This was surprising at first, but due to the relentless repetition, has become customary by now, at least to the Hungarian public. This is why it strikes me as a most unexpected and profound irony that the Al Jazeera network, Arab-owned and financed, operating throughout the world, devoted a twenty-five minute long documentary to depict Hungary’s state of affairs a few days ago.

The piece doesn’t need much commentary at all; it speaks for itself most eloquently. The only surprising thing about it is the thoroughness and depth of the insight the filmmakers were able to muster during their very short time spent in the country. And, of course, how ironic it is that even the Arabs, who are enjoying the dubious “patronage” of Fidesz and Jobbik, can see through the screen of government propaganda and skullduggery, and present the facts concisely, irrefutably and devastatingly.

Anyone with any doubt about the fatal developments in Hungary should urgently view this report and take it to heart.

I can only send my thanks and congratulations to Glenn Ellis, the maker of the film, for this remarkable work.

Unfortunately WordPress.com in its current configuration is unable to embed this video, but I urge everybody to take a look at it. It is in English and lasts only twenty-five minutes.

Those who know German can view another documentary on Hungary, part of a series called Dokuworld 2013. Even those whose German is not fluent but who know the present Hungarian situation will enjoy its summary of the growth of the far right in the country and Fidesz’s ambivalent attitude toward democracy. More and more foreign observers consider Hungary a country that is quickly slipping into one-party dictatorship.

For those who’ve had enough of a weighty subject on a holiday weekend in the U.S., here’s some news about the “Are you free for a dance?” extravaganza. Although the event in Budapest and in other larger cities is still going on, early reports have already appeared online. If I read these reports correctly, Miklós Soltész’s brainchild is a colossal flop. The few people who showed up are not youngsters looking for spouses. Rather curious old folks. Professional dancers demonstrated the steps, but when invited to join in, the few people there fled.

A number of “provocateurs” also wanted to attend, but the police originally didn’t want to let them in. They wore signs like “Hello, I’m X.Y. I’m looking for a squire with a large landholding or for an owner of a tobacconist shop.” The authorities eventually relented. There were others who decided to dance with people of their own sex after they learned that Soltész announced that gays are welcome. All in all, those who were bent on making fun of this whole harebrained idea seem to have prevailed.

At the height of the excitement at the "national mixer" in Budapest / cink.hu

The height of the excitement at the “national mixer” in Budapest / cink.hu

In Szeged the situation was even worse. There the reporter of the newspaper Délmagyarország did not see a single person who was looking for a dance partner. There were only a few children and their curious grandparents. If these party hacks just knew how ridiculous they are.  But I guess they live in a world of their own and refuse to see reality. I wonder how long it will take them to wake up to the fact that their activities are injurious even to their own cause.