drug test

Viktor Orbán on a communication offensive: trying to undo the damage

Viktor Orbán’s “communication staff” is working on “the problem”–the record drop in the government’s popularity. Apparently, the leading politicians of Fidesz are belittling the gravity of the situation, pointing to 2010-2011 when the popularity of the government party was lower than it is now: only 20%. Moreover, there was a time when Gordon Bajnai had a higher ranking than Viktor Orbán, and Fidesz managed to regain its standing within a few months. Surely, with clever communication tricks the situation can be remedied once again. And the best spokesman for the cause is the prime minister himself.

Blikk’s Sztárchat, which I wrote about yesterday, was Orbán’s first attempt to “engage” the people. A day later he gave an interview to Napi Gazdaság and this morning an “extraordinary Friday interview” on Kossuth Rádió (MR1). The contents of the two interviews largely overlap.

Zoltán Lakner, my favorite “political scientist,” summed up Orbán’s message well on Facebook. “He repeated … all those items that are objects of our hilarity or our rage.” The great communication offensive so far is an attempt to explain to the Hungarian people that all the government’s recent decisions are actually good for them.

Let’s start with highway M0, which encircles the capital. The decision to make M0 a toll road is actually a benefit to the Hungarian people at the expense of foreign visitors, he explained. Orbán’s aim is to have the naive citizens of the country think that somehow the only victims of these new tolls will be foreign visitors who, upon entry, will pay a hefty price to be able to use all the toll roads. Hungarians, on the other hand, will be able travel for relatively little money within the borders of the county in which they reside. But what happens if they want to leave the confines of their county? Well, the prime minister did not go into such mundane details. But since he spent so much time on the question of toll roads, I assume that the revenue that is projected to come from this source is desperately needed.

The second topic was the proposed drug tests. The last time we talked about it, the word was that mandatory yearly drug tests for politicians and journalists are clearly unconstitutional and against European Union law and therefore the government will drop the idea. At the same time, we heard, there will be no compulsory drug testing of children, only voluntary testing. Well, it seems that Orbán changed his mind and now insists on mandatory testing of politicians and journalists. This is such an outlandish idea that it was immediately picked up by the Associated Press and this morning was already on the website of ABC television news. The lead sentence is worth quoting: “Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make Hungary into a ‘non-liberal’ state as he moves closer to Moscow, now wants mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians.” Here in one sentence is the core of what people in the West object to: Orbán’s illiberal state and his moving closer to Moscow.

Why, according to the prime minister, is this testing necessary? Because a drug mafia is hard at work in Hungary. So, “the government made the decision that in the next three years we will clean Hungary of the drug mafia. That is what we began now.” To see how minor a problem drug use is in Hungary, I highly recommend the European Monitoring Center’s interactive prevalence maps. Here Orbán is playing on the ignorance of average Hungarians who cannot distinguish between marijuana and cocaine or heroin, even as he implies that journalists critical of his government must be under the influence of drugs. As far as I know, so far only one Hungarian politician was caught snorting cocaine by a hidden camera. Because he happened to be a Fidesz politician, the investigators couldn’t recognize him clearly. Nothing happened to him. We know from past experience that Fidesz politicians can get away with murder but innocent opposition politicians are sometimes dragged into court. If this piece of legislation is passed, it will be an excellent club in the hands of Viktor Orbán against his political opponents. The same will be true of journalists he doesn’t like.

Let's calm down. The time of serene governance is beginning

Let’s calm down. The time of serene governance has started.

As for foreign policy, he will “continue the defense of the national interests” because Orbán anticipates attacks against Hungary coming from abroad. Orbán is convinced that behind every international dispute there are blatant economic and financial interests, and therefore “the government continually has to watch and struggle. But at the same time that it wages a battle outside, it has to create tranquility, stability, transparency inside. It has to promote the development of conditions in which the Hungarian people can live serene lives.” There is every expectation that this goal will become a reality because the country has moved in the right direction and soon enough will catch up to the western countries. Next year the government will start “the largest economic development project in Hungary’s history” which will provide “economic security, equanimity, quietude and happiness for Hungary.”

So, let’s see what commenters on 444.hu and vastagbőr.hu had to say in reaction to these lines.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” I am already a nervous wreck.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” Did they find some experimental drug in Graz?

He has lied until now and he will be lying in the future. This is the only thing that is predictable.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” Why, did Viktor lapse into a coma?

Viktor, Viktor, you are stupider than I thought.

The program is: we CONTINUE. The stealing, the robbery, the blackmailing, and this sickeningly tasteless lying.

What kind of serene governing is this idiot talking about? Doesn’t he live in Hungary? He doesn’t realize that people are demonstrating because of the idiotic, stupid policies that irritate people? They should have sent him straight to hell a long time ago.

During the interview Orbán recalled that he said four years ago that he doesn’t want “popular ministers.” What is important is competence. As for the popularity of the government, he will take care of that. Well, I don’t think he has been doing a bang-up job lately.

Public patience is coming to an end: What can Viktor Orbán do? Not much

Some of you want me to outline a scenario that could follow the unheard-of loss of popularity of the government, Fidesz, and Viktor Orbán personally. I am no fortune teller but, contrary to those readers who believe that the events of the last two months will have no adverse effect on the Orbán government in the long run, I see some signs that may lead to the eventual collapse of the system.

I base this admittedly hedged forecast (note the “some” and “may” in it) on data suggesting that Viktor Orbán has lost the trust of millions of his followers. I understand from news reports that Orbán and the Fidesz leadership by now have come to recognize the seriousness of the situation. Apparently they are preparing the ground to rebuild the prime minister’s tarnished reputation. The word is that he is planning to be more “active,” which in this context means that he will show his compassionate side. Today he visited an orphanage and held one of the little girls in his lap. The picture was shown all over, of course.

But I think the situation in which the prime minister finds himself won’t be fixed by a few smiles and friendly gestures toward his constituency. He has lost the people’s trust. And for that development he alone is to blame.

ATV showed a short video today on which a journalist confronts people on the street and tells some of Orbán’s latest fairy tales about the decrease in poverty, the increase in job opportunities, the excellent GDP figures, and the reduced utility prices. First of all, a few months ago when journalists tried to engage people on the street in conversation about political issues most people either refused to answer or the few who did usually praised the government and Orbán. Today’s video shows that people are no longer afraid to speak, and when they speak they don’t hide their opinions. The most frequently recurring answer was: Orbán is lying! What he says is not true. If that belief takes hold among the electorate, Orbán’s political future is in doubt.

There is another problem that, in my opinion, will prevent Orbán’s political comeback–and we know that without him there is no Fidesz either. The coffers are empty. No longer can the government appease the populace by throwing a few thousand forints their way, as they did when they lowered utility prices, an admittedly brilliant political stroke. Today they cannot give anything. On the contrary, they have to extract more and more money from the people in the form of taxes because otherwise they cannot keep the deficit under 3%. And if they overstep this magic figure, the excessive deficit procedure may be imposed, and this may mean the loss of subsidies from Brussels. It is obvious that they are desperate. They know that they should not irritate the already antagonistic voters with more and more taxes, but they seem to have no choice because they already spent the money on all sorts of superfluous projects, like stadiums, MOL shares, bank purchases, and so on. And then there is the corruption that has resulted in the loss to the public purse of billions in taxpayer money. Their past irresponsible (and worse) financial maneuvers may well be their undoing.

Another consideration is what I see as an erosion within Fidesz-KDNP. I already mentioned the revolt of KDNP’s chief Zsolt Semjén on the issue of a new law on the status of churches. He was joined a few hours later by Rózsa Hoffmann, who in the past was a faithful executor of Viktor Orbán’s ideas on education. Suddenly Hoffmann discovered that diverting children from gymnasiums is a very bad idea and that making employees of the Prime Minister’s Office work ten hours a day is not even legal. Or, there is the case of János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament since 1998, who expressed his strong opposition to compulsory drug testing of children. As he put it, not even László Trócsányi, minister of justice, or Gergely Gulyás, the legal wizard of Fidesz, could make such a law constitutional. Even Gulyás thought that Máté Kocsis’s suggestion was “unorthodox” while “the world of the law is generally orthodox.”

The latest attempt at acquiring another 20 billion forints by making M0, a six-lane highway that more or less encircles Budapest, a toll road enraged not only commuters from nearby towns but also the Fidesz mayors whose districts would be affected by the decision. Again it was a last-minute ad hoc decision without any consultation. The mayors are not the only ones up in arms. Attila Chickán, minister of the economy in the first Orbán government, said that the decision will have a negative impact on the lifestyle of the people of Budapest.

The M0 will be a toll road Are these people tired of governing?

Highway M0 will also be a toll road.
Are these people tired of governing?

And finally, young until now pro-Fidesz journalists have become disillusioned. Perhaps the best example I can cite is Ákos Balogh, editor-in-chief of Mandiner. I highly recommend his opinion piece that appeared today. The title is telling: “When ‘The Anything is Possible’ Ends.” Everything that worked in the past no longer works or, even worse, is counterproductive. In fact, Balogh goes so far as to state that the Orbán government, instead of remedying the “mistakes” of the last twenty years, itself became part of it. It did not finish the regime change as it promised but “it completed its failure.” Fidesz is good at campaigning but “sparkles less when it comes to governing.” Fidesz does not want to recognize that “something has changed,” and not only in foreign affairs as a result of the Ukrainian developments but also at home. Although “in theory” there will be no elections until 2018, “a government can be demobilized by broken public trust.” The lesson: “There is never such a thing as ‘Anything is Possible’ because there is always a fault line after which everything falls apart.” “The borders of  ‘Anything is Possible’ are not sharp, one can only conjecture about them. One can know only after the fact when someone has overstepped them. Perhaps he already has overstepped them.” Harsh words from a former true believer.