limitless power

The childish games of a would-be dictator: The case of Viktor Orbán

I think it is time to talk about the dear leader’s megalomania that’s recently reached an all time high. The dear leader is, of course, Viktor Orbán. Or at least this is what he is called by those who’ve had enough of his and his government’s autocratic and corrupt practices.

To his many sins we may add a total lack of  restraint. He acts like any two-bit dictator with limitless power. Because, let’s not kid ourselves, Viktor Orbán has enormous power within Hungary. The only limits he has to endure come from the European Union. Until now, however, he has managed to evade any serious consequences of flaunting the spoken and unspoken rules of the Union, and it looks as if he will be able to avoid the excessive deficit procedure as well. Or at least this is what one could hear from Mihály Varga, who managed to exchange a few words with Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, today.

Lack of restraint. A man who with the assistance of his minions placed by now in all positions from the executive to the judiciary and a willing horde of third-rate journalists ready to serve him will arrive at a point where his sense of reality completely fails him. He becomes so single-minded in pursuit of his selfish interests that he loses sight of the possible consequences of his actions. And since he rules with an iron hand in his own party, there is no one in his entourage who dares warn him.

It seems that no one in Fidesz has the guts to tell the dear leader that his football mania got to the point that people are beginning to think that Hungary’s Orbán is not very different from Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Romanian dictator. After all, Ceaușescu also built an enormous football stadium in the village in which he was born and lived until the age of eleven. Viktor Orbán is following in the Romanian dictator’s footsteps.  Ceaușescu built a 30,000-seat football stadium in Scorniceşti, population 12,000, while Orbán is building a 3,500-seat stadium in Felcsút, population 1,800, where he spent his early years.  The scales are roughly comparable.

But Orbán is outdoing Ceaușescu because, after all, the Romanian dictator didn’t have a house right next to the stadium. Orbán does. He will now have a very elegant, very expensive small stadium of his own. He has to walk only a few feet to be in the arena. The stadium will be named after the Hungarian “Golden Team” of the early 1950s on which the famed Ferenc Puskás played. In addition to the stadium, Orbán managed to get money to establish a football academy in Felcsút, naturally named after Ferenc Puskás.

I read somewhere that when Orbán established the Puskás Academy in 2007 he didn’t really think that a village football team could ever be a first-rate team that could play in Division I of the National League. Most likely at that time Orbán was still recovering from his deep depression after the lost 2006 election. But now the sky’s the limit. Last Saturday Puskás Academy, which everybody simply calls Felcsút, was the undefeated champion of Division II and therefore next season the team will be able to play with the “big boys.”

Since 2007 the Academy has built a private high school and several practice fields and has a staff of 23, including a “communications director.” It is in the middle of constructing a stadium that will cost 3.5 billion forints. Money is pouring into the coffers of the Academy.

Earlier Orbán made sure that his wealthy friends would have an incentive to donate sizable chunks of money for spectacle sports: football, handball, hockey, etc. Those contributing to a fund set up for that purpose could write off the amount donated from their income tax. Once billions were collected this way the various clubs could apply for grants. Felcsút was not shy and asked for 3.5 billion. It received 2.8 billion, one-fifth of the total allocated. Just to give some sense of the size of this particular grant, the football club that received the second largest amount was Debrecen with 500 million forints.

The stadium is already described in the media as a dream or a wonder stadium. It is being built following the design of the famed Imre Makovecz, an ardent supporter of Fidesz, who died a few years ago. The plans released by the Academy show an intricate structure using the most expensive materials.

Puskas1

The construction of the dream stadium is already underway, and by next spring  important games will be played in the village where Viktor Orbán grew up. A Puskás-Suzuki Cup was established, and these games will be played in Felcsút. Several international matches will be held in the village. And since the Academy is swimming in money, it even bought an old railroad line and has already restored the old railroad station.

MTI / Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák

The work has begun / MTI photo by Szilárd Koszticsák

Mihály Varga, minister in charge of the economy, under European Union pressure announced a new  austerity program a few days ago. He indicated that it might be necessary to halt some of the major government investments, like the building of new stadiums and the reconstruction of Kossuth Square in front of the parliament building. However, it is unlikely that stadium construction will be halted in Felcsút. And if the Academy’s project can go ahead, most likely so will Debrecen’s. The project manager of a very large stadium in Debrecen, where work has already begun, announced that the city will go ahead with the construction regardless of what Mihály Varga says.

Just today Ernő Bihari, a blogger, wrote that “it is outrageous that the prime minister of a country that belongs to the European Union builds a football stadium on taxpayer money next door to his house, establishes a football academy maintained by taxpayer money, and purchases a narrow-gauge railroad also on taxpayer money. His family and his friends have received practically all the state lands in the neighborhood of his village. This is just a short list. And Viktor Orbán has the gall to do all this in the middle of Europe. This guy believes that his power is limitless.” The blogger points out that Orbán surpasses even Silvio Berlusconi, who after all made his money and became the owner of  AC Milan prior to his political career.

“The weapon is in the EU’s hands. Chancellor Merkel must decide on which side she wants to stand and give the signal to her own people that they can say what everybody knows already although no one wants to bear the odium of the decision.” So, says Bihari, it is time to state openly that “not only is Orbán’s mindset incompatible with the spirit of the Union but he is intolerable altogether.”