national unity

Viktor Orbán’s speech in parliament, May 10, 2014

Viktor Orbán had a very busy weekend. He was in Berlin on the 8th where he had a brief conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel and delivered a lecture at a conference on the future of the European Union. Two days later, on the 10th, he was sworn in as prime minister of Hungary and delivered two speeches, one to the members of parliament and another to a sizable audience recruited by party activists.

I would like to concentrate here on the longest speech of the three, the one he delivered in parliament. In this speech he sought to portray himself as the prime minister of the whole nation. By contrast, the speech that followed, delivered only a few hours later, was entitled “We must go to war again!” It was an antagonistic campaign speech for the European parliamentary election. Such rapid switches in Orbán’s messages are by now expected.

Not that the first speech was devoid of military references. Orbán described Fidesz’s election campaign as a “military expedition” that produced fabulous results. Some people want to belittle this achievement, he said, by talking about the jarring difference between the number of votes cast for Fidesz and the number of seats the party received in parliament. But he considers the result a true expression of the popular will and a reaffirmation of his leadership. It reflects (perhaps in a fun house mirror) the Hungarian people’s centuries-long striving for freedom and independence.

After assuring his audience that he will be the prime minister of all Hungarians, even those who did not vote for Fidesz, he shared his views on the politics of the first twenty years of Hungarian democracy and outlined what he would consider a desirable state of affairs in Hungarian politics under his guidance. The upshot of it is that Hungarians had too much freedom between 1990 and 2010. After 40 years of silence, suddenly everybody wanted to discuss and argue and, as a result, “we didn’t get anywhere.” Hungarian politics didn’t find the right proportion between discussion, argument, compromise, and action. But now that the Hungarian people have overwhelmingly voted for his politics, “it is time to close the period of unproductive debates.” Since he won the election twice, “the Fundamental Law, a society built on human dignity, politics that couples freedom with responsibility, a work-based society and unification of nation are no longer the subjects of debate.” One can talk about details but “the basic questions have been decided. The electorate put an end to debate.”

Members of the democratic opposition are missing Source: MTI/ Lajos Soós

Members of the democratic opposition are absent
Source: MTI/ Lajos Soós

We know from his earlier utterances that Orbán values national unity above all, but here he admitted that the much coveted unity cannot be fully achieved. The culprit? Democracy. He recognizes that democratic principles preclude “complete national unity.” He quickly added, however, that “the forces that are striving for unity scored an overwhelming victory at the polls, meaning the central forces were victorious.”  He considers this huge mass of people the “European center, which rejects extremist politics.”

At the very beginning of the speech Orbán devoted a short paragraph to the importance of proper word usage. If the choice of words is wrong, the thoughts behind them are muddled. The implication was that his way of expressing himself is crystal clear with no room for misunderstanding. Unfortunately, his discourse on democracy versus national unity is anything but clear and logical. So, let’s try to unravel the tangle.

It seems to me that he is trying to show that democracy and national unity are compatible after all. Since Fidesz won a landslide victory and those who voted for him belong to the political center (a group that stands against both right and left extremism), they embody the notion of national unity. Extremists have no place in the nation because “they pose a danger to Hungarians.” A rather neat way of justifying a basically autocratic, non-democratic system within the framework of a supposedly democratic regime.

Who are these extremists? If you think that he was talking about Jobbik you would be wrong. He talked mostly about the liberals. People who defend the rights of the accused at the expense of victims’ rights are extremists. Extremists are those who “take money away from working people and give it to those who are capable of working but who don’t want to work.” Extremists are those who “want to support the unemployed instead of the employed.” An extremist is a person “who wants to sacrifice our one-thousand-year-old country on the altar of some kind of United States of Europe.” (A clear reference to Ferenc Gyurcsány.) For Orbán, it seems, the socialists and liberals are just as extreme as the politicians of Jobbik who “want to leave the European Union.”  In fact, he spends far more time on the sins of the liberals than on those of Jobbik, whose only offense seems to be their desire to turn their backs on the European Union. Of course, Orbán himself would be a great deal happier if he could get rid of the Brussels bureaucrats who poke their noses into his affairs, but he knows that without the EU Hungary would have been bankrupt a long time ago.

As for his “program,” we know that before the election Orbán did not offer a party program. Fidesz simply announced that they “will continue” what they did in the last four years. The guiding principles will remain the same: Christianity, family values, patriotism, and a work-based society. Orbán is against immigration from outside of Europe and instead wants to promote large Hungarian families. He makes no bones about what he thinks of same-sex marriages. We’ve heard these themes before; they’re not worth dwelling on here.

I would, however, like to point out one delicious “messaging shift”  in this speech. You may recall that Viktor Orbán time and again called the 1989 constitution, which was a thorough rewrite of the 1948 constitution, a Stalinist constitution. Fidesz politicians liked to say that Hungary was the only EU country that still had a “communist” constitution. So, what do I see in this speech? The following sentence: “The liberal constitution did not obligate the government to the service of national interests;  it did not oblige it to recognize and strengthen the community of Hungarians living all over the world; it did not defend the nation’s common property; it did not shelter the people from the indebtedness and the pillage of the country.”  Wow, so the problem was that it was a liberal constitution! Now we understand.