Péter Molnár

István Hegedűs: “Mafia state and the party”

One of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum suggested that we should discuss István Hegedűs’s article in Élet  és Irodalom which also deals with the Bálint Magyar thesis of the post-communist mafia state. First a few words about István Hegedűs. As opposed to Bálint Magyar and Gábor Horn, Hegedűs was one of the leading members of Fidesz prior to 1993, when he and others became disillusioned with the direction in which Viktor Orbán and László Kövér were leading the party. Some of the more important “dissidents” besides Hegedűs were Gábor Fodor, Klára Ungár, Péter Molnár, and Zsuzsanna Szelényi. At that time only Gábor Fodor continued a political career (in SZDSZ) while the others abandoned politics altogether. In the last few weeks, however, Zsuzsanna Szelényi has reappeared in Együtt 2014-PM as a spokesperson on matters of education. Hegedűs is a sociologist with a long list of publications, some of which are available in English. He is especially interested in the media, political parties, and the European Union. He teaches at École Supérieure des Sciences Commerciales d’Angers (ESSCA)’s English-language division in Budapest. In 2001 these five dissidents wrote a fairly lengthy book about the early years of Fidesz. I started rereading it this afternoon and came to the conclusion that it is perhaps even more valuable today than it was twelve years ago. After all, since then we have found out a great deal about the Fidesz leadership and the mechanics of the party’s inner workings. So, what does Hegedűs think of Bálint Magyar’s thesis? As opposed to Gábor Horn, he considers Magyar’s “conception a systematically elucidated, comprehensive and convincing construction.” However, Hegedűs points out that there are many other observable characteristics that cannot be explained solely by the mafia-state mentality. The mafia-state might be a perfect description in the economic sphere but not necessarily in the political realm. Age-old concepts like one-man leadership, a system of political clientele, interpenetration of party and state, plunder, populism, nationalism, and authoritarian worldview are all still present in Orbán’s system. One can also contemplate to what extent Orbán’s Hungary is really the result of  the “dear leader’s” personality. Hegedűs, as opposed to Magyar, concentrates more on ideology and politics as opposed to societal organization by mafia-like methods and finds the Fidesz regime’s political philosophy “barren.” Hegedűs points out that “behind the two-thirds majority there is no new vision despite the transcendent phraseology of the constitution.” The rhetoric of anti-communism, anti-liberalism, growing anti-European sentiments, nationalism, and the opponent-enemy linkage is nothing new in Fidesz political discourse. Unfortunately, this rhetoric kindles only a negative identity, although Hegedűs admits that turning to ultra-conservative ideas might promote cohesion within the group. Fidesz’s emphasis on strengthening the middle classes is not new either. MDF also based its politics on the idea. Yet Hegedűs is convinced that in addition to the “inner motivation of missionary zeal” one must take into account the role of ideology, “This inner driving force cannot be seen from the outside … because individual political groupings live in their own alternative reality and they judge or condemn the aspirations of their opponents exclusively on moral grounds.”

Source: oneline.wsj.com

Source: oneline.wsj.com

Hegedűs was once part of the Fidesz party elite. He assumes that at the very top there are still most likely mechanisms that allow members of the inner circle to disagree and to think independently, but only within the framework of certain axioms that cannot be questioned. It is most likely very difficult to find one’s way in the jungle of intrigue, infighting, favoritism, compromise, and alliances that any leader faces. That is why “a pragmatic, completely mafia-like regime … is not as clear-cut inside a party or a political organization” as in businesses dealing of the party. What further complicates any assessment of the workings of the party leadership is the arrival of newcomers who are not party members and whose only connection to Fidesz is Viktor Orbán. Infiltration from the outside began already in the early 1990s but became massive with the arrival of members of the political cells (polgári körök) created by Viktor Orbán after the 2002 lost elections. Yet Hegedűs claims that the workings of the Fidesz top leadership most likely haven’t changed fundamentally since the early 1990s, which eventually led to the split between followers of Viktor Orbán and Gábor Fodor. Even my superficial reading of bits and pieces of the participants’ remembrances of that split in 1993 reinforces the notion that Viktor Orbán, László Kövér and Zsolt Németh didn’t change as much in the intervening years as outsiders think. I tend to agree with István Hegedűs, who says that “as far as the methods of inner power relations are concerned, we don’t know of any such changes that would distinguish the present time from the situation of 1993-1994 when Orbán and his close associates turned to the right.”

Metamorphosis of Viktor Orbán?

A few months ago I had a debate about Viktor Orbán’s metamorphosis from liberal to right-wing populist with someone who has known Viktor Orbán ever since the beginning of the democratic opposition’s struggle for regime change. I insisted that no one can change that much and that fundamentally, and therefore, I submitted, Orbán was never a democrat. My friend, a well-known member of SZDSZ, insisted that yes, Viktor was a true liberal but power had a terrible effect on his psyche. I wasn’t convinced.

Lately I have been noticing a change of heart among those who worked closely with Orbán or who as members of the media have been following those Hungarian political events in which he played a prominent role.

Just today Endre Aczél, a seasoned journalist with vast experience with MTI in the 1970s and MTV in the late 1980s, wrote one of his short but sharp-eyed opinion pieces in Galamus. In it he expressed his “suspicion” that it was at least fifteen years ago that Orbán abandoned the idea of the “rule of law.” He recalls a speech by the freshly elected young prime minister that was delivered before the yearly meeting of the country’s ambassadors. Orbán suggested to Hungary’s representatives abroad not to emphasize the “rule of law” but to stress the “law and order” that his government wants to re-establish.

The orange is rotting. That's all / faszkivar.blog.hu

The orange is rotting. That’s all. / faszkivan.blog.hu

Tamás Bauer, an economist, former SZDSZ politician, and today deputy chairman of DK, also remembers the day when he knew that Viktor Orbán was not a democrat. It was also in 1998, on July 6, when during the debate on the government program in parliament Orbán said: “I ask everybody who wants to re-establish order and security; everybody who wants a child be important not only to the family but also to the state; everybody who wants to belong to the Hungarian nation; everybody who wants to make Hungary a country that cooperates with other European nations to vote for the program of the government.” It was at this point that Bauer truly understood, although he had had an inkling before, how Orbán imagined the exercise of power. Because Orbán made it clear that he envisaged himself as the man who alone represents the nation and who considered the opposition a group of people who don’t belong to the nation. After all, in normal parliamentary democracies, the opposition doesn’t vote for the government program.

Therefore Bauer knew way before 2010 what kind of rule Orbán was going to introduce, especially once he achieved the much coveted two-thirds majority. Although according to some interpreters the original Orbán constitution of 2011 was still a democratic document, Bauer disagrees. A constitutional committee was set up, but the majority of the members came from the two government parties. Thus the new constitution reflected the will of the government and the party, Fidesz-KDNP. There was no use participating in this farce. It was Ferenc Gyurcsány who first called for a boycott and his call was followed by MSZP and later by LMP. That constitution was about as legitimate as the 1949 communist constitution. After all, the 1949 constitution reflected only the will of the Hungarian communist party, and the 2011 document was similarly created by and for Fidesz-KDNP.

Yes, both commentators claim, Viktor Orbán hasn’t been a democrat for a very long time. Perhaps he never was, I might add.

In the last few days there is a video that has been making the rounds on the Internet. It originally appeared on the website of Népszabadság. The video was taken at the demonstration organized to urge János Áder not to sign the amendments to the constitution. The speaker is Péter Molnár. Perhaps not too many people remember him, although he was one of the founders of Fidesz and the group at István Bibó College where Fidesz was born. He even spent four years in the Hungarian parliament as a member of the Fidesz caucus. And then he left the party and politics. On the video one can hear him telling Áder: “That is not what we dreamed of, Jánó!” A few days ago I quoted Tamás Deutsch’s tweet claiming that this is exactly what they were dreaming of back in the late 1980s. Surely, this was an answer to Molnár.

I first encountered Molnár’s name in György Petőcz’s book Csak a narancs volt (It was only the orange / Élet és Irodalom, 2001). He was one of the contributors to the volume. He and the four other contributors left Fidesz completely disillusioned in 1993-1994.

What are Molnár’s recollections of the early days of Fidesz and Bibó College? According to him, László Kövér managed to create a lot of tension even in those days. At every meeting he insisted that all members of the college–there were around 80 students–must be politically active. Kövér and Orbán worked together and wanted to rule the community according to their own ideas. Molnár recalls that in the college there was a feeling of unity and solidarity but “Viktor’s political management destroyed it just as he destroyed [the original] Fidesz.” A good example of how this “solidarity” worked in Fidesz land. Once a member of the college group said that “Viktor can be certain that he can rely on his old friends in Bibó College.” Two years later the old buddy of Viktor lost his high position in the party and the government because he dared to disagree with him. “Solidarity existed only as long as the person followed the ‘correct’ policy. It didn’t matter whether he belonged to the inner circle or not, if he disagreed with Laci Kövér and Viktor, he was finished.” Does a democrat behave this way?

Let’s return for a moment to Endre Aczél’s opinion piece that appeared today. Its title is “Order? My own!” No,  Orbán hasn’t changed his stripes.