Although Viktor Orbán delivered his annual address (which allegedly assesses the achievements and shortfalls of the previous year) two days ago, I always like to wait to comment until the complete text is available. Since Orbán never strays from his written text, that occurs within a day or two.
In fact, neither Orbán’s nor Gyurcsány’s speech, delivered the day before, had anything to do with the past year. Instead, both signaled the beginning of the election campaign. Gyurcsány’s speech was delivered a day before Orbán’s. Sensing that Orbán’s message would be void of any vision for the future, Gyurcsány wittily compared the prime minister to Hungary’s first king. King Stephen, he said, had a vision: he wanted a Christian Hungary, he wanted his country to belong to the family of European nations, and he wanted to get a crown from the Pope. He didn’t lower the price of oats before the tribal election! Of course, Gyurcsány was alluding to the lowering of utility prices, which has a lot to do with Orbán’s allure.
For his “state of the nation” speech Orbán faced a suspiciously young crowd in the Millennial Center. As for past achievements, he was careful not to be too specific, but the little he said was mostly the figment of his imagination. Tamás Mészáros of the popular Újságíróklub on TV said last night that he is still waiting for the day when Orbán’s claims have any truth to them. He couldn’t find any in Orbán’s latest. There’s a good summary of his claims (with refutations) by Péter Uj and Zsolt Kerner in 444!.hu
Zsófia Mihancsik of Galamus initially found Orbán’s speech boring, but she reversed herself the next day after reading the transcript. She was amused by Orbán’s compulsive efforts to collect witty sayings from all over the world. Anita Vorak of Origo also came out with an article on the same subject in which she tried to find the origins of “Viktor Orbán’s recycled pieces of wisdom.”
Being a stickler for historical truth, I wasn’t too taken with the old story about Franz Joseph who kept repeating everywhere he went in Hungary that “everything is very nice, everything is very good, I’m satisfied with everything”–allegedly because these were the only sentences he knew in Hungarian. The truth is that Franz Joseph knew Hungarian very well and so did all Habsburgs in line for the throne, including Otto von Habsburg. But I think this tale about the “Kaiser” served a purpose because it is fashionable nowadays to say nasty things about the Habsburgs, who were after all the link between Hungary and the West for four hundred years. And Orbán in the same speech talked about today’s “labancok,” the socialists and the liberals. The “kuruc/labanc” dichotomy goes back to the early 18th century when the “kurucok” fought on the side of Ferenc Rákóczi while the “labancok” were traitors in the service of the Habsburgs. I wrote about this topic some time ago. So, Orbán and his followers are the “kuruc” patriots while the socialists and liberals serve foreign interests. If I were Orbán, I wouldn’t emphasize this “kuruc/labanc” distinction. After all, the word “kuruc” has been pretty much usurped by the anti-Semitic Jobbik, as in “kuruc.info.hu.”
Among Orbán’s many claims, there is one that is definitely true: he admitted that his accession to power was not a simple change of government. It was a change of political system. And thanks to God’s blessing, Fidesz and the Christian Democrats were able to participate in two such changes. One in 1989-1990 and the second in 2010. The twenty-year period that followed the first he describes as “post-communism.” The real change is the one he and Fidesz introduced in 2010. So, those of us who think that the regime change in 1989-1990 signaled the beginnings of democratic transformation in Hungary are now being told by Orbán that period is over, replaced by Viktor Orbán’s new political system. But what is this new system all about? We get no answer except that it is based on national unity, which is necessary for “building the future,” a future that remains unspecified.
Naturally the speech had its share of Biblical quotations. Given the fact that the prime minister may be one of the richest men in Hungary (Ferenc Gyurcsány estimates that just the real estate holdings in his and his wife’s names are worth 310-330 million forints) the quotation from Ezekiel 34:2-3 was amusing: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.'”
The second Biblical quotation is applicable to Orbán’s social policy. It is the famous parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. You may recall the story of a well-to-do man who, before setting out on a long journey, called together his servants. He gave five talents to the first, two to the second, and one to the last for safekeeping . The first two servants invested the money and eventually doubled the amount they received. The third hid his talent in the ground. The master tells the third servant: “You wicked and slothful servant!… you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Indeed, Orbán’s social policy favors those who are the best off at the expense of people of modest means. However, the story has one aspect that doesn’t jibe with Viktor Orbán’s worldview. He has been steadfastly attacking those who become well-off by “speculating.” Of course, what the rich man’s two servants did was exactly that. They did not “work” for the money in the sense in which Orbán understands work. In his eyes, work means physical work, and riches coming from speculation are illegitimate as far as he is concerned. Yet he compares himself to the good servants; he has been a good steward of the nation’s wealth. He was brutally honest here: “Those who used the money best will get new chances. There is no sham egalitarianism here.” Modern Europe’s ideal of solidarity? Not for Orbán’s Hungary. Those who for one reason or another cannot compete will find themselves in a situation where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. They cannot expect help from this government, despite its fondness for talking about love, charity, and Christian values.
So, it is not true that Orbán’s speech was merely a collection of meaningless clichés. He said a lot about himself and his wonderful new world. It is in many ways a frightening vision.