The concept of the nation in Fidesz political discourse. Part II

To continue where we left off in summarizing Ildikó Szabó’s fascinating study of Fidesz’s conception of the nation, we move on to "the nation as the alternative to parliamentary legitimation." Szabó begins by stating that Viktor Orbán, even before the lost elections of 2002, considered parliamentary politics of "moderate significance." He thought in broader terms: people, nation, society as a whole. After 2003, for him "nation" acquired the strength of political legitimation. In Orbán’s view, his political vision transcends the system of parliamentary democracy based on parties as major players. In July 2004, he talked about "the parties’ inability to do anything against the wishes and will of ‘bourgeois’ Hungary." Here a bit of explanation is necessary. The Hungarian original adjective is "polgári" which, in the sense Orbán uses it, harks back to the Marxist period of Hungarian historical writings. In this sense, it is the opposite of "proletarian." Hungarian historians talked about the 1918 revolution in Hungary as the "polgári demokratikus forradalom," that is, a revolution that benefited only the middle class. Orbán used the word in order to distinguish his party and its followers from the MSZP, which he considers the successor of the old communist party, all the way back to Béla Kun. In the same speech he continued: "We have no governmental tools, but we have the will of many millions of Hungarians." "Today it is not enough to be brave within the walls of parliament," but one has to increase "the strength of resistance of society." This new theory of nation is "the moral counterpart of parliamentary democracy," says Ildikó Szabó.

In September 2004, while in Romania, Orbán summarized his low opinion of parliamentary democracy: "In the world of parties, there is nothing but bargaining and fighting for titles instead of learning the will of Hungarian communities….. We are not waging a political war with parties for parties, governments for governments. The main aim of our struggle is the creation of communities. The realization of a complete Hungarian national unity." Another footnote is necessary here re Orbán’s use of the word "bargaining." In Hungarian the word "alkú" may mean bargaining or, in a political sense, compromise. However, normally the word "kompromisszum" is used for political compromise. "Alkú" has a pejorative meaning.

By 2004 Orbán turns to citizens who until then had voted for the MSZP. He uses the "polgári" adjective less and less which, as Szabó also mentions, actually means "anti-communist." He comes up with a new slogan: "Work, Home, Security." By 2005 January, Orbán claims that his party "is a national party that aims at national unity, while our political opponents divide the nation." In this context, the role of the leader is important. As Szabó says: "Connecting the nation, the leader and political success is not unknown in history." More and more one can hear from his followers that Orbán is actually "the nation’s prime minister" while, of course, in reality he is no more than the head of an opposition party who rarely shows up in parliament. More and more he exhibits a missionary zeal. To illustrate the point, here is one of the more often quoted (according to some, sacrilegious) sentences he uttered when directing Fidesz activists: "Go, distribute the petition far and wide. Be wise and meek. I will be with you." It’s not difficult to hear the echo of the New Testament in these sentences.

Ildikó Szabó then discusses the newly constructed models of action that Orbán and his advisors have been using in their political struggle while in opposition: discussions, national consultation, national unity. In 2005, Orbán traveled all over the country to meet with people and talk over the state of affairs. "National consultation" was based on the obviously false notion that the people know best what a government ought to do. Fidesz collected ideas from "ordinary folks," ideas that were supposed to be incorporated into the party’s program. In March 2005, the Fidesz created a "National Consultation Council" consisting of eight members. The plan was the following: "At the next elections the program shouldn’t be a program of the right or of the left. The program should simply be a national program for handling the present crisis…. A kind of national unity government is necessary." Of course, we know that unity governments existed in history but only during war, a real crisis–for example, in Great Britain. It was hard to claim in 2005 that there was a national crisis in Hungary.  However, during the second half of 2005, closer to the 2006 elections and after Ferenc Gyurcsány had become prime minister, Orbán increasingly pushed the idea of a "national government," in which even certain members of the MSZP could take part. One must assume that his idea was to split the MSZP  into its pro- and anti-Gyurcsány factions. Orbán repeated several times his pet idea of a national government. For example, in Heti Válasz (September 22, 2005): "In 2006 what we need is not a party-based, but a national government. To be precise, one must pick the leaders of the country not on the basis of the strength of the parties, but on the gravity of our situation."

And, finally, Ildikó Szabó tackles the question of Orbán and his political opponents. His political opponents, he claims, are not only unpatriotic but outright enemies of the nation. Already in 1996, Orbán had said that "the Horn government is Hungarian only in the constitutional sense." During the Medgyessy era Fidesz spokesmen talked about the government as a "banker government" because Medgyessy indeed had worked in a bank before he became prime minister.  Orbán started to talk about himself as the plebian prime minister, "who stands in the way of the MSZP, the SZDSZ, and the MDF and the financial plutocrats behind these parties. That’s the truth." This kind of anti-capitalist talk appealed to a lot of people. It appealed to those who were the descendents of the former supporters of the Horthy regime, the Christian middle-class of modest means who didn’t like banks which they suspected to be in Jewish hands. It also appealed to those who were brought up during the socialist period where income could be based only on work. To get rich by investing money, they believed, is immoral.

So this is where Orbán stands now: against a communist government that has the backing of rich financiers. And feeling sorry for the poor misled MSZP voters whose socialist party has been hijacked by millionaires. But this stance may not be the end of the road Orbán has travelled so far. One never knows what the next turn is going to be in the history of Fidesz and the political career of Viktor Orbán.

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Of course, it’s always been difficult to square Orbán’s claim that the nation is behind him with the fact that the majority of Hungarians voted for someone else in 2002 and again in 2006. Who, then, truly represents the nation?
If the majority of the people vote for ‘morally bankrupt old Commies’ as Fidesz might have it, then then the will of the nation is to be governed by morally bankrupt old Commies, like it or not.
Election losers, whoever they are, can represent nothing more than a disappointed minority.

New World Order
The language Orban speaks and the images he employs are those of a national socialist. If it were not so depressing, it would be derisory. BTW, this is not only the language of post-Weimar Germany, but also of Peron in Argentina and even a little bit of Putin in today’s Russia. The irony of Orban’s position is that he really shows utter contempt for the Hungarian people and utter contempt for political institutions. His strategy has been very successful in marginalizing, so far, the even more populist, socialist, extremist elements in the society [for which he deserves our backhanded thanks], but he has heretofore been largely unsuccessful in actually winning over the majority of Hungarians to his side. He in fact lost the 2002 election to the dullest candidate imaginable because his rhetoric scared people. Maybe this election cycle will be different? It is still too early to definitely tell. The MSZP has proven itself to be largely incompetent [except for the occassional minister]and avaricious. Even when undertaking the right policies, for example the substantial health care reforms and addressing the economic imbalances in the econmy, the MSZP has executed poorly and and most of its senior members have demonstrated… Read more »