Language of Fear: Fidesz communication (I)

As promised, here is the first part of my summary of an article I found both insightful and scary.

"The left got stuck somewhere. In my opinion their problem is that in the last seven years they have been terrified of you. Ever since 2002 basically all their actions have been motivated by the pathological fear of the return of Viktor Orbán. And over the years they got to the point that they sacrificed Hungary on the altar of their paranoia. What is so frightening about you?", a Magyar Nemzet reporter asked Viktor Orbán. This is how Anna Szilányi begins her piece on "The Language of Fear" (Élet és Irodalom, 57/18). And Viktor Orbán’s response? "The answer can be found in the socialists’ ambivalent attitude toward democracy." As far his own person is concerned: "I am the favored person of their pathological fears because behind me there are four years of successful governing that broke the left’s myth of their competence." A lame if not misleading answer to these questions. There is certainly a fear of Orbán’s return because the socialists and the liberals are convinced that the returning Fidesz leaders would use undemocratic methods and would take vengeance on their political opponents whom they consider their enemies. Their fears are not unfounded based on a study of Fidesz’s language. It is indeed frightening: they identify themselves as the only representatives of the people and the nation, they demand the exclusive right to govern the country, they daily repeat their newly acquired majority, every five minutes they announce that they will put things right and will send the leading members of MSZP and SZDSZ to jail for their alleged crimes. These threats can be heard day in and day out from every Fidesz politician who opens his mouth in public.

An especially insidious way they attack their "enemies" is to call them "pathological," "sick," "paranoid," "psychologically unfit, "neurotic," "mad," "psychopathic," and so on. The list is endless. Against such attacks there are really no counterarguments. This kind of labeling "creates a nonpolitical asymmetrical relationship: on the one hand the doctor who comes up with the diagnosis and on the other the patient who is not in his right mind. In this kind of asymmetrical relationship there is also a certain threat: if you don’t come to your senses, if you don’t abandon your delusions, then for the sake of society as a whole we will be forced to cure you." 

Anna Szilágyi then briefly returns to the part of the interview she quoted at the beginning of her piece. These few sentences are not only typical because of the use of favorite Fidesz adjectives but also because the two men, the reporter and Orbán, use an important rhetorical strategy as well: they endow their rivals with the very attributes that are much more characteristic of themselves than of their rivals. "This is a classic method of enemy creation in the language of politics: the one who frightens others acts as if he himself were threatened by those whom he threatens. An authoritarian politician who is beginning to build an undemocratic regime suddenly discovers a conspiracy against democracy by the very people who are trying to stop him in his efforts to do away with democracy. This is an old story."

Szilágyi then analyzes another critical aspect of the Fidesz’s political language. Fidesz always seems stronger, bigger, more vital than its rivals. This is an impression that is achieved by linguistic and pictorial simulation. Every party tries to make itself look better than its competition and how this is achieved is only a question of imagination, knowledge, and talent. The impression of superiority in Fidesz’s case is achieved by the repetition of certain formulas like "the right as the nation," "the right as the majority." Pictorially the rhythmic repetition of Orbán’s name by large crowds becomes threatening to those on the other side. It gives the impression of an irresistibly rising, crushing force that cannot be be stopped. It almost looks as if it is not even worth trying to resist; perhaps it is not too late to change sides so as to be counted among the victors, to stand on the good side. Otherwise there is unconditional capitulation, at which point one can negotiate only about the method and time of the transfer of relative power to absolute power. The message is quite clear: it is irrelevant what the "non-nation," "the insignificant minority" thinks or wants. "Yes, Hungary won…. Those also won with the victory of Hungary, ladies and gentlemen, who out of party loyalty voted ‘no,’ " said Orbán after the successful referendum. "This way of speaking," claims Szilányi, "is frustrating and gives rise to fear because instead of real competition, reasoning, an assessment of the situation, the speaker simply tells his rival that he is not part of Hungary, cannot be part of it if, after all, the victory of Hungary is his defeat."

In the last ten years, the political right has put all its energy into making itself not just a party but the embodiment of a mass culture. They have successfully managed to create a linguistic, pictorial unity and widen their camp. At the same time the left has watched all this with a certain repugnance and disdain. Here and there they came up with a few feeble reactions: "Fidesz is frightening," "Fidesz is populist and demagogic." The liberals’ intellectual arguments make no impression on the masses who are looking for something simple and even entertaining. Thus, unless the liberal left finds some kind of answer to the linguistic and pictorial onslaught of Fidesz, even the possible beneficial effects of the austerity program will not make a difference. We are here not in the realm of reason and reality.

(To be continued)

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
On the one hand you should never forget Orban’s totally flummoxed face and demeanor, as he was casting around for solution during the pre-runoff weeks of the election. He had no idea what to do and how to do it. On the other hand we should also remember the aggressive and ruthless campaign he and his government perpetrated when they took over every possible position in the economy, by blackmail, arm-twisting and any other possible method as soon as they came to power in ’98. The really pitiful thing is that the present government was trying to be reasonable and measured in a country where there is simply no purchase for reason and moderation. The result is the vacuum where the voice cannot be heard. In fact I must conclude that the government justifiably suffered the defeat of the referendum and the loss of public support, because they were living in the illusion that they can win by the superior argument. However, nobody was interested in that. It was their duty, to find the policy and the means of communication that reaches to the electorate in order to effect change and introduce their reforms. But they failed miserably, because they… Read more »

I definitely agree with you Sandor. I remember the run-up to the 2006 elections – Fidesz was promising everyone buckets of free money, rainbows forever, etc. etc. I don’t really know why people are buying it now more than then, however.
It seems to me that Fidesz has taken its cues from the American neo-conservatives – Orban reminds me a lot of a loudmouthed version of Reagan. However, the castle the neo-cons built for themselves is crumbling around them, because they ignored fundamentals such as financial responsibility, civil rights, democratic participation, compromise, etc. Orban might be flying high for a while, but I don’t expect for his eventual crash to be any less spectacular than the current crash of the US neo-cons.


****It seems to me that Fidesz has taken its cues from the American neo-conservatives – Orban reminds me a lot of a loudmouthed version of Reagan.****
Ludicrous. Methinks you are projecting just a wee bit, no? Orban and Reagan are almost diametrically opposed in almost very way, except for their hatred of the Communists. Ironically, Viki’s position on the economy is socialist(!) — redistribute income and nationalize as much as possible.
RR was entirely the opposite, a free-marketer and an advocate for personal responsibility, and one who CUT, not introduced red-tape and regulation.
Also, RR wasn’t a neo-con. He couldn’t have been as that term hadn’t been invented yet and the neo-con concepts were far from fully formed.
-T H E T O A D


Also, if you haven’t read the Magyar Nemzet recently. The hard-core anti-American slant is impossible to miss.

New World Order

If only Orban were a “loud mouthed” Reagan. Sadly, he is far more Pat Buchanan (if one is forced to make American analogies).
But more than anything, by his rhetoric, Orban is not fitting into protype that is now sadly common in Central Europe of a “right wing socialist”. The most prominent of this type are the Kaczynski brothers in Poland. The former mayor of Cluj-Napoca (Gheorghe Funar)is also a fairly good example of this sort of politician. Fico-though from the left-also shares many of the same policies (i.e., eliminating the visit fee for trips to the Dr.) and ideological outlook as Orban.
I think the model that Orban is trying to emulate-but is failing in doing so-is that of Franz J. Strauss and Edmund Stoiber and the CSU in Bavaria. The party has been staunchly nationalist, Catholic and while Conservative hardly free market. Sadly, Hungary is not Bavaria, and Budapest will never be confused with 21st Century Munich.
Instead of the CSU,Orban would do a little better if he took after Ronald Reagan or even the CDU and Angela Merkel. Not perfect but a lot more rationale than either the CSU or FIDESZ.


My apologies, I should have been more precise. Of course Reagan’s (or, better said, the neo-conservatives, since neo-conservatism was refined with time and reached it’s sublime peak in 2002-2003) and Orban’s policies differed greatly, but I find their rhetorical style quite similar. The beauty of their style of rhetoric is that you can literally fill it with any content and “sell” the policies on emotional appeal alone – the same methods (and words, even) can be used to promote fascist policies, communist policies, corporatism, anarchism, or even democratic republicanism.


Bill: “It seems to me that Fidesz has taken its cues from the American neo-conservatives”
Fidesz did not merely take its cue from the Americans; they used to go over to the US for training with Republican Party help in the 1990s. The tactic of not merely rejecting an accusation but accusing the other side of being far more guilty of the alleged wrongdoing – not mentioned by Anna Szilágyi (or at least not by Eva) – is one that they picked up from the Republicans.
Most of that training predates the rise to power of the neo-cons in the US. It seems to have included more basic matters like getting everyone consistently “on message”, something that the MSZP is still getting the hang of.
One cue they seemed to have taken from the American right is the creation of an echo chamber of sympathetic media outlets – TV networks, magazines and web-sites all reiterating the party line and excluding any objective discussion or op-posing viewpoint.

Julianna Gulden

Kincs — I’m not entirely sure about Fidesz being trained by the Republicans in the 90’s, but as a former employee of the Republican National Committee during the late 80’s, I can tell you that the first Hungarian politicians to receive help from the GOP in terms of training materials were from SzDSz. Also, I recall that parts of SzDSz’s early platform documents were lifted from the GOP’s 1984 party platform — specifically the business aspects.

Whilst “Élet és Irodalom” is one of the few rags that bothers to live up to the epithet journalism, the general tone and language of this piece is recursively referential. Meaning, overblown drama. The language used by Fidesz is the language of opposition, intended to disturb, create unrest, uneasiness, doubt. Any party would engage in this. What is more, Hungarians live in a daily maelstrom of fear, recrimination and caustic disbelief (most of it self generated) that raises the significance threshold barrier. There is no amount of caulking against the general level of misinformation, gossip and foul-play. But no matter what, the most disturbing and misguided accusation of the piece is that this government has been frozen in action in the fear of the necromancy of Orbán’s future reign of terror. That is a pathetic excuse for political and fiscal impotence. What is more it fails to explain how under this government so much theft and mismanagement from Kóka and other cronies has been allowed to continue. Further, it also fails to explain the obvious collusion of all parties in covering up thefts during Fidesz’s last reign. How else is it that all legal cases of theft and misappropriation of… Read more »

Excuse me, excuse me…Mrs/Missus Eva S. Balogh…
…what is this nonsense about not reading something if you don’t like it? How is one to know the content of an article and agree or disagree with it if one does not read it?
Your thinking (and worldview) is flawed.
Think about it.