Language of Fear: Fidesz communication (III)

Before I summarize the last two subchapters of Anna Szilágyi’s analysis of Fidesz’s communication strategies, I would like to share with my readers my deep disappointment of late about some people’s comments. I started this blog almost a year ago because I believed that there was not enough information available in English on Hungarian current events. After a while, hundreds of people began reading the blog, some of them on a daily basis. It was discovered in Hungary as well. The Budapest Times, for example, almost weekly publishes something from me. Over the months more than eight hundred comments appeared and with a few exceptions the discussions remained civil. More than civil, educational. There were several excellent contributions, for instance, from foreigners living in Hungary from whom we can all learn different perspectives on the country’s state of affairs.

However, lately things have changed. There have been personal attacks on other readers of this blog as well as on me. As a result of some people’s insistence on what they called "dialogue," they have initiated an onslaught of antagonistic attacks. The very kind of verbal attacks about which Anna Szilágyi is talking. I have several options. I can close the blog to comments. This way some people can’t accuse me of putting them on spam filter, they can’t insist on "releasing" their letters I don’t have, and just as important, they cannot engage in personal attacks as some of the commentators have already done. This is one option but not a very good one because I would still love to hear from those wonderful people who have contributed so much with their comments to the blog. The other possibility, which I’m about to undertake, is to throw out every letter I deem unacceptable. It takes a little time, and I can of course be accused of censorship (guilty as charged), but perhaps people will eventually get the message. It is, after all, my personal blog; I pay the money, I set the rules.

And finally, I implore people like Toad, Hedgehog, Wolf, and Vulture to change their ways. This behavior is simply not acceptable in civilized discourse. They bring a bad name to the very cause they think is so superior to the ones most liberal or more moderate conservative people represent. Calling everybody a communist who doesn’t embrace their worldview is primitive. Those people on the blog who write in this manner only prove that Anna Szilágyi’s observations are most likely well founded. Outside of Hungary the kind of extreme right-wing sentiments some of the people have expressed on this blog are rare and totally rejected by the vast majority of society. Hungarian right-wingers should think about that.

And now back to Anna Szilágyi. As I said, the study ends with two subchapters. "Reincarnation of Lajos Kossuth" and "He Is Radical or Perhaps Not." As for the first title it is really about Orbán as an authoritarian father figure and has nothing to do with a comparison between Orbán and Kossuth as orators. The title is ironic. Gábor Széles, a rich businessman who aspires to be the Rupert Murdoch of Hungary (and more), compared Orbán to Kossuth. Well, one has to know Hungarian history a bit to know that Kossuth is the ultimate hero of the country. (I happen to have a different opinion, but judging from the number of Kossuth statues, Kossuth prizes, Kossuth streets, most people don’t share my skepticism about Kossuth’s role in Hungarian history.) It is almost sacrilegious to compare any living creature to semi-god Kossuth. But Széles did that in talking about Orbán’s great oratorical skills. As far as oratory is concerned, Orbán used to give very good speeches. Or perhaps they sounded so good because the speeches of his opponents, Gyula Horn or Péter Medgyessy, were so bad. Lately, his speeches are less impressive. They lack intellectual content. He utters words that sound good but after a bit of analysis don’t mean much. Perhaps one reason why we think that Orbán’s oratory is lackluster of late is because he has an opponent, Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is a very facile speaker. First of all, while Orbán reads his speeches, Gyurcsány doesn’t. One has the feeling that Gyurcsány is much quicker on his feet than Orbán. This seems to me especially evident when Gyurcsány answers, right on the spot, to some interpelation. He is quick, he is sarcastic, he is funny. In brief he is a good speaker.

Well, I got stuck on Orbán’s oratorical skills, but what Anna Szilágyi is really talking about in this part of her study is the "authoritarian personality." András Bencsik, the editor-in-chief of Magyar Demokrata, a far-right, antisemitic weekly, expressed his total dismay over the fact that Orbán could possibly lose an election against anyone else. As he put it: "In a country where a Ferenc Gyurcsány can defeat a Viktor Orbán it is not advisable to follow one’s dreams…. Orbán is an outstanding personality." According to Szilágyi (and I agree with her) the foremost taboo in right-wing circles is the criticism of the great leader. The great leader is infallible: two lost elections but not a word of criticism. Not in the last ten years. Szilágyi brings up the theory of George Lakoff, an American linguist, who calls this view of the infallible leader the "model of the strict father" or Theodor W. Adorno’s personality as described in The Authoritarian Personality.

As for Orbán’s radicalism, Szilágyi claims that as time goes by Orbán’s attitude is increasingly Janus-faced. This is especially clear when one studies the right-wing media, which is becoming less homogeneous. Although Orbán is trying to keep the more moderate and the extreme right in one camp, it is clear that this is not really possible. On the internet one can find several extreme-right sites very critical of Orbán and Fidesz. Szilágyi even considers Echo TV and Magyar Hírlap (both belonging to the Széles media empire) to be somewhat independent of Fidesz and therefore more difficult to control. As a result, they often end up far more to the right than Viktor Orbán would like. (I don’t know what happens in a case like this. I don’t know whether Orbán picks up the phone and tells Széles that this or that is not good for the party.) In any case, Orbán has to walk a tightrope. He can show that he and his party stand on the side of the democrats (see the ticket-office demonstration) or send some Fidesz people to march on Holocaust Day with the antifascists. On the other hand, there is the picture of Viktor Orbán having a jolly good time with Zsolt Bayer, author of the unspeakable piece that appeared in Magyar Hírlap.

Anna Szilágyi concludes her analysis by saying that in the last few years the left-liberal government has made some very serious mistakes. Of course, they had to follow a strict austerity program that wasn’t going to endear them to the Hungarian people. But at the same time they acted too much as rational, cold technocrats. Public antagonism toward the austerity program was easy to exploit, and Fidesz used the opportunity well, especially when it came to the "hatred" factor. Szilágyi talks about two types of hatred outlined by Erich Fromm. One is the "rational, reactive hatred" and the "irrational hatred." According to Szilágyi, Fidesz uses both kinds of hatred. Very much the same way Orbán is Janus-faced as the head of the right. He tries to show himself as the authoritarian father figure and the politician who goes against authority. On the one hand, he embraces an antisemitic journalist while on the other he greets an antifascist demonstration. The question is what the end game strategy is. In today’s Népszabadság there is an interview with Szilágyi, and if I understand her correctly, she claims that Viktor Orbán must change course because in the long run he cannot win this way.

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Anna
Guest

There is a difference between debate with well-founded arguments and comments using the “language of fear”.
Professor Balogh is one of the leading experts on Hungarian politics and history.

kincs
Guest
Guys: There is plenty of scope for objective debate without hurling accusations at others. And it’s no use accusing Eva of censorship, because she has already said that she is prepared to accept that charge, if that’s what it comes to. For my part, I hope she chooses not to throw out letters – everyone benefits from reasoned discussion, maybe even more so from reasoned disagreement – but then I’m not the one who has been subject to personal assaults. As someone with a Ph.D. who has worked for many years at a top university, Eva knows all about objectivity and how to construct a case built on facts. As for Orbán, I came across the remark the other day: “I am not a head of state but the chief of the people, because the people stand behind me.” He has made remarks very like this before, to the effect that the nation supports him, despite the message sent by the electorate in the past two elections. As it happens, this statement came from Hitler, but one can easily imagine Orbán saying it. So long as Fidesz followers continue to see Orbán as infallible, Fidesz will resemble a Stalinesque cult… Read more »
Julianna Gulden
Guest

I an earlier post, someone asked me which Hungarian political parties I have worked for. I have not worked for any Hungarian political parties — Julianna Gulden

hebehoba
Guest

“His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself-that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”
-George Orwell, 1984

InfamousAmphibian
Guest

****As someone with a Ph.D. who has worked for many years at a top university, Eva knows all about objectivity and how to construct a case built on facts.****
@kincs
You say this sarcastically, non?
@Julianna Gulden
Gulden Communications has not worked for ANY(?) Hungarian political party?
-InfamousAmphibian

Julianna Gulden
Guest

I have never had a Hungarian political party as a client, no.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
It would be a great pity if this website were closed to comments. People like me who have never been to university and have a minimal real education would be unable to question and comment in order to clarify their understanding of the points being made @ Prof Balogh re – your comments The rhetoric of this type you have described is often used in western political speeches but without the gratuitous and loathsome insults used by Fides. If these people believe what they say then it shows the ‘thuggish’ nature of some of the upper ranks of the party. My wife likes to watch a breakfast time program called ‘MOKKA’ on TV. It has a sort of comment line running at the bottom of the screen. This morning a comment appeared on this line which seemed to link the name Orban with that of the ‘Messiah’. Make of it what you will. You say *** “Well, I got stuck on Orbán’s oratorical skills, but what Anna Szilágyi is really talking about in this part of her study is the “authoritarian personality.” *** Mr Kincs also makes this point. I wonder if the senior members of the party kneel before… Read more »
R.
Guest

Eva, I would ditch the comments section on your blog and replace it with an email address.
Since Hungarian Spectrum seems to be one of the only consistently updated English language blogs on Hungarian politics, you can pretty much guarantee that people will endlessly parse it for material they find objectionable and want to debate you. I don’t always agree with your views, but frankly, I’d rather read new blog posts than follow endless debates in the comments section.
Besides, it looks like there is already at least one blog devoted to criticizing Hungarian Spectrum.

InfamousAmphibian
Guest

As others have pointed out, this blog’s title is hypocritical and ironic.
There is NO spectrum in this echo-chamber!
LOL.

kincs
Guest

Amphibian:
“You say this sarcastically, non?”
I was not being sarcastic, as you know.
As I suggested earlier, any intelligently argued point of view from wherever on the spectrum would be welcome. If you have it in you, bring it on!

Seventh Pillar
Guest

“As I suggested earlier, any intelligently argued point of view from wherever on the spectrum would be welcome. If you have it in you, bring it on!”
Kincs, the very problem is that those arguments are deleted.

R.
Guest

@ Eva
“You have no pity on me?”
Ha! No, of course I do. I was just thinking of political blogs I’ve read where comments are disabled, but interesting, on-topic reader emails (including those voicing dissenting opinions) are sometimes posted.
Frankly I don’t think that anyone owes anyone else airtime on their blog.

Adrian
Guest

Kincs,
“The mystery of why so many Hungarians seem to have a need to believe in an infallible leader is an interesting sociological question.”
I think only a minority believe, fear plays a stronger role.
The schools of our town are about to go through some form of reorganisation. As a result I have made a few unflattering remarks about the motivation of the head of council education committee in front of my students and at home – in front of my children (the eldest is 9). My wife (41) has cautioned me against this as she doesn’t see any point in me making “enemies” – that word again.
Maybe if there had been some sort of banning from public life of the members of the former regime, ordinary Hungarians would be less convinced of the indestructibility and malice of politicians. Then again Orban’s continued leadership of Fidesz after three electoral defeats doesn’t look good either.

kincs
Guest

Re Orwell’s explanation of doublethink quoted above: Orbán said the other day that Transylvania’s two ethnic Hungarian parties the RMDSZ and the MPP – currently competing against one another in local elections in Romania – can form a new kind of unity, as unity is the way to success for Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin.
This after Fidesz helped create the MPP in its own image earlier this year – with the obvious effect of splitting the ethnic Hungarian vote.

hebehoba
Guest

Kincs/Eva
Re:Orwell quote:
“I take this defect among them to have arisen from their ignorance; by not having hitherto reduced politicks into a science … They are expressed in the most plain simple terms, wherein those people are not mercurial enough to discover above one interpretation.”
-Jonathan Swift, ‘Gulliver’s Travels : A Voyage to Brodbingnag’

Odin's lost eye
Guest

@ Prof Balogh
*** “The question is what the end game strategy is.” ***
We may have a clue in Mr Kincs remarks
@ Kincs
*** “Orbán said the other day that Transylvania’s two ethnic Hungarian parties the RMDSZ and the MPP – …. – can form a new kind of unity, as unity is the way to success for Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. This after Fidesz helped create the MPP in its own image earlier this year – with the obvious effect of splitting the ethnic Hungarian vote” ***
Was this latter was an attempt to unite all Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin under a Fides banner?
What action would guarantee that a party would remain in power –by popular democratic vote- for two generations? What action would placer the leader of that party in the position of ‘Lord High Muck-a-muck’ for life and give him a place in Hungarian history alongside Arpad? For a start the reintegration of the Carpathian Basin into Hungary. This would be a stepping-stone to rebuilding Greater Hungary. Do you think that this was one of the darker secrets discussed in the dormitory?

Dumneazu
Guest
Odin: before 1990 FIDESZ didn’t advocate a particularly nationalistic program, and have never actually expoused an irridentist message. As for that dormitory, if you mean the Bibo Kollegium, I don’t remember any outwardly nationalist rhetoric (of the type with which we are familiar today in Hungary) in use there at all while I was there from 1989-1991. However, once FIDESZ turned to the right they dismembered the Kisgazda and MIEP Parties, whose followers who were absorbed into their voting bloc, bringing with them some radical nationalist rhetoric and a penchant for symbols such as Turul statues and Big Hungary maps. During FIDESZ’ government term Hungary issued “Hungarian identity cards” to Transylvanian Hungarians, but these were not citizenship offers, only IDs which made taking short term work inside Hungary easier. Once the Socialists took over FIDESZ then pressed for full citizenship for the Hungarians of Transylvania. When this was voted down – primarily on the basis that Romania’s imminent entry into the EU made this irrelevant – FIDESZ began accusing the governing coalition of “anti-Hungarian-ness” and many Transylvanian Hungarians read this as FIDESZ intended – their opinions turned against the Socialist led coalition, and many also criticized their own local Hungarian… Read more »
dinayekapelye
Guest

Dumneazu, Bob, are FIDESZ popular at ELTE amongst you academics these days, particularly after the universities helped to undermine the present government with the referendum?

Dumneazu
Guest

Well, Attila, I wouldn’t know, because I don’t work at ELTE.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
@ Dumneazu Mr Dumneazu … Prof Balogh asked the question about the Fidez ‘End-Game’. I mealy postulated one possible scenario and asked some questions. At the beginning of the ‘troubles’ with the provisional IRA in Ulster it is a matter of record that the then prime minister of Eire sent a large number of rifles and ammunition into Ulster (a part of another all be it Non-catholic but none the less friendly nation). He did so on the totally false belief that the U.K. would not protect one part of its population from another. About 18 months later the government in Dublin woke up to the fact that if the ‘Provos’ did manage to detach the province from the rest of the UK and re-unite Ireland, the Provisional IRA would become an unstoppable force in Irish politics. No one could vote against them as they had achieved a ‘dream’. Why should Fides not try the same trick? I will not say how I think it could be done but ‘Dual Citizenship’ of this type could be one of the preambles to my end game scenario. Another is the formation of a Hungarian version of the old Serbian ‘Black Hand’ or… Read more »
Dumneazu
Guest
Odin: If I read your question right, you ask why FIDESZ has not supported an irredentist armed national liberation movement among Transylvanian Hungaians, if this would lead to an overwhelming domestic political primacy? Whatever we may want to say about FIDESZ, we can say that they are not that stupid. Hungary would never undertake arming a minority and risking that kind of loss, not against a fellow NATO and EU neighbor. It would be a foreign policy disaster, it would endanger the Erdely Magyar minority, and furthermore, if they ever tried it, they would simply lose. If – in some sci-fi version of an alternative universe – Hungary ever managed to annex Transylvania, it would gain 2 million Hungarians (not all of whom are guaranteed rightist political supports) and a bonus of 6 million rather angry Romanians. But we do not live in an alternative universe, this is the 21st century and it simply won’t happen. FIDESZ was forged out of the ELTE Law school, not a nationalistic army officer’s corps or a terror boot camp. Hungarians are not raised with the kind of populist partisan military culture that led Serbians under Milosevic’ rule to disaster in the 1990s. Hungarians… Read more »
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