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.