Sándor Friderikusz is a very talented radio and television personality. He is fifty this year but looks younger. He started his career as a high school student at the local radio station in Nyíregyháza and continued as a university student (law but never did anything with it) at Magyar Rádió. Anything he touches turns to gold monetarily as well as qualitatively. Yet he seems to get kicked out from everywhere. First from Magyar Rádió in the Kádár regime because his reports often dealt with the dark side of the socialist paradise. He was also kicked out of Magyar Televízió in 2005 because he wrote a rather nasty article about the head of the MTV who, according to Friderikusz, is totally unfit to lead the institution. Yet all his shows were smash hits, including the one he created at MTV called "A szólás szabadsága" (Freedom of Speech). Once he left the program continued, but the audience shrank to a third of its original size.
He created another show at ATV called "Friderikusz Ma" (Friderikusz Today) that aired for two years. Again a smash hit although ATV's reach is nowhere close to MTV's. MTV can be seen everywhere in the country while ATV is available only through certain cable packages. I'm not sure why "Friderikusz Ma" wasn't continued. Perhaps the finicky Friderikusz spent far too much money on the episodes and ATV couldn't quite afford it. Or Friderikusz didn't get along with management. It is not impossible that Friderikusz just got tired of the show. He is the kind of man who needs ever new challenges. When I expressed my disappointment at not being able to see Friderikusz's program anymore, his close colleague told me: "Don't worry, knowing Fridi [as his friends call him] he will come up with something soon." Well, for the time being the new thing is not a television show but a book called Friderikusz eddig (Friderikusz up till now). The book is a well edited series of interviews conducted by Friderikusz's associate at "Friderikusz Ma," Zsófia Mihancsik. Mihancsik is an excellent interviewer who managed to pull out things from Friderikusz that surprised even him. Friderikusz has an excellent memory and a very sharp tongue. He tells it as he sees it and spares nobody. Here is the cover of Friderikusz eddig.
Hungary is a small country where in certain circles everybody knows everybody. Friderikusz through his long career in the media has known a lot of politicians. In fact, with some of them he has been friends for years. Viktor Orbán is one of these people. They were on a first name basis and there was a real friendship between him and Viktor and Anikó Orbán. For a while Friderikusz even managed to influence Orbán here and there. Before 1998, that is before Orbán became prime minister, they often met or, if not, Friderikusz phoned him if he thought that Orbán said or did something that was in his opinion not the best. That good relationship continued even during Orbán's tenure as prime minister. However after 2002 the friendship cooled somewhat. Apparently on one occasion when Orbán said something that Frederikusz found unacceptable he suggested a long weekend somewhere where they could talks things over. First Orbán said yes, later he called the meeting off. Friderikusz recalls: "I very much believed in Orbán's political future. I dreamt of a country led by him. I helped him wherever I could. For example, at the beginning of his political career when he began giving interviews, I tried to teach him what to watch out for in the reporter's longer questions. When I called him in 2005 most likely I was a bit nostalgic. After all, I couldn't let this man ruin himself in front of my eyes."
Well, the next encounter was a real disaster after which Friderikusz swore that he would not have an interview with Viktor Orbán for a very long time. It happened in the fall of 2006, right before the local elections. It was after Gyurcsány's speech to the MSZP delegation leaked out and the Fidesz communication experts came out with a new verbal attack on Ferenc Gyurcsány the "pathological liar." First of all, the speech at Balatonőszöd was not made by a pathological liar. On the contrary, Gyurcsány, although using words carelessly, told the party delegates that the entire political elite, including MSZP politicians, didn't tell the people the whole truth about the so-called welfare state that could not be sustained in its current state. Friderikusz, no fan of ad hominem attacks, asked Orbán before the interview not to call the prime minister a pathological liar. Orbán apparently looked at him questioningly, and Friderikusz tried to explain that this kind of below the belt personal attack was simply not worthy of him. Orbán seemed to have understood Friderikusz's arguments and promised. As Friderikusz says, if Orbán at that point had told him that he was not willing to agree to his request, Friderikusz would have cancelled the interview. It was not live, so there was time for a later substitution. And now let me quote him verbatim. "In the studio after twenty-two minutes 'the pathological liar' came up. I saw even before that he was preparing himself for something because he started to perspire first around his nose and then on his forehead. From one minute to the next! By the time he got to the pathological liar part the white of his eyes became red. He was practically in a trance." Friderikusz simply didn't know what to do. First of all he felt helpless in the face of Orbán's broken promise and second, he was truly worried about his health. He was afraid that Orbán might collapse right then and there. Because he couldn't think of anything else Friderikusz offered Orbán a glass of water while the station aired an ad.
For one reason or another the offer of a glass of water deeply upset Viktor Orbán. Even after the ad he returned to it. He took it as a humiliation. After the interview they went back to Friderikusz's office and when there were only the two of them, Orbán vented about his awful humiliation. He said things like: "'If you respect me so little, Sándor, at least you should respect me as the father of five children!' He said things like this. It was a very uncomfortable five minutes that left a bad taste in the mouth. If I recall, we didn't shake hands at the end."
Whatever I summarized or quoted here is but a small part of the Orbán portrait. Friderikusz also tries to solve the mystery of Orbán's changing personality. Tomorrow I will continue.