Or at least this is the impression his appearances and messages of late indicate. It was in his March 15 speech that I noticed a fairly sharp turn to the right but since then the signs of a profound change in tactics are visible. Or at least I noticed a change.
Although most papers and politicians were happy that the national holiday passed in relative calm, Orbán and Fidesz decided that they could not miss an opportunity to criticize the government and the police for their alleged wrongdoings. First, it seems to me, they laid some traps for the police. The most glaring was the following provocation. Two men held up a banner reading: “Responsible government to Budapest.” The police, who most likely received instructions that no banner can be displayed during certain events, asked the two men to put away the white sheet with the slogan. The slogan wasn’t the same but very similar to one of the twelve demands of the revolutionaries in 1848. The original demanded a “responsible ministry,” presumably a ministry dealing with Hungarian affairs, in Pest-Buda. Surely, the policemen in charge didn’t have the foggiest idea about the connection between the banner and the events of 1848. I happened to see the encounter between the two men and the police and I must say that it was most civilized. The policeman politely asked and the two guys politely obliged. However, they were arrested. A huge outcry followed on the right. Surely, this is dictatorship when two peaceful men cannot display a famous slogan from 1848. Not only that. After they were arrested they were strip searched and left for hours without food or drink.
The first paper to report the news was Magyar Nemzet. The paper referred to one of the men as a lawyer, but as it turned out he was actually a former employee of the paper. He was also one of the publishers of another right-wing paper, Heti Válasz. In addition, he currently serves as a member, nominated by Fidesz, of the committee dealing with complaints, mostly political in nature, of ORTT (Országos Rádió és Televízió Testület). ORTT is the body overseeing the affairs of radio and television stations. But this journalist-lawyer-politician wasn’t the only one who decided to entrap the police. Another one who appeared with a huge book on the life of Stalin was once the press secretary of the ministry dealing with family questions under the Orbán government. So much for political mischief. On the first picture one can see the lawyer-journalist-politician while on the second one the former press secretary in the Orbán government. And if that weren’t enough Zoltán Balog, Fidesz chairman of the parliamentary committee on human rights, initiated an immediate investigation of the wrongdoings of the police on March 15. Máté Szabó, ombudsman in charge of complaints concerning such wrongdoings, also decided to move into action. Perhaps it is not immaterial that Szabó is a Sólyom appointee. He has been superactive ever since he received his appointment and this superactivity seems to be coupled with paranoia. The other day he was investigating a death that occurred in the Kaposvár prison and his parked car was involved in a traffic accident. He indicated his strong suspicion that the local police out of vengeance ruined his car!
Now I don’t know why these men were arrested. But obviously they were in violation of some Hungarian law that both Fidesz and the police knew well. The law, I assume, is petty enough to make the police seem heavy-handed and the arrestees innocent victims. In brief, Fidesz criticizes the government for weakening the police, they keep demanding a strong and disciplined police force, but at the same time they do everything in their power to make the Hungarian police as impotent as possible. After a while, the police will not dare to do anything because of the consequences they might suffer. And, of course, it will be the fault of the government.
All these provoked incidents provided Viktor Orbán with an opportunity to repeat time and again that he was perfectly right when he talked about the restoration of socialist dictatorship. While after his relatively moderate speech on March 6 he made his rounds on respectable, run-of-the-mill television stations, this time he decided to visit EchoTV and the extreme right paper Magyar Hírlap. Both are owned by Gábor Széles, a billionaire of extreme views. Until now Orbán was careful about not associating himself with Széles’s media empire. But for one reason or other he now thinks that it’s necessary. My guess is that Fidesz must have some polls for internal use only that indicate that Jobbik and other right-wing groups are gaining ground at the expense of Fidesz. This news must be behind the rather sharp turn to the right. At Echo TV he again repeated that Fidesz is keeping tabs on the illegal moves of the government and when they are in charge “these people will be punished.” The policemen ought to be the most afraid: they are gathering information on them. They know who was where and did what! In plain language Orbán is quite openly intimidating the police!
Orbán in the same interview at Echo TV made a couple of other “interesting” observations. He tried to explain better what he meant by “socialist restoration.” Of course, he wasn’t speaking of the restoration of a “socialist society” because then “there would be work for everybody and there would be public safety.” The current government doesn’t want to restore the socialist order but rather a dictatorial form of exercising power. It wants to create a regime very similar to or the same as one-party rule. He had the temerity to say that it is the other side that intimidates people. Especially since only a few minutes later he threatened the whole police force. He continued that he is certain that “even people of socialist persuasion” will reject this “socialist restoration.” He is sure that the Hungarian people are witnessing the end of that restoration attempt. Over 50% of the public wants change and there will be change soon.
The next day Orbán visited Magyar Hírlap, the newspaper that employs Zsolt Bayer, the notorious antisemite whose so-called journalistic activities are a disgrace. By the way, Bayer was one of the founders of Fidesz and a close friend of Viktor Orbán. Here he emphasized the necessity of a united right. He more or less repeated his thoughts uttered earlier at Echo TV about the police, the government, the socialist restoration, punishment of the guilty, and the happy days that await the nation after the change of government. In addition, he decided to say a few nasty things about MDF and its chairman, Ibolya Dávid. He called Dávid’s move to promote Lajos Bokros “jokes of a clown.” MDF didn’t leave Orbán’s remarks unanswered. It considers what Orbán has been doing for years the “acts of a clown.” He loudly demands change but when there was an opportunity to change prime ministers, he ran away.
There are people who wouldn’t agree with me about Orbán’s move to the far right. They think he has been there for some time by now. They point out, rightly, that in Hungary there has never been a moderate right as there were no liberals either. That’s why Ibolya Dávid and SZDSZ have such troubles gathering strength. Some people would go so far as to say that one cannot build a democracy without democrats. Historically, I agree with the above assessments. Indeed, there has never been a moderate conservative base in Hungary and with the exception of Budapest between the two world wars there were no liberals either. The only thing I can’t decide is who Viktor Orbán actually is. An irresponsible demagogue who says what his audience wants to hear? Was he ever a liberal? Was he ever a conservative? Is he now a representative of the far right? I honestly do not know.