We can hear more and more about the election of next year and about the “fact” that it is a foregone conclusion: Fidesz will win it. They are certain about it.
I don’t know how seriously we should take this, nor do I know, as it is impossible to gauge, what it actually means, how decisive, or how measly that win may be, but I am willing to assume it will happen. So, what is to be expected in that case? Actually this forecast had its day a few times before, but only once proved to be correct and even then only by a hair's breadth.
What I propose to do here is assessing, based on the earlier experience and on the character of the players, what can be expected if Fidesz should win in 2010.
Let us see therefore what happened when they did win and how they conducted themselves in their time in power.
Although in 1998 Fidesz entered into the election campaign with a great lead and declared that they were not willing to enter any coalition, during the campaign their advantage melted away and at the end they were forced to form a coalition with the Smallholders’ Party. The coalition partner was led by a ludicrous poseur, József Torgyán, who has often reminded me of a baboon and who was a veritable embarrassment to the whole country, beyond being a corrupt and ineffectual politician. In due course Fidesz wrung every advantage they could from this partner and then got rid of them by applying copious amounts of bribery and blackmail. The Smallholders never recovered after that.
The beginning of Fidesz governance started with trumped up charges of clandestine observations and strange explosives lobbed against their political opponents, but the parliamentary committee could not determine what happened and the unsubstantiated charges remained hanging in the air, unproven ever since.
In 1992, the state provided a beautiful, historic building to Fidesz as headquarters. They turned around and instantly sold the building to a bank. So far so good but what followed wasn't. The transaction provided 440 million capital to the party. They invested this money partly in 16 different businesses and partly in the Orban family’s nascent mining empire, established by the party leader’s father. A year later the companies, hollowed out and deeply in debt, were sold surreptitiously to two unknown foreigners with the help of stolen passparts, leaving the tax and social security authorities holding the bag for hundreds of millions. (Some of the details of this and a few other Fidesz tricks you can find here).
Almost immediately following the take-over, Fidesz apparatchiks flooded all areas of public and private life, they forced office holders out and took over all manners of positions (the public broadcaster, MTV, fired over 1200 employees on one single weekend, without explanation), while society was like Sleeping Beauty, completely oblivious.
The new Fidesz government made fundamental changes to the government structure in order to establish the party’s stranglehold over the country. First they established the Chancellery. This in effect concentrated the party supervision over the ministries, an overseer above the management of the government, following the German bureaucratic tradition. The minister running this Chancellery was Orbán's trusted advisor since college, István Stumpf. There was not much need for any power play over the ministries because Orbán’s college buddies and friends constituted most of the cabinet. The cabinet looked like an intimate club, no qualification was necessary other than the personal attachment to Orbán.
A tradition of one hundred and thirty-one years was overthrown when the Orban government ceased to keep any minutes or records of the weekly council meetings, to make sure that no examination of their deliberations could ever occur in the future.
In order to insure the unconditional support of the coalition partner, the Smallholders, Orbán soon enough handed over one third of the national budget to their Ministry of Agriculture headed by Torgyán, that set out to squander the money by spending it on the most hair-raising projects and on paying for huge unrelated expenses and bribes. This coalition partner invented new forms of profligacy, corruption, nepotism and waste unprecedented even in the corruption-rich annals of Hungarian history.
Fidesz also besieged the institutions of democracy. They introduced a new schedule for Parliament that hence was only sitting only every three weeks instead of the legal requirement set in the Constitution of weekly meetings, thus withdrawing the government from the scrutiny of the House. No investigative committees were allowed to convene at the request of the opposition as was customary in the past.
Besides practically undermining the political system, they also set out to establish the politics of symbols. The government decided soon enough to move the “sacred” crown, a historic artifact and national symbol, together with the other crown jewels, from the National Museum, where it was accessible to anybody, to the Parliament, where access to it was restricted and controlled. A couple of years later they moved the crown again, only for a day, to Esztergom, the capital in St. Stephen's day, just to increase the pomp and circumstance of a day of celebration. Because Orbán participated on that day and because he never hesitated to boost his own importance by the proximity of the crown, they put the piece on a boat and ferried it up the river for the day.
Orbán also established a state agency with an unbelievably rich, actually unlimited budget, whose single mandate was propaganda on behalf of Fidesz and the documenting of his, Orbán’s activities minute by minute.
There is no room here to enumerate the known simpler, pedestrian cases of nepotism, corruption, awarding of highway contracts, party financing, awarding of state contracts to cronies and rapid increases in wealth of Fidesz cadres that nevertheless consumed billions of the budget. At the end they didn’t even dare to submit their yearly budget to Parliament, instead they opted to make one for two years, thus securing the approval without subsequent parliamentary scrutiny for unbridled waste and corruption. All this was predicated on the assumption that they will be reelected into majority, and in their new mandate there would be no one to scrutinize the spending.
But so much revelry and amusement is enough for now. Let us surmise what we may expect following the election in April or May next year.
I personally do not believe any of the predictions that assume Fidesz’s limited room for action: talking about changes while continuing the restrictive policies of the present government. It seems almost certain that the new-old government of Fidesz will continue where they left it off, undermining the institutions of democracy and the solipsistic advancement of their personal and political fortunes. But this time they will add the element of revenge as they made it clear in countless occasions. And they have lots to avenge indeed.
They also showed little or no scruples when it came to uprooting established practices for their own sake, they always manipulated public reactions with boilerplate slogans to placate public opinion. Nor does it seem likely that they will be bound by EU influence or rules. They established their positions towards the EU and they always gave preference to nationalism as opposed to solidarity, particularly if that was to their advantage. And the public is conditioned to believe now that whatever is to Fidesz’s advantage is also to the nation’s advantage. This will give them a period of free rein to rampage.
As it is now, the prospective Fidesz government will have no alternative, nor potential checks and balances, as it seems at the moment. There is no competition, nor available coalition partner to trust with the role of applying some brakes. The Constitutional Court, the judiciary and the bureaucracy is already stuffed or cowered into supporting them.
Contrary to most optimistic fools, who claim that Fidesz will govern reasonably, I expect that the coming Fidesz government will be the most narrow-minded, self-serving and most corrupt government imaginable. In fact, I also expect that they will outperform our darkest expectations and fears with their boorishness, corruption and cruelty. And who can forget this picture?
In addition to all of the foregoing, they will return fast to the practices of the not quite buried socialism by expanding “state” i.e. Fidesz control, paternalistic pressures and most of all, the personal cult of Orbán, all of which is well in action already. To find relief from these foreboding prospects, we should put our faith in the wisdom of the electorate. So far that worked with surprising certainty. However, in the absence of any electable alternative and the hysterical state of minds in Hungary, I cannot expect much this time from that “wisdom.” And in the climate of hopelessness I expect, many of the supporters of democracy will find it un-worthwhile to make the effort of the long and gloomy walk to the voting station.