Foreign media on the Orbán goverment: Libération, The Irish Times and Die Welt

A few days ago a new article appeared in French, this time in Libération, by Florence La Bruyère who is the Budapest correspondent for the paper. The headline read “La droite hongroise vire à l’extrême,” which didn’t sound too promising. The picture that accompanies the piece is even more frightening, with skinheads carrying the flag of Jobbik.



Similarly to the the author of the article that appeared in the Nouvel Observateur La Bruyère begins with the Manifesto of National Cooperation and its confused text about the revolution that took place in the voting booths. This new regime is based on ideas of “work, family, home, health and order.” The French journalist claims that the real problem in Hungarian politics is that the so-called right-of-center and the extreme right are rather close in their political opinions. According to Péter Krekó, a political scientist from the think tank Political Capital, fifteen percent of the Fidesz voters, and that means almost half a million people, sympathize with the extreme right and its party, Jobbik. Very much like the Hungarian right in the 1930s, Viktor Orbán has never kept his distance from the far right. So it is not at all surprising that the two parties are on the same side of the playing field; occasionally Orbán even manages to steal Jobbik’s ball. For example, when it came to launching a campaign of “political retribution” against those politicians who ran the country for the last eight years. They should be dragged to court because of the allegedly damaging political decisions they made.

La Bruyère notes the extreme speed with which parliament passed fifty-six bills without much discussion. She, like so many other journalists, Hungarian and otherwise, finds the media law unacceptable: “one has to go as far east as Belorussia, Azerbaijan, or Russia to find a similar one.”

Positions are filled simply on the basis of loyalty to Viktor Orbán and thus some of the men who were put into important positions are not qualified for the job. The overwhelming Fidesz majority in parliament can change the constitution at will, but, La Bruyère adds, the great majority of Hungarians don’t care about all that. Fidesz is as popular today as it was at the time of the elections. The author quotes a forty-six-year-old teacher: “Orbán can do whatever he wants with the constitution, I’m not interested. One must bring order to this country.” (I may add here that yesterday an article appeared in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Hungary Likes Its Tough-Talking Government.” But it adds that the government owes its popularity to its avoidance of difficult decisions without which Hungary’s economic well-being will be at risk in the coming years.)

On the very same day another article appeared in The Irish Times by Daniel McLaughlin under the headline “Hungary’s new ‘Little Red Book’ harks back to bad old Soviet days.” Lazy summer days elsewhere but in Hungary the “new government is cementing its political ‘revolution.'” According to McLaughlin “with an unassailable majority in parliament and the Socialists in disarray after their election drubbing, Fidesz encountered little opposition to its legislative blitzkrieg until it proposed a bill that critics say highlights Orbán’s hubris and reacalls the bad old days of one-party power.” That is, of course, the Manifesto of National Cooperation, “which by now is called the Orbán Bull in Hungary. Not the kind found on the field, but in the meaning of ‘edict’ or ‘decree.'” In Hungarian “Orbán Bull” has a historical resonance because of the Golden Bull of 1222 issued by King Andrew II of Hungary which established the rights of Hungary’s nobility. In any case, McLaughlin points out that “the statement’s portentous tone and the order that it hang in every state institution was too much for many Hungarians, for whom the strictures of Soviet rule are not such a distant memory.”

McLaughlin also spoke to Péter Krekó, who thinks that while the Manifesto “might seem like a joke … by ordering all public buildings to display the credo, Fidesz created a symbol of its own arrogance, breathing new life into old accusations that Orbán is ‘anti-democratic’ and ‘dictatorial.'” He also quotes Dunja Mijatovic of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe who claimed that the new media law’s “adoption could lead to all broadcasting being subordinated to political decisions. The socialist Ildikó Lendvai put it more bluntly: ‘The purpose of this law is to change the public media into a party media.’ As for Orbán’s handling of the IMF, “many experts … believe the country will ultimately pay dearly for what they see as … Orbán’s arrogance.”

Among all that bad publicity, there is one article that defends the Orbán government against what the author considers to be unjust, unfair criticism. The article, “Hungary is Better than Its Reputation,” also appeared on August 17 in Die Welt. The author is Zsuzsa Breier, who was cultural attaché in the Hungarian Embassy in Berlin between 1998 and 2002. She is not a journalist and obviously not an independent observer.

Breier points out that the current Hungarian government was democratically elected to lead the country. She emphasizes that Jobbik is not part of this government. Both statements are correct, but she fails to note that the Jobbik delegation more often than not votes with the government party. To be precise, 60% of the time. She claims that Jobbik has no influence whatsoever on the legislative work of the government. That is definitely not true. The commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920, was a Jobbik demand which Fidesz adopted in a great hurry. The idea of compulsory school trips to former Hungarian territories was also born in Jobbik circles. Jobbik, in fact, is complaining bitterly that Fidesz is stealing their ideas.

Breier has her own complaints: the German journalists who write on Hungary are doing a sloppy job. For example, they claim that Jobbik received almost 17% of the votes when they got “exactly 12.8 percent.” Well, it’s not the German journalists but Zsuzsa Breier who is sloppy; she mixes up the popular vote with the number of seats the party was awarded as a result of Hungary’s complex electoral laws. Indeed, Jobbik got 12.8% of the seats but unfortunately this extremist party received 16.67% of the votes. All her figures are wrong. Fidesz didn’t receive 68% of the votes but only 52.73%, which was translated into 67.88% of the seats.

Although it is fairly difficult to maintain that Fidesz is a truly conservative party in the image of Western European Christian Democratic parties, this is Breier’s position. (In many respects Fidesz is a populist, nationalistic party which tries to appeal to János Kádár’s people who are heavily dependent on the socialist largesse of the state.) She tries to refute the accusations in the liberal press that Orbán not a democratic politician and that Fidesz is not a democratic party. But it is not enough to say that there is nothing in the party program that would point to anti-democratic tendencies. Of course, there isn’t. The charge is based on a speech that Viktor Orbán gave on September 8, 2008, when he talked about “a central political force” that would be so strong and the opposition so weak that in the next fifteen or twenty years his party would govern the country without any useless discussions with the opposition. To me, that doesn’t sound terribly democratic.

Her description of the antagonism between Fidesz and the socialists/liberals is also one-sided. In her view Orbán is the innocent victim of a witchhunt by the socialists and liberals who not long ago were communists with bloody hands. The facts again don’t support her contention. Péter Medgyessy tried to bury the hatchet, but Orbán wasn’t game. Although it is true that in such disputes both sides are usually at fault, in this case Fidesz and Orbán bear the larger burden. After all, the socialists don’t walk out of the chamber every time Orbán rises to speak as Fidesz did with Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Breier denies that nationalism is on the rise in Hungary in spite of all signs on the contrary. She thinks that granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in the neighboring countries shouldn’t give rise to worries in Slovakia or Romania because, after all, János Martonyi made it clear that the government doesn’t think in terms of revisionism. However, as we know, what may sound innocuous to the government in Budapest may seem ominous in Bratislava or in Belgrade. Empathy was never a strong point of the Hungarian psyche.

All in all, her article is so one-sided and propagandistic that most likely it will not convince the readers of Die Welt. Especially after the news which appeared in today’s Népszabadság that there is a possibility that Zsuzsa Breier will be the next Hungarian ambassador to Germany.


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The Columbian

The Orban government is not hunted by the bloodthirsty communists. It is hunted by the leftist intellectuals who resented communism, but resented their own failing and faltering voices after it’s fall even more. Theirs is a desperate bid for importance in a world that is leaving them behind, politically, morally and intellectually.


I’m enjoying catching up with your writing here. Some very interesting perspective on the new government.
In the above article one small sentence struck me.
“Empathy was never a strong point of the Hungarian psyche.”
As a stranger in the country this has been a point I have been thinking about a lot. Trying to understand Hungarian attitudes toward work, the world and mostly each other I have been struck by an unwillingness or inability of many to “walk in another mans shoes”. I was wondering if you had any further insight into why this is?
The answer I get when I ask this directly is that it is all due to the previous regime. This seems lazy especially as I see this in some people who I would have thought were really too young for this to have had a large influence.
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Joe Simon

Contrary to the article above, Orbán has indeed distanced himself from the extreme right, from the Magyar Gárda, stb. This
Spectrum is extremely prejudiced toward Orbán, one can see it oozing from everything written here. Rather unfortunate.