In Hungarian internet circles in the last four or five days an article has been circulating that is being embraced by many of its readers. The title is "Cipolla" and it was written by László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai-Magyar Népszava Szabadság, a Hungarian-language weekly published in New York. Bartus was a well-known Hungarian journalist who also published several books before moving to the United States. This morning I was asked by someone in Hungary to translate this article into English because, as I was told, the world has to know what is going on there. I promised a fairly detailed summary.
First, something about the title. It is borrowed from Thomas Mann's most political short novel, Mario and the Magician. The story, according to most literary analyses, is a condemnation of fascism through the character of Cipolla, a hypnotist who uses his mental powers to control his audience. He represents the mesmerizing power of authoritarian leaders in Europe at the time. He is killed on the spot by one of the people he misused–Mario, the waiter. Cipolla's assassination by Mario is viewed not as a tragedy but a liberation for his audience.
Once already I wrote about Cipolla. It was almost two years ago, under the title "Mario and Cipolla in the Hungarian parliament." Then, a freshman Fidesz member of parliament read his own poem in which he compared Ferenc Gyurcsány to Cipolla and expressed his hope that one day a Mario would arrive and kill him. You can imagine what happened after this charming call for murder.
Well, Bartus doesn't want anyone to kill Cipolla. He simply claims that "the country is in the hands of a Cipolla, a magician who bewitches, misleads, and manipulates it." But, Bartus says, the Hungarians will never admit that they made a mistake when they entrusted the country to a Cipolla. They will blame someone else as is their wont.
Bartus claims that in the last two weeks or so events took place in Hungary which point to the reasons for the nation's depravity and for the country's loss of competitiveness. Who is responsible for that? "Viktor Orbán and his propaganda machine" that for years has been repeating that the former government stole the Hungarian people's last penny, that the budget consisted of falsified data, that there was no need for reforms, that austerity was unnecessary, and that it was perfectly all right to have a deficit as high as 7.5%. At the same time Orbán systematically destroyed the ability of the government to govern, ruined people's faith in democracy, questioned the legitimacy of the constitution. By now he has managed to destroy the whole institutional underpinning of democracy.
When Orbán at last became prime minister and when everybody was expecting him to show what he can do, it turned out that all that talk was based on nothing. It turned out that "they lied, they slandered, they cheated." Whatever they said wasn't true. And what is an even bigger problem, it seems that they are incapable of governing. "Within 100 days they managed to produce a 400 billion forint loss to the Hungarian taxpayers because they don't know what they are doing." Bartus continues: "If all their ideas were based on wrong assumptions, they could at least admit that they were wrong or lied. It depends on how charitable one is. And because they are unable to do anything else, they might as well pick up their hats and leave."
What happened? According to Bartus, "one man built up a propaganda machine, a structure that he alone controls, and created a sect that believes in his omnipotence. He uses patriotism to manipulate, to stigmatize and exclude his political opponents. He managed to make intelligent people become brainless admirers, obedient and fearful subjects…. He managed to turn people against each other, make people hate each other, and taught his people to hate the outside world…. He created sheep and obedient parrots around himself who without the slightest sign of thinking keep repeating what they are told…. With his destructive speeches he poisoned the whole nation. For the sake of his own power he managed to destroy the res publica, let loose the extremists, and create a civil war within the country. He created a situation in which peace and quiet is an impossibility as long as Viktor Orbán is the prime minister…. Hungary has lost at least 25-30 years because it produced a man named Viktor Orbán from Felcsút."
According to Bartus he managed to achieve all this by "telling a tall tale," claiming that those who oppose him conspire against the nation in the service of foreign powers. These same people used their power in the last eight years to rob the Hungarian people blind. The current plight of the country is their fault. But by now it is clear that all this talk was a lie and pure incitement of public passions. Orbán used his famous double-talk. He said one thing inside Hungary and something else for foreign consumption. But, says Bartus, this game that works inside of the country doesn't work outside of it. Foreign leaders are not stupid and they know who Viktor Orbán is. So, Orbán has to tell the truth to the European Union. He has to admit that the Bajnai government did a very good job and that he is in fact going to continue on the same road his predecessors marked out because he has no choice.
This double-talk can have interesting consequences. A few days ago a final report on the performance of the former government had to be approved by parliament. The report objectively described the situation as of the end of last year. Orbán's hand-picked politicians couldn't believe their ears when they heard the version produced for foreign consumption. After all, it was exactly the opposite of what they have heard for years from their leader. Then an incredible thing happened. One after the other Fidesz politicians got up and kept attacking the performance of the former government which the official report had just praised. As if they had heard nothing. That's called brainwashing. Or, as Bartus claims, "we are witnessing a psychological experiment" that is a surprising development in twenty-first century Europe.
The article is much longer than this brief summary. Anyone who's interested in the original can read it in Hungarian on the website of Amerikai-Magyar Népszava.