An opinion on the current Hungarian situation

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.

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An
Guest

Spot on. I wrote on this blog before that the worst thing that happened to Hungary in the last 20 years is Orban Viktor.
He is a narcissist; look up NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) on the web. He has a grandiose sense of self-importance, arrogant with a sense of entitlement, doesn’t acknowledge his mistakes, doesn’t take responsibility, hungry for power and admiration, revengeful. He lives in a distorted reality and self-deceit. He lies but because of his self-deception, he truly believes in what he is saying at the moment… even if what he is saying now is in total contradiction with what he said earlier.
It’s bad news, because he forces his distorted sense of reality to a whole country and when you are not willing to face reality as it is, it can be disastrous.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

Yet another post about a lunatic who is totally unworthy of mentioning. The article is about a person named Ferenc Gyurcsány, all attributes collected in the article fit exactly on him, too bad the author has misspelled the name.
Anyone who really believes that Orbán ruined the country from opposition has severe brain damage.

An
Guest

@Pasztor Szilard: Obviously, Orban didn’t do all the damage single handedly. But was a major contributor to the development of an extremely polarized political climate in Hungary today, in which very little if any progress can be made.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

The polarized political climate is a direct and unavoidable consequence of the unfortunate political survival of the pre-regime-change political companionship. The shooting ditches remained exactly the same throughout the past 20 years because the battling political sides remained the same too.
This is what has changed now, and with the apparent demise of the MSZMP, the political climate is far from polarized now. We now have a historic opportunity to seize, to assure that MSZMP is never climbing back to power again. If this succeeds, Fidesz will probably split or a part of Fidesz will leave to form another party which, maybe together with some newcomers like LMP, may be the basis of a new parliamentary opposition, resulting in a somewhat refashioned party system in Hungary.
The vanishing of SZDSZ was, as László Kövér says, the second birthday of new-age Hungarian democracy (couldn’t agree more), if the same thing happens to MSZMP, it will be the third, or even the fourth birthday in one event.

Alias3T
Guest
Yes, and thank god Fidesz isn’t stuffed full of former MSZMP members, eh? Szilard, you know that none of this is true. The MSZP won three elections. They may or may not win another, I don’t know. But you know that their election victories were the direct reflection of popular will as expressed in democratic elections. Fidesz has won two elections; and this, too, was a reflection of popular will. Lies were spoken in all the election campaigns in question, but this is inevitable in an election, especially if you have a weak, party-controlled media. But you know that, too. You also know that Medgyessy was lying when he spoke of his joleti rendszervaltas. You know that Gyurcsany was lying when he said growth was coming on strong just before the 06 elections. And you know that Orban’s promise of a 14th month pension, his case against the doctor’s visit fee, and his promise of a flat tax were also a pack of lies. You also know that Attila Mesterhazy and the MSZMP have very little to do with each other. And you know that the MSZP is not called the MSZMP. So cut yourself a little slack. Not everything… Read more »
whoever
Guest

I point the finger at those pointing the finger. But I know that when one finger points forward, three point back.

Paul Haynes
Guest

This all rings horribly true. We were in Hungary from before the elections until the beginning ofthis month, and what I saw and heard there very much supports what Bartus writes.
And before you start, Szilárd, I wish with all my heart that we were wrong and you were right. I have too much of a family, emotional and financial stake in Hungary to watch it become the basket case of Europe. But with OV in charge, I fear the worst.
And if anyone needs any further proof of how well Orbán has hypnotised the population, my mother-in-law, who is an kind, intelligent, educated woman with a degree in mathematics, told my wife just today that the reason OV’s speeches contain so little detail of what Fidesz are actually going to do, is that he is a man of action and prefers gettng on with the things he has to do, rather than talking about them.
She was entirely serious about this.

Paul Haynes
Guest

Eva – would it be possible to give a link to the report you mention in your last paragraph, ideally an English translation?

whoever
Guest
Nah – this is rubbish. And it’s kindof offensive, in a way. Hungary’s politics can only realistically be compared with that of other countries in the region. Slovakia is probably the closest, followed by Poland, Czech Republic and, on the other hand, Romania and Bulgaria. Looking at Hungary’s political culture using a comparative methodology, we cannot see, by any means, that Orbán has asserted a dominance in the last 20 years, and objectively, he is no worse, and in some ways better, than the likes of Fico in Slovakia. He has benefited entirely from the slow collapse of the MSZP as a credible political force, despite the general support that does exist for social democracy in Hungary. As for people opting for lazy, ill-thought out proposals, that is democracy. One cannot elect another electorate. Orbán did not build the political culture in Hungary, he have benefited, but we should not make the mistake of ascribing supernatural powers to him! Many elections in the past have been simple competitions in who will dispense the most money, and this takes 2 to tango. In the final analysis, a party such as the SZDSZ were not destroyed by Orbán, they were destroyed by… Read more »
Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@Paul: I would have to force myself to believe that you are serious about Orbán having hypnotized the entire Hungarian population and bewitched the country.
This is so overwhelming rubbish that I can’t even relate to it.
Have you ever heard the saying “when everything is coming in your way, you are in the wrong lane”?
Do you seriously think that everyone is hopelessly stupid in Hungary and this is the reason why Orbán has won such a landslide victory? Aren’t you ever in doubt that maybe your sources of about Hungary (such as this blog) are severely falsifying information?
Read what you like and believe what you like, but you apparently have absolutely no clue what is really going on in Hungary and why.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

whoever: “, we cannot see, by any means, that Orbán has asserted a dominance in the last 20 years, and objectively, he is no worse, and in some ways better, than the likes of Fico in Slovakia.”
Partially I agree with you. Bartus puts too much emphasis on the person of Orbán. However, I don’t know whether Fico would have supported armed uprising against the government in order to return to power. This is what Orbán did in September-October 2006. There is more and more evidence to support this fact. What I don’t understand: why didn’t the other side reveal what they knew about the role of Fidesz played in the disturbances.

Odins lost eye
Guest
I have never heard the story of Cipolla.et al before. Nor have I heard of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) as mentioned by An. In 2006 I watched on TV Orban Victor’s speech at the Astoria. I speak little or no Hungarian, but I read his body language. It was frightening, the hate, the venom and the lies. I do not know what he said but his body said ‘I am lying’. I think he may well have believed his own lies, such people often do. I have seen this before in a film clip of J Stalin giving a speech – the body language was the same. I said to my wife who was also watching ‘he is a demagogue’. She agreed whole heartedly. Mr Whoever I feel you are right when say ** “Orbán’s people have correctly deduced that the existing models for political economy in Europe are all, to some extent, broken” **. It is but only because those who are called bankers have lost the original idea of ‘Banking’, which was to make money by being the trustees of other peoples money. This is because they found ‘Financial Services’ were easier to provide and the idea of… Read more »
Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

“supported armed uprising against the government in order to return to power. This is what Orbán did in September-October 2006. There is more and more evidence to support this fact”
Lie again. There is absolutely no evidence to support this “fact” and never was, noone has ever named one such “evidence”, and – more importantly – such an action wouldn’t even have been in Orbán’s interest.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Szilard claims that there is no evidence. Yes, there is at least indirect evidence. At the end of 2006 then undersecretary Ágnes Vadai at a press conference said something to the effect that not only extremist groups (Sixty-Four Counties, etc.) can be linked to the disturbances but also Fidesz “lead by Viktor Orbán.” Fidesz sued and lost. So, obviously, the courts found evidence that supported Vadai’s claim.
And just lately György Such, president of Magyar Rádió, mentioned before the subcommittee investigating whether Gyurcsány “instructed” the police or not in September 2006 that employees of the Radio were among “ideological leaders” of the disturbances. So, it wasn’t spontaneous, and it is unlikely that the Radio’s employees belonged to these fringe groups.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

There is no other reference on any legal action concerning Fidesz vs. Vadai except in Gyurcsány’s recent letter. So it is highly probable that Gyurcsány, as always, is lying and there was no suing at all, let alone losing it.
About Such and Radio, that’s what I call a shot in the foot. Since the Radio was completely taken over by Medgyessy in 2002, it is again highly probable that those employees were linked to MSZMP, the party that was clearly helped by the 2006 riots. It was in their interest.
Anyway, one must be clueless to think that Orbán’s interest was in any way to fuel armed, anti-democratic attempts at seizing power against a government, even though that government was clearly anti-democratic too. Orbán has waited 8 years before returning to power and he adhered to all democratic principles by winning on democratic elections. Had he wanted, he could have grebbed power back immediately in 2002 when Medgyessy and the new government was weak (because their legitimacy was weak), and millions of people were keenly supporting Orbán.

latefor
Guest

Pasztor Szilard-
You are really messing with my mind……..
For someone like me, who is not entirely on the left but not on the right either……frankly, I do not know what to
think?
Gyurcsany is “center left’…Orban is “center right” – well, in my view, these two have a lot of things in common, don’t you think? They care about the future of Hungary..may be they should be working together.
Put aside their differences and look after the best interest of Hungary.

latefor
Guest

I would like to ask all the “intellectual heavy weight”s on this blog, what do they think of Peter Rona’s economic solutions for Hungary?

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@latefor: I don’t think Gyurcsány and Orbán have a lot of things in common. I actually think Gyurcsány doesn’t care about the future of Hungary, he never has, he’s only a political swashbuckler, a carpet-bagger, whose interest is in exercising power itself and pushing the limits of pursuing his own financial interests. This has very strongly shined through during his era and that’s why he and the party he captured got beaten so badly.
Moreover, what’s the point in a multi-party system if leaders are “working together” instead of competing?

Mark
Guest

whoever: “Orbán doesn’t have the answers, as will become obvious. Opposition should move away from demonisation, to pointing out the gaps.”
No he doesn’t. He presents himself as a break with the past twenty years, when he really represents continuity with its worst features – an oligarchic politics hostile to broad public participation, combined with an ideologized view of the world which does not conform to the genuine choices facing Hungary (and his view of Hungary as purposefully led national community is just as much a pipe dream as the neo-liberal visions of those like Bartus that somehow Hungary can turn itself into the United States just through setting the market free).
Sooner than many think the Orbán era will be over. There are too many people who wanted their CHF mortgage payments reducing and who expected FIDESZ to do this, for the middle class to continue to stand behind FIDESZ for long. The real issue is whether, when it becomes clear they offer no sustainable answers, the country moves further to the right, to Jobbik for salvation, or whether other more realistic, more democratic, non-racist alternatives can be built.

GW
Guest

As an American who lived in Hungary from 1999 to 2006, I can only note that after the first FIDESZ government ended, the new coalition instituted some real anti-corruption measures. the positive changes I witnessed were like the difference between night and day. For one, police had to wear name badges, so the regular stops of foreign-plated cars by anonymous off-duty police demanding 2000 Ft before one could drive off ended. (In 1999-2001, this happened to me five times directly in front of the entrance to the President’s house on Bela Kiraly utca. For another, it was no longer necessary to hire an attorney to ‘expedite’ (i.e. satisfy bureaucrats, each expecting a ‘gratuity’ for their help) residence permits through the offices. And for a third, it was no longer necessary to pay someone cash to get a MRT done in a hospital when a child had a head injury.

Paul Haynes
Guest

I await Szilárd’s carefully thought through and balanced response to GW’s 1:58 post.

Paul Haynes
Guest
“Do you seriously think that everyone is hopelessly stupid in Hungary and this is the reason why Orbán has won such a landslide victory? Aren’t you ever in doubt that maybe your sources of about Hungary (such as this blog) are severely falsifying information? Read what you like and believe what you like, but you apparently have absolutely no clue what is really going on in Hungary and why.” Szilárd, Szilárd, why don’t you read my posts before you start attacking me? The last thing I can be accused of is being shy of talking about my connections with Hungary, how much I know (or don’t know) about what is happening there, or what my ‘sources’ are. I don’t think everyone in Hungary is totally stupid, but I do think many are very naive in their political thinking, have limited knowledge of the outside world, and an equally limited understanding of their own history – and that they are easily swayed by propaganda as skilfully and relentlessly presented as Fidesz’s. I like Hungarians and Hungary, I’d rather live there than in the UK, I’d rather my children (who are half Hungarian) grew up there. I do not want to see… Read more »
John T
Guest

Paul – I think perhaps immaturity is a better word than naivity. Parliament resembles a kindergarten and many of the leaders and MP’s behave like spoilt children. These people are servants of the electorate but very few seem to realise this. And I think as far as the electorate goes, they yearn for the easy solution and modern soundbite politics panders to this yearning. From my experiences, Hungarians don’t like difficult situations and if a situation is difficult, they’ll try to avoid it. Until the electorate is able to take a rational look at the problems the country is facing and help develop robust 21st century policies to address them, I fear the country will stagnate. Like Paul, I have no desire to see Hungary struggle. I want my two little neices who have just started out on their journey through life to live in a decent, civilised society, where they are well educated to take on the challenges of the modern world and can raise a family of their own in due course, within a peaceful, tolerant and open society, which looks after its people and treats them with dignity.

Paul Haynes
Guest

John – you are right, “immaturity” is a better word.
I often get the feeling that both politicians and voters are just ‘playing’ at politics, as if none of it really matters, and no one has to take responsibility. (I have had many ‘head shaking in disbelief’ moments in Hungary.)
And, in the meantime, the country is going to the dogs.

Passing Stranger
Guest

@ what’s the point in a multi-party system if leaders are “working together” instead of competing
It is called “Grand Coalition”. Various countries have tried it at one time or another.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest
@Paul: if you don’t want to see Hungary in economic ruins (a respectable endeavour indeed), why are you so fiercely attacking the only political force that has the chance to save the country from going ever deeper? During Orbán’s first governance, Hungary was clearly the leading state among new EU aspirants, a 2007 introduction of the Euro was a completely real and foreseeable plan widely accepted by everyone in the EU, Hungary was ahead of Slovakia, Poland and even Slovenia. Our budget deficit was contained, Orbán’s finance and economy ministers Varga and Matolcsy made it out of an inflation spiral as they pushed it down from 18% to about 7% during their 4 years, our economy was constantly growing without any austerity measures, all the while reducing government debt to 56% of GDP with which we fullfilled one criteria of the Euro introduction. This was the status when they had to hand over power in 2002. These are the pure and undisputable facts. And how are we standing now? The sole last of all EU newcomers, even Romania’s economic growth has far surpassed ours during the past years, Slovaks are paying with the Euro, much to the shame of us… Read more »
Paul Haynes
Guest

Szilard – they may, or may not, be “pure and undisputable facts”, but they are just one side of the picture.
What most of us on here are trying to do is to see the whole picture.

Alias3T
Guest
Cipolla is a grandiose parallel for somebody of modest abilities. Orban’s skills are in paternalist politics: in promising painless solutions that will free the population from the burden of uncertainty. That politics has a large constituency in Hungary, and in the wider region, as Whoever says. How big is hard to say, but you can get a rough estimate by combining the Fidesz and MSZP core camps, so some 50 to 60 per cent of the voting population. One of Gyurcsany’s weaknesses (and, pace Szilard, personal self-enrichment was conspicuously absent from his time in office) was that, fundamentally, he didn’t believe in the paternalistic approach but nonetheless adopted its language as a campaigning tool. (“Nem kell felni, nem fog fajni.”) His genuine beliefs were laid out in the Oszod beszed (“ez a kurva orszag” – it’s hard not to sympathise), but, alas, he wasn’t brave enough to campaign on those beliefs. I think he could have done well – 30 to 40 per cent, and most of the urban vote. The curious thing is that the Oszod beszed was a very diagnosis, not just of Gyurcsany’s first two years in office, but of government as it’s carried out in Hungary:… Read more »
Alias3T
Guest

Szilard: Fidesz governmend in a benign economic environment, at a time when there was lots of money in the world.
Growth only slowed modestly during the 1998 and 2001 crises, and Hungary’s core business – assembling things from components for subsidiaries of German companies, was little affected.
The happy numbers you list were primarily Bokros’s achievement: he’d cut away at spending in 1996 so Fidesz didn’t need to.
A fairer assessment of Fidesz’s time in office is that they inherited some very benign trends, governed during a period when the global economy was growing strongly – and did almost nothing. No pension reform. No healthcare reform. No change to public administration. No change to the taxation system. Four years spent spouting nonsense about tarsolylemezek and the Holy Crown, four years throwing up various Millennium buildings, four years subsidising embarrassingly awful cinematic productions.
Your hero Matolcsy could have gone down in history who seized the opportunity to carry out major reforms, but instead he twiddled his thumbs.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@Paul: they are by far the most important factors of the picture, covering practically all economic aspects. What you say about the “whole picture” is simply nothing, there’s nothing can you put against these vital arguments that alters the picture.
@Alias3T: garbage. Fidesz immediately had to face the Russian economic crisis. Then, Bokros or not (not: his “achievements” are only a left-wing myth), Fidesz did the processes exactly as I have described, and all of our economic factors started to go down from 2002. There was a huge conjuncture in the world until 2008, still we went down.
If everything was up to the economic environment, how come that ALL of our neighbors in the region has overtaken us from so far behind?
You have absolutely no chance to get away with such cumbersome lies of the economic situation.

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