There seems to be considerable confusion in liberal circles about the nature of the Orbán government, the current political situation, and the future of the country in general.
Before the April elections the liberal intellectuals tried to console themselves that although Fidesz will win big, the future of democracy is not at stake. In fact there were some liberal writers and political scientists (here I think especially of Eszter Babarczy and László Kéri) who were enthusiastic about a possible two-thirds majority because they thought that such an overwhelming victory would allow Fidesz to introduce all those reforms Ferenc Gyurcsány, because of lack of support inside and outside of his party, was not able to.
Yes, in theory they might have been right. But these people underestimated the potential pitfalls. For instance, that the party in power wants to force its own ideology on the population as a whole instead of introducing reforms that would move the country toward modernization. And that this ideology would be anything but modern. (In fact, it harks back to the 1930s.) These people, I'm sure, didn't think that Viktor Orbán would recreate a quasi-parliamentary system where the opposition is present only physically. I also doubt that they could possibly imagine that all the checks and balances that are essential in a democratic regime would be obliterated by filling all independent positions with party members loyal to Viktor Orbán. There were only very few liberal intellectuals who predicted that Orbán's regime would bear a suspicious resemblance to Horthy's Hungary. Most of the left-liberal intellectuals thought that József Debreczeni and Tamás Bauer were exaggerating. As it turned out, they were right in most of their predictions.
There are still people who are trying to be optimistic and who minimize the damage that has been done to the delicate democratic fiber of the country's institutions. Ádám Petri Lukács, for example (Népszabadság, 22 September), admits that "what they do to children is really terrible," but otherwise the situation is not as hopeless as some liberal intellectuals claim. After all, there will be free elections in four years and, if Orbán et al. are too zealous in rewriting the constitution, no problem, the next government will be able to put things right. I'm afraid one can easily counter these two statements of Petri Lukács. The Orbán government in a great hurry changed the electoral law governing local elections. The result: smaller parties had a very difficult time collecting endorsements and because of a new way of distributing the votes Fidesz candidates were in a privileged position. Therefore, far fewer opposition members will be on the local councils than previously. Most likely a similar change will be effected when it comes to national elections. These changes will enhance if not ensure a Fidesz victory. As for the constitution, Petri Lukács again is too optimistic. Right now everybody recognizes that one very serious shortcoming of the constitution is that with a two-thirds majority it can be changed at will. What if the current government majority inserts a clause in the "Orbán" constitution that would make it impossible, or nearly impossible, to make any changes to that constitution? Then what does Petri Lukács suggest?
Petri Lukács has another peculiar line of reasoning. According to him liberal critics look upon Viktor Orbán as a tyrant "when he just wants to be a good prime minister." However, one can be a good prime minister without removing all the checks and balances from the system, thereby creating a situation in which he can operate without any limits. In fact, most likely such limitless power would contribute to making a man a bad prime minister because there is no one who would block his way when he is on the verge of making a mistake. A good prime minister is someone who manages to steer the ship of state in the right direction within the limits of a democratic system.
Otherwise, it seems to me that Petri Lukács has pretty well resigned himself to the fact that the Hungarian people are satisfied with the current state of affairs. They couldn't care less about checks and balances; they don't care whether the president is a lackey of the prime minister and a former MSZMP bigwig in the Kádár regime; they don't understand that it is inappropriate for the financial affairs of the Orbán government to be scrutinized by a former important Fidesz politician; they don't care about a constitutional court that will soon be completely filled with party hacks; they don't care that Péter Polt may again be the supreme prosecutor, the same Péter Polt who made sure that no financial wrongdoings of members of the first Orbán government were prosecuted. None of that matters and, if that is the case, why bother? This is pretty much Petri Lukács's conclusion. And, he adds, this is not Fidesz's fault. The Hungarian people wanted it this way. Nothing can be done. The liberals are so much in the minority and moreover no one listens to them that the best thing is to give up the fight. As he titled his piece: "We don't exist and there is no need for us."
Well, one thing is sure: if all those people who didn't vote for Fidesz (or Jobbik) think the way Petri Lukács thinks, then the future is pretty bleak. But luckily not everybody thinks like he does. It is true that for most people the pocket book is much more important than some abstract concept of constitutional law, but sooner or later the Hungarian people will come to the realization that this government also won the elections by promising more than it can deliver. Moreover, if Hungarians' knowledge of democracy is wanting, it is time to strengthen it. Of course, one of the best places for that would be in the school system; unfortunately, I don't expect anything from a school system set up by Rózsa Hoffmann. But newspapers can also be a powerful educational force, especially if articles were written in a more intelligible prose style, with the general public as the intended audience.