I would like to remind people that Viktor Orbán once made the categorical statement that he had never lied in his life. This remark was greeted with the skeptical bemusement it deserved, especially since it came from a politician. Here I would like to recount only the latest in the string of lies the Hungarian prime minister has uttered in the last nine months. In Strasbourg while answering the critics of the Hungarian media law, he expressed his astonishment at the "backwardness" of the members of the European Parliament who believe that his government's media law is trying to censor the content of the Internet. "Where do you live? You ought to know that the Internet cannot be regulated." After all, "we won the elections on the Internet and Facebook."
This of course is a whopper. Neither the Internet nor Facebook had anything to do with Fidesz's electoral victory. Fidesz won the elections not in the ether but on the ground. Orbán and his party won big because people were disappointed with the performance of the socialist-liberal government in the previous four years. Admittedly, it is true that sometime in February 2010 Viktor Orbán joined Facebook. To be more precise, his communication men decided that perhaps Orbán should collect fans. To date Orbán's page has attracted about 60,000 fans. By contrast, within two weeks over 70,000 people signed up to join the organizers of the demonstration for the freedom of the press.
Sometime in February I wrote about Orbán's appearance on Facebook and pointed out that the role someone dreamed up for Orbán simply didn't suit him. He is too stiff. Moreover, it is a well known fact that he is not exactly technologically savvy. His communications advisor and strategist, Gábor Kubatov, earlier joked about his boss's ineptness, saying that only lately had he managed to master the art of sending and receiving sms messages. Apparently since then he has improved somewhat, but his comments on Facebook weren't his own. In fact, a separate group was created to handle Orbán on Facebook. Fidesz communication experts admitted that the readers surely could sense that the author was not Orbán himself. However, they did not consider this to be a problem. Unlike Ferenc Gyurcsány, who dictated his blog posts, Orbán is not the type of person who can be portrayed as "a computer geek."
Last February I predicted that as soon as the elections were over the enthusiasm of Orbán and his strategist for the Internet would wane, just as it had in 1998. But I was wrong. Orbán's page is still being maintained, although those responsible for the page are satisfied with putting up pictures of the prime minister. The latest photos are from Strasbourg. Each time the page is updated with new photos between 800 and 2,000 people view it and around 100 people write comments. That is a fairly modest showing, especially in comparison to Gyurcsány's blog from the time when he was prime minister. In any case, the comments show that Orbán's fans are thrilled that Orbán "told them off" in Strasbourg. This is how a Hungarian prime minister should behave.
People who followed the impact of Facebook on the elections say that its influence was minimal. But the Internet in general and Facebook in particular are still important outlets for political propaganda. About a month ago I read an article about an opinion poll that concentrates on those who are regular users of the Internet. This group is dominated by the younger generation; for some strange reason in Hungary older folks, even those with university degrees, act as if having a working knowledge of the Internet was a task way beyond their mental capacity. The "Net Mood Index" of HVG showed a remarkable drop in optimism about the future. That indicates that younger people especially are realizing that life may not improve dramatically with Fidesz's remarkable victory. Yet the first ordinary public opinion poll that came out yesterday shows that Fidesz hasn't lost popularity. Moreover, some people feel that Orbán's performance in Strasbourg, though it might horrify people outside of Hungary, can boost the popularity of the prime minister and his party at home.
Those who are not supporters of Fidesz are astonished that Orbán has managed to hold on to his base despite the rocky road the government has traveled in the last nine months. The general consensus among this group is that the late February polls will show a considerable drop of support for Fidesz because it will be the first time when about three-quarters of wage earners will realize that their pay checks are shrinking instead of getting larger. But the bad economic news will most likely be counteracted by the Fidesz propaganda machine whipping up Hungarian nationalism. This always works in Hungary.
Moreover, most people didn't even receive all the negative news about Viktor Orbán's performance in Strasbourg. It is worth taking a look at the late evening news of MTV's M1 on February 19, the day of Orbán's appearance before the European Parliament. The fairly long report on the event consisted mostly of lengthy passages from Orbán's initial presentation. A shorter segment showed very brief glimpses of Schultz and Cohn-Bendit criticizing the media law, leaving out the hardest hitting sentences. On the other hand, Orbán's rebuttal was much longer. And in order to counteract the possible bad impression this encounter might make on the viewers, the editors of the news added old footage of the uproar that greeted the beginning of the Czech rotating presidency on account of Václav Klaus's euroskepticism. The message that the editors wanted to convey: "You see, there is nothing unusual about such a ruckus in the European Parliament." The news can be easily manipulated on the government-run MTV. The news on the commercial channels is simply unspeakably bad: the events in Strasbourg appeared at the very end of the evening news on both TV2 and RTL Klub, the two nationwide television stations. Thus one wonders how much the average Hungarian citizen knows about Hungary's current position in the western world. It is most likely minimal.