Hungary and the paradox of the charlatan. Part III by S.K.

Just as I was about to commit to paper this long planned last part of my essay, Ferenc Gyurcsány came to my aid two days ago with his summary of Viktor Orbán’s and Fidesz’s “invaluable” contributions to the dismal financial state of Hungary. We may also note that he is actually generous to Orbán by staying mum about the permanent division of society that was unimaginable before Fidesz forced it on the country.

In keeping with my earlier claim of lining Orbán up with his distasteful predecessors, I offer you the historical and economic evidence here to give him the hypothetical coup de grâce.

 * * *

After failing dismally in the election of 1919, Benito Mussolini united the right and formed the militias that helped to break a strike in Milan and infiltrated the industrial mainland of Italy, the Po Valley. In a short two years his tactics of general intimidation and the incorporating of his rivals into his own Fascist party finally netted him the result of getting his party elected to Parliament in 1921. He had only one rival left, the poet and nationalist firebrand Gabriele D’Annunzio, who was actually favoured by the government. But, wanting to avoid taking any chances, Mussolini decided to force his way into power. With the help of the ultra-right leaders, by then his deputies, he organized the March on Rome. While he didn’t actually march with his followers, he exhorted them to the task and goaded them from behind the lines.

Although extremely vague about his actual program, advocating mostly the betterment of conditions for the population, he insisted on “uniting the right,” and so, in Milan on October 24, 1922, he informed his followers about his program: “We want to rule Italy!”

Although the number of participants in the March was fewer then thirty thousand, the climate of fear and intimidation, spread over the country in the previous two years, was enough to convince the king that unless Mussolini is given the power of governing, the country would face civil war. The king and the government capitulated to Mussolini in four days and he was appointed prime minister of Italy on October 28, 1922.

The general dissatisfaction following the war permeating Italian society, combined with the disastrous economic situation of the country, was a ready-made circumstance for the fascists to succeed. The state was crackling under the burden of debt. Unemployment and inflation were staggering. By offering the suppression of worker’s rights and welfare, – already quite dismal – he garnered a great deal of financial support from the moneyed classes. Members of the military surreptitiously supplied him with arms in the increasingly bitter, open struggle against the socialists. Under these circumstances the social and economic state of the country could only plummet toward the abyss. Mussolini, after doing everything in his power to foment and increase the crisis, offered himself forcefully as the “strong man” able to fix all problems. And in case anyone would doubt his suitability, and there were many who did, he was threatening civil war by organizing the March to convince them. As an oft-confirmed opportunist, Mussolini hand-sculpted his programs to fit the needs of the month, the week, even the day, to suit it to the immediate demands of the moment.

He came into power by widening the constitutional framework far enough to turn it to his own advantage, applying one single provision that facilitated his take-over, and then from within that constitution he proceeded to overthrow it.

Mussolini’s policies aimed for national glory and admiration in foreign policy. Domestically a strong nation and universal cooperation were his goals: the State controlled all aspects of life and people’s value was determined by their usefulness to the state. All aspects of life were to be subjugated to the glory of the state and that of the Fascist Party.

After gaining power, he solidified his grip over the state by placing his cadre into most positions and introduced a growing personal cult glorifying his accomplishments. He was not ready to countenance any criticism: when in 1924 the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti criticized fascism and him in parliament, he was murdered immediately. In Mussolini’s Italy there was no room for opposition.

Finally, in 1929 he finagled to himself all legislative authority, governed by decree from then on and made all decisions in personal appointments. Converted the economy into a corporate conglomerate under his own chairmanship. Total control and personal deification accomplished in less than ten years.

* * *

The Weimar republic, conceived under the most inauspicious circumstances, after a lost war, a punitive peace treaty and obligations to pay crippling war reparations, was not promising to be a successful first try in democracy to replace a most authoritative empire. However, it accomplished some success nevertheless, thanks to the ingenuity of its politicians and the fact that Germany actually hardly suffered any of the war destruction plaguing France and the surrounding countries where the war was actually fought.  The social and cultural ferment the Weimar Republic is so famous for propelled Germany to fast recovery until the arrival of the depression in 1929.

Adolf Hitler was first ignored and then jailed after his first forays into politics in Munich in 1923. The republic just was not ready for his kind of politics. But by 1930, when the rapidly changing governments were unable to hold on to power, society was too busy getting immersed in avant-garde art and saucy entertainment, amidst the ravages of the economic disintegration: hyperinflation first, and the depression soon after.

The Republic never recovered from the effects of hyperinflation and as it attempted to consolidate, the result was unprecedented indebtedness. All the Nazis had to do was get into the social breaches everywhere and spread the blame for those ills on everybody else, while claiming to have the panacea:  strong leadership. Their policies and activities hastened the widening of those breaches in order to increase demand for their panacea.

Applying, perhaps unintentionally, the tactical methods of General Helmuth von Moltke, small units of uniformed thugs were fighting on the streets of cities and intimidating the population, adding social insecurity to the economic uncertanties and general malaise Hitler’s party created. These tactics engendered in the minds of Germans the yearning for order, and his party, after having created it, offered to alleviate the malaise. In a short three years he managed to parlay a modest but surprising electoral success of 18% in 1930 to a gambit of persuading the parties in the paralyzed Reichstag and the wizened old president to support his chancellorship in order to end the chaos. Since this was the only offer they had not yet tried, they agreed.

The Nazi party and Hitler came into power by entirely constitutional means and with the acquiescence of the state institutions, using one single provision of the constitution as the base from which they set out to abolish it. Within a week after his appointment, the campaign against the opposition, the press, and the trappings of the Republic commenced.

* * *

There is scarcely any need to recount all the similarities easily detected in the techniques used by Viktor Orbán and Fidesz in their takeover of the Hungarian Republic.

Orbán–as Mussolini turned from socialist to corporatist–transformed his party from liberal to conservative. Then, according to the recipe, forced his way into the breaches of society to spread blame and offer a panacea. The country, first reeling under the effects of indebtedness and then the crisis of 2008, was open to hear the call of a strong leader. The marching and intimidation spread by uniformed “guards” and all the associated propaganda provided the background yearning for security. While insisting on a universal refusal for any modernization in the economy, he spread the myth of instant social justice in exchange for power. According to the tried out recipe, he courted the support of the churches and received unconditional support even at a cost to the taxpayers, as he is offering to increase the financial contributions of the state. Thus he is emulating the infamous concordats forged at the time by Italy and Germany with the Vatican.

As the Gyurcsány article recounts Fidesz’s progress in the last eight years, they strove to stampede the treasury into increasingly irresponsible fiscal adventures, but at the same time claimed that those very adventures, and their effects, can only be remedied by themselves. Their appeal to scapegoating and discrediting their opponents, but apart from claiming “secret weapons” against the ills of the country, never actually presented any plans and, even in power, they only have the same limited arsenal to offer: blaming the preceding government and improvised attempts at management. Their main overarching goal is the perpetuation of their reign and the annihilation of all possible alternatives.

Barely having completed their takeover by constitutional means they were immediately on the warpath against the constitution.

The listing of similarities alone doesn’t give a full picture, nor is it enough to provide a reasonable ground for predictions without considering also the differences. However, most of those differences are due to the international context, the presence and force of the European Union that makes Fidesz's job of becoming an unfettered dictatorship more difficult than it was in the 1930s in the climate of post-war disintegration. But this will not deter them from trying. The political pressure cooker they have created in Hungary, for the sole purpose of making their takeover possible and enduring, doesn’t function as airtight as it did in the Weimar Republic. The electorate is better educated and better connected to the world, communication and free movement of people are irrepressible now, and as a consequence the “system” is far from being airtight. And the “leakage” works both ways: inbound influences and outbound leaks and embarrassments weaken the grip of the Fidesz.

But the magnum default is that Fidesz, and even more so Orbán, seem to believe their own propaganda of their infallibility and their calling. They are hurtling along a path set blindly and without caution to first explode, and then reconstitute the country regardless of the consequences. This could have worked for Italy and Germany in the 30s, there was no alternative and no resistance at the time. Now, however, there is the alternative, the example of the entire Europe in clear view, and the resistance, increasing almost by the day, to the ham-fisted destruction wreaked by this crew. The country, as vulnerable as it is, won’t need much pressure from the market, the IMF, or the EU to buckle under, even if Orbán doubts that it would come about before his job is complete. But before any pressure should be applied from abroad, the internal weaknesses, the ecomomy’s declining ability to perform, the increasing social misery and inequality, the tensions between groups of all kinds within society and the brazen disregard shown by Fidesz to all that, will increase the internal pressures to a level that couldn’t be controlled by even a great statesman, never mind the limited technician that Orban is.

What is it then that can be expected to happen?

I expect that the accelerating pressure applied by Fidesz to society to transform by necessity must meet the familiar and inevitable resistance similar in magnitude, opposite in direction, and before the time for the next election rolls around in 2014 Fidesz and Orbán will be a spent force. They may attempt to run in the next election, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the hatred they introduced in Hungary would sweep them away even before that. He who lives by the sword must die by the sword and Orban and his creation will be pulverized by his own creation, the “unified” society united by its complete and inexorable repudiation of his failed and anachronistic system.

 

 

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late night
Guest

You fail to point out, the Republicans are, who made this method of politics comme il faut again. There are many countries, where “populists” now copy the Republicans and are considered modern, good Westerners. Probably Orban can only fail, if the Rep-s fail before, otherwise he remains “a good Westerner”.

56-71 Bad times
Guest

I am speechless.
It is not necessary to concentrate on Orban.
The rest of the leadership is also weak.
Such nobrainers reach the top only by major corruption.
But the supporters are not less brainless.
My advice to the few smart Fideszes: Leave and Restore Your Credibility.

Vidra
Guest

The main point of similarity, to me, is that Orbán appointed himself as the only man who could leave his country out of the mess.
Hungary wasn’t the same basket-case as post-WW1 Italy or post-Crash Germany, or even the PIGS group within the EU, but OV had to turn this into a moral panic, as opposed to just a political problem, so he could brand Gyurcsány et al as “criminals” and once again be the man on the white horse.
Hitler and Mussolini had domestic big business on their sides and the church and international commentators and the church were generally either sympathtic or refrained from comment.
Demonising Orbán, by seeing parallels between him and Europe’s Worst 20th Century Dictators, suggests that his moral panic-mongering has worked.

Member

I agree wit the parallels, as I can seen the similarities for a while. Of course there will be those, who will say that there will be no such outcome as for those historical madmen, and I agree, but not because of Orban’s ambitions are any less. Certain countries became more sophisticated then others since WWII, and they are able to provide enough pressure on megalomaniacs to keep them semi-tied. I do not think they would do that in order to save the Hungarians in general, but in order to assure that such nonsense would not effect them politically or economically. As Hungary is a member of the EU there is also a sense of responsibility for keeping countries (how shall I say) European and civilized. Europe already witnessed the madness of Bosnia, and I do not think they want even the hint of possibility of an other “war”.

Johnny Boy
Guest

You are seeing Orbán unleash war in your sick vision, but that only tells of you. Pathological.

Member

Johnny Boy: He does not stop any nationalistic cravings at all, creates a deeper divide between people with different political point of views, supports a witch hunt for his “enemies”, clips the power of Constitutional Court, denies facts, creates retroactive measures wit time limit that protects his busy buddies, tries to move himself into the Castle (literally), stuff every important positions with is busy buddies, tries to control incoming news to Hungary even from the foreign media. Who is pathological?

Johnny Boy
Guest

You.

Johnny Boy
Guest

A little explanation:
“clips the power of Constitutional Court”
This is the only statement in your list that is true.

Vidra
Guest

Johnny Boy, when you grow up to become Johnny Man you’ll realise that what you or I think of OV as a person, or what those you disagree with write about him, simply doesn’t matter. It’s just the same with football teams and pop stars and whatever else you discuss in your rest breaks at the call center.
Try putting a list together of Orbán’s concrete achievements so far to improve the job security and standard of life of ordinary Hungarians, because that’s how history will judge him. Me, I have a blank sheet of paper.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
What ‘SK’ is doing is analysing the career to date of one demagogue with the history of others, or as S.K. puts it * “There is scarcely any need to recount all the similarities easily detected in the techniques used by Viktor Orbán and Fidesz in their takeover of the Hungarian Republic” * So ‘Shwny bach’ ‘Shut up’ as a ‘Cardiff Mate’ would say He came into power by constitutional means and then immediately declared war on the constitution. He did this because it does not guarantee him and his crony’s eternal power. He is a viscous little ‘son of a gun’ when speaking about his election defeat in 2002 it is said that he commented that he was not ‘harsh enough with the people’. This alone shows that he thinks that he and he alone has a sacred mission to rule ALL Hungarians. What I fear he will do is establish the old Hungarian ruler’s favourite a ‘Reign of Terror’ to crush even the word dissent. You can see this starting in the new parliamentary subcommittee mentioned in a previous contribution entitled “A new subcommittee: criminal politicians and the sovereign debt?”- This and his mate Péter Szijjártó who at… Read more »
Member

Johnny Boy: bahahaha I fell sorry for you. When you run out proof, reason and logic you try to get into name calling, like a five years old. You are immature and not worthy to get into discussion as you do not know how to discuss (just like Orban). Case closed.

Kirsten
Guest

As I wrote already I find these comparisons with the fascist and Nazi regimes of the 1920s-1940s rather difficult. I know that some themes such as the Trianon treaty or some groups such as the Hungarian Guard easily provoke such comparisons. But as Vidra also writes, it is demonising OV without offering any way out (OV has bewitched the Hungarian people and it cannot but let him rule). To me the more suitable framework for thinking about what happens in Hungary are transition processes from authoritarian rule to democratic rule and why these (quite often) already have failed on the way resulting in some hybrid system. That has not happened only before WWII but can occur also in contemporary states alongside 21st century “modernity”. It also offers some positive prospects because the “culprits” lie in mundane facts such as vested interests of particular groups, a low power of some fundamental institutions such as the judicial system and a too passive (in general) electorate.

Member

@S.K. “inevitable resistance similar in magnitude”
There is this vacuum today in politics. I mean without the FIDESZ it is a vacuum. As ugly as they are, they are the only party with acceptable pedigree. This is their luck. The nature of the vacuum is basically total apathy: the loss of trust in the government and in the politicians in general. No reason to change. I’m wondering if OV intentionally let’s his cronies running wild to keep this feeling up in the population. I know, it’s a twisted logic, but hey, this Planet Hungary.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “The nature of the vacuum is basically total apathy”
A friend of mine who goes to Hungary quite often and just spent a week there reports this total apathy. People don’t want to even think about politics. And I’m talking here about liberals. But just wait until it is too late to wake up.

freedom of ferenc deak
Guest
freedom of ferenc deak

I am dreaming of anti-gadaffi demonstrations, applied against the corrupt and empty orbanka, and his clique.
The reaction will reveal the ugliness of the direct and indirect orban supporters.

Pete H.
Guest

OK, Orban bad guy. Got your point. But do we really have to compare him to some of histories worst dictators. Rulers who collectively murdered millions. You lose credibility by making these comparisons. It’s also a lazy rhetorical technique.
Even some teenagers have the sense to see the weakness of this type of political argumentation. http://teenlife.blogs.pressdemocrat.com/10886/comparing-polititians-to-hitler-by-andrew-santarini/
You could have written a great piece of political commentary without having to invoke mass murderers to make your point. When you do, you lose much of your audience. Forget trying to build bridges to those who may be reconsidering their support of OV. And I’m sure even many of those who support your POV cringe when they read this piece.
I hope we don’t have to suffer much more of this type of writing here at Hungarian Spectrum. If we do, I will start to feel embarrassed for ever commenting here and for having thought this was a serious intellectual venue.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Pete H: I’m suprised that the general, extremely low standard hate speech going on persistently on this site has not bothered you up until now.

Jano
Guest

Pete H.: Very very well put, exactly what I think of this triple feature. This might be amusing for people who compete with who can come up with the most diabolic description about OV but is highly repulsive for people who are not fanatic ortodox Orbán haters. (To give you a comparable example, it’s exactly the style of the Magyar Vizsla before the 2006 elections)

in the name of the unity of the Hungarians
Guest
in the name of the unity of the Hungarians

Pete H was offended by the comparison of Orban to Mussolini.
Is Orban deserving any defense?
He is a slippery demagogue. Close or almost as bad as the sick Mussolini.

Paul
Guest

The third, and hopefully last contribution from SK. This rubbish is way below the standard we expect from HS and is damaging its reputation as a blog worth reading.
The last paragraph alone clearly shows that SK is entirely out of touch with Hungarian society and recent political history – not to mention reality.
No more of this, please.

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