The zeal of Viktor Orbán: Where will it lead?

In some respects the present political leadership reminds me more of the Rákosi regime than of the Kádár period. Before someone jumps on me, let me emphasize the words “in some respects.” First and foremost, I think of the zeal with which the Orbán-led political elite began to rebuild society. This entailed a radical change of everything known before. The Fidesz leadership seems to be very satisfied with the results. Just the other day László Kövér claimed that under their rule all the nooks and crannies of society that had developed since the regime change of 1989-90 were reshaped. Everything that came before 2010 had to be altered in order to build a new Hungary.

The last time we saw such zeal was in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the communists wanted to turn the whole world upside down or, to use another metaphor, to wipe the slate clean. As one of their songs promised: “we will erase the past.” And they began in earnest. They wanted to build an entirely new political system–immediately.

Such attempts usually fail because such rapid change cannot be achieved without ransacking the economy. If one lets the experts go for political reasons and fills their positions with people who finished at best eight grades, the results are predictable. If you get rid of the former manager of a factory because he is deemed to be reactionary and you hire a worker without any experience in management to run the newly nationalized factory, we know what will happen. And indeed, in no time the Hungarian economy, which had recovered after the war with surprising speed, was in ruins. Food rations had to be reintroduced in 1951 or 1952.

This is the same kind of zeal that one sees with the Orbán government. Only yesterday Tibor Navracsics proudly announced that in three years they managed to pass 600 new laws. He added–because Orbán and company can certainly compete with Rákosi and his gang when it comes to bragging–that these laws are of the highest quality. In fact, legal scholars are horrified at the poor quality of the legislative bills pushed through in a great hurry with last-minute amendments.

By contrast János Kádár, who became the first secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party (at that point called Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt), moved slowly, hoping to gain acceptance after the failed uprising. In fact, the whole Kádár period was known for its cautious, deliberate move toward a less oppressive regime. It was still a dictatorship but it was based on an understanding with the citizens who were ready to make some political compromises in exchange for a better life. By the 1980s, although there were some taboo topics,  intellectual freedom was greater than in any of the other satellite countries.

Intellectual freedom. Unfortunately the present political elite’s attitude toward literature and art greatly resembles that of the Rákosi era when there was a long list of forbidden books and when, as far as art and literature were concerned, socialist realism was the only accepted form. The situation today is not very different. The government supports art and literature that is “national.” Modernity is out and the nineteenth-century classical style is favored. Fidesz politicians on both the local and the national level make sure that only theater directors who cater to their taste are appointed. The very successful director Róbert Alföldi lost out in his bid to continue with his work at the National Theater to a man who talks about the National Theater as a sacred place that he plans to have blessed by a Catholic priest. The plays he is going to stage are mostly written by Hungarian authors. The emphasis is on Hungarian, not on quality.

I could easily be charged with overstating the similarities between the two leaders and their governments. For instance, one could retort, don’t compare the poverty of the Rákosi regime to that of today. But don’t forget that in the late 1940s and early 1950s Hungary was still paying war reparations to Russia while today Hungary is getting handsome subsidies from the European Union. Believe me, without that money Hungary would not be able to meet its financial obligations. Another difference is that today there are still large foreign companies in Hungary which by the way are practically the only source of Hungarian exports. Without them the country would be in even greater economic trouble than it is now. However, Viktor Orbán is working hard to take over some of the foreign companies and banks. And if he continues with his onerous tax policy, the owners of these businesses will most likely be glad to sell to a state that seems more than eager to take them over and that, so far at least, has not balked at overpaying.

Viktor Orbán as some blogger sees him / ellenallas.blog

Viktor Orbán as a blogger sees him / ellenallas.blog

As for the clientele of the two regimes. The Hungarian communists in 1948 and afterwards wanted to obliterate the old upper and even lower middle classes and give power to the working class. The better-off peasantry was also considered to be an enemy of the people. They made  no secret of the fact that they wanted a complete change: those who were on the top would be at the bottom and the poor peasants and workers would be on top. They didn’t even try to hide their intentions. Orbán is undertaking the same kind of social restructuring, albeit with different winners and losers. His goal is a complete change of not only the business but also the intellectual elite. Those who sympathize with the liberals or the socialists will be squeezed out and politically reliable Fidesz supporters will take their place.

People I know and whose opinion I trust tell me that Magyar Televízió and Magyar Rádió had more balanced reporting in the second half of the 1980s than they do today. This is where Hungary has ended up after three years of frantic Fidesz efforts to remake the country.

András Bruck in a brilliant essay that appeared a few days ago in Élet és Irodalom insists that despite appearances Hungary today is a dictatorship because what else can one call a system in which every decision is made and put into practice by one man? And what is really depressing, says Bruck, is that the dictatorship prior to 1989 was forced upon Hungary by Soviet power. Today there is no such outside pressure. Hungarians themselves gave Fidesz practically unlimited power and for the time being show no signs of wanting to get rid of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. In fact, 1.5 million people are devoted to him and in a nationalist frenzy are ready to fight against the colonizers of the European Union. A shameful situation.

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Kamilla
Guest

I would suggest that there is a form of outside pressure, or rather a system of managerialism which Fidesz can easily fit into. It is the same system that has taken over elsewhere in Europe and in North America. Managers are chosen not for their competence in the field which they are managing, but for their ability to coerce and humiliate those under them into submission. For example, it is now common for registered nurses in an extended care setting to be managed by someone who has only a practical nursing diploma, or who has no expertise at all in nursing. What is important is to show who’s boss, and for this the humiliation of those ‘think they know too much’ is of paramount importance.

An
Guest

Shameful situation indeed. I can’t comprehend how Hungarians could sink this low…. willingly support and/or tolerate a dictator….. the oppression we don’t take from foreign powers, we accept from Orban… just because he is Hungarian?

An
Guest

@Kamilla: Large bureaucratic organization tend to have their shortcomings in any country… what is going in Hungary, goes beyond that.

An
Guest

Sorry, I meant: what is going on in Hungary, goes beyond that.

andysomos
Guest
With my current North Eastern Hungarian experience I am sad to say a very sizeable section of the population does not understand the consequences of the feudal system bult up with such lightning speed by the Orbán Regime. The reason is the efficiency of the PR logic used by the government which is aimed specifically at those who have voting power but their reasoning is based on entrenched anti-capitalist and nationalist attitudes. After all, many have lost their jobs in former communist-maintained industries that were touted during their active lifetime as an etalon of achievement. Upon losing these jobs, these workers were left in the cold to fend for themselves. The EU’s support for retrainig was used inefficiently, and proved ineffective.. Also, the EU was not visibly present as a caring element despite the huge sums of money it was spending. As a consequence a large percentage of the population is angry at the changes experienced since 1989. And often understandably. Whole and often successful industries were destroyed in order to make way for foreign industires to succeed. In any case that is how it appears to the eyes of those now without work. The former workers eased out of… Read more »
laugh-or-cry
Guest

The EU had to reject the underdeveloped and poor Hungary.
The EU support is landing in the pocket of select small group.
This must be stopped.
All participants must be investigated, and tried according to the evidences.

Ivan
Guest

It’s the extraordinary willingness of a large part of the Hungarian population to believe complete invention or outright nonsense – rather than the evidence of their own eyes, common sense, or pockets – that’s at the root of the problems here. For example, I remember when Hungary joined the EU it was widely believed that the ‘Europeans’ were planning to ban Hungary’s poppy-seed pastries once the country joined up. This was obviously never going to happen (quite apart from anything else, numerous EU countries have their own poppy-seed bakery products, including Britain) … but once it didn’t happen, people shrugged and merely moved onto the next paranoia. Orban has tapped into this strange instinct and fueled it with his control of a hysterical media (nicely trialed during the hugely successful character-assassination on Gyurcsany carried out between 2006 and 2010). Anyway, this is why we are where we are. But what can we do about this other than continue to think laterally about how to challenge these unquestioned misconceptions at the very root of the 1.5(+) million supporters’ devotion?

Member
A few times I brought up one of my favourite movie, directed by the fantastic Vittorio De Sica, from Giorgio Bassani’s historical novel, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. It is a genious study of human nature. The “It will not happen to me.” is something that so many Hungarians believed through history, but especially when it comes to Orban. Orban seems like a decent man, he spoke up for the country, he must wants the best for Hungary. His fans even though they are not perfect believe that Orban will make their life better because they believe in him, and they serve him. They feel a personal connection with the consultations. Never mind that few other millions received the same letters, the ones who send it back “establish” a relationship. It is like the star stalkers who believe that if their beloved would meet them in person he would never want anyone else. I used to have a friend, who’s mother is a Jobbik fan, but at least a Fidesz supporter. My friend married a Jew, and they had two children, but this did not stop the grandma to run around and tell everyone how great the Jobbik is for… Read more »
Dan
Guest

Nineteenth century style was not “classical”. It was Romantic in the earlier part of the century and then became more Realist as the century progressed. The eighteenth century was neo-classical, which was what Romanticism was rebelling against. It’s a very interesting period of literary history and politically very revolutionary. The 1917 revolution was the last great socialist uprising of the long nineteenth century. As for Rakosi and Orban, it feels like a a bit of a stretch.

tappanch
Guest

The counter of the Fidesz Law Factory is at 722.

http://parlament.hu/internet/plsql/ogy_stat.stat_torv_int?P_CKL=39

Member

It never fails to amaze me how little attention Péter Tölgyessy’s recent series of essays on komment.hu have received. Of course they don’t fit the ‘Villains v. Victims’ narrative so dear to either large political block plus the messianistic Third Road groups. They point out how the current (maybe permanent) political and socioeconomic morass was brought about not by some spontaneous evil like Orbán the Bad but by deep-rooted anticapitalism, a perverted kind of nationalism (ultimately a result of the unsolved Trianon trauma) and a culture of grievances in all walks of life. What Tölgyessy fails to pinpoint is the particularly inefficient and, in the long run, antidemocratic system of political institutions, particularly the all-pervading two-thirds (i.e. non-electionary) principle in particular, which was taken for granted and even hailed by all political sides before 2010.

Member

Sorry for the mess. The last sentence should go like this:
What Tölgyessy fails to pinpoint is the particularly inefficient and, in the long run, antidemocratic system of political institutions, especially the all-pervading two-thirds (i.e. non-electionary) principle as applied in legislation and appointments, which was taken for granted and even hailed by all political sides before 2010.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

There are two basic differences between the Rákosi and theOrbán system:
1) While the Rákosi system was a one party system using the death sentence to abolish opposition, the Orbán system is a multiparty system without death sentence trusting the capability of the opposition to abolish itself.
2) While Rákosi and his ilk believed they must change society so as to suit their ideology, Orbán and his ilk use the völkisch ideology cynically in order to fill the pockets.

NWO
Guest
Eva: another good piece. While I think the Rakosi comparison can be “overdrawn” (though you were careful to note this), it is to me clear that is more appropriate to think about Orban more like a modified Communist politician (the church and the Nation standing in for the proletariat) than a fascist. Of course, as we all know, the political ideological spectrum is not a straight line, as at the extremes the left and right converge at a truly horrible point. The recent demonstrations in Turkey, Brazil and now Egypt had me thinking again what are the main difference with Hungary, where people are equally (if not more) miserable and equally (if not more) pessimistic about the future? Remember the catalyst for political change is not absolute deprivation, but relative disappointment. There are, I am sure, many possible answers, but a big differences (and I believe the saving grace for Orban) are demographics and Schengan. Hungary does not have the pool of young pool to lead a true mass movement (old people are much less likely to go out on the street and force a radical change), and the outlet for those who have no faith is easy: leave the… Read more »
Ivan
Guest

Anyone who wants an insight into how all this miserable and unquestioning worship and self-destructive mindset might actually be possible, en-masse sometimes, could perhaps look at Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s masterful novel, ‘Satantango’, or the equally brilliant Bela Tarr movie adaptation.

The plot (spoiler!) – such as it is – minutely details the collapse of a Hungarian rural community, in which the villagers happily fall under the spell of a charismatic fraudster who (almost openly) leads them to their ruin and relieves them of their money, an end they happily embrace – taken in by tricksy speech and an inability to question. They worship his every word, have an increasingly mystical reverence for him and happily hand over their remaining few forints, even as he leaves them in a destitute situation that they cannot even perceive (so painstaking has his manipulative work been). The reader and viewer look on, helpless, as the apparently implausible becomes horrifyingly real.

Sound familiar? Both (available in English) were created long before current events – and appear to be set just after the ‘changes’ – but they were really prescient, a microcosm, in the form of a small community, of what is happening nationally, now.

Dan
Guest
NWO : Eva: another good piece. While I think the Rakosi comparison can be “overdrawn” (though you were careful to note this), it is to me clear that is more appropriate to think about Orban more like a modified Communist politician (the church and the Nation standing in for the proletariat) than a fascist. Of course, as we all know, the political ideological spectrum is not a straight line, as at the extremes the left and right converge at a truly horrible point. The recent demonstrations in Turkey, Brazil and now Egypt had me thinking again what are the main difference with Hungary, where people are equally (if not more) miserable and equally (if not more) pessimistic about the future? Remember the catalyst for political change is not absolute deprivation, but relative disappointment. There are, I am sure, many possible answers, but a big differences (and I believe the saving grace for Orban) are demographics and Schengan. Hungary does not have the pool of young pool to lead a true mass movement (old people are much less likely to go out on the street and force a radical change), and the outlet for those who have no faith is easy:… Read more »
Ivan
Guest

One might say that he hasn’t read many of your posts researching these matters, or indeed Jozsef Debreceni’s recent book on these events?

Member
Ivan : Anyone who wants an insight into how all this miserable and unquestioning worship and self-destructive mindset might actually be possible, en-masse sometimes, could perhaps look at Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s masterful novel, ‘Satantango’, or the equally brilliant Bela Tarr movie adaptation. The plot (spoiler!) – such as it is – minutely details the collapse of a Hungarian rural community, in which the villagers happily fall under the spell of a charismatic fraudster who (almost openly) leads them to their ruin and relieves them of their money, an end they happily embrace – taken in by tricksy speech and an inability to question. They worship his every word, have an increasingly mystical reverence for him and happily hand over their remaining few forints, even as he leaves them in a destitute situation that they cannot even perceive (so painstaking has his manipulative work been). The reader and viewer look on, helpless, as the apparently implausible becomes horrifyingly real. Sound familiar? Both (available in English) were created long before current events – and appear to be set just after the ‘changes’ – but they were really prescient, a microcosm, in the form of a small community, of what is happening nationally, now.… Read more »
Member
Eva S. Balogh : Dan : Hungary had it’s mass anti-government demonstrations already. They took place in 2006 and were brutally crushed by the Gyurcsany government. What can one say for such obvious falsification of facts? No kidding. Dan, remind you that it was a mob that can be recruited in soccer stadiums, that went on and caused a riot. Please, do not mix up riot with demonstrations! THat is falsification of facts all rift, and Fidesz does that better then you do. Let me remind you that it was Gyurcsany who did not want the police to use live ammunition against the rioters, and it were Fidesz members who were unhappy for the police not firing into the crowd! (Thanks for allowing me to repost this sad reminder about how far Fidesz would go against its imaginary enemies: http://tinyurl.com/3w26c6a , original document: http://www.parlament.hu/biz38/bizjkv38/HOB/0609191t.pdf ) At the same time if that mob would of succeeded, we would have more soccer stadiums probably by now, as they had no idea what they were rioting for, since after they “occupied” the MTV they had no idea what to do. Most of them went home to bed. Those who were arrested received a… Read more »
Dan
Guest

I was actually there observing what happened. On the second night of demonstrations after the TV station was stormed the Justice Minister went on TV saying that the police would be justified using live ammunition. That was a sigmal for the police to use full force. I saw police in blue jump suits without any identification numbers, sometimes wearing masks, running around the streets beating up kids – badly. The police behaved like common thugs. I saw this with my own eyes. How many people commenting here spent both nights out on the streets of Budapest observing what happened? I know some people try to cast it as a fascist riot but that is what elites always do when faced with a popular revolt. They denigrate the protesters as scum and rabble. That’s what they’re doing in Turkey, Syria, Brazil, etc. And it’s exactly what the Gyurcsany government did.

Key2013
Guest

Karl Pfeifer: Fidesz pockets and money!!!

Karl gave us the key, Let us use it.
It is the plain and correct description of the greedy Fidesz mind.
All other facets are more or less irrelevant.

An
Guest

@Dan: What was going down at the TV station was not pretty. And it was not pretty for the police who were threatened by, yes, thugs… In the following days the police became more forceful…and I have no doubt that many people got caught up in this who had nothing to do with the thugs. By the way, in their first reaction, Fidesz blamed the police for not being forceful enough (even going as far as asking why they didn’t use live ammunition!) but then they realized it is a lot better for them if they start glorifying the protesters.

Member

Dan :
I was actually there observing what happened.

You observed what the Fidesz wanted you to observe … They wanted to provoke an incompetent, disorganized police force that went heavy handed here and there. You are victim of the Fidesz propaganda machine. The evil socialist government crushing the uprising is a myth. What’s going on in Ankara is a brutal crushing not 2006 BP.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

[OT] It’s a tiny compensation since I strongly doubt the conclusions of the Tavares report will be adopted, but watching József Szájer (who dared to compare Fidesz speaking time with that of the accused in Stalin’s show trials) and Kinga Gál being slapped in Strasbourg is a pleasure.

Member
Dan : I was actually there observing what happened. On the second night of demonstrations after the TV station was stormed the Justice Minister went on TV saying that the police would be justified using live ammunition. That was a sigmal for the police to use full force. I saw police in blue jump suits without any identification numbers, sometimes wearing masks, running around the streets beating up kids – badly. The police behaved like common thugs. I saw this with my own eyes. How many people commenting here spent both nights out on the streets of Budapest observing what happened? I know some people try to cast it as a fascist riot but that is what elites always do when faced with a popular revolt. They denigrate the protesters as scum and rabble. That’s what they’re doing in Turkey, Syria, Brazil, etc. And it’s exactly what the Gyurcsany government did. Dear Dan, And what did you protest for? (It was a democratically elected government after all. Isn’t what Fidesz says all the time when they are being accused of lying?) Are you talking about the September or the October events? Who were you with? I am not sure how… Read more »
Tyrker
Guest

@Ivan:
I suppose Krasznahorkai never thought that Fidesz would use his novel as a manual.

petofi
Guest

Mutt :

Dan :
I was actually there observing what happened.

You observed what the Fidesz wanted you to observe … They wanted to provoke an incompetent, disorganized police force that went heavy handed here and there. You are victim of the Fidesz propaganda machine. The evil socialist government crushing the uprising is a myth. What’s going on in Ankara is a brutal crushing not 2006 BP.

@Mutt

I’m afraid many people just can’t appreciate the deviousness of Orban’s mind games: Is he capable of sending in an inexperienced force to get overwhelmed so that he can trout that out to the media and the West of what’s taking place in Hungary? He surely is. And, in consequence, should he happen to need it–which he surely will find the opportunity for–he will apply supra-force…the excuse now having been established.
Felcsutian mind games, that’s all. It’s like a giant chess game and the diabolical Orban plays several moves ahead.

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