“What shall I call you?”* The political system of Viktor Orbán

You may recall that a few days ago I published a lecture of Gábor Demszky, former mayor of Budapest, delivered in the Library of Congress. After the text of the lecture I described an exchange between Anna Stumpf, political attaché of the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, and Gábor Demszky. Stumpf, the daughter of Viktor Orbán’s right hand man during his first administration and today a member of the Constitutional Court, took exception to Demszky’s description of the dire situation of the media in Hungary today when he claimed that in some ways it is less free than it was in the Kádár regime’s last few years. She exclaimed: “You are not serious!” Gábor Demszky’s answer was, “Yes, I’m serious. I lived in it.” Within a couple of days this footnote to Hungarian Spectrum‘s coverage of the lecture made the rounds in the Hungarian media. It made a splash even in the liberal press because the Hungarian opposition doesn’t quite know what to call Viktor Orbán’s political system. Moreover, they are reluctant to describe the “System of National Cooperation” as a regime that is perhaps worse than the “soft dictatorship” of János Kádár. Bálint Magyar and his coauthors from many disciplines describe Viktor Orbán as the Godfather, the leadership of Fidesz and their friends and relatives as mafia, and the political structure as a “mafia state.” The book this group of political scientists, philosophers, economists, and sociologists published became a bestseller in Hungary since it appeared a few weeks ago, and references to the “Hungarian Octopus,” the title of the book, appear frequently in the written and electronic media. Yet some people are not entirely satisfied with the description. There are a few people, especially those who publish mostly in German, who consider Orbán’s system “fascism” pure and simple.  Magdolna Marsovszky is one of the chief proponents of this theory. Only today she commented on an article in the German-language blogPusztaranger, which dealt with a conference organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. One of the guests was Attila Vidnyánszky, the new director of the Hungarian National Theater. What Vidnyánszky said at the conference led Pusztaranger to call this new National Theater a “faschistiches Erlösungtheater,” that is, a fascist redemption theater.

A telling pictorial description of the political system of Viktor Orbán. A combination of old socialist and nationalistic sybols

A telling pictorial description of the political system of Viktor Orbán. A combination of old socialist and nationalistic symbols / www.deviant.com

A few days ago Ágnes Heller described the present situation in Hungary as “Bonapartism,” which is defined as “a political movement associated chiefly with authoritarian rule usually by a military leader ostensibly supported by a popular mandate.” When pressed, she elaborated by saying that Bonapartism is at its core striving and acquiring power for its own sake. Moreover, such a system, according to her, cannot come to a resting place, a consolidated state of affairs because the very essence of Bonapartism is the continual striving toward greater and greater power and glory. Such a quest, however, must eventually fail. Society cannot be maintained in a constant state of ideological, national, and social warfare. Others, like János Kornai, agree that Orbán’s system is a dead end but, as he wittily said, one can live on a dead end street for a very long time. A society can live under such circumstances for perhaps decades. That was certainly the case with the Soviet Union. Not a pleasant prospect for those people who believe that Hungary’s future lies with the West, which entails a break with its authoritarian and communist past. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the main outline of Viktor Orbán’s devilish plans for his “revolution” were in the making most likely years before the 2010 electoral victory. László Lengyel, a political commentator and economist, thinks that Orbán and his closest collaborators had a completely defined plan for the political edifice they intended to build way before 2010 because as soon as the first session of parliament gathered, the plan for the System of National Cooperation (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere or NER) was ready for immediate implementation. And commentators are starting to realize that Orbán’s regime is more than populism. The word “dictatorship” is an increasingly common description. There are just too many signs that Orbán’s world bears a suspicious resemblance to the communist times when one had to fear the authorities. Comparisons are made to the Rákosi regime instead of to the milder Kádár era. By the late Kádár period people’s property, for instance, was left alone. One didn’t have to worry that one day some official would arrive and take away one’s car or apartment. But nowadays private property is not at all safe. If the government decides to take away the livelihood of thousands of slot machine owners, it can do it from one day to the next. Or steal millions in savings. It can do it with impunity. Often the goods taken away are passed on to others who are favored by Viktor Orbán and his friends because they are on the right side, the national side. Again, the charge is that a complete change in ownership structure is being contemplated and slowly achieved. Here again the point of comparison is the Rákosi regime. But at least then the state didn’t turn around and sell the confiscated property to its own clients. Then it was done for ideological reasons. And then comes the soul searching. What did we do wrong in 1989-1990? At first, the participants were certain that their peaceful political and economic transition was ideal; it was certainly judged to be the best in the region by outside observers. A lot of people still cling to that belief. But, others argue, perhaps the introduction of a great number of cardinal laws, which need a two-thirds majority to pass, was a mistake. Ágnes Heller charges, not without reason, that the Budapest intellectuals who made up the democratic opposition really didn’t know the people of the country they lived in. Others rightly point out that the democratic education of the population, especially of the youth, was completely neglected. On the other hand, one cannot accuse Viktor Orbán of not knowing his people. He knows them only too well, and this is the key to his success. But more about this tomorrow. —— *I borrowed the title from one of the best known poems of Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849). The original and its English translation can be found here.

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tappanch
Guest

I cannot imagine a more sycophant personality than Vidnyanszky.

He directed a “Joan of Arc” in his new fiefdom, the National Theater.

He equated Orban with Joan of Arc – I am serious!

Her accusers and murderers became Orban’s EU opponents like Rui Tavares and Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

http://index.hu/galeria/index/kult/2013/11/27/johanna_a_maglyan/7

houswife77
Guest

Think in a larger context! A brother of O.V. I just read in the Newyork Book Review: The architect of Turkey’s polarization isn’t the liberals; it’s Erdoğan. He has read into successive election victories a license to involve himself in every aspect of the nation…. His abrasive, physical style of oratory betrays no self-doubt. Opening his arms to his audience, bringing his hand over his heart, he criticizes the lives of his subjects, and his views are rarely less than vigorous. All drinkers are alcoholics; every family should have three children; wholemeal flour is best (“our children will be stronger…the bonds of trust between us will increase”); abortion is murder and Caesarean sections should be avoided. …The prime minister appears to dislike expertise when it disagrees with him. “You have nothing to teach us about sociology,” he told a politely dissenting social scientist.

spectator
Guest

I guess, it isn’t that far fetched to say, that the system of Viktor Orbán is in existence only for the benefit of Viktor Orbán.
To achieve this to its full extent of course he needs helpers, cooperators, collaborators, vassals – you name it – but at the end its all about Viktor the Greatest.
As I frequently expressed here, in my opinion there is no coherent political ideology behind all of this, only interest.
The slogans and buzzwords can be easily changed, updated, according to the present situation. Boundaries of political ‘sides’ can be crossed at ease, or changed completely, if it pays better, yesterday’s enemies become friends today if interest dictates – in short: everything allowed to Viktor, because Hungary is his dominion, and he does as he pleases.

So far the only mystery to me is, how on Earth the people can accept to go back being abused and exploited flock of slaves in their own homeland by their own free will…

Oh, well, after all this is Hungary, the half-Asian land of possibilities, isn’t it?

unity unity 101
Guest

Erdogan won 3 elections with the substantial support of the fundamentalist Fetullah Gullen.

Orban similarly depends on some deep pockets.

Right and Left must unite to end the power of these predatory rulers.

Andrew Anecdote
Guest
1. “Laszlo Lengyel, a political commentator and economist, thinks that Orban and his closest collaborators had a completely defined plan for the political edifice they intended to build way before 2010…..” I remember examining at the economics university (former Karl Marx University,,,,and so on) at the end of the 1990s but certainly before 1998. I was examining with a colleague I had never met but, in between examinees, we soon established a friendly rapport and were chatting about the progress of the system change in Hungary. When Orban’s name cropped up the “new” lady colleague suddenly burst into paroxysms of animosity and let the bile flow. “I hate him! I hate him! He’s a megalomaniac…….He even has to have special treatment to control it!” It appeared to me that the colleague had what we might call “close to the fire” information but, even so, at that time I thought the “special treatment” was an example of one of those exaggerations you hear everywhere, and especially among the chattering classes of Budapest………..but now? 2, “One didn’t need to worry that one day some official would arrive and take away one’s car or apartment. But nowadays private property is not at all… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest
Kovacs Marton
Guest

A. Heller is probably right about the liberals’ lack of knowledge of the rest of Hungary.

People by and large love what they are having now. Life is fun, carefree and quite.

Prices go down, pensions go up, kids know how to behave under the knowing hands of religion teachers, gypsies are finally under control. Well, there is still work to be done, for sure, but all in all the direction is right.

The nation is being built: football stadium after football stadium attest to the glory of this nation of sportsmen. Soon, we will host the Olympics and build even more nuclear power stations.

Although the media is still under liberal/leftist control, the governmnet will do everything it can to liberate it. And then the nation fwill inally know how great life is in Hungary.

It is thus no surprize that Fidesz, lead by our hero Vikto Orban will win the 2014 elections too. Can the feeble opposition offer anything comparable? I think the results speak for themselves.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

German neonazis are enthusiastic about the economic policy of V.O.
http://www.hagalil.com/archiv/2013/12/19/orban-3/

tappanch
Guest

“What shall I call you?”

Dictatorial kleptocracy.

Member
HiBoM
Guest

I read Kovács Marton’s contribution as a tongue-in-cheek parody …

Istvan
Guest
Ms Heller’s use of an idea from Karl Marx’s book “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” is very interesting. I think her comparison to Orban is incorrect, Orban and his party are not in a transitional phase, they are effectively a Fascist like structure that rules with the tacit agreement of western capital. We all known that Hitler used the legal structure of the German state to institutionalize a dictatorship, German industrialists went along with this as did western capitalists like Henry Ford in the USA. While the EU may cry over the subversion of democracy in Hungary, let us not forget that that Orban was the ideological child of a project funded by Soros. Orban simply rejected all the liberal aspects of the Soros program. Here is a classic Orban quote “The Communist heritage has a marriage with the radical liberals today. That genealogy exists in Europe.” (The Telegraph October 15,2013) While the Open Society Foundation has posted articles critical of various Fidesz policies it has never accepted responsibility for the monster it helped to create, to do so would raise doubt on the core of Soros ideology which links globalization with freedom. For some to say what I… Read more »
Member
Demszky is absolutely correct in saying that the situation of Hungary’s media is worse today than it was during the Kadar era — but we should stress, he said “in some ways.” Balint Magyar’s book, for example, could never have been published 25 years ago, let alone become a best seller. So when we criticize Orban’s policies toward the press, let’s be clear about what he’s doing. In his mind, there are two medias: One is “ours” and one is “theirs.” At this stage, “they” can write whatever they want in “their” media, so long as it doesn’t break the Media Council’s (=Orban’s) murky standards on what constitutes libel, or the Fidesz-appointed prosecutors’ opinions on what constitutes dissemination of state secrets. Magyar’s book did not cross either of these lines. There is a second, more nefarious side to his press strategy: The state’s job is to maximize the size, the strength and the reach of “our” media. Hence Fidesz’s takeover of state TV, state radio and MTI, accompanied by a media law that discourages commercial broadcasters from covering politics. Then, there’s Fidesz’s policy of purchasing state advertisements in “our” media, effectively subsidizing servile publications with taxpayer money. (The Socialists did… Read more »
Guest

Yes, Seal driver, and after you subtract the “news” in Magyar State TV and the commercial channels, what remains is just the “circenses” part …

Btw bread is still one of the cheapest foods in Hungary – of course just the regular white stuff, really good bread (like in Germany …) is much more expensive.

Mutt
Guest

Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …

Ooh La La … the cheesy Hungarian MPs.

Tamas Gaudi-Nagy, representative of the JOBBIK in the Hungarian Parliament (neo-Fascist party) was arrested Friday in Paris at the airport. The dude got himself locked up for a day despite carrying a diplomatic passport. Allegedly he was carrying a shitload of stinky cheese and airport security didn’t let him take it on the plane. Then Gaudi-Nagy verbally assaulted the officers and they put him in the cooler. He was freed on the next day with the help of the Hungarian consul.

Gaudi-Nagy now expects the Hungarian government to officially protest for his mistreatment.

Disclaimer: No, It’s not the Onion. It’s Hungary.

Louis Kovach
Guest

Dr Balogh writes: “Ágnes Heller charges, not without reason, that the Budapest intellectuals who made up the democratic opposition really didn’t know the people of the country they lived in.”

Yes, it is terrible, someone should discard the existing population for one that is compliant with the wishes of the so called “democratic opposition”.

Mutt
Guest

Louis Kovach :
Yes, it is terrible, someone should discard the existing population for one that is compliant with the wishes of the so called “democratic opposition”.

Only Orban shot low enough to hit the Hungarian IQ …

tappanch
Guest

Fidesz mafia interferes into a new part of the economy:

After the tobacco license, agricultural land, gambling, etc. scandals (for a more complete list, see Eva’s blog a few days ago), Orban government created today the company liquidation scandal.

Only Orban-approved liquidation companies can carry out the lucrative business in the future.

http://index.hu/gazdasag/2013/12/23/itt_az_uj_trafikbotrany/

Mutt
Guest
“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche … à l’hôtel Hilton.” Ladies and Gents! Prepare your barf bags! It happened. Really. The humiliation of 40 poor children by pater Zoltan Balog and his crew. They invited these kids to a Luxury Hotel for a photo-op with politicians. Here is the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OR9TcT-x0Xk Sorry I don’t have the time to translate. Only a few gems from his speech: Advent is four Sundays … Advent is to make our life a bit brighter. And when there is more light we can see the disorder. For instance part of the disorder is that there are poor people in Hungary. Needy who do not have as much as the rich. That is not good! And if we want to help, it is good to see this. That is why I was so delighted when I was invited here. … the goal is that one day you become somebody, after you finish school, and you goo toooo … maybe to to college and you will have a good profession. And you will make your own living and have enough to take your own children not only to the Hilton but to Paris, or Cluj [Romania], and everywhere… Read more »
Nova
Guest
tappanch: let’s mention that liquidation of insolvent companies is a highly lucrative business because of the corruption involved, this may not be apparent to outsiders. Liquidators become insiders of the to-be-liquidated company and they know well how much one asset is worth, so they can smartly arrange for the sale of such asset for cheap (i.e. to a related party which will sell the asset not much later for a huge gain). In addition, they decide whether to initiate legal proceedings against the former management (both criminal or civil proceedings), which they can forego if given the right incentive. These are common knowledge on the market and has been the case for decades. In addition, Fidesz makes yet another legal/judicial sector loyal to it, since these new liqidators will be loyal to Fidesz not to the law or the creditors. It is not just about business, but also about making various sectors loyal to Fidesz, it is always aalso a power-issue with Fidesz. So when it will come to the liquidation of a Fidesz-friendly company, liquidators will make sure that the management will escape liability and the owners can quickly suck off the assets so that the creditors will not… Read more »
spectator
Guest

Mutt :

Louis Kovach :
Yes, it is terrible, someone should discard the existing population for one that is compliant with the wishes of the so called “democratic opposition”.

Only Orban shot low enough to hit the Hungarian IQ …

Brilliant!
At the same time this seem to be the answer too for the observation of Seal Driver, namely:
“Balint Magyar’s book, for example, could never have been published 25 years ago, let alone become a best seller.”
In my opinion Orbán and Co. actually pretty sure, that the book has no- or very little impact on the already brainwashed masses, while stopping it would cause quite splashes, so they let it go.
Its way over of the bullseye, anyway.

Mutt
Guest

The animated gif above is not child abuse. It’s from the movie adaptation of Sandor Rideg’s famous novel, the “Boom Gate Booth is Leaving”. Here is the whole movie in Hungarian:

It’s very funny but there is no way to translate it.

petofi
Guest

The ignominious Hungarian mentality has reached us even here, in the pristine regions of the US: an elderly lady of Hungarian parentage (therefore, someone who speaks a rudimentary Hungarian) had been sent some urgent mail–several letters and postcards–from people she had met at Balaton some time ago.

The outright, shameless begging was stomach-turning:
“We are lost. If you cannot send 14-17 million forints we won’t be able to build a brick house which is required by law. Please, please, please, for the love of God and our Jesus Christ who died for our sins…help us!”

(The elderly American lady is jewish. For this, jews are good…?)

petofi
Guest

When my wife read the above, she demurred: “There are some decent Hungarians,” she objected. “There are not!” I replied. “If there were, they would be out protesting continually the insulting use of the phrase “Christian Hungary”, in this our year of the lord, 2013.

petofi
Guest

In other words, the degree of contentment with the phrase is in direct proportion with the acceptance of anti-semitism within the country.

Kirsten
Guest
The observation of Agnes Heller about the Budapest elite not knowing the rest of Hungarians sounds unconvincing to me. I have great admiration for her but I would like to say that I have heard so often from Hungarians how dull most people are (most often not related to Hungarians only but as a general observation) and how useless it is to try to educate people that I cannot imagine that the outcome of this sceptic approach to efforts at broad “empowerment” including in political matters can come as a surprise. Instead of searching for the most creative name for what is authoritarian and populist rule pure and simple in a society ill-prepared for democracy, the “Budapest elite” might search their minds for paternalist and elitist thought which has prevented them from spreading democratic education and living by democratic principles themselves. For instance through identifying those situations where the “elite” just believed that their programme is good enough for all (even if most people experienced little to no improvement in living standards). Or identifying those situations where personal responsibility for earlier failure is not accepted (MSzP fabulating about the desirability of a return to the state before 2010), or when… Read more »
Mark
Guest

Mutt :
“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche … à l’hôtel Hilton.”
Ladies and Gents! Prepare your barf bags!
It happened. Really. The humiliation of 40 poor children by pater Zoltan Balog and his crew.
They invited these kids to a Luxury Hotel for a photo-op with politicians.
Here is the video:


Sorry I don’t have the time to translate. Only a few gems from his speech:
Advent is four Sundays …
Advent is to make our life a bit brighter. And when there is more light we can see the disorder. For instance part of the disorder is that there are poor people in Hungary.
Needy who do not have as much as the rich. That is not good! And if we want to help,
it is good to see this. That is why I was so delighted when I was invited here.

… the goal is that one day you become somebody, after you finish school,
and you goo toooo … maybe to to college and you will have a good profession.
And you will make your own living and have enough to take your own children
not only to the Hilton but to Paris, or Cluj [Romania], and everywhere where
children are worth to be taken.

Finally an animated gif.
comment image
(Why isn’t the lunch chicken breast with calvados mushroom sauce?? Like yesterday in the Hilton …It’s pottage again??)
Disclaimer: No. It’s not from the Onion. It’s Hungary.

If you understand Hungarian, this video is a must-watch.

Jesus — Balogh’s favorite Jewish carpenter — would not have spoken in such a way to those kids.

Instead of bringing them to the Hilton, he’d have gone down to their villages, sat on the floor, taken with graciousness whatever small pogácsa and soup their mothers offered him, and asked them, “Is any among you chronically ill?” “Is any among you in mourning?” “”Does any among you thirst for justice and righteousness?”

Not, “Does any among you feel himself so utterly useless because he cannot, unlike me, take his offspring to the finest hotels in Europe?”

What a wheedling little priest this Balogh is!

I wonder what the little boy born in a manger, raised in the home of a carpenter, and condemned to a criminal’s death would say to this.

James Atkins
Guest

For me these analyses are most useful if they can help us work out what to do. It is handy for a theory to have explanatory power but even more handy to have predictive power. Can we draw from these analyses some insights about how to improve the situation in Hungary?

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