András Bruck’s new encounter with George Orwell’s 1984

Before the holidays I wrote two posts dealing with different interpretations of the system Viktor Orbán established in Hungary in the last three and a half years. Now I offer yet another analysis, this time by András Bruck. It appeared only a week ago in Élet és Irodalom.  Bruck is one of the most astute, and most radical, observers of Hungarian political life. His conclusion is that all those on the left who claim that Hungary is still “a kind of democracy” are kidding themselves. Bruck makes no bones about it: he considers Orbán’s Hungary a dictatorship pure and simple. His essay, which I summarize here, deals with the similarities between George Orwell’s nightmarish Nineteen Eighty-four and Orbán’s Hungary today.

Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four were on the list of forbidden books in Hungary until the mid-1980s, but a few people did manage to get copies already in the 1960s. I personally received requests from friends to bring them along in either 1967 or 1968. It seems that Bruck managed to get hold of a copy only sometime in the early 1980s. He was disappointed. The book was about “a different bad world” from the one in which he lived. While making love he felt neither fear nor hatred. He didn’t consider the three famous slogans of Ingsoc, WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH appropriate for Kádár’s Hungary.

This spring he found his copy of Nineteen Eighty-four in the bottom of a box: “it lay there like a skeleton but this time the dead came to life.” Bruck reached the conclusion that “every word of that book from the first to the last is about this sick, deformed regime in which, just like in the novel, the binding agent of power is lying.” Everything  means the opposite of what it is officially called. The Manifesto of National Cooperation is the document of national division; the Peace March is actually a battle march, just as in Orwell’s book the Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war. The leaders of these marches are the messengers of hatred, men like Gábor Széles, Zsolt Bayer, and András Bencsik.

Today’s government party has its own Emmanuel Goldstein–Ferenc Gyurcsány, the number one enemy of the people whom it is a patriotic duty to hate. Many of those who are the loudest in his condemnation know nothing about him just as Julia, Winston’s lover, doesn’t have the foggiest idea who Goldstein was.

In Orbán’s Hungary words have lost their meaning. In his world “Hungarian ownership” actually means handing property, factories, land to his own family, friends, and minions. To be national and Hungarian means to agree with his and his government’s decisions. If he says that Hungary’s economy is the most competitive in the region, it means that the country is sliding downward. When he says that everybody in Europe is envious of us this means that everybody is horrified at the changes that have taken place in Hungary since 2010.

Orwell 3

Hungarians are often amazed at Orbán’s temerity when they hear that he is capable of saying one thing one day and on the next its exact opposite. But in Orwell’s novel Winston Smith wonders how it is possible that one day the announcement is made that the chocolate ration was reduced to twenty grams and the next day people are told that it was raised to twenty grams. “Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it.”

Then, Bruck quotes a few sentences from Nineteen Eighty-four that he finds appropriate:

“If the facts say otherwise then the facts must be altered.”

“The fabulous statistics continued to pour out of the telescreen.”

One “should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It doesn’t matter whether the war is actually happening.”

“To change one’s mind, or even one’s policy, is a confession of weakness.”

“The proles are not human beings.”

“The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred.”

Bruck finds all these in Orbán’s system. Even anti-Orbán analysts don’t understand the nature of the system. They simply refuse to acknowledge that there is dictatorship in Hungary. “But if you deny it you must act as if there is democracy or in the worst case it is a mafia state.” After the disgraceful speech Orbán delivered on October 23 in which “he tossed half the nation in front of a coming train” left-wing analysts on ATV had barely anything to say. “They analyzed. They know and declare that there is no morality and decency in the world of politics and if cannibalism would bring votes then it is the good politician who would chew half an arm right there in the studio.”

Winston Smith, although well versed in the system of Ingsoc, understood how the regime operated but “he didn’t understand why.” In Hungary the left-wing intellectual elite, very much like Smith, can’t understand why Orbán hamstrings the schools, why he drains all the assets of the banks, why he creates hatred, why he makes the lives of the poor even more miserable, why he appoints all those half-wits to important jobs, why he isolates his country, why he turns to the dictators of the tundra, why he wants to see his political opponents in jail, why he takes others’ money, in brief why he is behaving like a dictator. Surely, Bruck continues, all this is not done only to let the mafia state move money more easily from one oligarch to the next. Was all this barbarity introduced only to make it easy for one company to get all the tenders offered by the state? Clearly, Bruck doesn’t believe in the theory of the mafia state.

The answer to Smith’s question about the “why” of the Orwellian state comes from O’Brien: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.” Bruck here says, “At last! Someone at last said it. In the depth of my soul I wished for such a sentence. So besides the sheer wanting of power, besides the psychology of the totalitarian mind, there is nothing else…. there is no ideology, no vision, no ideas about the future.”

In order for a dictatorship to function one needs consciously created ignorance, which goes together with the falsification of history. According to Bruck, Orbán and Fidesz began by falsifying the history of the first twenty years that followed the regime change. Then they rewrote the history of 1944, and on October 23 they began the falsification of the history of ’56. Winston Smith says in 1984 that “if the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened–that, surely, was  more terrifying than mere torture and death.” Or later: “And if all others accepted the  lie which the Party imposed–if all records told the same tale–then the lie passed into history and became truth.” After all, Bruck adds, a new historical institute is already planned whose name will be Veritas. Perhaps in a better future it can more appropriately be called the Institute of Mendacity. “What else is waiting for us? A few more years and we won the battle of the Don. And not one Jew was deported because the governor didn’t allow it…. Not even the present is taboo anymore. Only recently the prime minister announced that there was no revolution in 2010 when he himself earlier said that there was one, which was endorsed by parliament.” O’Brien has something to say about this also: “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

Bruck bitterly concludes his essay with these words. “So, luckily we don’t have to worry because the prime minister himself denies that there was a revolution in Hungary while the whole Hungarian left denies the existence of dictatorship. So, it seems all is well.”

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tappanch
Guest

“Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four were on the list of forbidden books in Hungary”

I think it was in 1980. I was returning from my “one month every third year” trip in Western Europe.

My “Animal Farm” had happy, smiling swine on the front cover, so I told the customs officers that it was about pig raising – this was the only book they left in my possession.

But I also purchased a lexicon of the ancient world. It had a naked Minotaur on the front cover, so it was confiscated as porn. Let me add, this book was returned to me two months later, while the remaining books I bought in the “West” were confiscated for good.

Guest

Even in 1980?

Anyway I still remember the feeling when I read Orwell’s books the first time around 1961 or 62 – you know I’ve been a Science Fiction fan since I was 15 years old and we got new books every two weeks from the “Amerika Haus”. That kind of book wasn’t available in our town library – at that time …

It feels really creepy – that comparison to Orbán’s reign really sticks …

klank
Guest

1984 is probably the defining book of 20th and perhaps of the 21st century.

James Atkins
Guest

A compelling parallel. Frightening.

tappanch
Guest

@wolfi

“Even in 1980?”

Brezhnev died in November 1982. I think the Soviets had control over the confiscation policy of the Hungarian Border Guards & Customs.

Historians, am I right or wrong?

spectator
Guest
Ever since I commenting around I relentlessly trying to call the attention to the premeditated method of communication of the Fidesz and the effect of that method on the general public. There is precious little left for chance, – just a few unintended uttering or ad hoc improvisations in the heat pif the moment – everything else is done and said for a reason. If someone analyse the speeches (of Orbán, in particular) often will find, that some sentences has no real meaning, the only reason of their using is the possibility to use some words with certain effect, which must come up in order to emphasise the message. Without being (OK, trying to be) overly fastidious, if someone interesting how it works, look up “Cognitive Linguistics”, you’ll see. I am convinced, that all what you hear from formal sources of Fidesz has been adapted to the particular goal in sight, the words what they using is carefully selected and repeated endlessly. Like it or not, those words just stick, I even hear the same expressions used by the so called opposition sometimes even in the few remaining media, so damn effective it is. Not surprising though, that you hear… Read more »
An
Guest

This is the first analysis I can absolutely agree with. The others had some very good insights as well, and are important parts of the puzzle… but this is the one that cuts into the essence of what Orban is about.

An
Guest

This is the inconvenient truth for Hungarians, for the opposition, and for the EU.

Member

Magyar Mendocracy

Orban is lucky with his ignorant, isolated, gullible, monoglot pannonian populace.

But there is a fatal flaw in any unilateral Orbanian attempt to create a hermetic Orwellian fiefdom in the middle of Europe and the 21st century: the Internet. Even Iran and China can’t block it out, and North Korea can only do it at the price of abject poverty, complete isolation, and a monstrous military. Orban lacks the last two, and he can make Hungarians poor, but not that poor.

Eva is right, though: Until the opposition wakes up, unites completely, and starts to talk the talk, with one voice, coherently, the downward spiral will just go on.

(It is in fact a sign of the failure to achieve Orwellian media hegemony that the opposition feels it has the luxury to just keep dithering within its fragment of freedom while the Carpathian Bassinet-of-State continues its descent toward Foggy Bottom unopposed. Gyurcsany may be the only one with the brains and the guts to explode the Big Lie that is at the root of Orban’s Mendocracy.)

petofi
Guest

@ Stevan Harnad

“…Until the opposition wakes up, unites completely…”

Not possible. One must work from the ethical standards of todays Hungarians–OPPORTUNISM, and each…person or politician, waiting for his turn at the feeding trough at which point they will pay more attention to shoulder aside others than feeding themselves. And the knives, both figurative and real, will be out and on the ready to protect their entitlement.

“You shall reap as you sow.”

What we have now, whether people will admit it or not, is the Orsos world of maximal mayhem.
I suggest that people have a look at any one of Kusturica’s movies to get a glimpse of what the Orsos world looks like. Now raise that to the level of complete government control in today’s Hungary.

If you want to know Hungary’s future, forget the historians, sociologists, psychologists and
go see Kusturica: “Mr. Kusturica, what is in Hungary’s future?” And he’ll tell you to a ‘t’.

spectator
Guest

Stevan, it pretty much sums it.
I tend to think, however, but the only way out of this trap could be one temporary – say electoral – “great coalition”, above all party-politics, with a limited time mandate and with the only goal to clean up the mess until the next truly democratic election.
I know, I am a bit delusional regarding the subject, but still…

The next possibility to unite under one internationally well known and respected candidate, who – I’m sure – could adjust even to the opposition with his wast experience across all the political sides, and at the moment totally free of obligations: Pál Schmitt..!
Not only he would represent Hungary “properly”, but he would even guarantee, that no surprising statements would ever come up – we certainly read it beforehand somewhere – let alone, that not even the Fidesz supporters could be able to bring up anything against him, after all, he was Orbán’s personal candidate at one time!

So, we still have choices, you see, haven’t we?

tappanch
Guest

If we compare Erdogan’s and Orban’s regime, we can see with sadness that the Turkish system has more checks.

Prosecutors dared to arrest ministers’ sons, Erdogan had to dismiss half of his cabinet. The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors supports the fired prosecutor.

In Hungary, the Chief Prosecutor and the head of Judiciary are Orban’s personal friends, and no investigations are launched despite the daily evidence of corrupt practices by the ruling party and Orban’s friends.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/27/world/europe/turkey-corruption-scandal.html

Kirsten
Guest
I am impressed that there is yet another attempt to present some analysis “unheard of”, so now we are already in a “dictatorship”. I do not doubt that Viktor Orban says “white” and does “black” – but I read quite often that people find that “convincing” or (worse) that they are unable to react to this properly as they have no means to do so. This time, instead of only criticising these analyses, I suggest to re-read Bibo: http://mek.niif.hu/02000/02043/html/350.html, perhaps some people might find some hints in it when in the Hungarian past it has been considered necessary to interpret some words “freely” and to what extent this was “dictatorship”. The blurred meaning of words and concepts has been discussed here also with the “ciganyok” – “romak”, with the entirely meaningless use of the word “lie”, or with the wide array of code words meant to say “Jew”. I am not a native speaker so I write it as someone who had to learn the language and of course has very limited knowledge of it. And yet I believe that my difficulties with the type of communication that the language is used for may not only be an individual problem.… Read more »
spectator
Guest

Kristen, with all due respect, does the degree of dictatorical tendencies really the point? Is there a certain level, which proves beyond doubt, that from now on its already dictatorship, while yesterday it wasn’t?
I’m not joking, only curious.

tappanch
Guest

@spectator

Here is a definition for “dictatorship” or “tyranny”:

a society that is not able to self-correct.

Now you can ask me to define the words “not able” and “self-correct”.

tappanch
Guest

OED

tyrant, from Greek τύραννος:
1. One who seizes upon the sovereign power in a state without legal right; an absolute ruler; a usurper.
3. A king or ruler who exercises his power in an oppressive, unjust, or cruel manner; a despot.
4. Any one who exercises power or authority oppressively, despotically, or cruelly; one who treats those under his control tyrannically.

dictator from Latin dictātor:
1. A ruler or governor whose word is law; an absolute ruler of a state.

a orig. The appellation of a chief magistrate invested with absolute authority, elected in seasons of emergency by the Romans, and by other Italian states.

b. A person exercising similar authority in a mediæval or modern state; esp. one who attains to such a position in a republic. Also transf.

2. A person exercising absolute authority of any kind or in any sphere; one who authoritatively prescribes a course of action or dictates what is to be done.

tappanch
Guest

“the word tyrannos is not likely of Greek origin, but borrowed by the Greeks (and the Philistines) from one of the languages spoken in Asia Minor.”

“perhaps seren is related to the Hittite SER, meaning “superior”

spectator
Guest

Thank you for the help, Tappanch, very kind of you!
However, it still stops short to relate to my question regarding the level of tyranny: what more do we need in order to qualify for dictatorship, since – according to Kristen – we aren’t there yet. While this is a good news, I still worry a bit: what, if I miss the great event and still treat Orbán as a democrat..?

andy -- Bruck + Bokros
Guest

In addition to the very cogent Bruck article re Orwell’s brilliant foresight, the current issue of ES (Élet és Irodalom) (publ date: Dec. 20) is CHOCK-full of excellent articles regarding literary and political/current affairs themes.

I’d like to bring your attention to a special 8 page annex-section therein devoted to an analysis by my favorite Lajos Bokros entitled ‘Elveszett Évtized’ (The Lost Decade).

In it he surmises that Hungary has not had a similarly unconstrained 25 years in the past 5 centuries and in 140 separate segments discusses all the lost opportunities and compares this to the neighboring countries more positive results.

Worth starting with the LAST paragraph of his annex to size up the measure and extent of his disillusionment.

(Issue is available at newstands in Hungary (though may run out soon…) at 1000 Ft for the double issue or via the internet for less but limited in time).

Kirsten
Guest
Spectator, there seem to be two points in what you ask. The first answer is: there is not only “dictatorship” and “democracy” but also many possible modes of government in between. In particular, there seem to be quite a variety of systems with authoritarian character but yet the pretence of some democratic elements. Recently developed ideas: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/politics-international-relations/comparative-politics/competitive-authoritarianism-hybrid-regimes-after-cold-war http://works.bepress.com/andreas_schedler/9/ or http://books.google.de/books/about/Totalitarian_and_Authoritarian_Regimes.html?id=8cYk_ABfMJIC&redir_esc=y Viktor Orban, even with a “mafia state” does not qualify as a “dictator” yet. His opponents are not in prison. People can move out of the country if they wish. They can even read independent opinions if they wish. Unfortunately, the analyses offered by the critics of the government are not very helpful, which is my second point. The numerous hypothesis why Viktor Orban has managed to take over sound for me more like “excuses” – he is so vile, and not: it is those who believed to be democrats or at least more “civilised” than Orban who let this happen or even worse who made it possible – through apparently unsuitable approaches, ideas and policies. So, for me there is too little search for in what “democrats” themselves went wrong. Instead there is homo kadaricus or Orwell or whatever… Read more »
Ron
Guest

All these theories or try to define VO and Fidesz. what I want to know who is lurking in the back. VO and/or Fidesz is not wonderful, is not great debater, is not a great thinker, is not a great policy maker, has no idea about economy. So who is calling the shots?

Kave
Guest
When I began teaching English at the Bibo Kollegium and at the ELTE Law school in 1989, Orwell was widely read (albeit in samizdat edition which you could easily find at the Moszkva ter bookseller’s) by members of FIDESZ, then still a markedly liberal party. It is fair to say that Orwell had rock star status among FIDESZ members at that time, and was widely read and discussed. I used to use Orwell’s essays as teaching material. During one class we were discussing an essay written by Orwell during WWII in which Orwell condemned nationalism (in this case, expressions of British nationalism) as stupid, and not fully akin to patriotism. Some of my students protested that Orwell would never say that. I countered that he did, it is print in a book of Orwell’s essays which I have in my hand and from which I had made copies on the Xerox machine upstairs which had so kindly been donated by George Soros. No, they countered. Orwell could never have written that nationalism is stupid. Orwell – their Orwell – would have supported nationalism. And that was that. (These were not the older students like Orban and Bayer who had moved… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Excellent – far more convincing than the ‘mafia state’ and other attempted analyses.

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake” – more or less what I’ve been saying for the past two years. The intellectual left will never understand Orbán until they understand that he is operating at a far more basic level then their high flown theories. He isn’t an intellectual, he’s a doer and a chancer. He doesn’t think about what he does or try to explain it, he just does it – ruthlessly.

Paul
Guest

An :
This is the inconvenient truth for Hungarians, for the opposition, and for the EU.

A very important observation, An.

And no one has the faintest idea of what to do about it.

disgust 99 100 101 102
Guest
disgust 99 100 101 102

The Hungarian Spectrum review of Bruck’s ES article and the comments are invaluable.
Petofi, Spectator, Harnad etc. wrote important further foot notes to the subject.
The picture is ugly.
A terminal national cooperation cancer settled on Hungary.
90% still stays and suffers.
1 percent is delusionally enjoying the good life, until the prison doors will close behind them when NATO peace makers will be sent in to rescue the survivors.

Paul
Guest

As for the ‘tyrant/dictator’ debate – if derivations from the original meanings have any point (surely it is the current meaning that counts?), then Orbán clearly isn’t a tyrant. He might like to be one, but he doesn’t have the power and means to do so – yet.

But, equally clearly, he IS a dictator. The only qualification that needs to be made to that statement is “within the EU”. The only thing that limits his power as a dictator is the fact the Hungary is nominally a democratic member of the EU, and, far more importantly, is heavily dependent on EU money.

Which is exactly why he constantly rages against the EU (and prepares his people for the day when Hungary leaves), and desperately searches for an alternate source of funds (Russia, China, Saudi Arabia…). If he ever does find those funds elsewhere, Hungary will be out of the EU before you can say “A Magyar Köztársaság”.

andy -- snort'n...
Guest

Mes chers amis, theres very little that we can do about Orban’s aggressive behavior. He is more cunning than all of us together, more dishonest, more resolute and more dictatorial. And hes maneuvered to have the military and other forceful entities behind him.

His achilles heel is that he is blind to the realities of the world surrounding him. So his dreamed-up vacation resort for himself and his cronies is going to implode on itself.

Hes going to land up with an impoverished rag-tag place that will be the laughing-stock of Europa, something like a Don Quixote with Kövér Lászlo as his Sanco Panza, rancing around, the two of them in their bastion, the Kings Castle.

And the little boy is going to cry out “But the King is Nude”.

And his henchmen will fly off to distant Caribbean Islands and fsical havens with the American and EU Congresses in Hot Pursuit.

Cry or Smile, but the rest of us are gonna be left here, “röfögni”… (snort’n like dem pigs in the pen)

andy -- Da Drones
Guest

Addendum: there is one alternative and one only.
“Call in the Drones…”

andy -- Leakers
Guest

Legally Drones canot be used but against Terrorists and Enemy Combatants.

The fist, the terrorist, fits the bill as large swarths of the population are being terrorized.

Enemy Combatant can be made synonymous with Unintended Collateral Target.

Just keep the leakers off the drones.

tappanch
Guest
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