Domestic reactions to Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy”

In the wake of Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad on July 26 politicians on the left have been united in their condemnation while journalists on the right have been scrambling to make the speech more palatable.

The reactions of MSZP, DK, and Együtt-PM to the horrendous political message about establishing an “illiberal democracy” were fairly similar. They all deplored the fact that the Hungarian prime minister seems to be following the example of Putin’s Russia.

József Tóbiás, the newly elected chairman of MSZP, was perhaps the least forceful  in his condemnation of Viktor Orbán’s political philosophy. Tóbiás pointed out that Orbán with this speech demonstrated that he has turned against all those who don’t share his vision: the socialists, the liberals, and even the conservatives. Because all of these ideologies try to find political solutions within the framework of liberal democracy.

Együtt-PM found the speech appalling: “The former vice-president of Liberal International today buried the liberal state. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán not only lay to rest liberal democracy but democracy itself.” Subsequently, the party decided to turn to Brussels, asking the European Commission to protect the independent NGOs.

Gábor Fodor in the name of the Hungarian Liberal Party recalled Viktor Orbán’s liberal past and declared that “democracy is dead in our country.” The prime minister “made it expressly clear that it’s either him or us, freedom loving people.”

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy in the name of the Democratic Coalition (DK) was the most explicit. He said what many people have been hinting at for a while: that “a fascist state” is in the making in Hungary. “Unfortunately,” he added, Orbán “is either insane or a traitor, or both.”

LMP’s András Schiffer, as usual, had a different take on the speech. According to him, Orbán’s critique of liberal democracy is on target. Only his conclusions are wrong. LMP, which likes to describe itself as a green party, is an enemy of capitalism and also, it seems, of liberal democracy.

Magyar Nemzet published an interesting editorial by Csaba Lukács. He fairly faithfully summarized the main points of  the speech with one notable omission. There was no mention of “illiberal democracy.” And no mention of “democracy” either. Instead, he went on for almost two paragraphs about the notion of a work-based state and expressed his astonishment that liberals are so much against work. “Perhaps they don’t like to work and that’s why they panic.” Lukács clumsily tried to lead the discussion astray. Surely, he himself must know that the liberals are not worried about work but about the “illiberal democracy” he refused to mention in his article.

Journalists who normally support the government and defend all its actions seem to be at a loss in dealing with Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy.” Deep down most likely they also know that this so-called “illiberal democracy” will not be democracy at all. So, they simply skirt the issue.

Válasz‘s editorial avoided the term as well, but at least István Dévényi wanted to know more about Viktor Orbán’s plans. After discussing the reactions of the opposition parties which talk about the end of democracy, he added: “I don’t think that for the time being there is reason to worry, but it would be good to know what exactly the prime minister has in mind when he talks about a nation-state, a work-based state that will follow the welfare state.”

A new English-language paper entitled Hungary Today managed to summarize the speech that lasted for 30 minutes in 212 words. Not surprisingly this Hungarian propaganda organ also kept the news of “illiberal democracy” a secret. Instead, the reader learns that “copying the west is provincialism, and we must leave it behind, as it could ‘kill us.'”

As for DK’s reference to Italian fascism, it is not a new claim. For a number of years here and there one could find references to the similarities between the ideas of Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös (1932-1936) and those of Benito Mussolini. As prime  minister of Hungary, Gömbös made great strides toward establishing a fascist state in Hungary. József Debreczeni, an astute critic of Viktor Orbán who uncannily predicted what will happen if and when Viktor Orbán becomes prime minister again, quipped at one point that comparing Orbán to Horthy is a mistake; the comparison with Gömbös is much more apt.

Népszava's headline: "He already speaks as a dictator / Getty Images

Népszava’s headline: “He already speaks like a dictator / Getty Images

Péter Új, editor-in-chief of, rushed to the library to find a Hungarian-language collection of the Duce’s memorable speeches. I might add that the book was published in 1928 and that István Bethlen, who happened to be prime minister at the time, wrote the preface to Benito Mussolini gondolatai (The thoughts of Benito Mussolini). In this book Új found some real gems: “The century of democracy over.” Or, “Unlimited freedom … does not exist.” “Freedom is not a right but a duty.” “It would be suicidal to follow the ideology of liberalism … I declare myself to be anti-liberal.” “The nation of tomorrow will be the nation of workers.”

Others searched for additional sources of Orbán’s assorted thoughts and claims in the speech. I already mentioned Fareed Zakaria’s article on illiberal democracies. Gábor Filippov of Magyar Progressive Institute concentrated on Orbán’s assertion that a well-known American political scientist had described American liberalism as hotbed of corruption, sex, drugs, and crime. Filippov found an article by Joseph S. Nye, former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, in the June 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled “The Decline of America’s Soft Power.” (You may recall that Zakaria’s article also appeared in that periodical. It seems that one of Orbán’s speechwriters has a set of Foreign Affairs on hand!) But whoever wrote the speech badly misunderstood the text. The original English is as follows:

Autocratic regimes in the Middle East have eradicated their liberal opposition, and radical Islamists are in most cases the only dissenters left. They feed on anger toward corrupt regimes, opposition to U.S. policies, and popular fears of modernization. Liberal democracy, as they portray it, is full of corruption, sex, and violence—an impression reinforced by American movies and television and often exacerbated by the extreme statements of some especially virulent Christian preachers in the United States.

Radical Islamists are the ones who claim that liberal democracy is full of corruption, sex, and violence. Viktor Orbán is now joining their ranks. Putin, Mussolini, radical Islamists–these are Orbán’s ideological friends. And he has unfettered power to transform this frightening ideology into government policy.

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Andy - Full dictatorship, according to TGM

Orban’s Tasnádfürdő speech was commented by the renowned philosopher and political analyst and historian Tamás Gáspár Miklós dubbed T.G.M. for shor on Kalman Olga’s Egyenes Beszéd program on ATV the only left-leaning intellectural TV station strill remaining in Hungary.

According to TGM (and I fully share his opinion) Orbans speech is the latter’s first cogent attempt to openly summarize the principal structural pillars of the Orbán Dictatorship.

This speech says T.G.M. is the turning point in Orban’s approach stating a clear direction to define his upcoming dictatorship.Orban will use any and all means to maintain a new work-based society and to eliminate the role of the state as a socially-caring entity.

According to TGM, Orban plans to remain the lifetime leader and he will no longer allow any means to be uprooted in this plan.

If the masses (already over half the Hungarian population lives below the poverty line) eventually smarten up to rebel against him such a change in regime can only be accomplished by vioilent means. In essence, from today, Hungary has ceased to function as a democracy.

The newly recorded 20 minute interview with T.G.M. can be watched on the web at:


In all honesty, that picture of Orbán is disturbing to look at. That is not a picture of a mentally calm person – he has the look of someone with much turmoil and confusion inside his head.

“Radical Islamists are the ones who claim that liberal democracy is full of corruption, sex, and violence. Viktor Orbán is now joining their ranks. Putin, Mussolini, radical Islamists–these are Orbán’s ideological friends. And he has unfettered power to transform this frightening ideology into government policy.” I wonder what’s so new about it except that Orbán finally found a name for what he was doing all along – and what I have been expecting from him even before he was elected the second time. (see my pertinent commentaries of 2009, 2010) So I have to disagree with famous TGM (who I have been informed is also not always following one line of thought only). There is nothing nearly resembling a turning point in Orbán’s politics. His rhetoric has become a little more to the point, that’s true. How long he wants to be in power he said at least six years ago. The rest is just giving a “shower of glory” to the rotten politics of his regime with a couple of ideologically sounding words. So I really don’t understand the brouhaha about this mediocre speech. It’s not a forecast or a programme, it is much rather stocktaking of what this… Read more »

Let’s face it. Mr Orban is doing his best to become a real dictator, just like Mussolini was and Putin is. And as longs as he does not act as Saddam Hussein, that is only painful for those who live within that poor mislead country of Hungary.

But keep your hats on. Democratic Governments usually are in and out voted, dictators fall. Not all of them are executed, some just fall, some deserve and serve some time for what they acquired, but few are the dictators who remain popular after they fall.

What will happen to Mr Orban I cannot tell, but having never worked and being rich, being controversial in his politics, having pocketed the pension funds and taken his son to the best place to view footy, etc. and not counting on what more he will do to ensure the dislike he so rightly deserves, he will be gone in a few years’ time. I only hope that that his countrymen will not be hurt even more in the mean time.


Just a thought:

There might be interplay between the situation in Ukraine and Orban’s ‘acting out’.
If Orban’s under orders, he might be ‘outrageous-ing’ to take the focus off Russian
actions in eastern Ukraine…


It is astonishing to see, that most of the hungarians, the general population does not care, does not know and does not pay attention what is being decided about their lives, their children’s lives. They go to work, shop, watch the Formula 1 race or the water polo finals and go to bed afterwards. These careless people have less political awareness and understanding of basic human rights and basic laws, than many of the serfs and proletaries had in Russia, under the Tzars. At least those Russian people were able to organize a successful revolution. The Hungarians too, on paper, they will put up posters, Hungary Produces Better Revolutions.


Hi, Gybognarjr, I agree with the first half of your comment, but when did Hungry produced a better revolution? Was it 1848. 1919 or 1956?


I wrote: “The Hungarians too, ON PAPER, they will put up posters, Hungary Produces Better Revolutions.”
They produce better revolutions, the same way as they produce everything better. Plastering big advertising signs all over, which states, (without any proof) that Hungary Produces Better. (Magyarország Jobban Teljesít)


London Calling!

President Thug……….here we come!




“Radical Islamists are the ones who claim that liberal democracy is full of corruption, sex, and violence. Viktor Orbán is now joining their ranks.”

Hamas, Fidesz dwa bratanki i do bitki, i do szklanki!

TGM is wrong. People demand Orban and want even more of his ideas. Jobbik’s voters, who act as a giant reserve for Orban’s Fidesz want an even more illiberal state. Most people hate democracy, because among others if everybody has one vote then “way too many gipsies will vote whose votes are purchased by the communists and all the mindless pensioners will vote for those who raise their pensions”. Note that Jobbik’s voters are generally younger than Fidesz’ and more likely to hold jobs or at least would like to have one and feel that all the pensions are just a method to purchase votes. So why oh why would people ever rise up when Orban just reflects what 90% of the people want? He is a mirror. A good politician, who says what people want to hear. People are done with democracy and liberalism which only mean in their eyes relentless fight for gay rights and the gipsies, but also means closing down all the jobs orderly white folk had and with which they could keep their status above the gipsies. And the left want more of these tendencies. I am hearing ever more often from people under 40… Read more »
D7 Democrat

“All those 600,000 Hungarians working in the west, are exactly like the Hungarians in Hungary: love Fidesz, if not, then they love Jobbik and – in every case – emphatically hate the liberals/communists. ”

“All”? “in every case”? 100%?

Well, another 600,000 voting for the fascist regime would have cemented Orban as Fuhrer for the rest of his natural.

But if Our Chief Shepherd believed that every single one of that 600,000, as you are claiming, support Fidesz/Jobbik he sure made it damn hard for them to vote in the last election. Why was that do you think?

What has changed after this speech, and is recognised by the right-wing press (as evidenced by their inability or unwillingness to address it), is that Orbán has finally stopped pretending to be something other than what he is, ideologically speaking. This is important and may have great ramifications in relations with other countries and, especially, the EU. Up to now, the EPP and other conservatives could argue that Orbán is one of them, a democrat, and whatever else he does is just going to excess. The line between an avowed democrat and a dictator can be thin, depending on a few key pronouncements. Putin still pays lip service to democracy, in order to keep up appearances both domestically and abroad, and Orbán does, too, but our dictator crossed a line with this speech that I think will be hard to uncross. This goes to show that Orbán does not have absolute power, though he may have finally decided to ignore that reality and say what he likes. There are enough Hungarian democrats remaining to support a bloodless revolution, which is enough that throwing off the mask of liberal democracy could very well provoke a backlash. What would definitely provoke a… Read more »
London Calling! googly: ……………..”or if DK can rehabilitate Gyurcsány’s image, perhaps there’s hope. I personally hope for a totally new, centrist party of committed good-government pragmatists, but I am just a dreamer.” Not a dreamer, googly. But a long term plan is needed. Probably a very long term plan. But the sooner it gets under way the better. Gy (or the new leader of the MSZP) needs to put in place a long-term strategy laying out a long-term manifesto. Firstly and most importantly he must decide how to rebalance the power between the generations: he needs to lay out a young-people strategy for the future. And have a campaign Come Back Home to show he means business. He then needs to lay out how he will rejuvenate the economy; re-mandate the banks; and improve the standard of living. Just the start. But he needs to mentor a team of capable young people who will slowly and inexorably win back power and fight for a fairer more representative electorate. There will be battles lost along the way – and only slowly will the tide turn. Sometimes the ‘team’ will want to give up. But that’s politics. It’s very often just being… Read more »
I think we need to careful that we are not carried away by the general hysteria here. Hungary may not be a fully-functioning ‘liberal’ democracy like most in the West (but not all – the US and the UK, for instance), but it is still a democracy in its basic elements. The basic structure of the governing elite being voted in (or out) by the people still exists. It has been tampered with and gerrymandered, but Orbán’s power and legitimacy is still dependent on the support of the people. It is unlikely that he will be voted out of power in the near to medium future, but the important thing is he still could be. And if we consider democracy in its original definition – the power (or will) of the people – it is arguable that Hungary is very much a democracy, as Orbán undoubtedly represents the will of the majority of the people who voted. We may not like what he is doing and may not like the way elections are run, but no one who lives in Hungary would seriously deny that Orbán has the support of the majority of the people. (I am not counting those… Read more »


“…But he needs to mentor a team of capable young people…”

Sorry, Charlie, that’s just a pipe dream. He’s not a mentoring type…or, if he is/was, why didn’t he mentor Laszlo Bogdan?



I think Gy has not yet realised that the game is up for him – that’s why I suggested that the new leader of the MSzP might be the one.

Slowly the mentored ‘team’ has to distance itself from the ‘elder statespeople’ but not so that it looks as if it is only looking after the younger voter!

And it would need a new name too – very carefully chosen.

But if gifted economics students, politics and history grads, and lawyers on the one hand; together with indigenous successful entrepreneurs – and capable returnees on the other – formed a political party in the right balance of skills. Then Hungary could be on the right long-term path.

And I mean long term.

It would harness all the powers of the internet and social media – the only way to bypass Orban’s media stranglehold.

And it would be of its time.

Hungary still has a long way to go before the internet is part of daily life as it is in some western countries.

Gy’s (?) mentored team will slowly mature with the increase of the internet and social media which it will have fully harnessed.

As I said – of its time.



Who thinks that a Come Back Home campaign would be successful? I have just read that according to accurate statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions in the UK 1.4 million Hungarians possess a National Insurance number and in March 2014 1,020,000 Hungarians have actually paid NI contributions, thus establishing the fact that over 1 million Hungarians work in the UK presently. In what century and on what planet do you live for believeing that ANY campaign would bring these people home? Never mind if they are economic migrants or left on ideological grounds, or possibly both! If you want a considerable portion of this million (and those that are in other countries) to return, they have to feel affinity with what is happening. I cannot see that happening until a stable, democratic and peaceful country is established. I’m afraid I am one of those people, whose numbers are increasing all the time, who believe that only fundamental and revolutionary change can establish a society like that. As I wrote in yesterday’s comments this morning, thus probably nobody read it, it is not the bottom 4 million who are going to revolt, but the silent majority. Those people who… Read more »

I’d be very interested to see where you found these statistics Jgrant and how they arrived at these figures. If you added this supposed 1 million to those in Germany and Austria, Hungary would be empty and it clearly lsn’t. And if 25% of the working population is not paying contributions in Hungary, surely that would show up in the Hungarian statistics.

Yes, lots of Hungarians abroad but 10% in the UK now, nonsense

JGrant! Don’t hold back say what you mean! You quote the current statistics in just one country. But even if it was a small percentage, it would be a significant number – just from England. We are talking about the slow turn of the long term wheel. You say that many Hungarians yearn for ” …… a stable, democratic and peaceful country ….”. These are hardly the people you can rely on for your revolution. Whilst my partner hates Hungary for what it has become – and declares she will never return to live there apart from holiday visits, many of her aquaintances are planning to milk the host country dry and return to their mortgage-paid house for retirement. Many young people here (in England) are just treading water – the wages they earn are just keeping them afloat and have – or are – failed/failing. They find it impossible to save. They don’t want to return home a failure. However you are correct that many who have become established here will not return. We have just received a big thank you email from a woman we helped to come to England. She has just brought her husband and three… Read more »

Btw spare us the Marxist bollocks – dialectical materialism is as distant from this discussion as my Hungarian village is from South London (1700kms).


OT According some Hungarian online magazines the Freedom Square Monument’s eagle is actually not Germany’s Eagle, but Hungary’s Turul, at least according to some ornithologists.
I went ahead as not to rely only the photos that put on for illustrations to one of the articles. They are right! The “eagle” is the turul! I think most of us only got the explanation of the monument wrong.
The monument is about the Hungarian Turul that attacks the innocent Hungarians. I think someone should put out a huge sign in a few languages, and then I think we can live with the monument as it is (even though it is very ugly).

The beak of the monument’s eagle (check out the curve of the upper beak’s bottom, and the nostril):comment image
The Saker Falcon (Turul):comment image?NodeProperty=SizeLarge
Eagle:comment image
Eagle (Reichsadler) representations on the symbols of Germany:


Thanks for the very interesting discussion – I really hope that the optimists are right …

A bit OT:

On the story of Orbán and Cameron not wanting Juncker’s election as EU president there appeared a bitter satirical article by Maxim Biller (a well known Jewish German journalist) in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on July 20th (the day of the failed coup against Hitler). An excerpt for those who can read German:



Zuerst waren nur die Ungarn gegen Karfunkelstein als neuen EU-Chef. “Wie soll jemand mit einem solchen Namen und diesem Mundgeruch die weltweite Finanzkrise stoppen?”, sagte der ungarische Ministerpräsident bei der Einweihung des neuen Horthy-Denkmals in Buda. “Und was wird sein Onkel Sally aus Brooklyn sagen, wenn Karfunkelstein wegen der vielen Termine keine Zeit mehr hat, zehnmal am Tag mit ihm zu telefonieren und ihm mit Brüsseler Insidertipps bei seinen schmutzigen Aktiengeschäften zu helfen?” Nach der mitreißenden …

I’m sorry, but the whole article is behind a paywall – very expensive, so I was lucky that my brother in law brought it to me on his visit to Hungary …



Google translate gives this:

“First were only the Hungarians against Karfunkelstein as new EU foreign policy chief. “How can someone with such a name and stop this bad breath, the global financial crisis?” Said the Hungarian Ministerprä”

So we get the gist!

Interesting – Thanks.





The Turul is based on the falcon or the red kite!

Here is a more representative version of the Turul in Buda…

comment image

As you probably know, when you drive into Budapest the Turul is sitting high on the cliff ready to prey on you!

comment image

If Orban’s monstrosity was the Turul surely it would have St Stephen’s crown on it too? ( Just like Tatabanya’s.)

No. The original concept as described by the artist and confirmed by the commissioning committee was that it is the German Eagle representing Germany – however desperate a representation of a whatever bird it is.

Nice try! And probably tongue in cheek. Pull the other one!



@Paul I’m afraid that well-meaning, western educated people just can’t fathom the far-reaching, all-encompassing chicanery of the Hungarian mind. First off, voting does not a democracy make. Stalin’s quip on democracy is valid: “It’s not about the voting, it’s who counts the votes.” Let’s not even begin on the lack of transparency that Viktor has introduced into the voting process. That opposition parties exist doesn’t mean a thing either: Hungarian politicians can (and have been) bought a dime-a-dozen. No one can convince me that Mesterhazy was on the level. What’s more, the limited opposition media are allowed just to muddy the waters and to give the verisimilitude of ‘active opposition’. It isn’t so. As with ATV, they’re marginalized. (ATV is only seen in Budapest now; or on the internet.) And finally: “…an exaggerated, hysterical reaction about ‘the death of democracy’ isn’t going to help anyone except Orbán.” Not so. The people must bring the state to a halt. I can’t see how, or who would lead it…but if it isn’t done soon the consequences will be considerably more dire. And as for ‘helping Viktor’, he already has the Catholic Church, and Putin in the background. What more would he need?
Viktor Lazlo
How could the left wing win a majority in the Parliament (that is under the current rules, of course, if it was even remotely realistic that the left could win, Fidesz would just change the election rules)? (see link below). The left (the united left, not the divided ever arguing left) would have to win in places where no leftist party could win in the last twenty years. [SZDSZ, when it was rabidly anti-communist and its liberal tendencies were unclear could win in 1990 in some such places, but in most such places people realized pretty soon that they don’t actualy like ‘urban jews’ talking about modernization and the acceptance of capitalism, so since 1994 no such modernizing/progressive/liberal party could even touch about half of Hungary. Inm those parts of the country, it is not a choice to be right wing/conservative as some scientist would have us believe, it’s a dead serious family/identity matter.] For the uninitiated, there is just no way a leftist or liberal party could ever win in Western-Hungary or Bács-Kiskun or district XII, to name but a few such places. It is check-mate. Forget the left, it is over. Fidesz is here to stay. The left… Read more »

CharlieH, Some1: regarding the Reichsadler. I agree that the Reichsadler on the statue is definitely not German. I first thought is was Pruissian, but changed my mind when I saw the Austria Adler heraldry. The main difference is the beak. The German one is red, and the Austrian one is gold. The one on the monument is gold, and therefore, Austrian.


Eva if there is a link to LMP’s András Schiffer’s analysis of the speech could you post it? All I have found are brief references.

@D7 Democrat Orban acts like a good, cautious, a tad paranoid lawyer. And he knows he can’t have everything at once. There just isn’t enough information for him to be absolutely sure that those 600k people are fideszniks or what? Since he did not especially need those votes as his Transylvania/Voivodina machinery operated perfectly (and mind you, that machinery is still being continuously updated, its efficiency will only increase over time, while the left’s efforts were suspended right after April) and he knew anyway owned Hungary. Plus there are just too many countries, towns where Hungarians live now, his GOTV machinery could not operate there effectively. In Romania/Serbia Fidesz used the existing infrastructure of the local Hungarian organizations, you don’t have those in the UK or Germany or Austria. I am not saying that 100% of the 600k immigrants are Fidesz voters, but I do think that just like in Hungary, 2/3s of those are right wingers, thus fidesz and increasingly jobbik voters, with a conservative mindset and with an active and unforgiving hatred of the left (they hate the local liberals/leftist parties where they now live, who encourage the immigration of dark people, more gays etc.). Given the current… Read more »