Although Prime Minister Viktor Orbán most likely harbors a deep-seated antipathy toward the United States, he and his party have borrowed liberally from U.S. politics. Perhaps most important, they copied American campaign practices. The much criticized “Kubatov lists,” named after Gábor Kubatov, the successful Fidesz campaign manager, are an adaptation of door-to-door campaigns aimed at mobilizing the party’s electoral base. It is this kind of American-style campaigning that has been a key ingredient in Fidesz’s remarkable performance in national and local elections. And Fidesz normally hires American spin doctors every time they are in political trouble. Like now.
Another U.S. borrowing, again adapted to Hungarian circumstances, is Viktor Orbán’s “assessment of year” (évértékelő). It is normally delivered in February, hosted by an association whose activities are pretty well limited to organizing this event. This is the seventeenth time that Viktor Orbán addresses a crowd of invited guests. Everybody who is anybody in Fidesz circles is present on these occasions. Orbán delivers these speeches whether in office or in opposition.
The excitement preceding this annual event has subsided considerably over the years, and the content of the speeches has become correspondingly shallow. In the past Orbán was often interrupted by enthusiastic applause, but this time, just as last year, the audience was less appreciative. Orbán is good at keeping interest alive by telling a few jokes, which were still appreciated, but aside from the jokes the audience reacted positively to only a few of his announcements. One was “placing Hungary on the political map of Europe.” The other time his audience was fired up was when he called for a tightening of the ranks of the political right by gathering everyone under one flag (egy a tábor, egy a zászló). This is a slogan Orbán often uses when he urges his followers to fight harder for the success of Fidesz and his dreams.
The speech gave an account of the fantastic successes achieved in the last five years. I will leave a critique of his often false and/or misleading economic data to others. Here I will concentrate on some of the political aspects of the speech.
I suspected that Gábor G. Fodor’s “analysis” of Viktor Orbán’s Machiavellian political philosophy–that “polgári Magyarország” is “simply a political product”–would be received with great dismay in the Fidesz leadership. But it looks as if G. Fodor caused an even deeper wound than I thought. Both Zoltán Balog, president of the host organization and minister of human resources, and Viktor Orbán spent a considerable amount of time trying to refute G. Fodor’s contention. Both men emphasized that the ideal of “polgári Magyarország” is a core value in Fidesz’s political philosophy. They believe in “polgári, national, and Christian governance.” Balog expressed his fear that these “too clever by half” analysts will mislead the true believers. Viktor Orbán picked up on the theme at the very beginning of his speech, expressing his opinion that these analysts will not be able to “confuse people” because “our flag flies high and everybody can see that our lodestar is the idea of “polgári Magyarország.” G. Fodor’s unthinking slip hurt deeply and is being taken seriously because many people believe, not without reason, that he is telling the truth.
It was expected that Orbán would talk about his foreign policy strategy since it is widely believed that his moves in the last year or so have led the country into isolation. Some people argued that Orbán, especially after the debacle in Warsaw, would realize that he cannot straddle East and West and will have to choose. Well, as far as I can see, Orbán will continue his policies. He repeated his worn-out ideas about a world that had become so fundamentally different after 2008 that the old methods of economics, politics, and diplomacy no longer worked. The European leaders have no answers for these problems. Hungary, however, has its own solutions. He will lead Hungary into a secure position in an insecure world. He has developed a “new foreign policy doctrine.” In fact, Hungarians “already live in a future that others are only trying to reach.” I do hope that those who mistakenly thought that Viktor Orbán would abandon his destructive, dangerous foreign policy will realize that the double game between Russia and the West will continue unabated.
At the end of the speech he felt compelled to say something about the loss of the electoral district in Veszprém County, which shook even the most loyal commentators. The right-wing papers ran editorials in which they urged the party leadership to change course. They claimed that the behavior of the most important government and party leaders is repugnant to the electorate. The party has to do something about corruption and rein in the high living of people like János Lázár, Péter Szijjártó, and Antal Rogán. Moreover, there are just too many recent government decisions that irritate people. Something must be done.
The editorials in right-wing papers fell on deaf ears. No change in governance is necessary, the prime minister said. The only task is “to fight harder” because the party faithful has to prevent the socialists from unseating Fidesz. After all, the socialists were the ones who “stole the country blind.” He and his followers believed that after achieving such a great victory the second time around last year “peaceful times were coming,” but it was just a dream. The opposition will wage a continuous “negative campaign” for the next three years. One must “fight for the polgári Magyarország every day.” And instead of his customary “Hajrá Magyarország, hajrá magyarok!” (which means something like “to the finish Hungary, to the finish Hungarians”) this time he ended with “Good morning Hungary, good morning Hungarians!” This was a meant as a wake-up call. He is determined to convince his followers, former and present, that the fight will be worth it.