In the last few weeks several analyses have appeared predicting a change of government, perhaps even before 2018 when under normal circumstances the next regularly scheduled national election would be held. A year ago most commentators foresaw a very long period dominated by Viktor Orbán, who is after all only 51 years old. They pointed out the weakness of the opposition and the practically impenetrable edifice the regime managed to create. But things seem to be changing. There is a strong feeling among certain political observers that the Orbán government’s current problems can no longer be remedied by ad hoc measures aimed at turning public sentiment back toward Fidesz and its regime. Something fundamental went wrong. Observers suggest that there may be a direct connection between the Simicska-Orbán falling-out and signs of the impending collapse of the regime.
The most interesting analysis of the current political situation comes from Attila Ágh, a professor of political science, who is certain that “the fall of Orbán is nearing.” His approaching political demise would explain “the hasty and self-damaging decisions by his associates and advisers in which it is not difficult to discern the hysterical signs of an aging dictator’s last days.” A transition phase has begun. The question is how long this period will last. “What will happen before Orbán fails not only in people’s souls but also in politics?”
The Simicska-Orbán system
According to Ágh, the “Orbán regime already collapsed on April 7, 2014, a day after the victory achieved by the complicated system of subtle fraud, and since then we have been seeing only the regime’s last agony.” On that day Viktor Orbán and Lajos Simicska ended their quarter-century cooperation, which was the most important pillar of the whole Orbán system. Ágh is convinced that “the system was built by Simicska, in which the authoritarian world of the economy, the media, and politics fit snugly, with engineering precision.” Orbán, by throwing the engineer overboard, “smashed the system that had worked relatively well during the four years of the second Orbán government.” According to this interpretation, with which I sympathize, without Simicska the system cannot be maintained.
Many political observers write off Simicska’s quarrel with Orbán as simple greed. According to this scenario, Orbán no longer wanted to cut Simicska into his business deals. Simicska was not going to get a piece of the action in building Paks II’s two new nuclear reactors and he was sore. I have never shared this view. I am convinced that Lajos Simicska’s anti-Russian sentiments are genuine. But Ágh takes another speculative step. He argues that Simicska “did not want to follow Orbán in further building the still half-finished dictatorship. Not only the billions of Közgép fell out with Orbán; the two men parted ways somewhere at the dividing line between managed democracy and hard-core autocracy.” Admittedly, a brave claim, but one that I don’t think is far-fetched.
In the rest of his article Ágh outlines possible ways the Orbán regime’s agony might end. He finds a palace revolution against “the dear leader” unlikely. Insiders are “timid and helpless” since they are no longer accustomed to independent thinking and action. The outcome that Ágh considers most likely is an implosion, “chaos as a result of an internecine war of the Fidesz overlords,” which may last for a long time because in an autocracy there is no real “second man.”
All in all, in Ágh’s opinion, Viktor Orbán “is writing his own obituary day after day.” The opposition should help him “shorten his sufferings” because this is best not only for the country but also for the prime minister. In this way “future historians can compile a shorter list of his sins in the chronicles of the twenty-first century.”
Oh, yes, talking about history. Another commentator, Péter Techet, also mulled over Orbán’s place in history books. He has been in power long enough that scholars will spend considerable time debating his historical role. Techet thinks that only four Hungarian politicians of the last century have been recognized outside of the country as important political figures: Miklós Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi, Mátyás Rákosi, and János Kádár. Although he doesn’t want to compare Orbán to either Szálasi or Rákosi, he asks: “What can Orbán be proud of? Nothing.” And then one by one Techet describes Viktor Orbán’s political failures.
Although in the last few months the Fidesz leadership has been desperately trying “to buy” the love of wayward voters, my feeling is that the references to gigantic road construction projects, billions for every city in the next couple of years are empty rhetoric. I have the distinct impression that the country’s coffers are not exactly bulging. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, after reading about an interview with László L. Simon, the undersecretary in the prime minister’s office in charge of cultural matters, if the ambitious plan to create a “museum quarter” in Városliget, one of the few green spaces on the Pest side of the capital, is shelved. Apparently, Viktor Orbán doesn’t like the buildings world-famous architects designed. My hunch is that this is just an excuse to postpone or scrap the project.
The European Union may finally be playing hardball with Hungary. The fact that, from day one, the European Commission refused to give any money for the M4 highway project, considering it unnecessary, might portend closer scrutiny of Hungarian proposals. Just today Orbán promised 50 billion forints to the city of Eger, including a four-lane highway. He also told the people of Sümeg that there will be enough money to complete the reconstruction of the Sümeg Castle. None of these projects can materialize without major financial help from the European Union. And if, for one reason or other, the money flow from Brussels stops or slows considerably, Viktor Orbán’s efforts to regain the trust of Hungarian voters will most likely be in vain.
Leaving the sinking ship?
In his article Attila Ágh wrote about “rats leaving the sinking ship” as one of the possible scenarios in the final stages of the Orbán government’s agony. Is it possible that the CEO of the company in charge of the Paks II project is one of the first of these “rats”? It was in 2012 that Sándor Nagy was appointed to head the company that handled the Hungarian side of the project. But today, late in the afternoon, 444.hu reported that Nagy had left Hungary and since April 7 has been working in the London office of WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators). His disappearance was sudden and unexplained. People familiar with the company and with Sándor Nagy’s role in it are baffled. Will we ever find out the reason? Unlikely. Unless one day we learn that the whole project has been abandoned.