In 2005 Péter Popper (1933-2010), a psychologist, university professor, and publicist whose writings I greatly admired, wrote a psychological portrait of Viktor Orbán. He admitted that he had serious reservations about psychoanalyzing someone he had never met. In addition, he freely acknowledged that he didn’t like Viktor Orbán. But why then did he decide to write this portrait?
He began his explanation by telling a story about a movie hero in an American war film who is transformed from a scrawny, bespectacled, awkward youngster into a fearless leader of his troops because, after seeing what remained of the concentration camps, he “became angry at them.” Popper decided to write because he became very angry with Viktor Orbán and his former college friends. By now there are a lot of Hungarians who are also very angry and who found this brilliant essay by Popper perhaps even more timely now than it was in 2005. So, this 10-year-old essay began circulating again online.
“The name of Viktor Orbán has become a symbol for me. The symbol of the still deeper political depravity of a country with eighty years of moral turpitude behind it.” Popper nonetheless predicted that “we will see him one day on the side of the road as a cast-away piece of stone.” There are signs that Orbán’s “time” might be closer than some think. Perhaps a sense of panic about his impending political demise is responsible for Orbán’s erratic political decisions of late.
If we can believe the speculations offered by the Hungarian media, all of Orbán’s political ideas come from Árpád Habony, a man about whom we know practically nothing. He is Orbán’s chief political adviser with no official title. His lifestyle suggests considerable wealth, but the Hungarian public knows nothing about the source of his opulence. The general belief is that it was Habony who came up with the idea of lowering utility costs, which in a miraculously short time turned Fidesz’s lagging popularity into a huge electoral victory in April 2014. So, the argument goes, Orbán now has total trust in Habony’s extraordinary political intuitions and follows his advice without the slightest hesitation.
Of course, we have no idea how much influence anyone among his very small circle of advisers and politicians has on Orbán’s political moves, but there is one thing I’m pretty much convinced of: he doesn’t share his thoughts with the top party leadership. I’m almost sure that he wouldn’t have the unanimous support of Fidesz bigwigs to combat Jobbik by adopting more and more of their ideas. I’m pretty confident that some of the saner voices in the party would point out to him that Fidesz’s strategy vis-à-vis Jobbik has failed. Adopting half of Jobbik’s party program hasn’t resulted in weakening Fidesz’s far-right opponent. In fact, in the last year or so, as a result of the growing unpopularity of the government party, Jobbik has gained ground. So, moving along the same path makes no sense whatsoever. And yet, it seems, Orbán has opted to do just that.
Viktor Orbán, who has been frequently pestered by reporters about Habony’s role in the decision to conduct a “national consultation” on immigration, on one occasion blurted out that he is the only one who is responsible for whatever happens in his government and that he takes full responsibility for everything he does. For example, for that vicious questionnaire that will further poison the minds of Hungarians. One cannot blame the evil adviser who whispers morally unacceptable thoughts into the great man’s ears. The idea of the questionnaire or his latest brainstorm to reintroduce the death penalty might originally have come from Habony, but it is Orbán who decided that his problems can be solved by moving farther toward the extreme right.
Of course, the rationale behind Orbán’s thinking is that by raising the specter of African blacks and Syrian terrorists his wayward supporters will return to the fold. And if you add the death penalty, which the weak-kneed European Union forbids, the love affair between the prime minister and Fidesz voters will be restored. At least this is what he believes. I think he is too optimistic. Something has been broken, and the shattered pieces cannot be glued together. Especially since the prime minister of a member state of the European Union cannot make unilateral decisions here. He cannot develop anti-immigration strategies tailored for Hungary, and he cannot introduce the death penalty unless he wants to take his country out of the European Union.
The most servile flunkies, like the newly reappointed leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation Antal Rogán, already rushed to Orbán’s rescue by claiming that capital punishment can be the subject of negotiations between a member state and Brussels. He also falsely asserted that the current law is illegitimate because the Hungarian people had no opportunity to vote on the death penalty. He claimed that it was the Constitutional Court that decided the issue. As usual, only a small part of the statement is true. Yes, in 1990 the Constitutional Court instructed the government to delete the article on capital punishment from the Criminal Code because it was deemed unconstitutional. But then, in 1993, parliament did vote on the issue. Orbán wasn’t present, but the nine Fidesz members of parliament all voted against capital punishment. In 2004 there was another occasion when the Hungarian parliament voted on a law that reaffirmed the abolishment of capital punishment. Antal Rogán himself was present and voted for it.
Even as the prime minister incites the population to hatred and vengeance, he continues his trips to the larger cities of the country, promising them pie in the sky. Pécs was the most recent stop on his “Modern Cities Program” tour, another attempt to bolster the popularity of the government. Népszava‘s article bore the title: “Pécs, the land of milk and honey,” which of course was meant ironically. The city is in terrible economic shape, and soon enough the government is planning to locate an “atomic cemetery” for spent nuclear material “in its backyard.” Near one of the most beautiful cities in the country and a former cultural center of Europe. According to the latest estimates, Pécs is unlikely to vote for Fidesz at the next election. No promises of another sports center and a couple of new roads will make an impression there. Even in 2014 it was touch and go.