Viktor Orbán, although he tries to act as if all were well, is in a political fix. He desperately wants to regain his lost voters but doesn’t know how. He is still casting about for a viable method.
A couple of months ago he indicated that from here on Fidesz will focus on the hard-working ordinary Joe (a keményen dolgozó kisember) only to change his tune when he decided that, after all, Fidesz wants to return to the original idea of a “bourgeois” Hungary.
Then came the immigrant issue, which looked like a sure-fire thing, but since most Hungarians don’t encounter immigrants from far-away places the initial hate campaign fell flat. But Fidesz strategists think that the issue of immigration still offers great benefits; it just needs re-enforcement. Soon enough huge billboards will be scattered around the country to make sure that Hungarians will be fired up against foreigners in general. As Magyar Narancs aptly put it: “Orbán’s message is ‘hate and be afraid, so I can defend you.'”
Two days ago Viktor Orbán gave an interview to Napi Gazdaság in which there were a few sentences that caught the eye of the Budapest reporters of Reuters, and because so many papers subscribe to this wire service the news appeared in almost all the larger foreign newspapers. Here I give my own translation of the passage.
Multiculturalism is finished, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first to announce. Multiculturalism is the intermingling of different civilizations. It is a different thing when a country is composed of different nationality groups and cultures. That is not multiculturalism. Multiculturalism means the coexistence of people of different cultural backgrounds: Islam, Asian religions, and Christianity. We will do everything for Hungary to avoid this. We welcome investors, artists, and scientists from non-Christian countries, but we don’t want to mix with them on a large scale.
Actually, Orbán’s rather primitive description of multiculturalism is misleading. The United States has taken in an incredible number of immigrants over the years, but by the second or third generation these people are assimilated without the government making any serious efforts in this direction. In fact, bilingual schools had very mixed results and since have been largely abandoned. Assimilation is inevitable unless the central government fosters separation. Orbán seems to be talking about the policies of Germany, which indeed turned out to be a disaster. But, surely, there is a happy medium. Hungary needs immigrants, and the “intermingling” of ethnic groups with different cultural backgrounds has enormous benefits in the long run. Hungary’s history is full of such examples.
This interview about the evils of multiculturalism took place two days ago. Today, at a press conference held after his meeting with visiting Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Orbán declared that his government believes in cultural diversity and that “the variegation of our cultures is a gift of God.” I guess it would have been impolite to repeat that we don’t want “your kind” in our country.
Unfortunately that was not the only thing he said. Since he obviously wants to please certain politicians, he praises them and their country lavishly, quite independently of whether such praise is in order or whether it is, diplomatically speaking, proper. To call el-Sisi “the extraordinary leader of an extraordinary country” is over the top. El-Sisi was, in turn, taken with Viktor Orbán and congratulated the Hungarian people who were so wise as to elect such a man to lead the country. A mutual admiration society.
It is apparent from Ahram-Online, an Egyptian paper, that Orbán succeeded in his courting of the visitor. The Egyptians were impressed. They were happy to hear that “Cairo does not have to follow the western version of democracy” despite international concerns over Egypt’s human rights record. El-Sisi, who visited Germany earlier, encountered demonstrations there, and Angela Merkel was critical of the large number of death sentences handed out in Egypt since 2013. “In contrast, Prime Minister Victor Orban, who caused a furor recently by saying the death penalty, banned in the EU, needed to be ‘kept on the agenda’ … said Western ideals were not necessarily suited for everyone.” He stressed that “we are not professors of democracy … [and] we are glad that the Egyptian people are travelling down their own path,” adding that he hoped for their success.
Well, this was bad enough, but Orbán had a little surprise for the Hungarians as well. For some strange reason he felt compelled to make an allusion to el-Sisi’s military past and the military coup that removed the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi. But what he had to say was strange in more than one way. Here is the passage in question: “We are not averse to military men turned political leaders” because, he said, he remembers those times when “assertive soldiers took over power from us, civilian weaklings, in order to save the country.” He expressed his hope that Egypt will have as good an experience with soldiers as Hungary did.
The soldier Orbán had in mind cannot be anyone else but Admiral Miklós Horthy, governor of the autocratic regime during the interwar period. This was his first public admission that he and his regime find Horthy the savior of Hungary. Until now it was only Jobbik that wanted to “rehabilitate” Horthy. Every November 16 Jobbik celebrates the anniversary of Horthy’s entrance into Budapest in 1919. Perhaps from here on it can be Viktor Orbán who leads the white horse, an animal closely associated with the governor, along Béla Bartók Road, which bore the name of Horthy before 1945.
Jobbik scored again. Orbán, it seems, accepted another demand of Jobbik: the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy.