Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, a “political scientist” known for his unwavering loyalty to Viktor Orbán, published an analysis of the prime minister’s speech in Tasnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad. Most commentators found Orbán’s performance there of little interest because this time he was very careful not to repeat the kind of mistake he made a year earlier when international reaction to his “illiberal” speech was extremely negative. Mráz, on the other hand, discovered great, not-so-hidden meanings in Orbán’s latest speech. According to Mráz, Orbán’s speech offers “a right-wing alternative” to the current ideas of the left concerning the future of Europe. Surely, after this speech no one can accuse the Hungarian prime minister of being anti-European Union. By calling for vigorous defense of “European culture” and “European nations,” he outlined the essence of a future European policy: “A strong Union” and the “defense of national sovereignty.” This policy, Mráz added, bears a strong resemblance to Charles De Gaulle’s vision of Europe. “De Gaulle is the model,” “Orbán is the new De Gaulle.”
To read all this into the speech is an exercise in fantasy because, although it is true that Orbán made a fleeting reference to Gaullism when he said that “looking at our continent from this perspective, we Hungarians are Europe’s Gaullists,” it is far-fetched to assume that Orbán was offering “a right-wing alternative” in any shape or form to current thinking on the future of the Union. Most of this, I’m afraid, is only in Mráz’s imagination.
Every time that Fidesz loyalists compare their idol to a politician who is considered to be a truly important historical figure, as Charles De Gaulle certainly was, critics have a field day. Even the more moderate right, Ákos Balogh of Mandiner for example, found the comparison “a strong and tasteless exaggeration.” A more detailed analysis by Péter Techet accused Mráz of misunderstanding Gaullism and suggested a better comparison: Napoleon III, who “relying on the majority destroyed the parliamentary republic in order to introduce a plebeian dictatorship.” Or a comparison to Mussolini, whose”vision” was limited to holding on to power at any cost, would have been more apt.
It wasn’t only Mráz who noticed the sentence in which Viktor Orbán uttered De Gaulle’s name. Attila Seres, a journalist who wrote an op/ed piece in Népszabadság a few days after the speech was delivered, was also struck by the phrase, but his reaction was very different from that of Mráz. Seres noted that in Orbán’s speeches the turn of phrase “we Hungarians” usually means “I, Viktor Orbán,” and therefore the comparison is really between himself and Charles De Gaulle. The first thought that popped into Seres’s head was a comparison between a mouse and an elephant. De Gaulle was certainly a French nationalist with a huge ego who at times made the other members of the European Union miserable, but he had great faith in a “Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains which will determine the future of the world.” Compare that, said Seres, to Viktor Orbán’s description of Europe. De Gaulle also kept equal distance from the United States and the Soviet Union. Compare that to Orbán’s foreign policy toward Russia.
Tibor Várkonyi, the grand old man of Hungarian journalism and a lover of everything French, was naturally outraged at the very idea of comparing Orbán, “a political manipulator,” to De Gaulle, the creator of the Fifth Republic. Viktor Orbán is only trying to appropriate sole responsibility for the Hungarian Third Republic. De Gaulle was the real creator of a new order. The title of his piece is “Őrmester úr” (Monsieur le caporal), who is being compared by Mráz to the general.
Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of MSZP and nowadays a witty commentator on the political scene, in addition to the usual objections to a comparison between the two men, also called attention to the fact that “De Gaulle during his political career did not increase his wealth…. After his resignation he didn’t accept benefits he was entitled to as president and as general. He lived modestly and the family eventually was forced to sell his estate where no football stations or train tracks were built.”
The funny thing is that it looks as if most people seem to have forgotten that this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán was compared to Charles De Gaulle in the media. It was in April 2013 that Yves-Michel Riols, a highly respected French journalist, wrote an article in Le Monde titled “La posture gaullienne de Viktor Orban.” According to Riols, “all the ingredients of Gaullism are present [in Orbán’s career], including resistance to occupiers, triumphant return to power, and ambition to break with the discredited old order.”
This admiring article was not left unanswered. A few days later an article appeared in Causeur titled “Viktor Orbán, un nouveau De Gaulle? Un nain face à un géant.” Not nice: a dwarf facing a giant in a moral sense, according to the author. In his opinion, De Gaulle must be turning over in his grave. The obviously left-leaning anonymous author lists a host of Orbán’s sins, from the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy to the introduction of a flat tax that is hard on the poorer strata of society. Orbán, unlike De Gaulle, does not respect the rule of law. In brief, the comparison is outrageous.
Soon enough letters to the editor written by outraged readers appeared in Le Monde itself. There were letters in which Orbán was compared to Ceausescu. Others simply called him an autocrat. One letter described him as a right-wing Chavez in the middle of Europe. A Frenchman who wrote from Hungary, where he had been living for years, said that “as a Frenchman I’m ashamed of this article.”
Hungarian commentators were not really surprised about the appearance of Riols’ article. After all, Orbán called De Gaulle his model already in 2012 in Brussels after a session of the European Parliament that dealt with the Hungarian situation. So, I suspect that the original source of the comparison is Viktor Orbán himself. We have always known that he is a very humble man. After all, he himself told us so.