The Hungarian media is full of speculations about Viktor Orbán’s decision to shake up the Prime Minister’s Office, which is a monster of a ministry with as many as 740 employees at last count. The modest office Viktor Orbán inherited has grown enormously in the last five years or so. The number of its employees, believe it or not, has increased eightfold, and that is not the end of it.
In addition to the Prime Minister’s Office (Miniszterelnökség), a new ministry was just created, ostensibly for “political coordination.” It is apparent, however, that this new ministry, under the direction of Antal Rogán who until now was the head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, will be a “propaganda ministry.” Not only anti-government media outlets and opposition politicians call it that; even János Lázár does. And he ought to know. Having a propaganda ministry, even if it’s called something else, brings to mind such unsavory examples as Nazi Germany’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the Soviet Union’s Department for Agitation and Propaganda, China’s Central Propaganda Department, and Fascist Italy’s Ministry of Popular Culture. Orbán is continuing his march toward a one-party state inside the European Union. Quite a feat.
I don’t like to speculate about the reasons for personnel changes because we know very little about the complex political and personal relationships in high Fidesz and government circles. But, given the strictly hierarchical structure of Fidesz and the Orbán government, we can safely assume that the most coveted positions are those closest to Viktor Orbán since all important decisions are made by the prime minister. Although stories circulated about Rogán’s desire to be a member of the government one day, I think we can safely say that it was Viktor Orbán who decided that the work of András Giró-Szász, undersecretary in charge of communication in the Prime Minister’s Office, was not effective enough. Here I’m not relying on rumor but am simply quoting János Lázár again, who today made the off-the-cuff, cutting remark that “here is now the opportunity for a new team in the ministry of propaganda and information to show that they can do an even better job than András [Giró-Szász] did.”
I’m somewhat baffled why Viktor Orbán thinks the government’s current propaganda is not satisfactory and he needs another ministry to take over. The latest opinion polls indicate that Fidesz’s popularity, as a result of the government’s anti-refugee propaganda, has bounced back. The hate campaign worked. Whatever we might think of the method, it was successful politically. The propaganda machine has been working faultlessly ever since April of this year. So why set up an entirely new ministry now?
I suspect that Antal Rogán has something to do with the current anti-immigration campaign. We know from Antal Rogán himself that the first time the possibility of his move into the prime minister’s office in some capacity was discussed was in late April. It was about the same time that the Orbán government decided to send out questionnaires inquiring, with leading questions, into the population’s views on immigration. It was in June that the huge billboards in Hungarian told the migrants how to behave and how not to behave in the country. All this leads me to believe that there is a good likelihood that it was Rogán who came up with the step-by-step game plan for the anti-migrant campaign. Hence Orbán’s decision to entrust communication/ propaganda to him. Success builds on success.
The Hungarian media is portraying Orbán’s decision to move Rogán over to the Prime Minister’s office as a typical Machiavellian move on the part of Orbán. The prime minister thinks, they argue, that János Lázár has far too much power and lately has become something of a media star with his lengthy Thursday press conferences. Journalists point out that Orbán makes sure that no one person acquires too much power, which might eventually threaten his position. Hence, he is playing Rogán off against Lázár. In addition, there are stories going around that the two men dislike each other, which Lázár denied a couple of days ago.
Quite independently of whether there’s personal animosity between the two men or not, the fact is that the original plan to have Rogán in the Prime Minister’s Office as a kind of chief-of-staff tasked with “political coordination” wouldn’t have worked. As Lázár pointed out, there must be one and only person who takes responsibility for the work done in the office. In fact, Lázár threatened to resign if Rogán joined his ministry. Since Orbán didn’t want to lose Lázár, he was ready for a compromise. Headlines in certain papers saying that “Orbán wouldn’t mind if Lázár quit” were, in my opinion, figments of journalistic imagination. Lázár is too important a man in the administration. If he quit today, the whole government would be in disarray, perhaps for months. Orbán was in a quandary. He needed Lázár but he also wanted Rogán’s alleged skill as a propagandist. Hence a new ministry for Rogán.
This new ministry will be in charge of all communication. Rogán will be the boss of all the communication workers, whether in the government or in Fidesz. And there are many, including Giró-Szász’s team of twenty men and women in the Prime Minister’s Office, who will be subordinated from here on to Antal Rogán’s ministry.
In this shakeup, although Lázár eventually decided to stay, Giró-Szász resigned, despite the offers he received from Rogán and Lázár. He had the luxury of picking up his hat and leaving since he is a very rich man. His salary in the Prime Minister’s Office is chump change. The reason for this decision? He obviously didn’t want to work for Rogán, whether for personal, structural, or, perhaps the main determinant, political (even a smidgen of ethical?) reasons.
It is very hard to know what goes on behind the scenes in the Orbán empire because those who are close to the boss are very tight-mouthed. They know that what counts above all is personal loyalty, which means agreement with Orbán on all issues. They know that the prime minister’s political longevity trumps every other consideration. We can now wait with morbid curiosity to see how Rogán’s ministry ensures that Orbán remains in power for twenty years.