Viktor Orbán and women in politics

For about a week there has been a lot of talk about an informal conversation that took place in March between Viktor Orbán and the students living in the dormitory in which Fidesz was born 27 years ago., a popular internet site, has a complete audio recording of the talk. The editors published a detailed summary of what transpired between the prime minister and the students in two installments. The first part, which appeared on October 6, dealt with Viktor Orbán’s ambivalent feelings toward women in politics. It is a well-known fact that Viktor Orbán, and hence the Fidesz leadership, isn’t comfortable with women in political situations. Especially not when he has to deal with them on an equal footing. The only woman who ever served as a minister under Viktor Orbán was Ibolya Dávid, and her appointment was not of Orbán’s doing. It was forced upon him as the result of a coalition agreement. And we know how that relationship ended. Orbán swore that he would ruin her, and he has pretty well succeeded.

The other topic of the conversation was his own political future, about which I will write tomorrow.

Women in politics is a fashionable topic

This was the way Viktor Orbán introduced the topic. Some people claim that “women should be given more opportunity in political life.” The choice of words is significant. It would be men who as a gift would allow women to have more of a voice in politics. And for one reason or other Viktor Orbán decided against giving them this opportunity. The scarcity of women in parliament as well as in government is glaring. All of the ministers are men, and of the ten ministries there are no women undersecretaries in five. Of 61 undersecretaries only seven are women. In the 199-member parliament there are only 19 women, 9.5%. In the Fidesz parliamentary caucus the situation is even worse: only 7% are women.

Women are too delicate

Orbán tried to justify this state of affairs by referring to the unique nature of Hungarian politics. According to him, Hungarian politics is built on “continual character assassination,” which creates the kinds of brutal situations that “women cannot endure.” He neglected to add that this type of political culture, if you can call it that, was introduced by Viktor Orbán himself. In fact, he had the gall to bring up the horrible attacks that Mónika Lamperth (MSZP), minister of interior who was also in charge of the police between 2002 and 2006, suffered at the hands of the Fidesz opposition. He added, which really boggles the mind, “and still we are a more cultured lot according to our own estimation.” So, the character assassinations came only from MSZP and SZDSZ. An interesting view of the past few years.

Political savagery in Hungary and the United States

Hungarian politics can only be compared to that of the United States. Well, I guess if someone’s political adviser is Arthur J. Finkelstein, who is known as the father of negative campaigning and character assassination of political opponents, one’s view of American politics might be somewhat colored. Therefore, says Orbán, it is not at all surprising that there are very few female politicians in the United States.

None of these woman politicians are from Fidesz

None of these politicians is from Fidesz

The students did bring up a few well-known names, like Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, and Madeleine Albright. Orbán quickly put an end to this list when he announced that Albright’s tenure as secretary of state was a long time ago. So I guess it no longer counts.

Of course, the students most likely didn’t know how many women are in President Barack Obama’s cabinet because it is in stark contrast to Viktor Orbán’s governments. Out of the twenty cabinet posts seven are held by women. While in the Hungarian parliament the percentage of women is under 10%, in the United States it is 20%. Yes, not great, but still twice as large as in Hungary.

Desirable female politicians according to Viktor Orbán

During this gathering Viktor Orbán had a hard time coming up with any female Fidesz politicians worth talking about. When students, I gather young women, pointed out that perhaps the women’s perspective might be an important addition to politics, he enthusiastically agreed: “Of course, of course, of course.” But when it came to finding “talented Fidesz woman politicians,” he was in trouble. I must say I share his assessment. It is hard to understand this paucity of impressive female politicians in Orbán’s party, but I guess that one reason, perhaps the most important one, is that the macho Fidesz leadership doesn’t want independent, bright women in the inner sanctum of this male world. I just read in Bálint Magyar’s latest book, A magyar maffiaállam anatómiája (2015), that “before the 1994 elections Fidesz administered psychological tests to those running for parliamentary seats in order to filter out candidates that were too independent.” And that was more than twenty years ago when Fidesz didn’t have the kind of reputation it has today. If independently-minded people in general are not tolerated, one can imagine what the leadership thinks of such women. The leadership certainly doesn’t want to deal with them.

Most likely this aversion to working with women on an equal footing is the reason that such third- and fourth-rate women are appointed to positions of great responsibility, women who are incapable of doing a half-decent job. The best example here is Rózsa Hoffmann, who made an incredible mess of Hungarian education, mind you with the effective help of Viktor Orbán himself. But who was chosen to replace Hoffmann? Mrs. Czunyi, Judit Bertalan, a woman who reminds me very much of Hoffmann herself and whose year in office has been rocky. There have been rumors that Orbán is dissatisfied with her performance. But according to Orbán’s latest, she is a possible prospect for higher political office. “She is a very talented politician, not just among women, but in general.” I doubt that too many people share Orbán’s admiration of the woman. Perhaps she managed to capture Orbán’s heart with a Facebook note at the time of the national election last year: “Without a true companion even Viktor Orbán wouldn’t be capable of such achievements in the interest of the country, the Hungarian nation, and Hungarian families. Thank you, Anikó Lévai!” who is of course Orbán’s wife.

Women in diplomacy and local politics

The prime minister was madly looking for more prominent Fidesz women because he must have realized that there were mighty few. He found “one or two women in diplomacy.” In his opinion an ambassadorship is a safe position for these delicate women where they can build up their political personae and where they can gain political capital. These are positions where women “are not torn to pieces.”

After further scrounging, he came up with one larger city, Kecskemét, that has a woman mayor. “As you can see, the supply is not great,” he said. As if women were simply not interested in these jobs when we know that he is the one who approves all mayoral candidates. “To carry on as mayor in a town that is a county seat is a soldierlike political task for a woman.” One wishes he were not so protective of the delicate psyches of women. Perhaps then there would be at least a semblance of equality between the sexes in Hungarian political life.

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As with so many things, Orbán succeeds because he has the knack of understanding how Hungarians think/feel. He simply reflects them back to themselves.


So, if U R right then he acts as the nation wants. Typical for a dictator…


“The scarcity of women in parliament as well as in government is glaring.”

Indeed. Even Syria used to have more women in parliament – before the ‘Arab Spring’ and the resultant civil war, that is.


Do women care? I mean beyond urban feminists, that is liberals who “don’t count”. I’m not so sure.

Women also voted for Orban in equal numbers. I tell you Orban and his image, the folksy overweight boss who is just adorably crazy about home made stuff (sausages, pálinka etc.) and football (like our husbands, az uram is ilyen, my lord [the term for a husband in rural, conservative circles] is like that too) is well-loved in rural regions.

I know it for a fact, from personal experience. Orban is one of “us”. The rural ladies know his type and familiarity is important. A rural lady don’t know what to do with an urban, effeminate smartass from Együtt or MSZP. They cannot connect. Orban cares about their kosztpénz (ie. the money left by the husband to his wife from which the wife has to organize the daily meals) and in return ladies love Viktor, they certainly don’t seem to be crazy about any feminist, liberal leftists.

It’s also mostly women who perform FGM on young girls, they apparently like the system that way.

Women should realize that there’s a problem, but they don’t seem to think so.


Orban is also liked because he still knows how to be polite.

Always kissing the hands of ladies like real gentlemen do.


It is boorish in the West.


Actually, I think that Orban knows that it’s boorish or rather that it’s mannered, nobody does it, it’s at least ridiculous. But he does it anyway, just to show that he can get away with it.


Orbán likes to receive, not just give these kisses – and this is ridiculous and in very bad taste even in Hungary. I don’t know anyone who kisses hands these days. Even saying “I kiss your hand” is out of fashion.

It’s interesting that most of the people whose hands Orbán kissed were later attacked by Fidesz: Ibolya Dávid, Ildikó Lendvai, Nancy Goodman Brinker (for example).

This is a bit paranoid, but the coincidence of kisses with personality attacks is so striking that I even wonder whether the kiss might not message to someone in Fidesz that it’s time to attack the recipient of the kiss. A mafia thing…


I actually agree with your hunch. Hand kissing is always part of a wily, incincere modus operandi and it’s never, it simply cannot be an honest (if old fashioned) gesture – which is what Orban wants his lady counterparty to believe. Nobody does it any more and so it is always mannered, forced. Cannot come naturally for anybody, can only be used after direct contemplation to use it. But people do fall for empty praising, polite gestures. These things actually work. It’s psychology. It just feels good subconsciously if someone praises you even if you don’t consciously believe it.


The Canadian Orban (Stephen Harper) is about to be reelected for the fourth time. Learnt a lot from one Arthur J Finkelstein.

People who are apologizing for their very existence, who are impotent, who are squeamish about the oh, no, so “dirty” nature of politics and elections (the liberals and the leftists) will forever lose against the disciplined machinery of the Western right-wing.

Thank you Bertalan, for that very good article. I had no idea about what goes on in Canada, and what a disappointment it is too. I don’t though agree entirely with your summary of “leftists” not bothering to vote because politics is too dirty. Here in Hungary, the people who don’t bother to vote are not leftists, who are very active, despite threats and a defeatist sense that the Orbán machine is now so entrenched that no matter what we do, Orbán will find a dishonest, corrupt and entirely unjust way to remain in power. Nevertheless, we do bother to vote, even though here too, at the last election, devious little schemes were in place to confuse the voters, such as suddenly creating about 8 bogus non-existent candidates and political parties. One of them had their campaign officials dressed more-or-less like prostitues, soliciting drivers in the city centre. Such is the tone and ethics of our own illustrious PM and his charming gang of thieves. Were these women supposed to appeal to women voters too? Or does Orbán think that just as women should not be in politics, they should not bother their pretty little heads about voting either? In… Read more »

All this reminds me of my thesis – and my wife (who is Hungarian) agrees:
In many respects Hungary (like the other eastern European countries) is around 50 years behind the West.
Is there a chance that these states will catch up with the West?
And how long will that take?


I shared Eva’s post with my cousin from Hungary last night who is staying with us here in Chicago while she finds permanent housing near the University of Chicago where she is now a doctoral student. Her response to me this morning over coffee was, you know Orban is somewhat mad. He is paranoid over his own wife and whether she manipulates him, but that is also not an uncommon trait among many Hungarian men.

I asked her more about this and she said with her more feminist voice something like this, highly traditional Hungarian marriages cause women to operate in manipulative or less than straight forward ways for fear of affronting the man who wants to maintain dominance. This in turn creates in someone like Orban an actual fear of women because he can’t always predict their actions. I don’t know if my cousin’s analysis is correct or not but it was an interesting perspective.


“Without a true companion even Viktor Orbán wouldn’t be capable of such achievements in the interest of the country, the Hungarian nation, and Hungarian families. Thank you, Anikó Lévai!” who is of course Orbán’s wife.

You make some really interesting and revealing points, István, and you can also add to that and to the irony of the quote above, the well-documented fact that in his bid for dominance, Orbán beats his wife. I know the doctors who treat her after such domestic violence and I wonder how that fits in with his assertion that women are “too delicate” to be involved in politics?

Using his unfortunate wife as a punching bag is, I think, part of the same syndrome as his inability to engage in proper debate, on TV or elsewhere, which is not orchestrated in advance. He simply does not have the necessary character, talent or integrity to deal with conflict, so, as with his wife-beating, his display of “strength” is shown by beating someone who he himself has declared to be “delicate”. What a charmer of a man, what a hero.

Actually, I agree with what your cousin has said. I have several female family members who manipulate their husbands regularily, keep secret bank accounts and always give the illusion they are loyal housewives, however, they also make sure their husbands fear them, fear them leaving them, fear they are having extra marital affairs and fear that they will destroy them. All so they can see what their reaction will be. This allows them to have control in the household, in the finances and to be sure their husband himself is not having extra marital affairs. They say that if their husband acts like he is jealous, it means he loves her. If he suspects she is hiding money, then he quickly gets his act together to ensure she doesn’t leave him. One of my cousins knows that she can instantly get a vacation to Greece, Croatia or even Turkey if her husband thinks she may leave. He also ensures she spends lavishly on herself while away to keep the savings in check. When they return, she gives him everything he wants and makes him feel like a king. When she gets restless or bored, or thinks he may have eyes… Read more »

Istvan, it used to be similar in Germany 50 years ago – of course the husband was the boss, but the wife usually got her (devious …) way, if she was clever enough – and many men are easy to manipulate in my opinion.


Not too much OT:
An interesting article on Orbán in the NY Review of Books by Jan-Werner Müller:
Müller is a liberal German political scientist – now as professor in Princeton.


good article in The budapest Beacon:fear and loathing in Hungary


I have only this to add to today’s post.


Well, IwoJima, women don’t have to be asked, they just have to serve their men, don’t you think so?
Btw, I believe you’re a very stupid troll – so please go away, there are other sites for you!


Orban’s popularity is directly proportional to the average Hungarian’s loss of self-respect…