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. 444.hu, 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.
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.