I know many people in Hungary and elsewhere are certain that Viktor Orbán is a political wizard who always wins. I concede that he is a skillful political strategist, but it is simply not true that all of his political moves have met with success. A year and a half ago he didn’t win when he had to scrap his ill-conceived internet tax. In 2002 he lost the election, due primarily to his inability to govern the country effectively. And it didn’t matter how viciously he attacked the Gyurcsány government and Gyurcsány personally, he lost the election again four years later.
Admittedly, the situation is different today. Orbán is running the show, and he has done everything in his power to guarantee that he can remain prime minister of Hungary (or perhaps, later on, president) until his last breath. Yes, everything is stacked against the democratic opposition, which is weak and fragmented. But there are times when a structure can collapse without much help from the outside. The beams give out and the roof falls in because the whole structure is rotten.
Something like that is happening today in Hungary, but I don’t think that Viktor Orbán realizes the gravity of the situation.
Let’s start with Medián’s latest poll, which shows that, for the first time since August-September 2015, Fidesz lost a substantial amount of support last month. After the fence went up in September 2015 Fidesz’s popularity soared. And it stayed high throughout late 2015 and into January of 2016. In February, however, it dropped. The change was especially large among the “active voters,” i.e. those who faithfully cast their votes at every election. In this category Fidesz’s 53% dropped to 46% within a single month. And what may be even more worrisome for the government party is that those who think that Hungary is heading in the wrong direction grew from 54% to 60%. Moreover, every tenth person who remembers voting for Fidesz in 2014 now says that there is no way he/she would vote for the party again.
As I emphasized in my post on his speech to the faithful the other day, Viktor Orbán went “all-in” on a single hand: fierce attacks on the European Union for its refugee policy. These verbal assaults have been intensifying, to the point that a growing number of people fear that Viktor Orbán’s real goal is to leave the Union altogether. Turning against the European Union, however, is probably a dead end. Seventy-three percent of the population support Hungary’s EU membership. EU bashing will not quell the rising domestic unrest.
On the education front the government is getting nowhere. László Palkovics, undersecretary in charge of education, keeps inviting organizations representing the disaffected to the roundtable, but one after the other refuses to participate in a process they consider to be a charade. By now the government even appears to be ready to give up KLIK, the giant state employer of 140,000 teachers and other school workers, which was supposed to be sacrosanct only a few days ago. Zoltán Balog is also prepared to allow 10% autonomy, even in matters of curriculum. But nothing doing. Those who started the movement for fundamental change in education are not ready to negotiate with the authorities because they don’t trust the government.
The government and Viktor Orbán personally are being viewed as cowardly because they are so afraid of a referendum on the issue of Sunday store closings that they sent skinheads to physically prevent István Nyakó (MSZP) from turning in his referendum question. Even Fidesz bigwigs consider what happened in the building of the National Election Office a dangerous precedent and a disgrace. The husband of the woman whose nonsensical referendum question, with the help of those 200 kg football hooligans, was accepted is in some trouble. He is the mayor of Herceghalom, and the members of the town council, including Fidesz members, are demanding his resignation. If he doesn’t leave on his own, he will be recalled.
Then there are the problems at the Museum of Fine Arts, one of which involves lending five or six baroque paintings for practically peanuts to friends of the mysterious Árpád Habony. Átlátszó asked the museum to provide a list of all the artwork currently out on loan. The museum director, a Fidesz favorite, instead of quietly obliging, demanded 600,000 forints for the list. When Átlátszó complained, they were told that 450,000 would do. At this point someone from above must have told the politically insensitive museum director to cease and desist. Suddenly, Átlátszó could receive the list free of charge.
The Fidesz-majority Hungarian parliament wanted to restrict access to public information about the state-owned postal services as well as businesses and foundations established by the National Bank. Attila Péterfalvi, head of the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, whose past judgments didn’t go against the Fidesz government, rejected Fidesz’s attempt to justify the constraints by claiming that public funds given by the central bank to its foundations “lose their public nature.” This morning Magyar Nemzet learned that János Áder might refuse to sign this disgraceful piece of legislation. I’m almost certain that Magyar Nemzet’s information is correct, especially since László Kövér announced a few hours ago that the Hungarian National Bank’s money is public money. Period.
Finally, another piece of news from today. Until now the government refused to admit that anything is wrong with Hungarian healthcare. The usual mantra has been that all of the hospitals outside of Budapest are in great shape. The capital needs a new hospital, as Orbán said in his speech, but it will be built by his government soon. Well, today one of the assistant undersecretaries in charge of healthcare policy in the ministry of human resources admitted that there is a shortage of physicians. He openly talked about the crisis that has developed in the sector. “It doesn’t matter what we do when there aren’t and there won’t be enough doctors to keep up the present healthcare structure.” The only solution, he said, is to produce as soon as possible a number of “physician assistants” who can take care of some of the less serious cases. The number of doctors and nurses leaving the country is alarming. A very large raise in salaries, he suggested, could slow down the process.
In brief, the structure Viktor Orbán built is falling apart at the seams. But what is Viktor Orbán’s response? He is building a new stadium. This time a 800-seat stadium in Kozármislény, a small town in Baranya. At least this one will be relatively inexpensive, only 440 million forints. Since 2014 the Orbán government has spent a staggering 225.5 billion forints on stadiums. It’s no wonder that people are fed up and are no longer so afraid to stand up and be counted. There will be a breaking point, and it may be sooner than we think.
The mood of the country is changing. Here is a good example of what I mean. Yesterday a very critical article was published by Mandiner, a conservative internet site, on György Matolcsy’s attempt to “privatize” public funds by hiding them in foundations established by the Hungarian National Bank. The articles that appear on Mandiner are not as extreme as those in Magyar Idők or Magyar Hírlap, but the comments consistently show a right-wing, pro-government bias. This time, however, almost all of the readers agreed with the author and were highly critical of Matolcsy. Something has changed. Something fundamental, which will be difficult to contain.