I would like to return to the 70,000 pages of polling data and analysis prepared by Fidesz’s own think tank, Századvég. The internet news site vs.hu, the recipient of this enormous data dump, daily releases bits and pieces of information the editors believe to be of interest. In the last three days they have been concentrating on the analysts’ disapproval of some of the Orbán government’s decisions. The reports are full of expressions of doubt about the wisdom of many actions of the administration. The editors rightly point out that these criticisms are not very different from what we have been encountering in the last six years in the anti-government media.
We don’t know, of course, when these documents were written. Since vs.hu has not been able to date them, some may have been written later. We mustn’t forget that wrangling over the release of the documents went on for almost three years, so it is possible that the in-depth analyses were added later to make Századvég’s output seem more substantial. The reason I even mention this possibility is that we know from other sources that Viktor Orbán doesn’t tolerate criticism from experts. A well-known story illustrating this point comes from Tamás Mellár, who was one of the founders of the branch of Századvég that deals with the economy. Mellár recalled a meeting with Orbán, also attended by Mihály Varga, the economy minister. At one point Mellár spoke up and criticized the great man’s wisdom, whereupon Varga stepped on his foot under the table, indicating that this is something one doesn’t do to the prime minister.
It is also possible that these critical warnings never got as far as Viktor Orbán, who doesn’t like to bother with details of governance. But in that case why did the Orbán administration bother to hire “expert” advisers? I even wonder whether anyone in the prime minister’s office took the trouble to read these quarterly reports. Let’s put it this way, the government rarely acted on their advice. The analysts at Századvég worried about the government’s loss of popularity, but the Orbán administration’s way of doing business almost never changed. For example, the analysts were concerned about the “improvised nature” of economic decisions. They pointed out the government’s disregard of the poorest segment of society, which they feared might cause “social tensions.” But there was no change in strategy. In fact, the number of people below the poverty line in Hungary has only grown, and nothing has been done about it.
Századvég kept writing about overly hasty decisions and the absence of careful deliberation, but the performance of government officials didn’t improve. Warnings came about the government’s regimentation of the population, to no avail. Hungarians had gotten accustomed to the practice János Kádár introduced in the early 1960s, which was based on keeping the government out of the private lives of ordinary citizens. It was a kind of unwritten contract between the government and the governed. We don’t poke our noses into your private lives and you let us handle politics as we see fit. Fidesz works differently. Orbán’s government tends to regulate every facet of life, which the analysts thought would eventually backfire. They predicted that this over-regulation would turn people against the government. Interestingly enough, it took six years before people got fed up with this paternalistic behavior and massively objected to the government telling them what to do and what not to do on Sundays.
Századvég apparently warned the government about the dangers of setting up a huge organization (KLIK) that would be the employer of about 140,000 people. If something goes wrong, Fidesz might lose the majority of schoolteachers, the analysts argued. Again, the government paid no attention to the advice. For a while it seemed that no harm had come of this decision, but here we are almost six years later with a huge mess as the result of the overly centralized system dreamed up by Viktor Orbán and Rózsa Hoffmann.
The advisers called attention to the populace’s perception of corruption. When people thought about corruption, they were not thinking of individual office holders on the take but rather considered the source of the trouble to lie in “political decisions.” This is what we call “systemic corruption,” originating with the lawmakers themselves. Yet nothing has been done about it. Obviously, Orbán is not concerned with widely-held beliefs of this sort. He may, however, be sitting on a time bomb. Corruption cases in which he and his closest associates are involved are becoming daily fodder for the media.
The Orbán government paid no attention to Századvég’s apprehension about its heavy-handed interference with the media either, most prominently the campaign the government waged against Klubrádió. The case became an international scandal that prompted worldwide condemnation. It did great harm to the already shaky reputation of the Orbán government. Yet the case dragged on and on. As a matter of fact, the station is still battling in court for compensation for the financial losses incurred as a result of the government’s refusal to grant Klubrádió a permanent frequency.
Today vs.hu concentrated on cultural matters. Fidesz not only wanted to create its own wealthy business clientele but also insisted from the very beginning on forging a cultural elite of its own. A number of writers, artists, philosophers, etc. are convinced that their careers were stunted because only “liberals” could succeed. They felt discriminated against. So the Orbán government decided to help them along and began actively promoting their careers. The idea in the heads of the Orbán coterie is something like this: “you liberals were on top before, now our time has arrived.” In fact, Századvég’s analysts didn’t see anything wrong with this idea of “breaking the monopoly of the left-wing [literary] canon” and replacing it with a canon that draws its inspiration from the national-Christian idea. One of the vehicles of that change of elites is the Magyar Művészeti Akadémia (MMA/Hungarian Academy of Arts), which is a gathering place of conservative, nationalist literary historians, artists, architects, and musicians. The Írószövetség (Writers’ Union) is today also an organization in which only right-wing writers can be found because the liberals walked out some time ago. By now there is an unbridgeable gulf between the two groups. Századvég was worried that such a division would spread and might also infect university communities, and therefore it criticized the policy pursued by the Orbán government on cultural matters.
I agree with the editors of vs.hu that it is an odd feeling to read comments coming from ardent supporters of Fidesz and the Orbán government that are very similar to the criticisms the liberal media and political critics of the present regime have voiced for years. One’s first reaction is that these comments are in effect an affirmation of the opposition’s view of the nature and performance of this government. The second is: How on earth can this incompetent bunch of people still be in power? I will tackle that problem tomorrow.