I don’t know whether you have ever encountered people from Hungary, mostly those who are no friends of Fidesz and the government, who tell you that this government is thoroughly disliked by a large majority of the population. They know this to be the case because they talk to a lot of people who all have devastating opinions about the performance of the Orbán government. The standard reaction to these claims is that such stories are anecdotal. Moreover, our friends and acquaintances usually come from a well-defined circle whose social standing and political views more or less resemble our own. We are apt to point to all the monthly polls that attest to the fact that Fidesz is still the most popular party and that, if national elections were held today, Viktor Orbán’s party could win easily and even regain its supermajority. So, those people who claim that “everybody hates this government” are wrong. They merely project their own dislike of the present regime.
Well, today we received data from the highly regarded Medián polling company suggesting that our acquaintances’ description of the mood on the street is not just wishful thinking. The poll that was made public today by Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, shows that the Hungarian people are not blind to the fact that the present political leadership is robbing the country blind. Moreover, a majority of Hungarians don’t consider Orbán’s Hungary a democracy.
Most of the questions centered around corruption, which in at least one of the questions was defined as “visszaélések” (abuses), which apparently most of the respondents found too mild a description of what’s going on in Orbán’s Hungary nowadays and used stronger words instead: “korrupció,” “családi összefonódás” (nepotism), “állami bűnszervezet” (a state directed criminal organization, using mafia methods).
When asked about “financial abuses” characteristic of the Orbán government, respondents could choose from five categories: (1) in very great measure, (2) in great measure, (3) in small measure, (4) not at all, and (5) doesn’t know. Among the respondents only 6% think that Fidesz is in no way tainted by corruption. On the other hand, 67% think that the present government is in very great or great measure corrupt. Even a large minority of Fidesz voters (37%) believe their favorite party is corrupt while only 15% think that Fidesz is pure as the driven snow. Jobbik voters are just as skeptical about Fidesz (86%) as are voters from the democratic opposition (88%).
The next question was about the nature of corruption. Respondents were offered two choices: (1) private actions of dishonest civil servants or (2) systemic corruption centrally directed from above. This is a crucial distinction because the corruption that beset Hungary between 1990 and 2010 was of the first kind while the corruption Viktor Orbán introduced is of the second variety. While the former type of corruption can, to a greater or lesser extent, be found in all countries, the latter kind is encountered in countries with a strong central power without any possibility of legal or civic oversight.
It seems that an overwhelming majority of the population has grasped the difference between the ordinary garden variety of corruption and the systemic corruption that analysts like Bálint Magyar have been talking about. That recognition takes a certain amount of political sophistication, which it seems the Hungarian population has managed to acquire. Sixty percent of people of different political stripes think that Viktor Orbán, sitting at the top of the pyramid, is systematically organizing the plunder of the country for the benefit of himself and his supporters. Almost 40% of Fidesz supporters consider corruption as it exists in Hungary to be systemic. Jobbik (67%), the democratic opposition (77%), and even undecided voters (70%) are convinced that Orbán and his minions are heading a criminal organization for their own benefit.
Although commentators often complain about the general lack of attention to politics and the dearth of information that reaches the population, in large measure because of the filters imposed on news by state television and radio stations, 56% of the population have noticed that corruption cases involving Fidesz politicians and government officials are swept under the rug. Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt, perhaps the most important man in that “criminal organization,” makes sure that the chief actors of the “mafia state” will not have sleepless nights even as prosecutors over the last six years have dragged politicians active in the MSZP-SZDSZ government through the mud, most of the time without any cause. This is how the government managed to convince the population, at least initially, that the corruption of socialists and liberals was sky high while Fidesz was a party of upright citizens. By 2014 the public was convinced that MSZP was at least twice as corrupt as Fidesz. This perception is changing. By now Fidesz’s score is slightly higher than that of MSZP, and I assume that as time goes by the gap between them will widen further.
Perhaps the most astonishing finding of the poll is the population’s opinion of the enrichment of Viktor Orbán. It widely believed that the extremely successful businessmen around Viktor Orbán, like István Garancsi, Lőrinc Mészáros, and Andy Vajna, are actually “strómanok” (front men) of Viktor Orbán who hand over a large portion of their profits to the prime minister. The question posed was whether the respondent found this proposition (1) probable, (2) conceivable, (3) inconceivable, (4) doesn’t know. Only 15% of the respondents believe that Viktor Orbán is not the personal beneficiary of the profits these men have acquired through his good offices. Almost half of the population (47%) find it conceivable and 31% probable that Viktor Orbán is getting rich, mostly from EU money filtered through his favorite oligarchs.
Finally, a question was added to the questionnaire that has no direct connection to corruption per se. Medián wanted to find out how people would describe the political system in which they live. The respondents came up with six different labels: (1) diktatúra (20%), (2) democracy (18%), (3) autocratic regime (18%), (4) mafia state (15%), (5) system of national cooperation [NER] (9%), (6) illiberal democracy (8%). The rest, 12%, either didn’t answer or chose some other label. NER (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere) is the official name of the political system Orbán announced in April 2010.
Endre Hann, in his article on the poll, speculates on some of the conclusions one can draw from these labels. Those who think that Hungary is still a democracy and those who describe the country’s political system as a structure based on national cooperation are most likely Fidesz supporters. There is no doubt that those who consider Orbán’s world a dictatorship or a mafia state belong in the anti-Fidesz category. It’s harder to place those who describe the government as an “autocratic regime” or an “illiberal democracy.”
What I find important is that only 18% of the population think that Hungary is a democracy, while 53% consider Orbán’s system either a dictatorship, an autocracy, or a mafia state. So, it’s time for foreign newspaper editors to change their own labels when talking about Orbán’s Hungary. Let’s not pretend that Hungary is still a democratic state, let’s not talk about a right-of-center or conservative government. Let’s believe the people who live under Viktor Orbán’s system.