As I was collecting data for today’s topic–the Batthyány Circle of Professors (BCP), I was astonished to see how often I had written about this group of full professors who are blind supporters of Viktor Orbán and his regime. Over the years it has become obvious that nothing can shake these people’s devotion to the regime and its leader.
The members of BCP come almost exclusively from the natural sciences and medicine and, as a result, they have little knowledge of the social sciences, including politics. Yet they are bent on expressing their rather primitive ideas about the world. Consider, for example, the case of Gábor Náray-Szabó, secretary of BCP, professor of chemistry and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who here and there dabbles as an “amateur” political philosopher. I found an article that he wrote titled “Evolution and Conservatism.” One didn’t have to go beyond the first few sentences to assess his political prowess. He “came to the conclusion” that the essence of “the conservative point of view” cannot be summarized in one sentence, unlike Christianity or liberalism. Christianity boils down to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and liberalism can be reduced to a single tenet, “one can do anything freely as long as one does no harm to others.” There was no reason to read further. Since that time I have had the pleasure of hearing several interviews with Náray-Szabó, and he has given me no reason to change my mind: his intellectual horizons are severely limited.
I should also note that most members of BCP are not really conservatives but instead are outright right-wingers, a fact that became clear at the time of the second Orbán government’s attack on a group of liberal philosophers. Members of the group have an online discussion forum, which is closed to the public. One of the members, the provost of St. Stephen University, vented his hatred against liberals in general. Unfortunately for the professors, there was a “traitor” in the group who passed the provost’s comments on to one of the online news sites. The man talked about “the deadly enemies of the nation who leave no stone unturned” to blacken the good name of Hungary. He asked his fellow members to ostracize these enemies. “When we meet them and their ilk we should look them in the eye but we shouldn’t say hello to them. When they sit down next to us, we should get up because this is the only way to handle their hatred and this is the only way to express our silent and complete contempt.” I assume that gives you a sense of the people we are talking about.
Given the BCP’s far-right political views and its hatred of liberalism, the Hungarian media was shocked a few days ago when the group published its assessment of the current state of the country. Magyar Nemzet’s article noted that “Viktor Orbán received criticism from unexpected quarters.” The paper found the criticism surprisingly harsh. It looked as if the professors had suddenly discovered that there are problems with the economy, with education, and with healthcare. One of their first claims was that recently “reality and appearance have been getting confused” and “naturally appearance dominates.” This is a polite way of saying that the government’s claims about the state of the economy and society are outright lies. The professors no longer seem to be blind and deaf; they noticed dissatisfaction with the government even among right-wing supporters.
Although the professors profusely praised the economic policies of the government, they noted that individuals haven’t reaped the benefits of these achievements, creating “dissatisfaction in many.” They pointed to the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. They even had the temerity to suggest a change in economic policy: instead of lowering taxes, there is a need “for a quick improvement of the human sphere.” They complained about the government’s decision-making processes, which are often “based on a superficial assessment of facts and exclude rightful objections.” They even criticized the “quality of public information” coming from M1 of MTV. They dared to say that some of the newly passed laws “serve only a small group’s interests.” They criticized the hate campaign which, according to the professors, created repugnance. They called attention to the growing number of government officials and the influence of wealthy businessmen. And they called corruption a “systemic problem.” Finally, they spent a considerable amount of time on the woes of healthcare, education, and research and development.
The liberal press was stunned. So was Viktor Orbán, who surely didn’t expect such strong criticism from these faithful supporters. He immediately responded, thanking the professors for their assessment of the performance of the government in the last year. At the same time he decided to enlighten them by sending them a 54-page, 25-point list that included data that had served as a point of departure for some of the government decisions. In the letter he emphasized that he is ready for “a substantive discussion which is not for propaganda purposes.” The poor professors, it seems, are victims of propaganda disseminated by the opposition parties.
Orbán’s response must have put the fear of God into the not too brave professors because two days later Náray-Szabó backpedaled in an interview with György Bolgár on Klub Rádió. A blogger expressed his enjoyment in listening to Náray-Szabó’s struggle to sound like a still faithful follower of Viktor Orbán. It was a difficult task. The great political thinker came up with the following: “Yes, the report was critical, but it was about the country of which the government is only a part—a smaller part—and the greater part of the criticism was leveled at us. The problem is with the behavior of the citizens and attitudes that have been part of Hungarian society for centuries, which in many cases hinder the country’s development.”
At this point Bolgár interjected that surely it is not Hungarian society that is responsible for the current state of the country. In response, Náray-Szabó pointed to the Hungarian reluctance to begin start-up enterprises because Hungarians are reluctant to take risks. Bolgár said that the trouble is that the government assists only institutional plunderers, so the innovative, entrepreneurial people leave the country. Náray-Szabó’s brilliant answer was: “This is not a problem of the last few years. This has been a problem for centuries. Perhaps it started with Mohács.” The blogger who transcribed this radio conversation called our esteemed professor “this intellectual superiority,” a reference to BCP’s claim that “the right-wing coalition whose tenets are close to our own dominates the political playing field with its intellectual superiority.” But even a sympathetic, conservative commentator, who wrote a book about “the conservative renaissance” in the United States, criticized the professors for “not only being unable to give honest criticism, but even being incapable of drawing the most cautious conclusions” from that criticism.
To make sure that his explanation of the “real” intent of BCP’s criticism gets to a wider audience Náray-Szabó gave an interview to Magyar Hírlap. During the interview he said that he was pleasantly surprised that “despite our criticism, we received a decidedly kind letter from the prime minister, who expressed his appreciation of the work we have done in the past.” Orbán’s 54-page attachment managed to correct some of the professors’ misconceptions. For example, they had stated that 4% of the GDP was spent on healthcare, which was lower than in the neighboring countries. Orbán corrected this misconception and proved with numbers that “this is not the situation in every case.” As for corruption, they were happy to hear from him that although “we are not as good as the Swedes,” the Hungarian situation is better than that in Italy or in some of the neighboring countries, including Austria. The professors are eagerly awaiting a personal meeting, which “fills them with special delight.” I’m sure that by the end of that meeting the professors will be completely satisfied with the performance of the Orbán government. The prime minister will explain, or explain away, everything.