Viktor Orbán’s vision of a new world order is fading

I was all set to ignore Viktor Orbán’s nineteenth yearly “assessment,” to skip the whole rigmarole. After all, there is absolutely nothing new to be found in his ramblings sprinkled with archaic and pious phrases mixed with affected folksiness. We have heard him speak countless times about his clairvoyant powers, predicting the coming of a new illiberal world which is partly his own creation. And this latest speech is no different from any of the others he has delivered lately. But as I was going through my early morning perusal of news in the United States and Europe, I decided that in light of the latest developments in world affairs it might be useful to spend a little time on Orbán’s latest pronouncements.

Although critics complain that the speech, which was supposed to be about the government’s achievements in the past year, was mostly about foreign affairs, I found a fair amount of bragging about the great accomplishments, economic and otherwise, of the third Orbán government. Nonetheless, I was much more interested in his “vision” of the present and the future, not of Hungary but of the world.

According to Viktor Orbán, 2017 “promises to be an exhilarating year.” There will be “surprises, scratching of heads, raising of eyebrows, rubbing of eyes.” People will ask each other: “Is everything that is coming undone and taking shape in front of our eyes really possible?” The existing world order is coming to an end. History beckons the prophets of liberal politics, the beneficiaries and defenders of the present international order, the globalists, the liberals, the influential talking heads in their ivory towers and television studios. A new world is coming, a world where populists like Viktor Orbán , Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Recep Erdoğan, Marine Le Pen, and other right-wing populists elsewhere in Europe will decide the fate of the western world.

Perhaps I have been inattentive, but this is the first time that I noticed a recurring adjective in an Orbán speech: “open world, “open world order,” “open society.” Orbán is “paying homage” to his nemesis, George Soros. He very much hopes that with the “exhilarating” 2017 the “open world order” will come to an end. As far as he is concerned, the beginning of his new world looks promising: Brexit, the American presidential election, “booting out” the Italian government, the “successful” Hungarian referendum on the migrants, all of these take us closer to the promising new world.

Orbán’s next sentence can be fully understood only if I provide its poetic backdrop. Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849) was a political radical who, in December 1848, wrote a poem titled “Hang the Kings!” The poem begins “Knife in Lamberg’s heart and rope around the neck of Latour and after them perhaps others will follow. At last, you people are becoming great!” Lamberg and Latour were high government officials who were killed in Pest and Vienna by angry mobs. So, Orbán, of course without mentioning the two murdered gentlemen, sums up the happy events of late in Great Britain, Italy, the United States, and Hungary: “after them perhaps more will follow. At last, you people are becoming great.” So, Orbán is in a revolutionary mood, no doubt about it. And he is also full of hope, although given the fate of the 1848 revolutions in the Habsburg Empire, I wouldn’t be so sanguine in his place.

As I look around the world, however, Orbán’s dream world may not come into being as fast, if at all, as he thinks. Let’s start with Austria’s presidential election last year. Orbán and the government media kept fingers crossed for Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, yet Alexander Van der Bellen, a member of the Austrian Greens, won the election by a fairly large margin. The first effort of a self-described far-right party in Europe to win high office failed.

Orbán’s next hope is for a huge victory by Marine Le Pen in France. But the centrist Emmanuel Macron’s chances of beating Le Pen look good. At least the Elabe poll shows Le Pen losing the run-off 37% to 63%. Another poll, Ifop Fiducial, predicts 36% to 64%. Two different polls, very similar results.

Then there is Germany. Former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a social democrat, was elected Germany’s president. He won 931 of the 1,239 valid votes cast by members of the Bundestag and representatives of the 14 federal states. When the result was announced by Norbert Lammert, president of the Bundestag, there was a standing ovation. Even more importantly, Angela Merkel’s solid lead a few months ago is beginning to fade. The reason is the socialist Martin Schulz’s appearance on the German political scene. According to the latest polls, the two candidates are neck to neck. One also should mention the latest developments in the nationalist Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), which would certainly be Orbán’s choice. According to the German media, since Schulz announced his candidacy for the chancellorship, “the number of people who did not vote in 2013 and are now planning to vote for the SPD has risen by roughly 70 percent in the last 14 days.” And what is more important from Orbán’s point of view, “AfD—which brought the most non-voters to the polls in several state elections last year—also lost support dramatically. Forty percent fewer former non-voters expressed their support for the party.”

One ought to keep in mind that the Hungarian government propaganda has succeeded in making Angela Merkel generally despised by the Hungarian public. Vladimir Putin is more popular in Hungary than Merkel. But given the choice between Merkel and Schulz, Orbán should actually campaign for Merkel’s reelection because Schulz, who until now was the president of the European Parliament, is one of the loudest critics of Orbán and his illiberal populism.

Finally, let’s talk about the situation in the United States. What has been going in Washington since Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States has surpassed people’s worst fears. Total chaos, a non-functioning government, and very strong suspicions about the Trump team’s questionable relations with Russian intelligence. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice to be his national security adviser, was forced to resign because of his direct contact with the Russian ambassador to Washington. A few minutes ago, we learned that Andy Puzder withdrew as labor secretary nominee in order to avoid a pretty hopeless confirmation hearing.

Donald Trump on the phone with Vladimir Putin / Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The list of incredible happenings in Washington is so long that one could spend days trying to cover them. What I would like to stress here is that I’m almost certain that Trump’s original friendly overtures to Putin’s Russia have been derailed. The Russians did their best to bolster Trump’s chances, but by now Putin must realize that the new American president cannot deliver.

Now let’s return to Viktor Orbán, who was an early admirer of Donald Trump. His admiration of Trump was based on the presidential hopeful’s anti-migration policies, his disregard of political correctness, and his anti-establishment rhetoric. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, Orbán found Trump’s pro-Russian views and his promise to “make a deal” with Russia and lift the sanctions against Moscow especially appealing. In such an event, Orbán believed he would play a more important role than he as the prime minister of a small country could otherwise have expected.

Now these hopes are vanishing with the tough stand both Democrats and Republicans have taken on Russia’s military occupation of Crimea and its efforts to stoke a civil war in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, given the investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election and the ties of members of the Trump team to Russian intelligence, Trump is not in a position to hand out favors to Russia. So Putin won’t be best friends with the American president. And Europe seems disinclined to follow the U.S. into political chaos. Orbán, if he has any sense, should tone down his rhetoric about a new, exhilarating future where the old establishment sinks into oblivion.

February 15, 2017
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Roderick Beck
Guest

The competence of the Trump administration is astonishing. Pure amateurs. It is very encouraging.

Guest

Competence?

Roderick Beck
Guest

Incompetence.

Guest

I am very hopeful that the farcical spectacle of chaos and incompetence in the White House will deter most Germans, Frenchmen and Dutch from voting for their home-grown populisms. If that does indeed happen, Orban will have nowhere to go foreign policy-wise.

Guest

Populism in the 1930s was a tragedy; eighty years later it is playing out as a farce.

Do I hear the ghost of Marx guffawing in the netherworld? :-))

webber
Guest

This Marx!

Guest

Good one! I like your sense of humour! :-))

wrfree
Guest

Love it! If around today their ‘zaniness
‘ would be comedic medicine to counter an unraveling of a government😎

Guest

A Fichtean (Hegelian) dialectic is playing out before our very eyes, like the ups and downs of waves in the ocean. The thesis of liberal democracy is being challenged by the antithesis of populism. My hope is that the synthesis will be an improved liberal democratic order.

Guest

It seems to me that the principal difference between populism and bolshevism is that a populist regime involves ideologically driven dictatorship by a parliamentary supermajority, whilst bolshevism involves ideologically driven dictatorship by a violent extra-parliamentary minority.

Roderick Beck
Guest

No, a populist government does not require a parliamentary super-majority or even a majority.

Guest

You are right. Whilst what I have written above does appear to apply to contemporary Hungary, one cannot generalize from this to other cases. The current Polish government, for instance, lacks a parliamentary supermajority, yet it is happily populist in the policies it is pursuing. That of course begs the question of what exactly do we mean by “populist.”

Anyway, I may be quite wrong, but I still have a lurking feeling that populists and bolsheviks have some striking commonalities – they are political cousins, so to speak, in some significant respects – and not least in their out-and-out rejection of the liberal democratic value system (cf. Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies).

Member

@ambalint

Not only populism in its most vulgar sence does show affinity to bolshevism, but even fascism does that. The differrence between the two is hairfine.

I did like your parabel about the waves of the ocean, Almost poetic.

Menshevik
Guest

By “populist” you mean that with which you disagree. It’s really that simple. It’s just a label for what you don’t like.

Observer
Guest

R.Beck
No nit picking, but a government requires a majority by definition (coalition or legislative support, etc.)

@ambalint
Let’s not confuse populism with authoritarian rule/dictatorship. Populism is a form of lying, democratic parties use populist rhetoric to win elections, but govern withing the frame of democracy, long term implications aside.
Populism is however the staple of dictators, after all, they can’t say “we’ll enslave you and then rob you blind”. The more aggressive dictators say it to the “enemies”, as the Orban regime does in a thin disguise.

pappp
Guest

“And he is also full of hope, although given the fate of the 1848 revolutions in the Habsburg Empire, I wouldn’t be so sanguine in his place.”

Orban may have – rightly – sensed that many people including Hungarians are angry but somehow seems to be in denial about the possibility that he could be that hated tyrant. Not a bad news.

What is sure is that Hungarians would light bonfires of happiness upon his demise.

My guess is that Orban and his helpers also completely believe the polls (mostly made up by his propaganda outfits) about his popularity, the supposed optimism of the people and so on.

Somehow a tyrant just cannot come to terms with the possibility that he might be hated. Paranoid for sure, but such an autocrat still believes his own fantasy about actually being the beloved, rightful leader, father to the nation.

webber
Guest

I’d say all of that is accurate about Orban, and some of it is accurate about Trump.

petofi
Guest
@ pappp “…the possibility that he might be hated…”–how wrong you have it! Orban not only knows that he is hated, but totally enjoys that hatred. Of course, he blunts it; or rather, aggravates it in those he considers his enemies. Others are fed bucketfuls of ‘hatred’ of others–a toxic empowerment–with which they follow him endlessly. Thus the nature of the Hungarian temperament–ideally suited to keep an Orban, or a Trump, in power for years. However, in Trump, on tv last night, I saw the strains of pressure. He’s either close to a nervous breakdown, or ready to throw in the towel. After all, (can you imagine) these ridiculous, mainstream, journalists expect him to READ daily briefings. Trump only expects to watch his underlings (Conway being the best example) squirm in interviews. What fun. Impeachment grows ever nearer as both Repubs and Democrats look to set up an independent investigative committee. That’ll sink him. And not a moment too soon… One has to admire the resilience of the American political scene to put up with all this. What is troubling is that a sterling candidate by the name of Jim Webb had found absolutely no support when he put out… Read more »
pappp
Guest

Orban knows that “liberals” and many people of Budapest hate him.

But he doesn’t know that the majority of Hungarians, or rather 3 out of 4 people hate him.

Observer
Guest

Petofi’s made a fine point – Orban knows that he is hated, but enjoys rubing it in, why, he’s on top.

This is the culture of the regime. They have all the power, they have a free ride on whatever they wish, they are getting rich on embezzled money, but this is still not enough (everyone should also love Big Brother). One should see the tight, hateful faces of the fideszniks asked questions about the large closed area at the bazar venue. (couldnt find the tv report).

webber
Guest

I’m not sure he knows, and if he does know deep inside, I am fairly sure he’s denying it to himself. I think he’s that narcissistic (I think the same of Trump).

bimbi
Guest

@petofi 10:46 a.m.

PLEASE don’t talk about impeachment. You do you know who would replace Trump don’t you? Right first time, Pence. As we say in Hungary, “Jezusom!”

FreeWheeling
Guest

1. Now with DJT’s feckless governance on display, one has to wonder if OV will continue to copy the American president’s slogans in his speeches to domestic and international audiences. (i.e. make Europe great again) This would be interesting because OV and his large communications team already disavowed his early support for DJT after the leak of the “locker room talk.” But somehow he rediscovered his strong support for DJT after his
2. If Merkel loses and gives way to Schulz, Fidesz propagandists are certainly making preparations to make it seem that OV is a “winner” since his “nemesis” will have been defeated to the naive Hungarian audience. As we know, Schulz will not accommodate OV to the same degree that Merkel would. However, I personally have questions about the effectiveness of a Schulz government as he hasn’t shown strong leadership during his presidency of the EP.

Ferenc
Guest

Did OV openly support Le Pen in his “state of the nation”?
Seen before that he supported Fillon (is together with Fidesz in the EPP group in EU parliament).

On kormany.hu (English version) couldn’t find any mention of Le Pen, but there’s only a sort of summary with main points.
Nevertheless found another quote (from his speech) worth mentioning here:
OV (after speaking about building a fence and stopping immigrants):
“Of course we shall let in true refugees: Germans, Dutch, French and Italians, terrified politicians and journalists who here in Hungary want to find the Europe they have lost in their homelands”.

Can’t find the words to express my feeling about this quote, so just go into the meaning:
‘true refugees’ from EU countries, not bordering Hungary (so there’s ‘safe land’ in between!), will be granted ‘asylum’ as in Hungary they can find their lost European homelands!!!!
This is mindblowing in the worst sense possible!!!

Menshevik
Guest

It’s great. Western Europe is lost already. The only hope is to preserve Eastern Europe. The time for Reconquista will come later.

Ferenc
Guest

Hey Menshevik, how’s the weather in St.Petersburg??

Istvan
Guest
If PM Orban was a rational man he would be very frightened by what is taking place within the Trump administration, closed borders, trade tariffs, confusion on the EU, equal disaster for Hungary’s dependence on being a low wage producer for the world market. Eva is forever the optimist about reading the tarot cards of the future, regardless if it’s the elections in France or a possible retreat from a more pro-Russian stance on the part of Trump and his advisors. I am a pessimist by nature which has served me well over the years. I am totally unnerved by the now open warfare between the US intelligence apparatus, the FBI counterintelligence apparatus, the security and foreign affairs reporting corp in the mainstream media, and the Trump administration. While it is clear that the intelligence leaks forced President Trump to remove Lt General Flynn, which was a great relief for me, the reality is these leaks are potentially criminal in nature. Security clearances are hierarchical in the USA; each level grants the holder access to information in that level and the levels below it. The clearance process requires a background investigation and the signing of a nondisclosure agreement. Here is… Read more »
pappp
Guest

As you could see Orban – anyway lacking know-how – does not invest in manufacturing.

He is into real estate (hotels, castles, agricultural and development land), agriculture (meat, wine, soft drinks, bulk commodities etc.), construction (Market Zrt., quarries etc.), energy (MET AG), media and cash and unspecified investments manages by his strohmen.

Orban doesn’t give a sh*t about closed borders, decreasing globalization or restricted free trade.

He will sit on one of his several ranches around Felcsút and sip his Tokaj wine and a have a hearty lough about those ungrateful voters complaining about lack of well-paying jobs.

Observer
Guest
Put aside Orban’s “ ramblings sprinkled with archaic and pious phrases mixed with affected folksiness…” about setting the world right. They are as pathetic as the pronouncements of the laud soccer “experts” in a Felcsut or Ujpest pub. I’m not that optimistic about the developments in First World. A palpable dissatisfaction with the governments/political elite has translated into growing support for the populists and extremists over the last several years. And it has a solid base: primarily the nearly stagnant economies and the growing inequalities, but also the lack of prospects and visions and the attitudes of the ruling elites. Many governments/democratic elites (and readers here) fail to recognize the danger of ignoring, lecturing or condemning the expressions of said dissatisfaction, even if it often comes in unpalatable forms. Detrimental are also the liberal tendencies to push secondary issues instead of facing the big and difficult to resolve problems, mocked as “Land rights for gay whales” In the 1990s the Hungarian Liberal party totally missed the direction while demonstrating for the legalization of grass, while unemployment was 20+%. If/when the democrats don’t, or don’t seem to handle the serious problems the populists take an easy ride on the wave of… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: the Sun King with scepter, clothed in ermine and shiny gold as he looks at his dominions and the globe

One would think all is well. I simply give another view to balance the vision of the blind from one who deeply explored mourning and melancholy in the aftermath of great ideas and thoughts which went the way of hell.

‘On every new thing there lies already the shadow of annihilation. For the history of every individual of every social order , indeed of the whole world, does not describe an ever-widening, more and more wonderful arc, but rather follows a course which, once the meridian is reached, leads without fail down into the dark’. W. G. Sebald

To view what is happening now makes it extremely likely that a particular blinkered vision would ever have any chance of ‘success’ as it goes to the ‘meridian’. This is a race already lost.

wrfree
Guest

Sorry .. read ‘unlikely’..

bimbi
Guest

Orban fosters and probably delights in his cozy relationship with Putin – after all, he can, and does, serve as Putin’s spokesperson in the EU – and of course Orban is proud to be accepted in Moscow (but just take a look back at Russian-Hungarian relations over the past 170 years, Viktor). More recently there are grounds for concern as to why Orban and Putin are such bosom buddies. Think back to 2006 when Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned (fatally) in London with polonium – clearly on the orders of the Russian secret police and hence of its chief, and now again Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr, critic of the Putin empire, lies in a coma because of the administration of an unknown poison. The Russian secret police are grotesquely efficient – but ask yourself, why would you want their chief as your bosom buddy?

Why Viktor?

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