Tag Archives: Ákos Balogh

Viktor Orbán and Charles De Gaulle: The dwarf and the giant

Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, a “political scientist” known for his unwavering loyalty to Viktor Orbán, published an analysis of the prime minister’s speech in Tasnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad. Most commentators found Orbán’s performance there of little interest because this time he was very careful not to repeat the kind of mistake he made a year earlier when international reaction to his “illiberal” speech was extremely negative. Mráz, on the other hand, discovered great, not-so-hidden meanings in Orbán’s latest speech. According to Mráz, Orbán’s speech offers “a right-wing alternative” to the current ideas of the left concerning the future of Europe. Surely, after this speech no one can accuse the Hungarian prime minister of being anti-European Union. By calling for vigorous defense of “European culture” and “European nations,” he outlined the essence of a future European policy: “A strong Union” and the “defense of national sovereignty.” This policy, Mráz added, bears a strong resemblance to Charles De Gaulle’s vision of Europe. “De Gaulle is the model,” “Orbán is the new De Gaulle.”

To read all this into the speech is an exercise in fantasy because, although it is true that Orbán made a fleeting reference to Gaullism when he said that “looking at our continent from this perspective, we Hungarians are Europe’s Gaullists,” it is far-fetched to assume that Orbán was offering “a right-wing alternative” in any shape or form to current thinking on the future of the Union. Most of this, I’m afraid, is only in Mráz’s imagination.

Every time that Fidesz loyalists compare their idol to a politician who is considered to be a truly important historical figure, as Charles De Gaulle certainly was, critics have a field day. Even the more moderate right, Ákos Balogh of Mandiner for example, found the comparison “a strong and tasteless exaggeration.” A more detailed analysis by Péter Techet accused Mráz of misunderstanding Gaullism and suggested a better comparison: Napoleon III, who “relying on the majority destroyed the parliamentary republic in order to introduce a plebeian dictatorship.” Or a comparison to Mussolini, whose”vision” was limited to holding on to power at any cost, would have been more apt.

It wasn’t only Mráz who noticed the sentence in which Viktor Orbán uttered De Gaulle’s name. Attila Seres, a journalist who wrote an op/ed piece in Népszabadság a few days after the speech was delivered, was also struck by the phrase, but his reaction was very different from that of Mráz. Seres noted that in Orbán’s speeches the turn of phrase “we Hungarians” usually means “I, Viktor Orbán,” and therefore the comparison is really between himself and Charles De Gaulle. The first thought that popped into Seres’s head was a comparison between a mouse and an elephant. De Gaulle was certainly a French nationalist with a huge ego who at times made the other members of the European Union miserable, but he had great faith in a “Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains which will determine the future of the world.” Compare that, said Seres, to Viktor Orbán’s description of Europe. De Gaulle also kept equal distance from the United States and the Soviet Union. Compare that to Orbán’s foreign policy toward Russia.

mouse and elephant

Tibor Várkonyi, the grand old man of Hungarian journalism and a lover of everything French, was naturally outraged at the very idea of comparing Orbán, “a political manipulator,” to De Gaulle, the creator of the Fifth Republic. Viktor Orbán is only trying to appropriate sole responsibility for the Hungarian Third Republic. De Gaulle was the real creator of a new order. The title of his piece is “Őrmester úr” (Monsieur le caporal), who is being compared by Mráz to the general.

Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of MSZP and nowadays a witty commentator on the political scene, in addition to the usual objections to a comparison between the two men, also called attention to the fact that “De Gaulle during his political career did not increase his wealth…. After his resignation he didn’t accept benefits he was entitled to as president and as general. He lived modestly and the family eventually was forced to sell his estate where no football stations or train tracks were built.”

The funny thing is that it looks as if most people seem to have forgotten that this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán was compared to Charles De Gaulle in the media. It was in April 2013 that Yves-Michel Riols, a highly respected French journalist, wrote an article in Le Monde titled “La posture gaullienne de Viktor Orban.” According to Riols, “all the ingredients of Gaullism are present [in Orbán’s career], including resistance to occupiers, triumphant return to power, and ambition to break with the discredited old order.”

This admiring article was not left unanswered. A few days later an article appeared in Causeur titled “Viktor Orbán, un nouveau De Gaulle? Un nain face à un géant.” Not nice: a dwarf facing a giant in a moral sense, according to the author. In his opinion, De Gaulle must be turning over in his grave. The obviously left-leaning anonymous author lists a host of Orbán’s sins, from the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy to the introduction of a flat tax that is hard on the poorer strata of society. Orbán, unlike De Gaulle, does not respect the rule of law. In brief, the comparison is outrageous.

Soon enough letters to the editor written by outraged readers appeared in Le Monde itself. There were letters in which Orbán was compared to Ceausescu. Others simply called him an autocrat. One letter described him as a right-wing Chavez in the middle of Europe. A Frenchman who wrote from Hungary, where he had been living for years, said that “as a Frenchman I’m ashamed of this article.”

Hungarian commentators were not really surprised about the appearance of Riols’ article. After all, Orbán called De Gaulle his model already in 2012 in Brussels after a session of the European Parliament that dealt with the Hungarian situation. So, I suspect that the original source of the comparison is Viktor Orbán himself. We have always known that he is a very humble man. After all, he himself told us so.

Public patience is coming to an end: What can Viktor Orbán do? Not much

Some of you want me to outline a scenario that could follow the unheard-of loss of popularity of the government, Fidesz, and Viktor Orbán personally. I am no fortune teller but, contrary to those readers who believe that the events of the last two months will have no adverse effect on the Orbán government in the long run, I see some signs that may lead to the eventual collapse of the system.

I base this admittedly hedged forecast (note the “some” and “may” in it) on data suggesting that Viktor Orbán has lost the trust of millions of his followers. I understand from news reports that Orbán and the Fidesz leadership by now have come to recognize the seriousness of the situation. Apparently they are preparing the ground to rebuild the prime minister’s tarnished reputation. The word is that he is planning to be more “active,” which in this context means that he will show his compassionate side. Today he visited an orphanage and held one of the little girls in his lap. The picture was shown all over, of course.

But I think the situation in which the prime minister finds himself won’t be fixed by a few smiles and friendly gestures toward his constituency. He has lost the people’s trust. And for that development he alone is to blame.

ATV showed a short video today on which a journalist confronts people on the street and tells some of Orbán’s latest fairy tales about the decrease in poverty, the increase in job opportunities, the excellent GDP figures, and the reduced utility prices. First of all, a few months ago when journalists tried to engage people on the street in conversation about political issues most people either refused to answer or the few who did usually praised the government and Orbán. Today’s video shows that people are no longer afraid to speak, and when they speak they don’t hide their opinions. The most frequently recurring answer was: Orbán is lying! What he says is not true. If that belief takes hold among the electorate, Orbán’s political future is in doubt.

There is another problem that, in my opinion, will prevent Orbán’s political comeback–and we know that without him there is no Fidesz either. The coffers are empty. No longer can the government appease the populace by throwing a few thousand forints their way, as they did when they lowered utility prices, an admittedly brilliant political stroke. Today they cannot give anything. On the contrary, they have to extract more and more money from the people in the form of taxes because otherwise they cannot keep the deficit under 3%. And if they overstep this magic figure, the excessive deficit procedure may be imposed, and this may mean the loss of subsidies from Brussels. It is obvious that they are desperate. They know that they should not irritate the already antagonistic voters with more and more taxes, but they seem to have no choice because they already spent the money on all sorts of superfluous projects, like stadiums, MOL shares, bank purchases, and so on. And then there is the corruption that has resulted in the loss to the public purse of billions in taxpayer money. Their past irresponsible (and worse) financial maneuvers may well be their undoing.

Another consideration is what I see as an erosion within Fidesz-KDNP. I already mentioned the revolt of KDNP’s chief Zsolt Semjén on the issue of a new law on the status of churches. He was joined a few hours later by Rózsa Hoffmann, who in the past was a faithful executor of Viktor Orbán’s ideas on education. Suddenly Hoffmann discovered that diverting children from gymnasiums is a very bad idea and that making employees of the Prime Minister’s Office work ten hours a day is not even legal. Or, there is the case of János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament since 1998, who expressed his strong opposition to compulsory drug testing of children. As he put it, not even László Trócsányi, minister of justice, or Gergely Gulyás, the legal wizard of Fidesz, could make such a law constitutional. Even Gulyás thought that Máté Kocsis’s suggestion was “unorthodox” while “the world of the law is generally orthodox.”

The latest attempt at acquiring another 20 billion forints by making M0, a six-lane highway that more or less encircles Budapest, a toll road enraged not only commuters from nearby towns but also the Fidesz mayors whose districts would be affected by the decision. Again it was a last-minute ad hoc decision without any consultation. The mayors are not the only ones up in arms. Attila Chickán, minister of the economy in the first Orbán government, said that the decision will have a negative impact on the lifestyle of the people of Budapest.

The M0 will be a toll road Are these people tired of governing?

Highway M0 will also be a toll road.
Are these people tired of governing?

And finally, young until now pro-Fidesz journalists have become disillusioned. Perhaps the best example I can cite is Ákos Balogh, editor-in-chief of Mandiner. I highly recommend his opinion piece that appeared today. The title is telling: “When ‘The Anything is Possible’ Ends.” Everything that worked in the past no longer works or, even worse, is counterproductive. In fact, Balogh goes so far as to state that the Orbán government, instead of remedying the “mistakes” of the last twenty years, itself became part of it. It did not finish the regime change as it promised but “it completed its failure.” Fidesz is good at campaigning but “sparkles less when it comes to governing.” Fidesz does not want to recognize that “something has changed,” and not only in foreign affairs as a result of the Ukrainian developments but also at home. Although “in theory” there will be no elections until 2018, “a government can be demobilized by broken public trust.” The lesson: “There is never such a thing as ‘Anything is Possible’ because there is always a fault line after which everything falls apart.” “The borders of  ‘Anything is Possible’ are not sharp, one can only conjecture about them. One can know only after the fact when someone has overstepped them. Perhaps he already has overstepped them.” Harsh words from a former true believer.