Tag Archives: Attila Körömi

From Viktor Orbán’s mailbox: Letters from former loyalists

In the last few days a number of open letters, interviews, and articles have appeared that reveal a growing dissatisfaction with the Orbán regime on the part of some well-known supporters of the party. These people have never made a secret of their steadfast support of Fidesz. Some of them accepted political or diplomatic roles, and for a very long time they held their tongues. One reason for this silence was most likely their natural reluctance to admit that they had been misled and that what they once considered to be of real value turned out to be a collection of fake trinkets. Old-time conservative, right-of-center people, at least those who still have their critical faculties intact, have been speaking out against the political system Viktor Orbán has built in the last seven years.

At first these voices were timid and muffled. Criticism was embedded in a litany of excuses or even praise. Then their language became more forceful and their tone less forgiving until, in certain cases, we started to hear well-known former Fidesz supporters use language indistinguishable from that of the liberal critics of the regime. Here I think mostly of people like Péter Ákos Bod, an economist and former chairman of the Hungarian Central Bank; Attila Chikán, an economist who was minister of the economy in the first Orbán government; Csaba László, an economist and adviser to Orbán at one time; and Géza Jeszenszky, former foreign minister and ambassador to Washington and Oslo. But there are other, less prominent people who are now criticizing the government. And what’s most important, they openly say that Hungarian democracy itself is in danger.

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean. Today an article appeared in Magyar Nemzet written by Attila Körömi, a former Fidesz member of parliament representing Pécs. He joined Fidesz at the end of 1989. As a 30-year-old, he became a member of the Pécs City Council and then, between 1998 and 2006, served as a member of parliament. After 13 years of silence he wanted to explain what made him leave Fidesz in 2004. His disillusionment had begun already in 2002, but what really opened his eyes and prompted him to act was an April 5, 2004 meeting of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus chaired by Viktor Orbán. At this meeting Orbán apparently announced an entirely new program based on his recognition that, despite the change of the political system in 1990, “it is the Kádár regime that won.” If Fidesz wants to be successful, it has to follow policies that were characteristic of the Kádár era. Moreover, the ideal of the autonomous citizen will be abandoned from now on, and Fidesz “will talk to the people.” Instead of moving forward, Orbán was going to lead the country backward to a one-party system. About a week later, Körömi left the party.

The story of that 2004 meeting is enlightening. It tells us what we have long suspected, which is that at some point Orbán recognized that, after all, today’s Hungarians are “the people of Kádár” (Kádár népe). What is surprising is how early Orbán came to that conclusion. The other unexpected piece of information is that, according to Körömi’s recollection, Árpád Habony has been around Fidesz for much longer than most of us realized. Körömi first encountered the mysterious shadowy adviser of Orbán sometime between 2000 and 2002 and again at that fateful April 5, 2004 caucus meeting, sitting right beside Viktor Orbán.

The next noteworthy document is an open letter to Viktor Orbán from Miklós Király, professor of law and earlier an adviser to Ferenc Mádl, a Fidesz-supported president between 2000 and 2005. His main complaint is the state of Hungarian education but, being a legal scholar, he also has some harsh words about the government’s total disregard of constitutionality and its disrespect for the opinions of representatives of higher education and science. After the enactment of the anti-CEU law, everybody in higher education feels threatened. Legal certainty and predictability have disappeared. Orbán in his latest radio interview wanted to know why professors and students in Hungarian state universities complain about curtailing CEU’s privileges. They complain because from now on they will never know what will happen to them. Király also calls attention to the underfinancing of education, with the result that by 2016 not one Hungarian university could be found among the top 500 universities on the Shanghai list when other universities in the region–Vienna, Cracow, and Prague–are there.

He reminds Orbán that by now both science and higher education are international, and therefore the government must realize that Hungary as a part of the European Union cannot turn inward. Király adds, “I’m sorry that until now nobody told you that.” He calls on Orbán to consider his arguments and to do some soul searching for Easter.

Writing another Facebook letter to Orbán was Gábor Pósfai, managing editor of Decathlon Hungary, a subsidiary of Decathlon Group, one of the world’s largest sporting goods retailers. He begins with “Is your palm itching? Wash it and hold it out to your brethren as long as it is Easter.” The reference is to Viktor Orbán’s Saturday and Sunday interviews in which he indicated that all these demonstrations and the less than polite comments about him often make him so angry that he would like to hit his loud opponents. (Actually, Hungarians consider an itchy palm a sign that they will received unexpected money, not that they are itching for a fight.) Pósfai as a Christian could question Orbán on the seventh, eighth, and tenth commandments, but what really bothers him is his incitement of the population and turning people against one another, which seems to be one of Orbán’s favorite pastimes. Obviously, it irritates Pósfai that the present regime considers itself the embodiment of truth. He has had enough of one war after the other. He is tired of “the last eight years,” which are responsible for everything that is wrong. He is fed up with Orbán always finding fault with others: Gyurcsány, Bajnai, exploitative multinationals, migrants, the EU, Simicska, Brussels, and Soros. According to the current government, everybody is against us. Meanwhile, Orbán turns friends and family members against each other. If it goes on like this, catastrophe awaits the country.

And finally, Tamás Kovács, an Olympic fencer and trainer, wrote an Easter letter to Viktor Orbán on Facebook. In 1990 he voted for MDF, but between 1994 and 2014 he voted for Fidesz. Thus, Kovács can be considered one of the most loyal Fidesz supporters. One of those core voters who, no matter what, will always vote for Fidesz. Or, maybe not. Kovács believes that the trouble started only in 2014, but “in the last two years, we keep comparing the incitement against certain people by the governing party to the communist times when I see on billboards: EU, Brussels, Gyurcsány, multinationals, Simicska, Soros, MSZP, MSZMP, Jobbik, they are all against us…. Where will that lead? What will be the end of this? There can be only one opinion in this country, Fidesz’s opinion?” What about those 6 million people who didn’t vote for Fidesz? The undeclared slogan “Those who are not with us are against us” must be stopped because it does incredible harm to the nation. His final sentence is: “It cannot go on like this.”

Most of the comments to Kovács’s letter are positive, but we can also read: “My God, what an unfair letter. What kinds of emotions it whips up.” Or, “With this letter you proclaimed yourself to be one of the gravediggers of the nation.” Or, “This is a malicious letter, fie.” Or, “You should be ashamed of yourself. Didn’t you notice that ever since 2014 total war has been waged against us by the opposition and the enemies?” The preponderance of comments, however, congratulate him and add that more and more right-wingers feel this way. So, there is hope.

April 18, 2017