Fidesz public relations gurus discovered early in the game that a party needs certain fixed points or anchors in order to radiate an aura of continuity, steadiness, and stability. Once they hit upon the idea of spending a long weekend with young Hungarians in Romania, where they were supposed to discuss their common problems and hopes, they faithfully kept returning, year after year. Admittedly, over the last 28 years the youthful and perhaps even exciting exchange of ideas has become stale, and the event has been more or less reduced to some dull speeches by the same three or four party and government leaders to which mostly older retirees listen. But the event is still held and still creates expectations in the media.
The gathering at Băile Bálványos/Bálványosfűrdő has become a ritual, just as has Viktor Orbán’s annual February speech on “the state of the country.” The party leader/prime minister will deliver that speech, rain or shine, before an invited audience. The opposition papers will claim that Orbán’s speeches are becoming increasingly shallow, which is true. But the quality of the speech is of less importance than the fact that this past February was the nineteenth year that Viktor Orbán stood in front of all those flags and basked in the adoration of his audience. After the event, journalists usually ask people who are leaving the building about their impressions. They invariably find the message uplifting. Moreover, these people were personally invited to the speech, and one can tell that they found that invitation priceless.
Finally, there is the picnic at Kötcse with a history of 16 years. Every September select individuals are invited to attend the picnic where Viktor Orbán shares his visions and plans with his devoted supporters. An invitation to Kötcse is a true honor for several reasons. First, there is the aura of secrecy. The media is locked out, and participants are told not to share anything that happened there. Second, the invited guests are not passive observers as they are at the “state of the country” speech. Here they can ask questions and mingle with high party officials. They can feel part of the family, which must be a truly uplifting experience for many. The few attendees who said anything at all about the picnic emphasized their awe at receiving “the great honor” of an invitation.
What did we learn about this year’s gathering at Kötcse? Not much. I listened to an interview with Zsolt Jeszenszky, the wayward son of Géza Jeszenszky, former foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, who, unlike his father, is a great admirer of Viktor Orbán. According to him, Orbán’s speech lasted an hour and a half and was absolutely brilliant. Orbán’s knowledge of world affairs is phenomenal, but he is also thoroughly at home in the smallest details of domestic affairs. The man is simply amazing.
Otherwise, János Csontos wrote an opinion piece in Magyar Idők in which, somewhat obliquely, he let his readers in on some of the details of the gathering. First, he severely criticized those journalists who created “fake news” about the picnic when they had no first-hand knowledge. After a fairly lengthy introduction he allowed his readers to get a feel for the atmosphere of the gathering. In Csontos’s opinion, Kötcse is a place where “a mutual test takes place between the powers-that-be and the intelligentsia.” Orbán wants to know whether the “moonbow” is still with him, while the members of the intelligentsia want to know whether “Viktor Orbán is still in his right mind.” Csontos was happy to announce that there is nothing wrong on this front. Orbán is as sharp as always. As for the elite supporters, an odd sentence gives pause for thought. “There were times when the refined audience and the army of those with questions no longer wanted to hear the truth, the facts.” What does this mean? They didn’t quite believe Orbán’s worldview?
Orbán must have spent time on his future priorities: innovation, organization of the nation (nemzetszervezés), building up the army, and the demographic situation. Of these four, the one that worries me most is the “organization of the nation.” My problem, of course, is that I don’t have the foggiest idea what it could possibly mean, but at the same time I have the nagging feeling that whatever it is, it means something undemocratic and perhaps even sinister. Perhaps some kind of reorganization of society under state supervision. If that is the case, it reminds me of fascism.
HVG published a series of photos of the arriving guests under the title: “It is as far as Kötcse is from Brussels. Take a look at the elite of NER!” Well, first an explanation. There is a saying in Hungarian, “It is as far as Makó is from Jerusalem,” meaning very, very far. We are not sure of the origin of the saying, but most likely it has nothing to do with the city of Makó but perhaps refers to a medieval knight of the same name who never managed to get to Jerusalem. NER stands for “Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere,” i.e., the Orbán regime. HVG’s staff was obviously not impressed by what they saw.
And that takes me to an interview with Tamás Deutsch, one of the founders of Fidesz and currently a member of the European Parliament. He was among those featured in HVG‘s photo gallery. In his youth Deutsch was the darling of older women, who thought he was the cutest boy in all of Hungary. As you can see on the photo, he has lost his charm in the intervening years. The interview that appeared in Magyar Idők is a series of complaints about the West, where “the older member states consider themselves superior, more European than those who joined the Union in 2004 or after. They expropriated the representation of the so-called European values and they don’t understand or don’t even want to understand East-Central Europe.” Dutch Ambassador Gajus Scheltema’s criticism is typical of the widespread belief in the western part of Europe that “they are the sons and daughters of the developed West who can do anything in the wild east.”
As for the differences that currently exist between East and West, Deutsch contends that the blame clearly falls on the West. “The politicians of the 15 member states thought that they were ready for the accession of the underdeveloped new members, but this was not the case. Therefore, the majority of the current problems derive from that fact. The new member states were much better prepared politically, psychologically, and socially.” What can one say? Blaming others while claiming superiority over them seems to be a favorite pastime in Hungary.