Tag Archives: public opinion

Hungarians’ changing priorities; shifts in the left-of-center media

Changing opinions on political issues 

Yesterday I saw a Hír TV news segment that I found intriguing. A woman reporter with a cameraman behind her stopped passersby wanting to know what the “man in the street” thinks about current affairs. This is the umpteenth time that I have encountered such an exercise. The result was always disappointing. Eight or nine people out of ten simply refused to answer any of the questions while the other(s) proclaimed their loyalty to Viktor Orbán, who has created a wonderful, prosperous country. To my great surprise this encounter turned out differently. Everybody was willing to speak, and there was only one woman out of about ten who was enthusiastic about Viktor Orbán on account of his defense of the country against the “migrants.”

The reporter wanted to know what people think are the most urgent tasks and problems Hungarians face today. The answers were practically uniform: healthcare and education. A couple of people mentioned low wages and inflation, especially food prices. When people didn’t cite migration as a problem, the journalist asked them about the topic. With the exception of one person, they all claimed that the danger of migration is not in the forefront of their concerns. There are no migrants in Hungary, and migrants show little inclination to settle there anyway.

One of those dissatisfied citizens

At first I thought I may simply have seen an atypical, or skewed, news segment. But then, a few hours later, I found an article in 24.hu reporting that “Hungarians worry more about poverty and healthcare than migration.” It summarized the findings of two international organizations, Eurobarometer and the conservative International Republican Institute. Both indicated that migration is not uppermost in Hungarians’ minds. The International Republican Institute’s findings are especially interesting because the respondents were not faced with a set of prepared options. Here poverty and the lack of social equality (28%) were people’s main concerns, followed by corruption (15%), unemployment (13%), healthcare (12%), and “migration” (4%).

But in that case, why did the Orbán government launch a new campaign against the “Soros Plan”? Knowing the careful political calculations of Fidesz, we must assume that the questions in the new “national consultation” will be slanted in such a way that it will speak to the concerns of the majority of Hungarians. There are signs that in the present Fidesz vocabulary the “Soros Plan” is actually just another name for the European Union. In this case, the main thrust of this new campaign will again be anti-EU. But it has to be structured so that it doesn’t cause the kind of adverse reaction that the “Stop Brussels” campaign did.

Changes in the left-of center media

Those of you who are able to watch Hungarian-language television must be aware of the slow transformation of ATV, which until about two years ago was the only independent TV station. At that time Lajos Simicska, Viktor Orbán’s old high school friend and the financial brain behind Fidesz, turned against Orbán, allegedly because of his pro-Russian orientation. This put an end to the pro-government stance of Simicska’s Magyar Nemzet and Hír TV. At about the same time, major changes began to be introduced at ATV, which is owned by the fundamentalist Assembly of Faith. It is hard to tell whether these changes were made in order to boost viewership or for political reasons, but there are fewer programs for people who are interested in political news. Reporters were hired from TV2, a commercial station that caters to a different audience from the one that ATV had attracted earlier. Also, two important reporters, Olga Kálmán and Antónia Mészáros, left the station. Kálmán joined Hír TV and Mészáros left the profession altogether. In addition, several reporters simply disappeared from the screen. The new crew was, at least in my opinion, not worth watching.

The final straw was the replacement of Kálmán and Mészáros with Zsuzsa Demcsák, who began her career as a fashion model but later spent years at TV2, a commercial station recently bought by Andy Vajna, most likely as a proxy for the Hungarian government. After the change of ownership, reporters started leaving TV2, including Demcsák in April. ATV jumped at what the management considered to be an opportunity and hired her. The arrangement was that Demcsák and Egon Rónai would rotate being anchor of “Egyenes beszéd” on a weekly basis. Demcsák’s first week on the job was dreadful. The woman was simply out of her depth. The following week she showed off her incompetence on ATV Start, an early morning political program. Then came Friday morning when she was, I’m afraid, quite drunk while interviewing Tibor Szanyi, MSZP’s European parliamentary member. She was suspended, awaiting the results of an internal investigation, but I’m almost certain that we are not going to see her on ATV again.

On the other hand, Hír TV came out with several new programs. This morning I watched two of them. The first was “Elmúlt 8 év” (The past eight years) with Györgyi Szöllősi, who is a good reporter. The other was “180 fok” (180 degrees) with Sándor Csintalan, a somewhat controversial character who started off as an MSZP politician and at one point was in the Fidesz camp. He is now a committed foe of Orbán. The program is in part a call-in show and and in part a series of interviews. The first guests were Miklós Haraszti, who is no stranger to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, and the head of Iránytű (Compass), a polling company allegedly close to Jobbik. I encountered Iránytű’s director before and found his views moderate and balanced. And I loved the screen behind Csintalan, showing an idyllic countryside with a charming peasant house when suddenly Orbán’s infamous choo-choo train goes across. The train appears every five minutes or so. I laughed every time. I think I will also check out another new program called “Magyar Exodus,” which will be mostly filmed abroad, with Hungarian emigrants.

Unfortunately, these two cable channels reach very few people, but their existence is still vitally important. One can only hope that ATV will find its bearings soon because otherwise it can close up shop.

September 17, 2017

A Hungarian reassessment of Donald Trump

The Orbán government, as we know, was initially delighted over Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States. Viktor Orbán expected a favorable change in U.S.-Hungarian relations, especially since the Hungarian prime minister was the only European leader to express a preference for Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton during the election campaign. A reciprocal sign of goodwill on the part of Trump was presumed, not just by the Hungarian administration but by the public as well. The prime minister undoubtedly expected an early invitation to the White House in addition to friendlier gestures from the U.S. State Department. None of these expectations has materialized. On the contrary, Viktor Orbán’s attack on Central European University was sharply denounced by the State Department. At the same time U.S.-Russian relations, instead of getting better, have soured. By now there’s a Cold-War-like chill in the relationship between the two countries.

In the last few weeks we have seen signs that the Orbán government is in the process of reassessing its opinion of the American president, who lost his first rounds against the Washington establishment and might already have been mortally wounded under the barrage of revelations about his and his family’s questionable conduct. Thus, I assume, the journalists of the government media received permission to use stronger language against the American president which, given their pro-Russian views, comes naturally to them.

Leading the way is István Lovas, who used to be Magyar Nemzet’s Brussels correspondent at the time the paper was the main mouthpiece of Fidesz. Lovas, after 20 years of living in Canada, the United States, and Germany where he worked for Radio Free Europe, returned to Hungary. He began writing for right-wing papers, like the now defunct Pesti Hírlap, Magyar Demokrata, Magyar Hírlap, and Magyar Idők. He is also a regular participant in a political roundtable program alongside Zsolt Bayer on the far-right Echo TV, now owned by Lőrinc Mészáros. His expertise is foreign policy. In addition, he maintains a blog.

Lovas published two articles on Trump today, one in Magyar Hírlap and the other in Magyar Idők. The first deals with “The collapse of Trump” and the other with the forthcoming economic sanctions against “dishonest” China. In addition, Magyar Idők added an editorial on the “economic saber rattling” of the United States. So, the honeymoon, if there ever was one, is over.

In Lovas’s assessment, the last remnants of Trump’s “pretense of power” evaporated when he signed the sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. It was a cowardly and unconstitutional act, in Lovas’s opinion. His performance as president has been disgraceful, and all those who believed his campaign promises about his plans for good relations with Russia are greatly disappointed. Trump is universally despised—at one point Lovas calls him a cockchafer’s grub—and therefore, in Lovas’s opinion, “it is not worth meeting this man.” I guess this is a message to Viktor Orbán: “Don’t be too disappointed that you haven’t been invited to Washington to meet the failed president. It’s not worth the bother.”

Lovas’s other article, on America’s possible trade war with China, is not an original piece but a summary of an article originally published in Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten. Lovas, who spent more than a week in China recently, is impressed with the super-modern world the Chinese created in the last few decades and therefore is worried about American plans that might result in a full-fledged trade war between the two countries.

The third article, “Trumps attacks on many fronts,” by Attila Mártonffy, deals with U.S. sanctions against Russia, China, and Iran which in turn hurt the economic interests of the European Union. The author calls the American moves “saber rattling.”

All in all, after relative media silence, the open criticism of Donald Trump has begun. Knowing the practices of the Hungarian government media, the articles that appear in Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap will a few days later be followed by pieces on all the lesser right-wing internet sites. We can expect article after article reassessing the role of Donald Trump as “the leader of the free world.”

Meanwhile, it might be educational to take a look at a by-now admittedly dated study (the material was collected from February 16 to May 8 and the report published in late June) by the Pew Research Center. It focuses on the opinions of people living in 37 countries about Donald Trump and the United States. We are lucky because Hungary was one of the 10 European countries included in the survey.

Overall, confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs dropped sharply (from 64% to 22%) after Trump became president. This is true in Hungary as well. Hungarian trust in the presidency in the closing years of Obama’s second term was 58%, but by the time of the survey it was only 29%. I should add that there are only two countries of the 37 included in the survey where confidence in Trump was greater than it was in Obama: Israel (from 49% to 56%) and Russia (from 11% to 56%). Disappointment among Russians must be great nowadays.

When the researchers wanted to pinpoint the effect of the change in U.S. administration on public opinion in the countries studied some interesting results surfaced. Ten European countries were included in the survey: Hungary, Poland, Greece, Italy, France, United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden. In most of these countries there was a sizable drop in people’s favorable views of the United States after Trump moved into the White House. For example, this drop was 28 percentage points in Spain and 26 percentage points in the Netherlands. Hungary and Greece were the only two exceptions. In Hungary’s case there was a +1 move (62% to 63%) and in Greece a +5 change after Trump was elected.

Confidence in Trump as president is low everywhere in Europe. For example, 92% of Spaniards have no confidence in him, but even other European countries, including Greece and Italy, expressed very strong anti-Trump sentiments. Poland and Hungary are the last two countries on the list, each with only a 57% disapproval rate. In its opinion of the U.S.-Mexican wall, Hungary is at the bottom of the list, with a 49% disapproval rate, which may not sound like much of an endorsement until we compare it to the other European countries. The European median is 86%. Another telling figure is Hungarians’ strong approval of restrictions on entry to the United States from majority-Muslim countries. Hungary heads the list with 70% as opposed to the European median of 36%.

At the time Hungarians were also a great deal less critical of Donald Trump’s qualifications for the presidency. The European figures are devastating, but in Hungary more people believe he is qualified for the job (39%) than in any other European country. This is also true when it comes to questions about his personal traits, like his alleged arrogance and intolerance. Hungary is always at the end of the list, often together with Poland, in being the least critical. It is also telling that while overwhelming majority of Spaniards, French, Swedes, Dutch, and Germans consider Trump to be very dangerous as far as the world is concerned (76%-69%), only 42% of Hungarians do.

An intriguing situation. Within the European context Hungarians are less inclined to be harsh in their assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency. At least this was the case a few months ago. It will be fascinating to watch what happens in the coming months, especially if government media criticism of Trump’s policies becomes more widespread.

August 4, 2017

A woman prime minister for Hungary?

A surprising number of listeners, mostly men, to György Bolgár’s call-in program on Klubrádió keep suggesting that what Hungary needs today is a woman as prime minister. My first thought was that the reason for this unexpected enthusiasm for a woman to lead the country is the undeniable failure of the Hungarian political elite in the last 25 years. Female participation in politics has been negligible, so politics is associated with the male gender. Perhaps disillusioned voters think that with more women in high political offices politics itself would be transformed into something more civilized and less corrupt.

Regardless of whether Hungary had a conservative or a liberal-socialist government, women never made up more than 10 percent of the country’s legislators. With that figure Hungary is dead last among all member states of the European Union. Currently the percentage of women in the lower houses of parliament in the European Union is 29%. The goal is 40% by 2020. With the exception of LMP, Hungary’s green party, there has been no concerted effort to encourage women to enter politics and promote their careers.

In the last 25 years only two women were chosen to lead their parties: Ibolya Dávid of the by now defunct Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF) and Ildikó Lendvai of the socialist party (MSZP). At the ministerial level, again regardless of whether the government was conservative or liberal-socialist, the number of women was very small or nonexistent. Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz has had the worst record in this respect. The first Orbán government did have one female member, Ibolya Dávid, but her appointment was forced upon him by the coalition agreement signed by Fidesz and MDF. Once he was free of any such encumbrance, he had no desire to see a woman near the apex of power. Moreover, he doesn’t want to see too many of them in parliament either. Of the 114 Fidesz MPs only eight, or 7%, are women. We mustn’t forget that all MPs are handpicked by Orbán himself.

Sometime in the spring of 2015 Viktor Orbán paid a visit to his old college dormitory to have a chat with the current students of the famed birthplace of Fidesz. In the freewheeling conversation that followed, which was later leaked to the media, Viktor Orbán shared some of his thoughts on women and politics. I devoted a whole post to this topic, in which I summarized Orbán’s ambivalent attitude toward women in general and women in politics in particular. He characterized Hungarian politics as savage and said its main weapon was “character assassination.” Therefore, women should be spared this pain. Perhaps they are better suited to becoming ambassadors because in that position women “are not torn to pieces.” So, Orbán, by not allowing women into the political arena, is doing them a favor.

The other day “Integrity Lab” released a study based on polling of the public’s attitudes toward women politicians, which was most likely inspired by Hillary Clinton’s nomination to become the first woman president of the United States. If she is elected, three women–Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and Hillary Clinton–will have a substantial say in which direction the western world heads.

Source: Aftenposten, Norway

Source: Aftenposten, Norway

Considering the low numbers of female politicians in Hungary, the Hungarian public is quite open-minded on the subject. The first surprise was that 51% of the population believe that the socialist-liberal parties should name a woman as their prospective prime minister while only 30% would disapprove of such a choice. The rest (19%) have no opinion.

The enthusiasm for a socialist-liberal prime minister naturally varies by party preference. The most baffling result is the relatively low percentage of LMP voters who would support the idea of a female prime minister (43%) as opposed to those (38%) who would not welcome such an outcome. These figures are mystifying because LMP believes in a 50-50 quota system. In the five-member LMP parliamentary delegation there are two women, and if six of them had been elected, there would have been three women. The leadership is in the hands of co-chairs, a man and a woman.

The other surprise is the less than enthusiastic endorsement of a female candidate by the voters of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK). Only 50% of them would support the idea, compared to 57% among MSZP voters and 65% among the smaller democratic parties (Együtt, PM, MLP). The explanation, I assume, stems from the standing of the party leader, Ferenc Gyurcsány, in the eyes of his devoted followers. Jobbik voters, as far as their attitudes toward a female candidate are concerned, are more enlightened than their friends in Fidesz. Thirty-eight percent of Jobbik voters would accept a woman as prime minister. A mere 15% of Fidesz voters would.

Only 12% of the population think that the reason there are so few women in politics is their unsuitability for the profession. This is heartening, even if a rather large percentage (22%) of Fidesz voters share their leader’s skeptical view of women’s suitability for the job. This 22% is especially glaring if we compare it to 11% of Jobbik, 12% of LMP, 3% of DK, and 12% of MSZP voters.

So, Hungarians are on the whole not as disapproving of women in high positions as one might have suspected on the basis of the very low female participation in politics and the present government’s attitude toward women. On the other hand, other widely held views might negate this somewhat optimistic assessment of the situation. For instance, Hungarians totally reject any kinds of quotas, especially the kind that would give preferential treatment to certain groups. This is one of the reasons that the path to higher education is often cut off for Roma youngsters. To promote the entry of women into politics would need a conscious effort, most likely some kind of hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the allotment of party positions. That would mean that a number of ensconced male politicians would have to give up their places, a move that would undoubtedly be fiercely resisted.

It’s nice to dream about a female prime minister for Hungary, but at the present I am hard-pressed to come up with a candidate with the necessary experience and stature. I can think of only five well-known women politicians: Ildikó Lendvai (MSZP), Ágnes Vadai (DK), Erzsébet Pusztai (Modern Magyarország Mozgalom, earlier MDF), Kinga Göncz (MSZP, former foreign minister and member of the European Parliament) and the still very young Ágnes Kunhalmi (MSZP). The Hungarian democratic opposition should work very hard to include more women within their ranks and to mentor and promote them so they would be prepared to hold top positions in the parties and in a future government. Otherwise, Hungarians will not have a female prime minister any time soon.

August 7, 2016

How do Hungarians see Viktor Orbán’s political system and its corruption?

I don’t know whether you have ever encountered people from Hungary, mostly those who are no friends of Fidesz and the government, who tell you that this government is thoroughly disliked by a large majority of the population. They know this to be the case because they talk to a lot of people who all have devastating opinions about the performance of the Orbán government. The standard reaction to these claims is that such stories are anecdotal. Moreover, our friends and acquaintances usually come from a well-defined circle whose social standing and political views more or less resemble our own. We are apt to point to all the monthly polls that attest to the fact that Fidesz is still the most popular party and that, if national elections were held today, Viktor Orbán’s party could win easily and even regain its supermajority. So, those people who claim that “everybody hates this government” are wrong. They merely project their own dislike of the present regime.

Well, today we received data from the highly regarded Medián polling company suggesting that our acquaintances’ description of the mood on the street is not just wishful thinking. The poll that was made public today by Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, shows that the Hungarian people are not blind to the fact that the present political leadership is robbing the country blind. Moreover, a majority of Hungarians don’t consider Orbán’s Hungary a democracy.

Most of the questions centered around corruption, which in at least one of the questions was defined as “visszaélések” (abuses), which apparently most of the respondents found too mild a description of what’s going on in Orbán’s Hungary nowadays and used stronger words instead: “korrupció,” “családi összefonódás” (nepotism), “állami  bűnszervezet” (a state directed criminal organization, using mafia methods).

When asked about “financial abuses” characteristic of the Orbán government, respondents could choose from five categories: (1) in very great measure, (2) in great measure, (3) in small measure, (4) not at all, and (5) doesn’t know. Among the respondents only 6% think that Fidesz is in no way tainted by corruption. On the other hand, 67% think that the present government is in very great or great measure corrupt. Even a large minority of Fidesz voters (37%) believe their favorite party is corrupt while only 15% think that Fidesz is pure as the driven snow. Jobbik voters are just as skeptical about Fidesz (86%) as are voters from the democratic opposition (88%).

Questions and answers about the extent of corruption

Questions and answers about the extent of corruption

The next question was about the nature of corruption. Respondents were offered two choices: (1) private actions of dishonest civil servants or (2) systemic corruption centrally directed from above. This is a crucial distinction because the corruption that beset Hungary between 1990 and 2010 was of the first kind while the corruption Viktor Orbán introduced is of the second variety. While the former type of corruption can, to a greater or lesser extent, be found in all countries, the latter kind is encountered in countries with a strong central power without any possibility of legal or civic oversight.

It seems that an overwhelming majority of the population has grasped the difference between the ordinary garden variety of corruption and the systemic corruption that analysts like Bálint Magyar have been talking about. That recognition takes a certain amount of political sophistication, which it seems the Hungarian population has managed to acquire. Sixty percent of people of different political stripes think that Viktor Orbán, sitting at the top of the pyramid, is systematically organizing the plunder of the country for the benefit of himself and his supporters. Almost 40% of Fidesz supporters consider corruption as it exists in Hungary to be systemic.  Jobbik (67%), the democratic opposition (77%), and even undecided voters (70%) are convinced that Orbán and his minions are heading a criminal organization for their own benefit.

Answers about the nature of corruption

Answers about the nature of corruption

Although commentators often complain about the general lack of attention to politics and the dearth of information that reaches the population, in large measure because of the filters imposed on news by state television and radio stations, 56% of the population have noticed that corruption cases involving Fidesz politicians and government officials are swept under the rug. Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt, perhaps the most important man in that “criminal organization,” makes sure that the chief actors of the “mafia state” will not have sleepless nights even as prosecutors over the last six years have dragged politicians active in the MSZP-SZDSZ government through the mud, most of the time without any cause. This is how the government managed to convince the population, at least initially, that the corruption of socialists and liberals was sky high while Fidesz was a party of upright citizens. By 2014 the public was convinced that MSZP was at least twice as corrupt as Fidesz. This perception is changing. By now Fidesz’s score is slightly higher than that of MSZP, and I assume that as time goes by the gap between them will widen further.

Perhaps the most astonishing finding of the poll is the population’s opinion of the enrichment of Viktor Orbán. It widely believed that the extremely successful businessmen around Viktor Orbán, like István Garancsi, Lőrinc Mészáros, and Andy Vajna, are actually “strómanok” (front men) of Viktor Orbán who hand over a large portion of their profits to the prime minister. The question posed was whether the respondent found this proposition (1) probable, (2) conceivable, (3) inconceivable, (4) doesn’t know. Only 15% of the respondents believe that Viktor Orbán is not the personal beneficiary of the profits these men have acquired through his good offices. Almost half of the population (47%) find it conceivable and 31% probable that Viktor Orbán is getting rich, mostly from EU money filtered through his favorite oligarchs.

Amswers concerning Orbán's personal corruption

Answers concerning Orbán’s personal corruption

Finally, a question was added to the questionnaire that has no direct connection to corruption per se. Medián wanted to find out how people would describe the political system in which they live. The respondents came up with six different labels: (1) diktatúra (20%), (2) democracy (18%), (3) autocratic regime (18%), (4) mafia state (15%), (5) system of national cooperation [NER] (9%), (6) illiberal democracy (8%).  The rest, 12%, either didn’t answer or chose some other label. NER (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere) is the official name of the political system Orbán announced in April 2010.

People's thoughts on the nature of Orbán's political system

People’s thoughts on the nature of Orbán’s political system

Endre Hann, in his article on the poll, speculates on some of the conclusions one can draw from these labels. Those who think that Hungary is still a democracy and those who describe the country’s political system as a structure based on national cooperation are most likely Fidesz supporters. There is no doubt that those who consider Orbán’s world a dictatorship or a mafia state belong in the anti-Fidesz category. It’s harder to place those who describe the government as an “autocratic regime” or an “illiberal democracy.”

What I find important is that only 18% of the population think that Hungary is a democracy, while 53% consider Orbán’s system either a dictatorship, an autocracy, or a mafia state. So, it’s time for foreign newspaper editors to change their own labels when talking about Orbán’s Hungary. Let’s not pretend that Hungary is still a democratic state, let’s not talk about a right-of-center or conservative government. Let’s believe the people who live under Viktor Orbán’s system.

July 28, 2016

Hungarian public opinion on the government’s handling of the refugee crisis

Along the Croatian-Hungarian border not much has changed since yesterday or the day before yesterday, and therefore we can turn to Hungarian sentiment, which has been poisoned by the massive government anti-refugee propaganda. Anita Köműves of Népszabadság, who just returned to Hungary after a year as a journalist intern at the University of Maryland, was astounded by the general lack of knowledge about the causes of the refugee crisis and by the xenophobia that Viktor Orbán is generating. As she said, “take it from a Hungarian journalist: Orbán is playing a dangerous game.”

Just today Tamás Ungár, also a reporter for Népszabadság covering the region of southern Transdanubia, came up with a long list of opinions he gathered from Hungarians in a number of cities and towns from Pécs to Kaposvár. A young fellow from Pécs, a Jobbik sympathizer, is convinced that the current flow of refugees is financed by Israel. Where did he get this idea? He was told by others and that seems to be enough. Some Hungarians are convinced that the United States is behind the emigration of Syrians, Iraqis, and others. It wants to weaken the European Union. There is a widespread fear that terrorists are hidden among the refugees and therefore not one of the refugees should be accepted in Hungary. Most of the people Ungár talked to believe that these immigrants cannot be integrated into European society. Those with such decided opinions often refer to state radio or television as their source of information.

Ungár’s reporting was, of course, anecdotal. For more statistically significant insight we can turn to the follow-up public opinion poll by Publicus Intézet conducted this month. In mid-July Publicus polled Hungarians on three related subjects: the erection of a fence along the Serb-Hungarian border, the emigration of Hungarians to western Europe, and the possible immigration of refugees coming from the Middle East. At that time 46% of the population were convinced that the fence would not stop the flow of refugees and 21% were doubtful about the efficacy of the fence. As for the questions on emigration and immigration, by July government propaganda had already made inroads. While in May 57% of the people considered emigration a greater problem than immigration and 23% believed the opposite, by July the situation had changed. Only 42% of the people found emigration to be a greater problem and 44% were convinced that immigration was a greater threat.

Publicus’s September poll shows that the Hungarian government didn’t manage to convince the population about the usefulness of the fence. Today not 46% but 56% of those asked said the fence was totally useless and another 22% thought it was pretty useless. But how then do we explain the fact that when the respondents were asked whether, if they had been in the position of deciding whether to erect the fence, in July 56% would have decided against it and only 34% would have gone ahead with it whereas this month fewer respondents (50%) would have discarded the idea and 40% would have decided to build it. In brief, while today more respondents think the fence is useless, more would nonetheless have decided to build it.

Publicus was also interested in people’s attitudes toward the refugees. The participants in the survey had to express their opinion about the following propositions:

  1. It is our duty to help the refugees. The answer was overwhelmingly in the affirmative. 64% to 30%
  2. The refugees should be treated more humanely. 52% to 38%
  3. Hungary, according to her ability, should accept a number of refugees. 37% to 55%
  4. Too many refugees are arriving and Europe will not be able to handle the numbers. 87% to 9%
  5. If necessary, we must defend our borders with weapons in hand. 41% to 42%

I find this last figure especially troubling. I should also mention here that the majority of Jobbik voters (54%) are quite satisfied with the Hungarian government’s treatment of the refugees, which we know has been quite harsh and unfeeling. In their opinion, it seems, these refugees don’t deserve anything better.

Displaced SyriansPublicus was also interested in what the population thinks of the international reaction to the Hungarian government’s handling of the refugee crisis. Did foreign opinion of Hungary deteriorate or improve? To my surprise, Hungarians do realize that what Viktor Orbán is doing is harmful to the country’s image (66% as opposed to 18%). Why am I surprised? At least for two reasons. One is the oft-repeated claim that the Hungarian government is simply following the prescript of the European Union. In fact, it is only Budapest that observes the letter of the law. All other countries, from Greece to Germany, transgress the rules and regulations, and by their actions they aggravate the crisis. The second reason is that commentators often complain about the Hungarian population’s relative ignorance of the outside world. I read recently that only 12.5% of the population know a foreign language well enough to read a newspaper article or understand television news. Therefore, I must conclude either that the Hungarian opposition media is doing a relatively good job of informing people about the international reaction to the Hungarian government’s actions or perhaps that people extrapolated what this reaction must be from the videos that went viral on YouTube. I should mention though that while on the other questions only a relative small percentage of people had no opinion (2-10%), in this case 16% were unable to give an answer.

The feeling that Viktor Orbán has done harm to the country’s reputation is widespread and uniform. Even Fidesz voters believe that the international community reacted negatively to the policies adopted by the Hungarian government. For example, only 33% of Fidesz voters think that Hungary’s reputation has been enhanced by recent government decisions. And 65% of Jobbik voters realize that the country’s reputation has been seriously damaged in the last few months.

Finally, respondents were asked to grade the performance of the Orbán government in the refugee crisis on a scale of 1 (F) to 5 (A). Only Fidesz voters thought that the government deserved a grade higher than 3 (C ) (3.8). A C average is nothing to brag about.

What kinds of conclusions can we draw on the basis of this survey? There seems to be a growing number of people who feel somewhat ashamed of the government’s harsh treatment of the refugees and the callousness of most leading Fidesz politicians. At the same time very few people, one out of ten, would like to have any of these refugees settle among themselves. The reason, I suspect, is the propaganda about the unbridgeable differences in culture and religion between the refugees and Hungarians.

Most Hungarians seem to be convinced that the refugees cannot be integrated into European society. Yet facts tell a different story. There are already a fair number of Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese, and Jordanians who have been living in Hungary for decades. There is a telling video taken in a village somewhere in the northeast corner of the country where the local doctor is a Syrian. A reporter went around in the village and asked people what they thought of accepting Syrian refugees. They were all dead against the idea. But, said the reporter, Dr. X. is a Syrian. To which the answer was: “Dr. X? But he is different. He is one of us.”

Viktor Orbán on a communication offensive: trying to undo the damage

Viktor Orbán’s “communication staff” is working on “the problem”–the record drop in the government’s popularity. Apparently, the leading politicians of Fidesz are belittling the gravity of the situation, pointing to 2010-2011 when the popularity of the government party was lower than it is now: only 20%. Moreover, there was a time when Gordon Bajnai had a higher ranking than Viktor Orbán, and Fidesz managed to regain its standing within a few months. Surely, with clever communication tricks the situation can be remedied once again. And the best spokesman for the cause is the prime minister himself.

Blikk’s Sztárchat, which I wrote about yesterday, was Orbán’s first attempt to “engage” the people. A day later he gave an interview to Napi Gazdaság and this morning an “extraordinary Friday interview” on Kossuth Rádió (MR1). The contents of the two interviews largely overlap.

Zoltán Lakner, my favorite “political scientist,” summed up Orbán’s message well on Facebook. “He repeated … all those items that are objects of our hilarity or our rage.” The great communication offensive so far is an attempt to explain to the Hungarian people that all the government’s recent decisions are actually good for them.

Let’s start with highway M0, which encircles the capital. The decision to make M0 a toll road is actually a benefit to the Hungarian people at the expense of foreign visitors, he explained. Orbán’s aim is to have the naive citizens of the country think that somehow the only victims of these new tolls will be foreign visitors who, upon entry, will pay a hefty price to be able to use all the toll roads. Hungarians, on the other hand, will be able travel for relatively little money within the borders of the county in which they reside. But what happens if they want to leave the confines of their county? Well, the prime minister did not go into such mundane details. But since he spent so much time on the question of toll roads, I assume that the revenue that is projected to come from this source is desperately needed.

The second topic was the proposed drug tests. The last time we talked about it, the word was that mandatory yearly drug tests for politicians and journalists are clearly unconstitutional and against European Union law and therefore the government will drop the idea. At the same time, we heard, there will be no compulsory drug testing of children, only voluntary testing. Well, it seems that Orbán changed his mind and now insists on mandatory testing of politicians and journalists. This is such an outlandish idea that it was immediately picked up by the Associated Press and this morning was already on the website of ABC television news. The lead sentence is worth quoting: “Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make Hungary into a ‘non-liberal’ state as he moves closer to Moscow, now wants mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians.” Here in one sentence is the core of what people in the West object to: Orbán’s illiberal state and his moving closer to Moscow.

Why, according to the prime minister, is this testing necessary? Because a drug mafia is hard at work in Hungary. So, “the government made the decision that in the next three years we will clean Hungary of the drug mafia. That is what we began now.” To see how minor a problem drug use is in Hungary, I highly recommend the European Monitoring Center’s interactive prevalence maps. Here Orbán is playing on the ignorance of average Hungarians who cannot distinguish between marijuana and cocaine or heroin, even as he implies that journalists critical of his government must be under the influence of drugs. As far as I know, so far only one Hungarian politician was caught snorting cocaine by a hidden camera. Because he happened to be a Fidesz politician, the investigators couldn’t recognize him clearly. Nothing happened to him. We know from past experience that Fidesz politicians can get away with murder but innocent opposition politicians are sometimes dragged into court. If this piece of legislation is passed, it will be an excellent club in the hands of Viktor Orbán against his political opponents. The same will be true of journalists he doesn’t like.

Let's calm down. The time of serene governance is beginning

Let’s calm down. The time of serene governance has started.

As for foreign policy, he will “continue the defense of the national interests” because Orbán anticipates attacks against Hungary coming from abroad. Orbán is convinced that behind every international dispute there are blatant economic and financial interests, and therefore “the government continually has to watch and struggle. But at the same time that it wages a battle outside, it has to create tranquility, stability, transparency inside. It has to promote the development of conditions in which the Hungarian people can live serene lives.” There is every expectation that this goal will become a reality because the country has moved in the right direction and soon enough will catch up to the western countries. Next year the government will start “the largest economic development project in Hungary’s history” which will provide “economic security, equanimity, quietude and happiness for Hungary.”

So, let’s see what commenters on 444.hu and vastagbőr.hu had to say in reaction to these lines.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” I am already a nervous wreck.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” Did they find some experimental drug in Graz?

He has lied until now and he will be lying in the future. This is the only thing that is predictable.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” Why, did Viktor lapse into a coma?

Viktor, Viktor, you are stupider than I thought.

The program is: we CONTINUE. The stealing, the robbery, the blackmailing, and this sickeningly tasteless lying.

What kind of serene governing is this idiot talking about? Doesn’t he live in Hungary? He doesn’t realize that people are demonstrating because of the idiotic, stupid policies that irritate people? They should have sent him straight to hell a long time ago.

During the interview Orbán recalled that he said four years ago that he doesn’t want “popular ministers.” What is important is competence. As for the popularity of the government, he will take care of that. Well, I don’t think he has been doing a bang-up job lately.