Tag Archives: revolution

Fidesz versus Jobbik: Not much difference

Few things can annoy me more than reading in the foreign press or in political analyses that the Orbán government is “conservative.” Take, for instance, the otherwise admirable report prepared by the Congressional Research Service for the hearing organized by the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. It refers to the Hungarian government, Fidesz, as conservative and calls Jobbik a “relatively new, far-right ultranationalist party.” Unfortunately, both descriptions miss the mark–the latter by a little, the former by a lot.

The word “conservative” has many meanings, but all of them stress that the aim of a conservative, be it an individual or a party, is to preserve established customs and values. Even without knowing anything about the recent history of Fidesz and the Orbán government, one ought to remember the speech of Viktor Orbán, made after the party’s stunning victory in 2010, in which he claimed that what happened was a “revolution.” Surely, revolution and conservatism are not bedfellows. And if the victory was a revolution in the voting booths, what has happened since has been a constitutional and administrative revolution, turning the whole constitutional setup and state administration topsy-turvy and transforming Hungarian democracy into a full-blown autocracy, Putin-style. It is time to recognize that Fidesz is a far-right party which has nothing whatsoever to do with conservatism.

By the same token, Jobbik is not just a “far-right ultranationalist party,” as the Congressional Research Service claims, but a racist one as well. Otherwise, Fidesz and Jobbik are pretty much ideological twins. Foreign observers often compare Jobbik to France’s National Front, which is a mistake. Fidesz is the National Front of Hungary. Here I will attempt to show that by now the programs and ideology of the two parties are practically indistinguishable.

Sharper observers, for example Paul Lendvai, noted already in 2012 that the only difference between Fidesz and Jobbik is “the volume and the sharpness of the text. Fundamentally they think similarly about the tragic events of Hungarian history” and the desired future for Hungary. By now, more and more analysts share Lendvai’s assessment, mostly because in the last six years, little by little, Viktor Orbán has carried out practically the entire Jobbik program of 2010. Jobbik didn’t have to be in power to realize its program. Fidesz was good enough to oblige.

Jobbik kormany “In the name of the people” they proposed ten measures that would constitute their first tasks once in power. Since then, Fidesz has fulfilled eight out of the ten. A good list of Jobbik demands and Fidesz responses to these demands can be found in Policy Solutions’ analysis of the Hungarian far right. Jobbik promised to lower taxes, to save the Forex debtors, to nationalize utility companies and thus decrease utility costs, to tax the multinational companies, to lower the pensions of former communist cadres, to introduce public works instead of financial assistance, to prevent foreign ownership of land, and to give citizenship to Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar? Fidesz obliged. Only two demands haven’t been met: the repeal of the right of immunity for members of parliament and the establishment of a gendarmerie. Both are small potatoes.

But that’s not all. It was Jobbik that demanded the discontinuation of private pension plans and the incorporation of their assets into the state social security fund. Fidesz promptly “stole” the private savings of about 3.5 million people. Jobbik demanded the mention of Hungary’s Christian roots in the new constitution. It was done. Jobbik called for the removal of Mihály Károlyi’s statue from its place in front of the parliament. Achieved. Jobbik demanded the removal of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s name from the square in front of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The president of the Academy got the dirty job of carrying out this task. Jobbik wanted to declare June 4, the day the Treaty  of Trianon was signed, a “national memorial day.” Done. Jobbik considered the earlier government’s “servile attitude toward” the EU unacceptable and “was ready to confront Brussels, if necessary, on some national issues.” The last six years of the Orbán government have been spent in constant confrontation with the European Union. It’s time to wake up. As a blogger said the other day, “It has been Gábor Vona [of Jobbik] who has been governing Hungary” for the last six years.

Back in November 2009 I was asked to give a short talk on the Hungarian far right. In my speech I argued that the difference between Jobbik and Fidesz was minimal. I said: “In general, there are just too many signs that the messages of Jobbik and Fidesz are not radically different from one another. It is also becoming increasingly clear that supporters of the two parties overlap. It seems to me that on most fronts Fidesz says the same things as Jobbik but in a slightly more civilized manner.” If that was true then, as I believe it was, it is ten times more true today. Moreover, since Vona decided to adopt a less radical tone in the hope of gaining greater voter acceptance for Jobbik, even what Paul Lendvai called “the volume and the sharpness of the text” has more or less disappeared between the two parties. Vona lowered his voice, Orbán turned up the volume.

There is the misconception, often expressed in opinion pieces in the German, French, and American media, that any criticism of Viktor Orbán’s policies is dangerous because it is Fidesz that is the bulwark against the spread of the neo-Nazi party. I understand that Fidesz propaganda would like us to believe that they are the ones who will defend us from the horrors of a racist, extremist, ultra-nationalist party forming a government in the heart of the European Union. But the history of Fidesz and the Orbán government in the last six years has demonstrated that these two parties see eye to eye on almost everything–from history to the European Union to foreign capital. Viktor Orbán never once tried to stand up against rising extremism or what Jobbik stands for. No, as a matter of fact, he constantly stokes the fire with his intemperate speeches. To expect this man to save Hungary from Jobbik’s extremism is the greatest folly I can think of.

Viktor Orbán explains what went wrong

If I hadn’t already known that Viktor Orbán is in serious political trouble, I would certainly have discovered it last night while watching an interview he gave to Zsolt Bayer, one of the founders of Fidesz and a foul-mouthed racist who thinks he is a journalist. The interview was aired on Echo TV, a far-right television station catering to Jobbik supporters and to those Fidesz voters whose political views are practically indistinguishable from the ideology and racism of Jobbik.

After his falling out with Lajos Simicska, a former friend and financial wizard of Fidesz, Orbán no longer wants to use HírTV, Lánchíd Rádió, or Magyar Nemzet, all Simicska businesses. László Kövér indicated that the party considers these media outlets to be mouthpieces of the opposition. Fidesz politicians have been advised to keep away from them. In the meantime the government, behind the scenes, is creating a new “independent” media empire.

Why did Orbán use the far-right Echo TV instead of the new state television’s news channel, M1? Although M1 is a flop, it still has a wider audience than Echo TV. The only explanation I can think of is that Fidesz is sending a message to Jobbik supporters, who most likely prefer Echo TV above all others, that Fidesz is no less radical than Jobbik is.

It was a long interview, a little over 45 minutes, and a lot of topics were covered, but what I personally found most interesting was the discussion about “the confusion” in the party and the government. I assume Bayer was addressing the party’s lack of direction and the resultant slide in its popularity. He introduced an idea he had written about earlier, that Fidesz has lost its “soul.” Naturally, Viktor Orbán doesn’t believe that there is any intrinsic problem with his leadership. The “confusion” is not in Fidesz or in the government but in the heads of his right-wing supporters. The reason for this confusion is the government’s loss of the media that in the past explained the policies of his administration and directed public opinion in the proper way.

So, if I understand it correctly, Orbán more or less admits here that without a Fidesz-created servile media he and other Fidesz politicians would be nowhere today. They needed Magyar Nemzet, Heti Válasz, and HírTV, which were financed by Fidesz operatives such as Lajos Simicska. Try to imagine a similar situation in a truly democratic country where the president’s or the prime minister’s success depends on the existence of a secretly financed media empire. And once, for one reason or other, something goes wrong and the owner of that media conglomerate withdraws support, the whole government and the government party are suddenly heading toward oblivion. Because this is what seems to have been going on in Hungary for more than a decade. At least since 2002.

Perhaps I should add here that a large chunk of that money came straight from Brussels. Even during the socialist-liberal period Lajos Simicska’s companies received plenty of government projects. There is also a strong possibility that Simicska was not the only Hungarian CEO who secretly worked for Fidesz. Of course, after 2010 the government coffers were opened wide to Fidesz-supporting entrepreneurs who surely paid the party back for favors received.

At the time of the Simicska-Orbán confrontation the majority of commentators were convinced that Lajos Simicska would come out the loser. After all, the power and purse strings of the state are in Viktor Orbán’s hands. He is the one who can destroy Simicska’s business ventures. In the past, it was Viktor Orbán who made sure that huge government projects landed at Simicska’s concerns, and now those orders will go elsewhere. Of course, this may be true in the short term, but what if the “confusion” in the heads of the Hungarian people remains because there are no longer industrious scribblers who try to point their minds in the “right direction”?

Orbán obviously realizes how important it is to create another servile Fidesz media, and I’m sure they are furiously working on it. Orbán specifically mentioned Gábor Liszkay’s purchase of Napi Gazdaság as a first step toward rebuilding a government-servile media conglomerate, but it will take time, if it’s even possible, to make a second Magyar Nemzet out of what used to be a financial paper. And second, there is a good possibility that by now a lot of Fidesz supporters can no longer be so easily swayed. It is enough to read the comments in Magyar Hírlap following the article that describes the interview. Keep in mind that this is a far-right paper. Here’s a tiny sample. “Something was broken. This is not the same Fidesz any more. There is too much senseless arbitrariness. Too much János Lázár.” This is not a left-wing troll writing here. I’m sure that he used to be a true believer. Another reader realizes that “if there is no media on the right, just on the left, then there will be big trouble. By now all media are anti-Orbán and anti-Fidesz.” Of course, there are still many who are glad that Viktor Orbán explained so clearly what the real trouble is, but another reader suggests that perhaps the prime minister should have mentioned some of the mistakes he and his government made. It will be difficult for the government to pick up where they left off.

Another topic I found fascinating was Viktor Orbán’s evaluation of his tenure as prime minister between 2010 and 2015. There seems to be a new twist in his interpretation of his own role as well as the accomplishments of his government. Until now we have been told that in April 2010 a revolution occurred, a revolution in the voting booths. Now, however, he sees the whole four years following the election of 2010 as a revolution, which he considers a fantastic accomplishment. After all, there have not been too many “victorious” revolutions in Hungarian history. Now the gates to a “polgári Magyarország” (a prosperous Hungary with a well-off middle class) are open. “We just have to enter them.” But one must be vigilant because “the opposition wants [to stage] a counterrevolution,” and therefore they are doing everything in their power to prevent the establishment of that long-sought “polgári Magyarország.” What followed was even more bizarre than his description of the opposition as a bunch of counterrevolutionaries. “We have been victorious and that the opposition is attacking us is an excellent sign. They would like to take our place because now it is good for us and bad for them.” A true democrat is speaking here.