Tired of the left and right-wing tribal reporting on Viktor Orbán? Read this essay by a centrist Hungarian student
Viktor Orbán and the currently ruling FIDESZ-KDNP party won a landslide victory in Hungary’s general election on the 8th of April. This result gave Orbán his third consecutive term as prime minister. FIDESZ is expected to take 133 of the Hungarian parliament’s 199 seats, according to official results, with more than 98 percent of votes counted. Such a two-thirds “super-majority” would allow the party to change the constitution on its own as it has done between 2010 and 2014, during the first Orbán government with a two-third majority.
Such a victory, especially after two terms, for FIDESZ seems to be a historical opportunity: the question is, will Orbán be able to establish himself as a conservative statesman in the EU, steadily opposing the mainstream bureaucratic legislative endeavours to build a sovereign and strong nation in Europe or is he simply an opportunistic populist utilising authoritarian measures to cement himself into power simply by scapegoating the politicians in Brussels?
No real competition
The success of Viktor Orbán can only be understood if we go back in time – 300 years would be the most accurate, but there is no time to go that deeply into the identity and psyche of the Hungarian people. During the Cold War, Hungary was part of the Eastern Bloc and essentially a communist state. After the revolution of 1956 though, the Stalinist and iron-handed approach of former premier Mátyás Rákosi was left behind, as the communist elite realised that such tyranny cannot be maintained for a long time. The next premier, János Kádár was the key figure in the process that followed. Until the fall of the iron curtain in 1989, Kádár’s rule in Hungary was as ambivalent as it gets: the most absurd tendencies of the socialist states were upheld to maintain the dogmatic structure of the dictatorship – like nobody being homeless or unemployed as the state would punish those who did not work and the infamous five year plans to maintain the economy, in which the state basically demanded production based on preliminary specifications are just two of these ludicrous elements – but in reality, literally nobody took the system seriously.
The underlying genius of such a state was that the whole population was partaking in its own oppression. Rákosi could not break the spirit of the people, but Kádár finally managed to corrupt it. The whole idea was that the communist party knows damn well that you are breaking the law on an everyday basis – slaughtering pigs at home, making your own spirits and so on were prohibited – but they didn’t mind as long as you kept quiet and did not engage in any political activity. In short: shut up and renounce your freedoms as a citizen to get by in this lukewarm and monotone system you call your home.
Generations grew up under socialist rule and when capitalism came in the form of Western investors, the same elite sold out every possible Hungarian asset without hesitation. The population experienced a drastic change: the secure and easy life under socialism collapsed to be replaced with this wild and risky system where self-realization and individual thinking is paramount to survival. The problem is, Hungarians were not prepared and even if they were, the post-communist elite basically sold out Hungary to foreign capital. There was no retaliation, no reprisal and no one to hold accountable. Hungarians wanted to change the system but they could only scratch the surface.
It comes as no surprise after these events that Hungarians tend to be sceptical and apathetic about our leadership. After 50 years of socialist rule, where the elite was as corrupt and incompetent as possible, in a few short years, the investors and innovators from the West, which Hungarians had held in such high regards from beyond the iron curtain, arrived as a swarm of locusts to claim everything that remained after the socialist parasites. Hungarians are not naive. They are pessimistic and for a good reason.
Return of the premier
The very first Orbán government from 1998 to 2002 was a very different experience for the nation. Young, somewhat conservative and liberal politicians attempted to shape Hungary into something that mostly resembles a civic European nation. They were defeated in 2002 by the successor of the communist party and until 2010, a chaotic and unsure period ensued. Only 13 years after the fall of the iron curtain, Hungarians voted back the oppressors. They did not want to be civic. They did not want to be European, nor responsible for their own lives. This was a turning point and Orbán realized the most important thing: to gain power here, you must become the next János Kádár – give the people safety and they will give you their loyalty and freedom.
In 2010, after 8 years of socialist-liberal rule, where essentially uncharismatic technocrats, former communist agents, bureaucrats and opportunists left the nation to rot under the rule of former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány – who is like an amalgamation of Bugs Bunny, Tony Blair and a very mediocre D list actor from a soap opera – the people had high hopes after FIDESZ secured a majority win. Hopes that they would traverse to a more civilized, classically liberal and economically nationalist Hungary. These hopes withered away only in a few years.
FIDESZ used its unexampled power to rewrite the constitution, cement its power by tinkering with Hungary’s electoral system and slowly replacing key figures in the system of checks and balances – the most obvious and shameful being the General Attorney who used to be a member of FIDESZ. They claimed that Hungarians are taking back our key industries from foreign agents, which was true in a sense, but only to be given to the close allies of the prime minister, among them many of his relatives. This nepotistic attitude combined with the constant catering to the elderly – free services, extra pension fees and rhetoric reminiscent of the “good old days” – was something that made myself, together with many former supporters of the party turn away in horror. The politicians who wanted to defeat the ghost of socialism embraced it more thoroughly than anybody before them. Since 2010, the System of National Cooperation (NER), built by FIDESZ, is stifling the nation like an octopus, with its tentacles reaching every corner.
The status quo
I am in no way a supporter of the current ruling coalition. NER, with all its shady and obviously feudalistic activities, our cabinet’s strong admiration of Russia and even stronger economic dependency on German firms are not desirable directions for me, nor for many people among my generation. I want my country to strive and have a strong presence in the region, abiding the principles of Europe while having a strong national identity in the Carpathian Basin. Problem is, there seems to be no real alternative to FIDESZ and the NER. The Hungarian opposition is fragmented and looks more like a bad joke than an actual political force to be reckoned with. The so called “left” is basically the successor of the communists, some small parties full of people utterly responsible for the state of Hungary since 2002 and very few fresh faces that do not really have support across the country. These people are just as much a part of NER as FIDESZ is. Without Ferenc Gyurcsány and his cronies, there could not be a two-third majority for Orbán to rule with. As compared to the corrupt and discredited politicians of the socialist-liberal era, Orbán at least made visibly positive changes besides the blameworthy ones. These politicians are actively sabotaging the opposition for four more years of easy money and have zero significant things to say about their vision of our nation or about pressing issues we are facing right now.
When the migration crisis emerged and Orbán built the wall on the Southern border, the opposition came out as one and simply denied that there is a huge problem with migration in Europe. Compared to this, Orbán’s less-than-favourable approach to solve this was easily a better option. Two parties on the “left”, LMP, which is a more moderate and newer party, essentially built upon the frustration of the former two-party system and their corrupt ways was scuppered by the socialists, while the newly formed Momentum, a centre-leaning party heavily relying on differences in generational values and the youth could not reach any significant number of voters outside the capital.
The strongest force of the opposition but not part of the “left” is the right-leaning JOBBIK, a party that was radically nationalistic at the time of its formation, giving a platform to openly racist politicians and remarks. Although JOBBIK managed to move towards the political centre in the last few years and established itself as a strong force opposing FIDESZ, the leader of the party, Gábor Vona could not reform JOBBIK as a convincing and patriotic alternative to FIDESZ, in part due to Orbán’s tendency to use the state media to discredit the party in every possible way, essentially weakening their support base in the countryside, where JOBBIK was the strongest alternative to FIDESZ for many years and in part due to the “left” virtue signaling to European leftists and liberals by condemning JOBBIK not only politically, but basically quarantining it as a fascist platform not even worthy of talking to.
End of an era
After every lost battle, the same reactions arise. For instance, who was responsible, who is a traitor or who should step down? After the victory of FIDESZ, the “left” immediately put the blame on LMP for not endorsing candidates of the former socialist party and its affiliates. They also named the Hungarian people as the culprit as they say everybody who votes FIDESZ is a deplorable. Sound familiar?
Another factor was the media. FIDESZ uses the public broadcast services for its own propaganda, which is reprehensible. Even more repulsive is the tone and attitude in which they address the populace, treating us like 6-year-olds and fear mongering. Problem is, the socialists had an even bigger media presence and power in the nineties and they still couldn’t hold on to their power in 1998.
It is time to accept that right now, most people voted for FIDESZ because they are simply satisfied with them. They don’t give a damn about corruption because everybody was insanely corrupt before, they don’t care about nepotism and the obvious enrichment of strawmen and relatives. All these people care about is safety, and Orbán delivers. Let us not forget how unsure and chaotic the country was before the establishment of NER: the global crisis of 2008 was very harsh on Hungary.
Influencers and politicians of the opposition are only repeating themselves, stating the obvious facts like corruption but are incapable of stating even one possible alternative to Orbán’s policies. ‘They are stealing. We will not, we promise,’ is basically the whole program of the “left” which is, let’s say, not very convincing. This, combined with arrogant social engineering attempts, the despicable attitude towards the general public and the unconditional support for any centre of power – formerly Moscow, now Brussels – that Hungary is connected to, makes these people less than desirable to vote for. As for JOBBIK, after the election turnout, Gábor Vona resigned as its leader and it seems like the radical wing of the party is taking control, essentially reversing the transition to the centre and making JOBBIK a far-right platform for a small percentage of the population to cast protest votes for.
Many people dissatisfied with the outcome went out to demonstrate and protest in Budapest on the 14th of April. They had no real message, nor any plans for the future. They were bitter and sad so they needed to feel that they are not alone and everything is not hopeless. Just like after a breakup or being fired from a job. Generation Y and Z are the least supportive of FIDESZ, as voter turnout showed on Sunday. The youth – my generation – might have the right idea about dissatisfaction but I just do not see the willingness to change, not only Orbán but the whole 30 years that led us to this point. Those willing to engage are likely to fall in line behind forces of the previous corrupt regime. Those not willing to engage are either already abroad, searching for a brighter future or are simply nihilistic and just cannot give a damn anymore. The latter ones seem to be the silent majority, desensitized to public responsibility – a newer generation that seems to accept the pact of Kádár too.
In my honest opinion, Hungary is not ready for capitalism and civil society. Every attempt beforehand to establish these was more or less amateurish and resulting in more of a feudal outcome where we copied a Western nation without harmonizing any differences between the two states. Those who voted for Orbán did not vote because of hate and fear, although the campaign to demonize immigrants worked like a charm, they voted for FIDESZ because they wanted to receive a familiar sense of safety that they did not get from Gyurcsány or the previous cabinets since 1989. Orbán initiated civil and European ideas before. They failed miserably in 2002. He knows what Hungarians need and he is more than happy to deliver.
Thirty years of transitioning might have ended and I am afraid that rather than exceeding the socialist era we are back at it again, this time with a populist twist.