Commentary

The Order Doesn’t Have To Come From Viktor

It is a stupid question to ask whether an order came from the top in an autocracy. The point is – it doesn’t have to.

The design of an authoritarian system is so that it promotes the breakdown of societal trust by encouraging (among other things) reporting, harassing fellow citizens, committing pro-government crimes, or even the use of physical force to please your higher-ups. The results are just as devastating for the working of the political system as they were if the order came from the king himself. Citizens’ will be equally unwilling to cooperate, resist, or to stand up for their remaining rights.

The logic of an autocracy makes loyalists desperate to go above an beyond without being asked – just to be in the good books of their higher-ups. An enthusiastic Orbánist could quite easily have hired the football thugs on his own initiative – to prevent a not-at-all threatening opposition gesture. He could win some public procurement down the line. It may even make his political career if he gets the king’s personal attention. What never happens is being investigated and convicted for pro-Fidesz crimes.

That being said, PM Orbán has a solid reputation of whimsical and pride-based micromanagement. We know that

  • He did personally order the spectacular harassment and intimidation of NGOs back in 2014. (In 2017 they are proceeding to complete the job and ordered the “sweeping out” of government transparency and accountability NGOs – claiming that Trump’s election gave a historic opportunity.)
  • It was his idea to order utility providers to include a big-lettered note on utility bills on how much the government supposedly saved for us (by ordering providers to cut and freeze their prices 20% below their then-current rate). And the note had to be in orange, Fidesz’ color.
  • It was his idea that the 10 thousand forint (30 EUR) Christmas vouchers must be delivered to pensioners by local government representatives personally – as feel-good populism gears up for the 2018 elections.

And sadly, the question of whose order it was had reemerged when a bomb went off on the streets of Budapest – the week before the populist anti-migrant referendum in 2016. The referendum was a clean win – but also a make or brake for Orbán. And a “terrorist attack” was precisely what his letters to every household have been threatening with in the run-up to the referendum.

The coincidence was so great and the public was so profoundly suspicious that the bombing was quickly downplayed and hardly mentioned in the media ever since. They let it drop even though it was perfect – and actually fact-based – fuel for the government’s referendum propaganda.

And there was the incident when a bunch of football thugs (also active in nationalist circles and curiously untouched by police despite their faces and names being well known) happened to stand in the doorway when an opposition politician wanted to submit his referendum question for guaranteed dismissal approval by the election committee.

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Orbán didn’t have to order the football thugs. His minions are eager, ruthless and uninhibited enough to do so on their own initiative. This is the kind of system where only a very bold demonstration of dedication gets you the attention of the king – but when it happens you get amply rewarded and it may even kick off your political career. In the meantime there is hardly anything to lose. The law and police are seen to be cautious to investigate pro-Fidesz crimes. And people have resigned never to win – even if the law happens to be on their side (for now).

Orbán didn’t have to order the bombmaker either. The referendum was a clear win for him. But there was very open pressure on every local mayor, representative or wannabe tender winner to not to slip under the national average in pro-Orbán votes. Hysteria among party members to deliver a referendum “win” in their district was thus high enough to make them think creatively. (Those who only presented, say, a 79% win for Orbán saw consequences). And frankly, everyone’s first idea was a fake attack the moment the government started using the word terrorism in their political campaigns

Again, the public doesn’t have to be right suspecting that we are being set up. But they are suspicious nonetheless. And that is all you need to know about the intellectual climate and political atmosphere in the country. The fear of the thing works better than the thing – everyone knows that. Unless they want to dismiss the erosion of freedom. Most likely because they are helpless against it.

So please stop dismissing incidents as surely, the order couldn’t have come from the king. It doesn’t make the situation any better – and it is quite enough that pro-government violence is so rewarding.

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5 thoughts on “The Order Doesn’t Have To Come From Viktor

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