Commentary

Of Men and Rats

“Then on a fine moonlight night, all the rats left the ship.

“We had been infested with them. They had destroyed our sails, consumed more stores than the crew, affably shared our beds and our dangers, and now, when the ship was made seaworthy, concluded to clear out. I called Mahon to enjoy the spectacle. Rat after rat appeared on our rail, took a last look over his shoulder, and leaped with a hollow thud into the empty hulk. We tried to count them, but soon lost the tale. Mahon said: ‘Well, well! don’t talk to me about the intelligence of rats. They ought to have left before, when we had that narrow squeak from foundering. There you have the proof how silly is the superstition about them. They leave a good ship for an old rotten hulk, where there is nothing to eat, too, the fools! . . . I don’t believe they know what is safe or what is good for them, any more than you or I.’

“And after some more talk we agreed that the wisdom of rats had been grossly overrated, being in fact no greater than that of men.

Joseph Conrad: Youth, a Narrative

Last week, three weird things happened.

PM Orbán’s right hand minister, János Lázár announced that he didn’t want to stay in the government after the 2018 elections. He claimed some weird, noble reason that is not even worth quoting because it would insult my readers’ intellect.

It may be hard to get close to Orbán – it is even harder to leave his gang without his approval. Analysts have quickly jumped on the puzzle, guessing what Lázár might know. He is widely regarded as some sort of political cockroach that would survive the political equivalent of a nuclear winter. He came into politics long after Fidesz politicians ceased to have an ideology and started following Orbán blindly and without a trace of courage, consciousness or an individual opinion. He belongs to the new generation who are infamous for their lack of conviction and their appetite for money. Time and again he is tipped to be the Fidesz politician who could be turned against Orbán if a substantially better offer is made. This may just be the wishful thinking of outsiders but the move is interesting nonetheless.

A few days later, two of Orbán’s feudal vasals, a former foreign minister and a constitutional court judge spoke up against his policies – ethnic nationalism and the removal of constitutionalism, respectively. The former foreign minister called Orbán’s idea of ethnic homogeneity nonsense, especially regarding the millions of Hungarians living abroad. The constitutional court judge kindly suggested the reinstatement of the constitutional separation of powers now that the urgent need for effectiveness is gone “five years after the new basic law has been enacted”. (That just goes to show how deep a country can sink when people are more concerned about constitutional limitations on power than about its abuse. Whenever government effectiveness is called for, run for cover.)

Now this may be a slow news day in a first world country, but this is highly unusual in Hungary today. Speaking up against Orbán’s visions, even in polite and constructive terms, has been unheard of since he returned to power with a vengeance and an agenda to hijack the country and its economy for himself and a handful of trusted cronies in 2010. Everyone here is not only dependent on Orbán for his livelihood and spectacular wealth growth (see cronyism and clientelism) but Orbán had probably also made sure they have reason to fear him.

So these three incidents are noteworthy – but I won’t even try to guess what triggered them right now. It just somehow reminded me of Joseph Conrad’s novella.

In it, a completely good ship was abandoned by rats while still in the port. Then, a few weeks later the ship’s coal cargo caught fire of self-combustion on open waters.

cortez2

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