The subject of this article is not to label Orbán’s regime, or to debunk their lies and deception. It is an attempt to describe how to relate to his system – as a private citizen, a member of the opposition, or as a concerned western politician.
For eight years critics and opponents have tried to define the Orbán-regime. Orbán has been labeled a new Kádár (Hungary’s long time communist leader) as well as a neo-fascist dictator – among other things. It lead to never-ending discussions of whether Hungary is still a democracy, an illiberal democracy (whatever that means), or a hybrid regime – and I’m sure these all make good themes for conferences and pundits will make a living off it. But these are beside the point.
The subject of this article is not to label Orbán’s regime, or to debunk their lies and deception, there are plenty of articles on that. Rather, it is an attempt to describe how to relate to this system, either as a private citizen, a member of the opposition, or as a concerned western representative.
Some of these advises can be taken by anyone, others demand either courage, or financial strength, which only multinationals or countries have at their disposal. Some may have very limited impact, but will maybe make you feel better.
17 rules to understand Orbán
1 Avoid the media which is owned by the state or controlled by oligarchs close to Orbán
…unless your are a journalist, or specifically study government propaganda. These outlets have a proven track record of falsifying news, and are used as political weapons against real and perceived opponents of Fidesz. Their goal is not to enlighten and convince, but to distort, confuse, and brainwash.
It’s healthy to read publications with a political point of view other than your own, if they use facts and reasons to convince. But this is not the case with the Fidesz controlled media. They will only make you angry, irritated and confused. Your tax money has been spent to support them, don’t waste your time as well.
2 Treat every statement from Fidesz, the government and their media as a lie
…until their claims have been verified by trustworthy sources. They have lied so many times, that they don’t deserve any trust.
3 Look at the actions – not the words.
Just calling yourself a Christian and a conservative doesn’t make you one. You have to act like one. If you know that a man is serial wife-beater, would you take him seriously when he talks about women’s rights?
Note: Orbán actually said this out loud, but you need intellectual courage to dare to see the world like this.
“I keep telling foreign diplomats not to listen to what I say – The only thing you should watch is what I am doing.”
4 Don’t take the ideology of Fidesz seriously
Orbán doesn’t do it either. Short term and personal political and economic interests always trump them. Orbán forgot about Sunday closed shops as soon as it became politically inconvenient for him. His anti-migrant and anti-multinational stance is a sham. Neither his supporters nor his enemies know what Orbán’s ideology will be next year.
5 Don’t engage in debate with Fidesz…
…or their “intellectuals” and “journalists”. A healthy political debate is about a common topic, which the opponents agree to disagree on, but will try to do their best to convince the viewers of their viewpoints. The Fidesz way of debating is to accuse their opponent of something nasty, and then leave the opponent to argue why is she is not a traitor, a Soros-stooge etc. It’s a waste time for both viewers and opponents of Fidesz.
6 Try to ignore Fidesz’ agenda setting, and stick to your own.
…If you are opposition politician or activist. Don’t let their propaganda workers derail you. (See rule 5.) Don’t get sidetracked by the occasional crazy statements made by politicians, always look at the actions behind them.
7 Find your own words and stick to them.
Don’t let Fidesz or their propaganda workers define you, and don’t use their expressions. Don’t start your statements with explaining why you are not a Soros agent, or that you don’t hate Hungary. If you mean “refugee”, don’t use “migrant“.
8 Respect your profession, don’t legitimize propaganda workers.
If you are journalist or analyst, don’t debate with propaganda workers who are posing as independent professionals. It’s easy to recognize them – their analysis and conclusions are always in tune with the current Fidesz point of view. By participating in a debate with them, you are not only denigrating your profession, your are fooling your audience.
9 Orbán is a bully, who only understands and respects force.
(He actually said that as well, a basic authoritarian tick.)
Don’t be fooled by nice statements. If you are representative for the European Commission or a country, don’t believe the promises – they are only empty words. If you want to achieve something, use financial means.
10 Don’t be manipulated by Fidesz’ legalism.
They will always have an explanation how a newly implemented law is compatible with European norms, or already exists somewhere else (regardless of context), while it openly discriminates certain voters and political opponents. If the EU is unable to convince the Hungarian state to prosecute openly corrupt people, it should take use of the sanctions at their disposal.
11 Don’t be fooled by nominally independent institutions.
The State Audit Office or the Chief Prosecutor should be judged by their actions, not their position on paper. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t press charges or report criminal activity. If and when Fidesz loyalists will be hold to account for their activity, they will be less able to defend themselves by claiming that the reason they didn’t take action was because there were no claims about corruption.
12 If you are a civil servant,
…and you are in doubt about the legality or legitimacy of an order, make sure you have written confirmation from your superiors. It will make it harder for the regime to make you a scapegoat. If you have serious doubts about your work, and you have the possibility to find another job, you should consider it seriously.
13 Don’t judge every public servant and official as collaborators or lackeys of the regime.
Most of them are professionals, working on non-political, day-to-day issues. They have families to support, and they are doing their best to survive as decent citizens. The policeman and tax official is not your enemy. If they treat you fairly, be kind to them.
14 Don’t shop at stores affiliated with the regime
Like the National Tobacco and CBA stores, don’t buy products from companies owned by cronies of Orbán. You should support honest businesses (as honest as they can get, remember we are talking about Hungary). They are usually cheaper and provide better quality, so this also makes financial sense. Stop smoking! Orbán’s anti-tobacco campaign is a scam – just like his anti-immigration campaign.
15 Stand up for your rights and demand to be heard when you disagree with government decisions.
Issue formal complaints and contact your local MP and mayor and put him under pressure. Convince others to do the same. The Orbán regime may dislike demonstrations, but they are not afraid of them. As a former socialist prime minister put it, “people will eventually get bored and go home”.
Autocrats are genuinely afraid of autonomous citizens, who know their rights, and take matters into their hands. These citizens take action instead of writing requests to the dear leader and doesn’t confuse bitching on Facebook with real activism. This is why Fidesz harasses NGOs and attacks teachers when they take action. General apathy is the autocrats friend.
16 Don’t participate in shams like the last two general elections in Hungary.
The election system was made by and for Fidesz, giving a two-third majority in parliament to a party supported by less than 50% of the voters. Voters likely to vote against Fidesz are discriminated openly.
Opposition parties which are unable to stand up for their own and their voter’s rights cannot be trusted to run a country. By participating in rigged elections, these parties have in fact become part of the Orbán-regime. They don’t deserve your time and vote.
17 Participate in local elections if there is a credible opposition candidate.
The mayoral in election in Hódmezővásárhely proved that Fidesz can be defeated even in strongholds, if there is a good candidate. New and credible opposition politicians are more likely surface in local government, who in the long run may pose a real challenge to Fidesz. But any credible politician will depend on voters who are willing to follow the previous 16 rules.
Some foreigners, both critics and supporters of Orbán, don’t understand Hungarian history and politics too well. Opponents’ vision is sometimes clouded by personal hatred, financial interests, and – especially the older generation – having experienced the seventies and eighties, which makes them ill-prepared to handle today’s challenges. The problem with historical analogies is that they are rarely applicable to the present. Branding Orbán as a new Kádár isn’t just inaccurate, it makes it easy for Fidesz defenders to dismiss all criticisms.
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