Few remember but when young János Lázár became minister, everyone was outraged. Back then he was considered unshaven, brazen and brash – not fit to be a solemn politician. (Oh, the good old days….) He never worked a day in his life outside of politics, just sat up on the carousel that swings mayors of Hódmezővásárhely into government and back. He started as the bag carrier of his predecessor, András Rapcsák, then continued as mayor, MP, and then minister himself. He made statements like “those who have nothing are worth that much”. His name became synonymous with arrogance and being above the law.
When Fidesz took a blatant turn for illiberal oligarchy, Lázár was already Orbán’s right hand man. As a minister of undefined portfolio but serious influence, he held for a long time the title of Orbán-whisperer-in-chief. Some rumored that he could be the second most important guy in Fidesz – a status that has never been filled because there is really no one within Fidesz that could come near Orbán is popularity. And more importantly, no one holds as much power over his fellow party members as Orbán does. Fidesz is not a democratic party, never was.
But Lázár was so strong that he even survived rumors that he wants to be the next Orbán – which is no mean feat. When rumors started that Lázár might be secretly negotiating with the Americans to be Orbán’s alternative, I wouldn’t have bet a dried moth on his political career. But he seemed to have escaped unscathed. Which is weird under a strongman regime. You can get busted stealing billions in broad daylight and the omerta will protect you. But if you challenge the boss, if you just happen to be popular enough, you are in trouble.
Slowly, Lázár’s image has shifted from a brazen, unacceptable, uninhibited, young battering ram to that of a pragmatic figure. As the general quality of Orbán’s men deteriorated during rounds of purges, Lázár started to look downright stateman-like. His shameless liesat press conferences and his weekly “government info” events became the subject of scorn and awe in equal measure. No one could lie so brazenly and so fluently.
Despite getting dirty rich in the process, he maintained a somewhat reserved, civilized veneer – at least compared to the second and third generation of Fidesz-beneficiaries, who have become more uncultured and less talented at every new elite change. (Elite changes are a regular feature under a strongman. Orbán, just like Putin, does a regular spring cleaning among his men to ensure that no one feels secure enough in his position. As a consequence, they are more exposed and thus loyal to him – but they also steal more and faster than they otherwise would.)
Lázár’s strong standing in Fidesz ended the day his constituency was lost to an opposition candidate at a mayoral by-election – to everyone’s shock and surprise. That day he lost his privilege to appear civilized and had to join Orbán’s dirty, racist campaign. He had to start posting videos featuring his family, and on one occasion he was dispatched to Vienna to throw shade at them as a city that was rendered unlivable by nasty, brown-skinned immigrants.
Despite the signs that the silent dissatisfaction would weaken Orbán’s regime, the general elections went as Fidesz wanted. Orbán awarded himself another magical supermajority and with that he demonstrated that he will never let go of power peacefully. No tool is beneath him or out of question. But Lázár wasn’t allowed to stay in government.
In a melancholic video he said goodbye to his ministerial office, sending cryptic messages to seemingly no one in particular. He quoted Kossuth’s letter to Deák – hinting that it might be Orbán’s closeness to Russia that might blow up Fidesz in the end. And when it happens, Lázár might be back from the grave.
Until then, he is a mere MP. He even requested to literally become a backbencher, sitting in the last row, as far from Orbán as possible. He didn’t even turn up at the official photo shoot of Orbán’s new garden of MPs – a major act of disobedience in that militant and discipline-oriented Fidesz.
If Lázár believes it is safe to be in internal opposition within Fidesz, he might know something we don’t. It is true that only a split within Fidesz could end Orbán’s rule, because there is no real opposition. What’s left of them was bought up, blackmailed, bankrupted, corrupted or intimidated into submission by Orbán. Fidesz has always been a centralized one-man-show.
An alternative explanation is always at hand: that Orbán might have created even his own internal opposition – just like he created his own, dumb, left wing opposition that pretty much gave him the 48% triumph at the elections.
Another explanation is that Lázár may be the new Simicska – an oligarch who fell out with Orbán, supposedly over Orbán’s ties to Russia. The speculation goes that these guys might know something about Orbán’s situation vis-a-vis Putin that we don’t and they bet that it might be Orbán’s undoing.
Anyway, Lázár seemed to have announced his new status as king-in-waiting. Returning to his own constituency and getting immersed in local politics can be interpreted as such. Or maybe he knows that Orbán is about to move up the ladder, maybe to Brussels, and that would make it redundant to fight him at home.
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