After almost ten years in power, Hungarian society has quietly accepted Orbán’s “illiberal state”. Orbán has also shown that unlike candidates to EU membership, existing members don’t have to be democratic.
The inconvenient truth – Part 1.
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
A myth has prevailed in parts of western media and among many Hungarian liberals, that Hungary is a western oriented country where Orbán, a diabolical master populist has brainwashed and terrorized his country into submission. Critics of Orbán point to opinion polls where EU is still fairly popular among Hungarians, and to last year’s major protest against change of labor laws.
They ignore the fact that compared to protests in Poland or Slovakia the numbers of participants in Hungary were not impressive at all. Or consider the polls which show that Putin is more popular among Hungarians than Merkel and other western politicians. In the 2018 general election two parties with a friendly attitude to Putin’s Russia got almost 70% of the votes. Labeling Orbán as a Putin ally will not discredit him among the majority of voters.
Orbán’s propaganda machine has most certainly created an alternate reality, and this site has highlighted several of these in the recent years. But not all of Orbán’s policies are based on lies and deception. Some of his key policies are voiced openly and enjoy wide support in the population. Certain attitudes represented by the government can be found among many in the population.
Unlike his opponents, Orbán has a vision which at first seems coherent. Strong government and borders, stability, population growth achieved not though migration but by higher birth rates sounds appealing to many. The global economy has enabled Orbán to take credit for rising wages, disguising the fact that Hungary is an underachiever in the Visegrád group when it comes to economic growth.
Last year almost half of the voters supported a prime minister who openly:
- Looks to China, Turkey and Russia as role models
- Believes that the majority of young people should not go to college (a rule not applied to his own children)
- Hungary should be a low cost country for foreign capital with low wages as a consequence
- Believes that the decadent West is doomed to fail and the future for Hungary lies in the East
- Is a Trump supporter
- Thinks of Putin as a friend and George Soros, a fellow Hungarian, as an enemy
- Claims that Hungarian independence is threatened by Brussels and not Moscow
The opposition talk of democracy, rule of law and market economy sounds hollow for the many, who experienced a decline of living standards after 1989. For a huge part of electorate the years between 1989 and 2010 are remembered as an era of chaos, corruption and enrichment of the few at expense of the many. The dream of catching up with Austria have been replaced by the hope of catching up with Slovakia. If Hungarians think that the capitalism and democracy they got after 1989 is second rate compared to the one in the West, they are correct to do so. Even today, Hungarians pay more for less than their Western counterparts. They pay more for banking and telecom services – in real terms, not just compared to wages – but get inferior services.
Orbán’s ten years of power have been marked by the hostile takeover of the media and independent institutions and the reshaping of the electoral law. The independence of courts have been attacked repeatedly (with the final straw being the setup of Orbán-loyalist “administrative courts” to handle all politically sensitive cases such as public procurement, elections, protests, corruption, etc.). The constitutional court was publicly humiliated when its mandate was reduced after ruling against a Fidesz-backed law.
Primary education has been centralized and the independence of universities greatly reduced at the cost of academic freedom.
These radical changes were accompanied by only minor protests. Whereas opposition protests are deemed a success when more than ten thousand people turn up, Orbán-supporter’s so called “peace marches” are measured in the hundreds of thousands. Even if the transport of participants is funded with public money, and some may have been paid or otherwise “convinced ” to participate, the turnouts are still impressive compared to events organized by opposition groups. Orbán is able to draw more people to his speeches than all the major opposition politicians combined.
There is no question that Orbán’s regime uses fear and intimidation against real and imagined political opponents. His vile propaganda machine attacks anyone indiscriminately, their latest victim is an 18-year-old high school student, who dared to use offensive language at a political rally.
But unlike in Russia and Turkey, critics and journalist are not killed or jailed.
It is perfectly understandable that a government employee with a family to support and few other job options will not risk his livelihood by protesting loudly. It’s more concerning that people of power, such as university deans, businessmen and judges of the constitutional court, have failed to stand up for their institutions’s rights and independence.
Opposition parties launched no serious protests when electoral law was redrafted, and as a consequence, Fidesz enjoys a two-third supermajority in parliament with less than 50% of the votes. When an opposition MP tried to initiate a referendum on the mandatory closure of retail shops on Sunday (implemented by Fidesz), he was blocked by thugs, who, as later revealed, were connected to a football club chaired by a Fidesz politician. Authorities and opposition parties alike quietly accepted this act of political violence unprecedented in modern Hungary.
It’s hard to say what caused the chronic inaction of these actors, whether it was cowardice, conformism, or the lack of understanding of the true nature of the Fidesz regime. But it’s safe to say that society as whole has accepted the new status quo. Opposition parties and their voters willingly participate in an election system which is openly tailored to Fidesz’ needs.
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