I have always admired political cultures where filmmakers could just make a show attacking the reigning regime. Even when those filmmakers are stupid and corrupted like Oliver Stone, the fact that they can do what they do without fearing the consequences is enviable. Cherish that, people, because when it’s no longer possible, it will be much worse.
The recent trend of documentary activism accusing individuals of sexual misconduct is alarming from a rule of law perspective. But calling out a government for corruption or the abuse of power is a different matter entirely. It should be a natural thing to happen because those holding power over us should be transparent and stand up to scrutiny – not the other way around.
In Hungary, it could not happen today. Forget the consequences, there wouldn’t be even funding. And if there were, it would be for the opposite of criticism.
Picture the opposition with a smartphone camera and without a budget, with the angriest ones doing the writing. Meanwhile, Orbán hires Steven Spielberg on taxpayer money and lavishly pays to distribute his version of events globally on Netflix. Don’t flatter yourself, you would be influenced by Orbán’s version. Not least because the other one wouldn’t even reach you. And in any case, it would be bad.
So if someone decided to do an honest show on Hungary (i.e. how autocracy crept upon an EU nation using purely economic and psychological means) it must be someone outside of Hungary. And whoever it is, she shouldn’t accept funding from the Hungarian government, ever. (They would offer it, make no mistake.)
So someone please write a Netflix show about Hungary!
And to show my unconditional support, let me contribute some characters and plot ideas.
The death of an oligarch
After the death of a top oligarch, the stampede for his holdings begins. No, not buying it – but who gets to take it on his name.
As far as the public is concerned, the oligarch in question died as powerful as ever – but behind the scenes his standing with Orbán has weakened and he had been in the process of relinquishing his assets for months before his death. Or has he?
Some speculate that his death couldn’t have been more expedient. But it’s only pointless guesswork as it was exactly the kind of thing that would never, ever be proved. Hungary isn’t just a rapid-onset autocracy where hand-picked oligarchs get rich at a breathtaking speed – but it crucially still has a reputation of not being quite like Russia.
“People don’t disappear here” and “No one kills journalists” are spoken disturbingly often.
Mrs Macy goes to town
Mrs M. has no time to waste on idle speculation. The dead oligarch visited her shortly before his death and causally asked for a little help in business. Mrs M. knew what a little help meant, she did it often for her husband.
She would sign some papers and take a company on her name. It is no one’s bloody business who owns company, after all! Then the company would be stuffed with assets, of which she would know nothing. She would be wined and dined and she would get to spend some quality time with her business partner on his yachts and in operas all over the world. (The latter is just an opportunity to wear those expensive gowns. She hates opera.)
Then one day she would be asked to sign a few more papers and there would be gifts. Maybe she would get a fancy boutique somewhere or some shares in a power station. A TV channel. A pig farm that miraculously just received a billion euros in EU funding to expand the pigs’ horizon and teach them acceptance through pig yoga.
Mrs M. knew the drill because her husband did little helps for a living and asked her to sign papers often. On these papers she was owner of TV channels, radios, various construction firms and a dam – and so were her children. She hasn’t even Googled them all, the papers are whisked away so quickly, she only remembered a few.
But she wasn’t just some silent stooge, no sir. She took her place at boards, meddled in the daily business of her TV channels, participated in the politics – she was a real power broker. Or so she thought.
What Mrs M. didn’t know is that she wasn’t the only one who knew about the little help she did for the late oligarch.
Mrs M. is cocky because she isn’t just any housewife. Her husband fronts for the prime minister himself.
Mr M. got his position out of the blue when Orbán fell out with his top oligarch – a man who actually owned the assets he had on his name. Orbán just walked into their home and sat down with him for an hour. When they came out, Mr. M was the richest man in the country – soon to get even more. Mr. M says that Orbán chose him because of his loyalty and because he can be trusted. But Mrs. M doesn’t believe in that kind of false humility.
Mrs. M doesn’t believe in self-made business success either. Or she does but she thinks it is when someone gets lucky, knows people, and gets stuff from the state. She doesn’t believe in business without state subsidies either. It had never happened, not in socialism, not since, so stop bothering her with that nonsense. Those who question her and her husband’s business credits are just envious, money has always been made that way – a view she shares with other cronies of Orbán, their wives and especially their children. The ravenous baby oligarchs.
Mrs. M hates when her husband tells her to be cautious and to stop bragging. She thinks that a lack on confidence in himself is a mistake. It is because he used to be such a stud in high school – and it made him soft. He had lost his edge over decades of small business struggles and womanizing. While watching his childhood friend becoming the king of the country. And he only made him mayor! The cheek!
Mr. M wouldn’t say that but he was deeply resentful and it never quite went away, even after Orbán made him a global Forbes billionaire in just a few days. Probably because he wasn’t really resentful. He was content. And that was a shame, according to Mrs M.
Mrs. M finds herself alone with the company the late oligarch bestowed upon her and decides to take a leap. While everyone is preoccupied in the stampede for the late oligarch’s quickly disappearing assets, she would keep her little piece of the treasure (whatever it may be, she still doesn’t know) and keep it a secret even from her husband.
After a particularly heated council meeting when some state secretary who thinks too much of himself humiliates her, Mrs M. decides to leave in a rush. Flustered and furious, she is desperate for revenge against the guy and doesn’t think twice when the young and ambitious council driver, LoyalBoi, offers his unsolicited services. She understands where he comes from. He is a nobody with young ambitions. He wants to become part of the “NER” and that is how you do it. Doing little favors. The “NER” is Orbán’s infamous, self-declared “System of National Cooperation”. But you and I would only call it oligarchy.
Mrs. M calls it business luck and accepts LoyalBoi’s little help.
But once again, Mrs. M is missing a crucial bit of information: what happened between her husband and the prime minister on that fateful day when Orbán appointed him. And what Orbán promised to Mr. M in case he went behind his back like his predecessor did.