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. Trust me on that one.
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.
Picture the opposition with a smartphone camera and without a budget, with the angriest ones doing the writing – while Orbán hires Steven Spielberg on taxpayer money and lavishly pays to distribute his version 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.
As far as the public is concerned, he died as powerful as ever – but behind the scenes everyone knew that 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 this 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 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. Then the company would be stuffed with assets, of which she would know nothing. She would be wined and dined and spend some quality time with her business partner and his wife on their yachts and in operas all over the world. (Latter is for an occasion to wear those expensive gowns she could never afford before. She hates opera.)
Then one day she would be asked to sign a few more papers and there would be gifts. Maybe a fancy boutique somewhere or a some shares in a power station. A TV channel. A pig farm.
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 she hasn’t even Googled them all. And so were her children.
But she wasn’t just some silent stooge, no sir. She took her place at boards, meddled in the daily dealings of her news channels, participated in the politics of it – 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, but the wife the oligarch who acts as a front for the prime minister himself. Mr M. got his position out of the blue when the previous top oligarch fell out with Orbán. When Mrs M. asks her husband about the day Orbán visited him and offered him the job, he always says that that Orbán chose him because of his loyalty and that because he can be trusted. But Mrs. M doesn’t agree with that kind of false humility.
Mrs. M doesn’t believe in self-made business success. Or she does but she thinks it is when someone gets lucky. She doesn’t believe in business without state help, it had never happened, not in socialism, not since, so stop bothering her with that nonsense. Those who question their business credits are just envious – a view she shares with many other cronies of Orbán, their wives and especially their children.
Mrs. M hates when her husband commands her to be cautious and stop bragging. She thinks that 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 during decades of small business struggles and womanizing – while watching his childhood friend becoming the king of the country and only giving him a local mayor position. The cheek! Mr. M wouldn’t say that but he was deeply resentful and it never quite went away, even after Orbén made him a global forbes billionaire in just a few days. Probably because he wasn’t really. 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 way too much of himself corners her, Mrs M. decides to leave in a rush. Flustered and furious, she is desperate for revenge on the guy who humiliated her and doesn’t think twice when the young and ambitious council driver, LoyalBoi, offers his unsolicited services. She understands where he comes from. He wants to become part of the “NER”. That’s 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 LocalBoi’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, and what Orbán promised to Mr. M in case he went behind his back like his predecessor did.