After almost ten years of Orbán’s rule, there is still no consensus about the nature of the system he had built. The founder himself has called it the System of National Cooperation (NER for short in Hungarian). For those who have experienced what cooperation means in Orbán’s Hungary – it is as Orwellian as it gets.
Orbán’s supporters claim that Hungary is a democracy just like any other country in the West – only better (i.e. fewer brown people in the streets and no gay weddings). His critics call it many things, a hybrid regime, a mafia state, or an autocracy (among other things). The late John McCain called Orbán a neo-fascist dictator.
The main problem is that critics and supporters alike are confused by ideology and misled by their feelings – causing them to misread history and current events. Simply put, they see what they want to see. In the Cold War era there was a clear difference between East and West. Today’s lines are more blurred. On the surface, Austria and Hungary look less different today, than in 1989.
In order to understand, we must discard the lies, the myths, and the misconceptions.
Fallacy no 1:
Unless the left is able to create a credible alternative to Orbán, there is no real chance of defeating him.
This fallacy is based on the notion that Fidesz is a traditional conservative, Christian right-wing party, so it’s only natural that it’s opponents are on the left with liberal and green allies.
In reality, the rampant corruption, crony capitalism, the elimination of independent institutions are not classic right-wing policies. They are just the tools of corrupt regimes, regardless of their political color. The state-sponsored, hate-fueled propaganda, the criminalization of the homeless have nothing to with modern Christianity either.
The political divide in Hungary today should be between those who respect the rule of law, free enterprise, and the sanctity of private property, and those who do not. There are plenty of conservatives in the first group. They should not allow Fidesz to continue hijacking the term conservativism.
Fallacy no 2:
Orbán can be defeated though his own election system, if only the opposition parties are smart and coordinate.
The current election system is tailored to Fidesz’ needs, through gerrymandering and voter discrimination. If the opposition parties accept this, they will not be able to defeat Orbán.
In 2014 and 2018 less than 50% voted for Fidesz, and the party was still able to secure a supermajority. The opposition parties have, in fact, become the useful idiots of the NER, by misleading their voters to think that Orbán can really be defeated, while lending him legitimacy by participating in the election with these rules.
In addition, it’s not very convincing to claim that Hungary is not a democracy anymore – and then participating in elections nonetheless.
Fallacy no 3:
Orbán is Europe’s strongman
No, he is not.
He is leading one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries, with a weak economic performance, kept afloat mainly by western tax-payer money.
His main assets are his country’s stability (for now) and maintaining a cheap work force with few rights. His European allies didn’t do nearly as well as expected in the last European elections. He does have a strong international press coverage, but so have the Taliban and Kim Kardashian.
Fallacy no 4
This is a clash between those who believe in a sovereign nation state – and a European federation
Orbán’s freedom fight is aimed at Brussels, and it’s main goal is to secure immunity for himself and his cronies, while avoiding transparency of the use of EU funds.
He has no problems with Russians establishing what is basically a second embassy, the so called spy bank. He has signed highly disadvantageous deals for the Hungarian taxpayer such as the building of a nuclear plant by the Russians, or a railroad deal with the Chinese.
We are being told that unlike in the West, there is freedom of expression in Hungary, but demonstrators are routinely rounded up when Chinese dignitaries are visiting. God forbid 10-20 demonstrators should offend the important visitors.
Fallacy no 5:
One of the main divisions in Hungarian politics today is between former communists and anti-communists – i.e. the former oppressors and the oppressed.
The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) was founded by former communists, and many leading members did play some part during the communist era. This is less true of today’s generation, the current socialist leader was 12 years old in 1989. The new outfits are headed by even younger people, and the Socialist Party is shrinking fast – after a dismal performance in the last European election – there is even less danger of the “commies” returning to power.
The so-called right likes to call itself as anti-communist – but it’s a myth.
Several of Orbán’s ministers were members of the communist party (they were mostly technocrats and not hardline Stalinists, to be fair). The Minister of Interior was a high-ranking police officer before 1989. One of his deputies who served briefly from 2014 was a member of the state security before 1989.
It is the equivalent of Angela Merkel appointing a former member of the Stasi as junior minister of interior.
Several prominent right-wing pundits and journalists also started their careers as supporters of the communist regime. One of them was even decorated by the Interior Ministry in the early 1980s.
Hungary has yet to achieve full transparency regarding the activities of informers and the former secret police, but the opening of the communist secret service files (i.e. informers and agents of the communist secret service detailed to report on fellow citizens) has been blocked since 1989 by Orbán himself.
Fallacy no 6:
Orbán’s system is the new Kádár–era
The Kádár-era was a communist single party dictatorship, with closed borders, no independent press, no freedom of enterprise, and no right to free assembly. Kádár’s Hungary may have been a better place at the time than Romania or the GDR, but it was still a dictatorship.
Calling Orbán’s Hungary a dictatorship does a disservice to its critics, since it makes it easier for the regime’s defenders to repudiate the criticism as unfair and lies. The suppression of rights is much subtler than in a dictatorship, but it is present.
Fallacy no 7:
Orbán is an anti-migrant politician, the defender of Europe
No, he is not.
Fallacy no 8:
The most important task for the opposition is to get rid of Orbán, the other challenges will be handled once he is defeated.
Like it or not, Orbán has a clear vision for Hungary. Some of it is based on outright lies, while other parts are real enough. The opposition needs a compelling, coherent vision first in order to convince voters.
People may be angry with the status quo, but they are also risk averse.
Nobody wants to risk what little they may have for an unknown outcome. Besides the rigged election system, the lack of a credible opposition force is the main guarantee for Orbán’s rule for years to come.
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Featured image: szarvas / Index