Commentary

Czech protesters welcomed Orbán blowing whistles

Orbán visited the reopening of the Prague opera – and met Andrej Babis, his Czech colleague. Symptomatic to the difference between Czech and Hungarian politics, Czech protesters have not resigned yet, so they were out in force to express their disapproval.

The coverage of the events is vastly different in the Orbánist vs the non-dependent media. In this case, on Orbán’s Facebook and on Euronews.

Euronews published this video – where the protesters are visible and the whistles are clearly audible (and not much else).

If, however, you were informed from Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page (or any of his mouthpiece media), you wouldn’t have heard a peep from the protesters. You wouldn’t even see them. In Orbán’s version of the events the entire video was edited to triumphant classical music and the images of anti-nationalism, pro-EU protesters were cut.

Orbán is very touchy about being whistled out.

In October 2016, Orbán has been massively embarrassed when protesters managed to get too close to him during his October 23 speech and drowned out his words with whistles. (Ten days prior the same thing happened to him at the opening ceremony of one of his precious stadiums.) From the 3 minute mark the whistles and booing drowns out Orbán.

From that day onward protesters have not been allowed within earshot of Orbán, even on the rare occasions when he ventures out into the public.

After the surprise election defeat in October 2019, Orbán went even further and didn’t leave anything to chance. He simply cancelled his most important annual public appearing, the October 23 speech commemorating the anti-Russian revolution of 1956. He gave a very unusual and very subdued closed-door talk to a heavily vetted audience at the academy of music – and even that room was half empty.

It is not difficult to see what he is most afraid of.

With the October 2019 elections his uninterrupted march of power has been interrupted and his air of invincibility shattered. For any non-autocratic politician an election defeat is just a lesson that he may or may not learn from – but for an autocrat it is the end. He must not allow it. Yet, it had happened and Orbán needed time to rearrange his army. He didn’t dare to appear in public just 10 days later.

If his godlike invincibility is gone, a bully is the most vulnerable because his reign is built on exactly that. A single slap in the face can completely eliminate his spot on the top of his hierarchy and undo a decade of slowly built-up intimidation. He can’t actually crack down on each and every instant of discontent.

For our generation (and Orbán’s) the image of the downfall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu has been burnt on our retina. It all started with a run-of-the-mill, droning speech to an intimidated audience that clapped and cheered at the right places – but a few minutes in someone started to whistle. And then some. And then others. We know the rest.

This is not to say that Orbán is as bad as Ceausescu. Only that the parallels are not lost on him. Orbán’s rule is not as dramatic, but the dynamics behind autocracy are always the same. The perception of invincibility creates invincibility. Without that the emperor is more exposed than his humblest victim because he will be attacked the moment he shows weakness, weak mind, weak health, weak support, ageing, losing control over what happens.

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