There are two thought experiments for those who are genuinely interested in predicting the future:
One of these thought experiments is looking at what political actors are afraid of.
After all, they have much more information than we do. Analysts are deprived of information in a less than citizen-centered regime. When it comes to autocrats who keep us in the dark, it is often all that we have.
The other tool of predicting the future is imaginary hindsight.
This tool was inspired by talking heads who can always explain how the shocking things had happened – the day after they happened. These experts can tell you in detail how exactly the fall of the Berlin wall was inevitable – but only after it happened. Or you can think of experts who could see Brexit and Trump as obvious – but only with hindsight.
The same thing happened after Orbán’s surprise non-victory in October 2019: it took a while but explanations as to why it was obvious started to emerge. All analysts needed to do was to focus on the weaknesses of the regime – and stop being mesmerized by their own fear and the resulting conviction that Orbán would win anyway. Because he didn’t.
Of course, these are mere ex post explanations with the benefit of hindsight – but they gave me an idea.
If Orbán’s regime would lose the next elections, what would these talking heads say the next day? Why did it happen?
With hindsight analysts would neatly summarize the obvious weaknesses of Orbán’s regime and emphasize them until it looks inevitable that Orbán had to be defeated. But we don’t need hindsight for that – we can do it right now. If it’s done well, it can give hints for a strategy.
This is my preliminary list. (This is part one of the list.)
3. Lack of quality loyalists
Unbelievably, Fidesz has a recruitment problem. Not of eager and uninhibited soldiers, of course, but that of quality politicians, competent executioners, to whom Orbán could delegate some of his workload and decisions.
It is both the cause and the consequence of the above mentioned method of punishing the naysayers and accusing them of incompetence if they ever say that something can’t be done.
Not one, but two generations of Fidesz politicians have been sidelined already – only Orbán is permanent.
The big, old names have all retired to Brussels or lost their minds. Even their successors, the young and hungry second generation has become too heavy and needed to be put to their place by Orbán.
Today we are witnessing the third generation of Orbánists, but these are far from the quality of the old ones. The first generation were men of discipline. Started as liberals, aged into conservatism, swallowed Orbán’s ethno-nationalism because there was nothing else they could do. (I’m joking, there was.)
The second generation that filled their shoes were of slightly less quality. But what they lacked in political talent, they made up for in unquestioning loyalism. They were politically weightless – indeed, Orbán’s selection criteria was that they had to depend from him only and not the other way around.
They were also more uninhibited than the first generation, but still competent enough to tell convincing lies into the camera and sell Orbán as a misunderstood conservative abroad. And then they had to tell not-at-all-convincing lies, and a lot of them. And they have burnt their political capital (if any) on the altar of selling Orbán abroad. So they have become useless.
And then the third generation arrived, just a year or two ago. These ones are seriously dumb (with only a few exceptions), and have no skill, thought, or priority apart from loyalism.
These are the kind of men an autocrat (or an ageing founder of a business empire) wants to line his nest with when he yearns comfort and enjoying the spoils of all the power he amassed and all the blood he spilled. When he becomes tired of his day-to-day and finally wants to enjoy his well-deserved rule without pesky problems and opposition.
These third-generation loyalists are comfy (for Orbán) to be around, they lick and kiss whenever he wants them, he doesn’t even need to ask. He probably doesn’t even notice it. But some of them are not even good enough to tell a lie into the camera – let alone to keep the flock in line in their assigned areas.
Things are no longer happening under their execution, Orbán can’t delegate things to them, they are more preoccupied with assuming the pose of a young success-man than understanding their job and what reality is doing around them. They have fully internalized the thinking that everything can be manipulated top-down by sheer political will and intimidation, they do a lot of that intimidation themselves, but they don’t understand that it is not permanent. It is a feature of late Orbánism – but it can change. History’s wheel will turn, it always does, and if they don’t know what they are doing it will turn even faster.
Orbán today does have a loyalist army, just as he had asked for. But it is not made of mini-Orbáns and talented executioners, but talentless soldiers.
Soldiers, who also enjoy bragging about their new found riches and flaunt their new found powers – not to mention abusing it.