Orbán’s miscalculations are his opponents’ best hope. And as there are no limits on his power – there are no limits on the size of the disasters he can make.
If we want to understand why Orbán fears and avoids media that is not dependent on him, all we need is to look at the two instances when he appeared in front of foreign media outlets. Both time on his own volition, with an agenda to clear his name. And in both cases he ended up digging himself even deeper.
So is he really such a talented politician? Is he still?
Look at the interview Orbán gave to otherwise friendly journalists of the German Die Welt. He did the interview in March 2019 with the actual purpose of getting out of trouble with the EPP – and yet he managed to call EPP members who vote against him “useful idiots”. And worse.
When grilled about the absurd billboard campaign against a fellow EPP politician he makes sure to kiss up to Juncker’s supposed successor, Manfred Weber, who Orbán tried to pacify at this point – but also to not-so-subtly him that his election depends on Orbán’s vote.
“WELT AM SONNTAG: On our way to this interview we passed many billboards that show EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and claim he wants to encourage migration. Juncker belongs to the EPP, your party belongs to the EPP and is just starting the European electoral campaign. You put up billboards against the EPP, but at the same time ask people to vote for it. Is that not contradictory?
Orbán: The reputation of Mr. Juncker is completely different in the West than in the East. In Western Europe the EPP campaigns with the selling point that her new Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber will continue the work of Mr. Juncker. That would be political suicide in Central Europe, because here Mr Juncker doesn’t enjoy much respect anymore. If the EPP wants to win in Central Europe, it must say: Mr. Juncker is the past. Mr. Weber is the future.”
Then he pretty much dismisses the accusations of anti-Semitism by throwing shade at Germany – an odd move – then breaks into an angry rant when asked about his similar anti-Soros billboard campaign:
“It’s not my doing that the Hungarian citizen Soros is of Jewish origin! That lies with God. But it happens to be that in Hungary Soros incarnates the ugly face of globalism.”
All he missed was the word “Soros protocol” – he saved that for his letter to every Hungarian household where he informed us about the conspiracy of Soros. But for German ears this little rant was telling.
Again, he gave this interview to whitewash his name and cajole EPP into submission. And this is what happened. You can’t say it was the journalists who dug too deep. These were just normal questions merely stating the obvious, what had happened in Hungary, and letting Orbán to react to them. And Orbén wasn’t even prepared to react to them without irritation and without anti-Semitic rants that are known to be toxic in Europe.
It appeared as normal to him.
And so did these sentences:
WELT AM SONNTAG: If Fidesz gets expelled from the EPP –will you enter into any kind of alliance or cooperation with the Italian Lega?
Orbán: I don’t like people who wear suspenders and a belt at the same time.”
Also, while we’re here, please savor this little gem. He honestly believes it is not him – but the numbers are his enemy.
“…the opposite of the Vision of the EPP means a socialist Europe with enormous state budgets, high budget deficits, growing public debt and the distribution of money without demanding performance.”
When we had enough of Orbán’s self-immolation in the German media, let’s take a look at what he did in another interview that he called for himself, the interview he gave to French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy in May last year., two months after his last attempt at appearing civilized that turned into a PR tragedy.
This piece also starts with the tedious cliche of “I’ve know Orbán from 30 years ago, this and this happened 30 years ago”, which appears to be the obligatory first half of every single article written about him abroad.* But then it becomes hilarious. BHL doesn’t seem to give a flying fuck about being an unbiased reporter and makes the interview at least 30% about himself and his perceptions – which is a welcome change from all other journalists who give space to Orbán’s rants – even though those do speak about themselves.
And so it happens this time. Orbán forgets about himself and is freely ranting about his football mania and doesn’t even realize that it may backfire with this reporter. (He used to know these things and 30-years-ago Orbán would charm a philosopher with references to Spinoza – not a football rant.) But no, Orbén cannot contain this:
“There is something you have to know about Erdoğan. He’s a big soccer fan, like me. And soccer fans share a trait. They have a muscle here, in the lower back …”
He leans out of his chair a little, as if to show me his lower back.
“And that’s what Erdoğan and I did the first time we met. We touched each other’s lower back—and recognized a fellow fan.”
It is all the more surprising if you allow yourself to take in the full truth – that this interview was requested by Orbán, to clean up his image for the previous interview he gave to restore his image in EPP – but achieved the opposite – and BHL just obliged.
And then Orbán goes on to blame the Jews for communism a comfy stance, also nothing new. He didn’t make that one up, the nazis did.
Then he rants about his political christianism “I am the most Christian, and thus the most European, of Europeans. Europe’s DNA is me. I am its guardian.”
And weird sentences are uttered: “It’s a miracle! That’s what you have to understand. Hungary is not a nation; it’s a miracle!”
BHL concludes – and you gotta love him for this:
“I think of what I am going to say on a Budapest stage in a couple of hours about this real-world Luke Skywalker who may have gone over to the dark side of the Force, become the puppet of the oligarchs’ empire, and made his old friend Lőrinc Mészáros the richest man in the world in the same way Caligula made his horse a senator.
Strangely, I feel less sure of all that than I had been.
I have trouble believing that his speech about crusading Christianity masks deal-making opportunism.
I am more inclined to believe, ultimately, in an absurd form of sincerity on his part—no less sincere for being absurd.”
One of the best summaries I have ever read.
And while we’re at it, Orbán’s new, heavily controlled “annual international press conferences” aren’t a success either. He has the chance to answer or not answer any question of way too many journalists, some of whom will never go deeper than the most basic topics in their only question they get, and yet, he manages to dig himself deeper by letting his unpleasant personality shine through and giving a glimpse of how out-of-touch he has become.
* There is not much depth you can add about current affairs when you waste the limited attention span your readers have a third world despot on events 30 years ago. Indeed, that is all what everyone know about Orbán, his 30-year-ago self, and I blame it on the foreign media. You can’t still begin every single article with the far past because no one bothers to read any further.