The Witness (Tanú) is a 1969 Hungarian movie – and a legend at that. In one of its many immortal scenes the not-too-bright protagonist, a dam watchman, is made to testify as witness at a political show trial. To be precise, he has to make the elaborate claim that he saw the accused smuggling secrets dressed as a frogman, sewn into a moleskin.
It is quite a complex thing to remember so his handler gives him his scripted witness statement to memorize before appearing before the court. The dam watchman looks at his statement and says:
“Excuse me, Comrade Virágh. But this is not my statement, this is the verdict.”
This scene has been playing in my head on loop when I read the news about Budakeszi, where the local paper has printed the results of a vote before it even took place at the Fidesz majority local council. Naturally, the results proved to be correct as there are no surprises when Fideszniks vote. But the blatant disregard for even the pretense of democracy has been noted by the opposition members of the council.
Which leads us to the issue here. I have been long suspecting that we have reached the point when loyalists don’t even know anymore what principles they disregard.
Likewise, Orbánist “journalists” don’t even know what journalistic principles are. Public money thieves don’t even know what is it about their actions that is against the law – legally speaking. All you can see is that they get genuinely offended if anyone dares to investigate them. They just do what everyone does! They just do what is asked of them. They just do what needs to be done. They are working towards the leader. They are second guessing what the powerful wants and execute it. They have no other considerations – such as the law, human lives or democratic principles. They have only one priority and they are working towards it according to their best knowledge.
They are not flouting any principles – because they don’t know those principles.
Take journalism. When the new, non-Fidesz mayors came in, the editor of an Orbánist local paper wanted to know where to send their articles for pre-approval from now on. He had no idea that it is not customary for a newspaper’s editor to seek out politicians’ approval before publishing a piece – let alone publishing articles that come ‘from above’ (i.e. Fidesz’ headquarters). It was his normal, otherwise he would have kept his mouth shut.
The people who knew that journalists are not supposed to ask for approval from politicians (and if it did happen it should be hushed) have been fired long ago.
Or take the publicly owned media. Not only do the official news agency and the state broadcaster lie by omission. They give fake quotes to people and falsify news. They read up pre-written questions in interviews with Fidesz politicians – sent to them by the politician’s office. And they don’t know why that would be wrong. When the reporters of the public broadcaster were told that they went too far attacking the opposition mayor they were honestly shocked. They went below and beyond before, they physically kicked opposition politicians out of their building before and they were rewarded for it. They didn’t know why that would be wrong, it was obviously what was wanted from them. By the powerful. And all that is that matters.
The people who knew what journalism was have long been fired from these places. The prosecutors who knew what’s wrong with stealing public money are no longer there, and the bureaucrats who knew that you have to hide if you abuse your power have long forgotten it. That is not a priority in an autocracy. The only priority there is to lean towards the life-giving power, and whoever grabs that power has the right.
Fun fact: The colour of governing party Fidesz is orange. It comes from an immortal scene from Witness when a high-ranking comrade bravely tucks into a lemon – which stands in for the oranges that socialist central planners wanted to grow in Hungary. (True story.) Naturally, oranges didn’t agree with the climate so when the proud moment came to celebrate the success of the Hungarian orange, they presented a lemon and pretended to not notice.
“It is smaller, and rather sour – but at least it’s ours”