Guest Post

Orbán and Covid-19 – Business as usual

Those who harbored any illusions about Orbán becoming a statesman in time of national emergency, are going to be disappointed. As of today, neither “Brussels”, nor Covid-19 threaten Orbán’s grip on power.


Ian Kershaw: Rollercoaster – Europe 1950-2017 (P43)

Orbán was once quoted saying “Don’t pay any attention to what I am saying, look at what I’m doing.”

This is the best advice we have ever received from him, and it still worth following. After some hesitation at the outbreak of the corona virus, he assumed the role of the action hero, making announcements on his Facebook page. Unfortunately for him, in one case the action hero image was replaced by bumbling grandfather who was unable to find the voice button, and nobody heard his important announcement.

Nobody has asked why the public broadcaster, which is already functioning as Orbán’s mouthpiece, is not used for these important announcements, especially since the Hungarian taxpayers spend a yearly 260M Euros on it. [But the fact that Orbán’s Facebook page has over a million followers, while the public broadcaster is struggling to attract any viewers might play a role – Ed.]

Orbán’s regime has since the outbreak used the playbook familiar from HBO Chernobyl series:

In case of a crisis

  1. Deny or downplay the events
  2. When acknowledging something is wrong limit the flow of information as much as possible
  3. Attack dissent (real or imagined)
  4. Find scapegoats
  5. Take credit for the good news, blame the bad ones on someone else

Orbán has been preoccupied by additional power grabbing and securing money for his cronies, while depriving much needed funding from local governments not under his party’s rule. Through his actions Orbán has made it clear that only his voter base is important to him. For those who are slow to comprehend, his university friend and Speaker of Parliament László Kövér made it clear: the opposition is not part of the Hungarian nation. Kövér is of course mistaken. Not only is the opposition part of the nation, it is part of Orbán’s system. The “opposition” by participating in the rigged elections and what is the imitation of parliament, gives legitimacy to a regime, which Freedom House has made clear cannot be considered a democracy.

The recent weeks several people have been arrested by the police and charged with spreading false information on social media. The charges were later dropped, but as a journalist commented on, the result will be that ordinary people will think twice before posting  critical opinions. Whether this was the intended result or not, the regime is not complaining. One of the arrested men told in an interview that the same thing happened to him in 1987, two years before the end of communism in Hungary, so he is kind of used to this.

This is a modern autocracy in a nutshell: the measures are enough to scare a lot of people into silence – but can claim outwardly that no one is imprisoned or even charged for their opinions.

Meanwhile Fidesz is still a member of the European People’s Party (albeit suspended). In case someone noticed, the European Parliament had another debate about Hungary. Orbán wanted to send his Minister of Justice, citing that he is too busy fighting the virus at home. The minister was not allowed as a stand in for the prime minister in the debate, but she was then able to claim that the whole procedure was a show trial.

There is a long-established misconception that Orbán is on bad terms with the European Union, and some still cling to the hope it will reign him in. This is partially shared by Orbán’s fans, who love his talk about freedom-fight against “Brussels”. The fact is that Orbán has been cuddling multinationals at expense of the Hungarian taxpayer, even curtailing rights of native workers.

Orbán’s Hungary is a relatively stable entity within the Union, posing no danger to the financial and political status quo, like Greece or Italy have done and possibly will do again. Orbán may be the bogeyman in Brussels for some, but the EU is perfectly happy propping up his country with funds. In exchange, the regime provides German carmakers with cheap labor in their factories in Hungary and health care workers in Western-Europe.

As it looks now – just as the Portuguese dictatorship was an accepted member of NATO, modern autocracies like Hungary or Poland will continue to thrive in the new European Union.


Featured image: Military leaders at Orbán’s party event in February 2020. Photo: Orbán Viktor / Facebook

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