Commentary

Some context for Orbán’s 9th “national consultation” direct mail campaign 1/3

Pre-covid, this ninth wave of “national consultations” was meant to attack ask about gypsies and the legitimacy of courts – the two enemies Orbán pivoted to attack to prop up his crumbling support after the local election defeat in October 2019.

But then the pandemic came, and with it a new and limitless excuse to clamp down on anyone and anything. So covid it is! Populists are nothing if not adaptive and opportunistic.

Here are the questions (in quotation marks)

with some context.

“The coronavirus pandemic in the first half of 2020 has put the world in an unprecedented situation. We, Hungarians, have held together and made the necessary measures in time, and managed to stop the pandemic. Doctors and epidemiological experts, however, are warning that preparedness must be maintained, because the second wave of the coronavirus might appear in Hungary as well. The experts agree that epidemiological measures with more public support are the most effective, Your opinion is therefore especially important to us. 

It is all true. Spin doctors really, desperately want to know which measures are popular – they have been testing like mad throughout the lockdown.

And to hell with epidemiological rationale, we will be getting exactly what we had asked for the next time an epidemic happens. (And it sounds like it would happen.) Can’t argue with that either. It is the very nature of new diseases that we don’t know the first thing about them, there is therefore no facts to go by. And governments even go against facts when it is politically expedient – why would they refrain from politicking when there isn’t even any facts they would be going against – but their audience is most alert?

It is politics. If you want to entrust politicians to handle medical issues, prepare to get political measures in your face.

And that second wave is such an enticing political prospect for any strongman, I wouldn’t be surprised ifin a couple of years we would be struggling to count pandemic-waves just as we do with “national consultation” campaigns today.

1. In case of a new wave of the pandemic which of these measures would you support? 

-introducing curfews
-ordering social distancing
-ordering the wearing of masks
-shutting down national borders
-closing educational institutions, transferring to digital education
-limiting events
-maintaining the dedicated shopping hours for over-65
-limiting the export of protective gear
-free parking

They forgot to mention some of their least favorite measures, such as the hasty emptying of 2/3 of hospital beds, leaving patients outside the hospital, whether they have relatives to pick them up or not. It is not public how many patients were sent home abruptly, but the outrage was so grave and the optics so bad (there were inevitable deaths) that they started denying it had ever happened. The minister in charge of healthcare (among many things) had been sidelined. He will be probably promoted out of the government later – but not while he is under attack. A strongman must make a point not to allow public pressure work, ever.

Free parking is also LOL. The government introduced free parking by decree, mumbling some corona-excuse, but curiously, it took place two days after someone from the Budapest mayor’s office (the new opposition stronghold) complained about covid-excused cuts to their revenues and said that all they had left was parking revenues. So they were relieved of that as well.

It is never the case with these “consultation” questionnaires, but I am sure that answers to this question will actually be read and whatever they say will be implemented during the next lockdown. After all, there is no other logic to follow when we know nothing about a virus.

As of the rest of the letter, it is meant to explain, to implant opinions, and to self-promote. These are not really questions.

2.

The coronavirus pandemic resulted in the collapse of the healthcare systems in many countries in the world. In Hungary, we have managed to slow the spread of the pandemic and thereby won time to prepare our healthcare system. The risk of a new pandemic wave is still present. 

Do you agree that the state of epidemiological alert must be kept in effect as long as the risk of the return of the pandemic exists? 

Firstly, they begin with an intro that subtly or not-so subtly sends the message, The question after that is just a redundant appendix.

The Hungarian public healthcare system has been a scary place for a long time. Free and universal healthcare started under the last decade of socialist authoritarianism (funded by IMF loans) and free healthcare became so self-evident that Orbán once won a populist referendum by campaigning against a one euro contribution per doctor visit.

He never forgot that. But he was also extremely reluctant to spend on healthcare. After all, all that perfectly good money could be spent elsewhere, could feed cronies and build stadiums – why would anyone ever spend it back on the hapless taxpayers?

Surveys after the October 2019 defeat had shown that even though Orbén refuses to discuss it, even though he spends uncounted billions of our taxpayer money back on communicating to us that we should be afraid of foreigners and the outside world – the majority is still most afraid of becoming ill and having to face the Hungarian healthcare system. Now they have learned that other countries are even worse.

3. 

During the pandemic, care homes are the most exposed to the spread of the infection. Every fourth victim of the Hungarian pandemic lived in a care home. Hundreds have been infected and many have died in Budapest’s Pesti street care home. 

Do you agree that the epidemiological protection of care homes must be further increased? 

Again, a completely redundant question. The point is that sentence hanging above it for no apparent reason, about the Pesti street care home that became the epicenter of Orbán’s attack on Budapest’s new, opposition mayor.

In the height of the hysteria, when ambulances were impossible to get, an entire motorcade of them were ordered to the aforementioned care home to shuffle the precious cargo madly to and from hospitals – strictly without testing. The mayor has pointed out the hypocrisy (supported by official documents) of not testing people who were sent back to high-risk care homes from hospitals. Then he pointed out that a million inspections ordered against the home did not find any wrongdoing – until the last one created one. They ordered the care home’s doctor into a quarantine – and returned a couple of hours later to write a memo that there was no doctor on the premises.

A friend aptly put it when he quipped “Oh great. Now we can expect a show trial for the mayor.” It certainly smelled like that. Not to mention the vicious campaign in Orbánist media with all reporters and talking heads assigned to talk trash of the mayor and mention the Pesti street care home as many times as they breath. I would say the Orbánist media stopped short of calling the mayor a murderer – but that wouldn’t be true.

The post continues…

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