Last weekend by-elections took place for several mayoral and one parliamentary seat. Technically, Fidesz’ mythical 2/3 supermajority was at stake – and yet I am hard pressed to find out about the election results from the media.
Since index.hu became part of the Orbánist propaganda media, the remaining independent outlets cannot fill its shoes. For a start, they are too busy fundraising to stay alive. But they are also much smaller to begin with and they don’t have the bandwidth to cover everything.
Remaining news sites are struggling to (barely) cover the ongoing protests of the students of the university of film and theatre (SZFE), for instance. They didn’t have anyone to cover the trial of the cruise ship captain whose hotel boat sank a much smaller sightseeing boat on the Danube last year, killing 28 people. Last May it was the horrifying front page news for weeks, but there is no index.hu to report about its trial now. Only the new “index” did, which is already testing its readers’ credulity and has already adopted the sneaky-aggressive pro-Orbán approach it was apparently assigned.
Independent sites didn’t have the bandwidth to cover the by-elections last weekend either, and it may not be an accident that Orbán’s top oligarch and alleged business avatar timed the announcement of his divorce for the time there is no index – and its successor hasn’t started yet.
I spent the last couple of hours trying to find out what happened in the by-elections, but I couldn’t find anything apart from Fidesz propaganda media’s gloating success report. The problem with Orbánist media reporting Orbán’s success is that they would do that even when they lose. And from their perspective, the job is done.
The lies take on a life of their own and work as truth in the minds of people who heard them. When I read something in the public media or at any of Orbán’s zombified websites or papers, it 1) will be often the same in each zombie paper, word for word because they all reprint the same, centrally edited message, and 2) it may be the opposite of what actually happened.
In 2018, the Orbanized media lost 109 false claim lawsuits (the independent media lost 44). But unlike the independent media, the Orbánist press has the unlimited money of the taxed masses to pay for their lies.
And this is why it is crucial to stop making simplistic assumptions. Like assuming that if they lied, someone else would catch them and… And then what? Without independent media, there won’t even be a competing news item that says the truth. And even when there is one, the liars will just say that it is a lie, and that their version is just as good. How can you prove that their blatant lie is a lie? And why do you have to? Why is it the truth-teller’s burden to also meticulously deny and refuse with evidence completely unfunded claims? And how many such unfunded lies will finally overrun the real journalists’ capacity to correct it? After all, we have only a few dozen actual journalists left and it’s a miracle they haven’t left the country yet.
And most importantly, do you think that someone who already heard the lie (in this case that Fidesz won) and registered it as the answer to the question ‘who won?’ will be interested in an opposing claim? How much time will he spend on listening to your opposing claim? And now that you are the challenger, not the first piece of information that hit him, it is all upon you to deliver evidence. Both for your truth and the possibility that the propagandist really just lied. And that he can do that. And that he would do that.
In the meantime, said propagandist comes up with several dozen new lies. He doesn’t have any barrier to entry. Neither is he bound to fact, nor does she have to supply evidence. He sets the agenda and you are running after him, denying his claims with hard-earned evidence, but he has a thousand new lies for every one of your evidences.
And finally the audience. No one wants to spend so much time finding out ‘who won’. They may decide that what they hear is unreliable, but it will just make them sink into apathy. Sure, they won’t believe the propaganda. But what happens when there is not truth out there anymore?
People underestimate how much lies and propaganda can contaminate their thinking, even when they don’t believe them. The only thing they underestimate even more is how much the absence of truth influences them. What they never hear.
Lying has no cost anymore. Politicians can harvest all the benefits of a lie and never pay any price for it. So they can just claim they won and thus achieve what they want: erode the sense of control in their opposition even further at no cost.
But back to my research to find out who won.
I spent a lot of time googling and going through news outlets. The Orbánists claimed victory. Others just reprinted the piece of the (Orbánist) official news agency, word for word. Granted, six of the seven elections last weekend were seemingly inconsequential local mayoral elections in small villages.
Giving up reading about it in the media, and with the sinking feeling of how blind I am without a quick run-down of the weekend’s events, I went straight to the source, the website of the election office. But there was a little problem. All candidates, opposition and Fidesz alike, prefer to run as independent.
For the opposition the reason is obvious: their candidates are always formally independent, supported by all the parties that are not Fidesz. They are forced to form these unsavory coalitions because a fragmented opposition cannot challenge Orbán in Orbán’s own election system.
But why would Orbánists hide that they are from victorious Fidesz? The winner of winners? The sole distributor of EU funds in the land of Huns. The money. The power. The guarantee that you won’t lose your public work in revenge for not voting for Fidesz. Why would Fidesz’ candidate try to hide it?
Átlátszó.hu reported from the tiny village of Kiszombor, where the local Fidesz strongman, vice president of Fidesz in the nearby town, Makó, has run as “independent” candidate for mayor. He wallpapered his village with posters that used the colors of an opposition party. The local media – owned by Orbán’s media conglomerate – has also endlessly parroted in his support that he is an “independent” candidate. And never once mentioned any other candidates. The streets were also devoid of any other posters – anyone would have been forgiven to assume that he is the only candidate for mayor and he has definitely nothing to do with Fidesz.
Another election jumps to mind. After the October 2019 municipal election defeat Orbán’s party appeared to have suffered from a lack of acceptable cadres. In a particularly interesting incident, an all-opposition candidate for the parliament was elected with no OfFidesz challenger, even though it eroded Orbán’s margin by one MP. It happened in the district of Dunaújváros at the parliamentary byelection on 16 February 2020, where Fidesz couldn’t find a candidate of their own and supported an independent candidate instead. Orbán would have loved one more MPs to make his 2/3 even bigger, but his party couldn’t deliver a candidate, let alone a winning one. It is harder to find quality loyalist than you think.
According to some theories, loyalism and quality are mutually exclusive concepts. Don’t tell that to Fidesz though – they shoot the messenger. It used to work for them.