Digest

How German political hypocrisy created Orbán and keeps him in power

Germany is often accused of having fattened up Orbán and turning a blind eye to his proudly authoritarian downturn. 444.hu has looked into the claims.

There isn’t much left of the independent media so I might as well start recommending reading material. This article from 444.hu (story delivered by investigative portal Direkt36) should not be missed. It is seriously tldr, but it covers – among other things – the following. 

  • Orbán’s first German political mentor was liberal, but from the 90s, when Orbán stepped into the nationalist realm to gain power (back then he called it conservative and that is all you need to know about the state of conservatism), he became close with Helmut Kohl. 
  • When Orbán won (as a nationalist conservative) in April 1998, he remained loyal to Kohl and shunned Schröder, even though Schröder unseated Kohl in elections a few weeks later. That was the end of the German-Hungarian honeymoon, when Germany was grateful for Hungary’s role in its reunification. 
  • When Orbán couldn’t find it in himself to cooperate with an SPD-government in Germany, he started making friends in southern German, more right wing states such as Bavaria. Mercedes and Bosch are headquartered in Baden-Württemberg, Audi and BMW in Bavaria, and surprisingly many business and political figures have Hungarian ancestry there. (And the irrationality of ancestry appeals to nationalists.) 
  • Orbán thought if Germany as some sort of overlords in this region back then. Russia may hold us dependent through energy, but Germany brings the jobs. The United States don’t matter here. 
  • Orbán also has a problem with Angela Merkel, mostly because she is a woman and women will never be quite real humans in his eyes, no matter how much power they have. (Indeed, when a woman in powerful, putting her to her place will always be a higher priority than an alliance with her. It.)
  • Merkel also doesn’t respect Kohl enough, according to Orbán. (Kohl’s corruption scandal is a schoolboy’s mischief compared to what Orbán considers corruption.)  
  • With 2010, Orbán’s second coming, a new era has started in German-Hungarian relations. 
  • When Orbán’s new government was out chasing Telekom with punitive taxes and threatening regulations in 2012 – to shore up his budget to keep the Maastricht deficit criteria and to release funds to fund his clientelism), the German carmakers, the real lobbying muscle stayed quiet and let it happen.
  • The result is history. Among other things Telekom has sold Orbánists origo.hu, one of the country’s two biggest news portals that had turned into the most alarming hatemongering propaganda machine. And that is just what we have seen. Axel Springer has sold its network of local papers to Orbánists and the same stomach-turning conversion happened. In 2018, all these and many more titles (almost 500 by that time) had openly been gifted to Orbán by the assorted cronies who bought them for him. 
  • Orbán never forgot Merkel (and Barroso, then EC president) that they didn’t let him spend. His special taxes on any industry he didn’t like and had cash surprised Berlin. And that was the new era. 
  • German carmakers, on the other hand, can always count on cash from his government as well as exemption from Byzantine regulations and taxes that tie the hands of struggling local businesses. This is how Orbán keeps them on their side and carmakers seem to hold Germany in their pockets as well. 
  • Seriously, read that list on the subsidies to German carmakers, coming from the taxed Hungarians. 
  • With time, German carmakers have grown fond of the logic of Hungarian special taxes as it had spared them. Also, Audi received four times as much state support for creating employment as it did in Germany. 
  • German carmakers account for 2.6% of Hungarian jobs, and their contractors for another 3% or more. 
  • The removal of employee protections and labor rights is also a great selling point for German companies. 
  • “After a bottle of wine they are happy to admit that Hungary is a great place, you don’t have to let German guest workers to pray, for instance.” 
  • “German states as well as other EU member states have made good money on us, they shouldn’t complain,” said Orbán once. 
  • Orbán repeatedly expressed surprise at German criticism of his autocracy. He thinks he had paid the price in subsidies to carmakers, this is how Germans work. Same stands for each and every (and surprisingly frequent) change of the car fleet of the government and various departments. Police now drive fancy Audis but no salaries to speak of and no overtime pay.) 
  • German businesses’ self-image is that they seek political connections (they bribe) regardless of party lines, so they are virtuous. 
  • Bosses of Hungarian operations also enjoy saying whose direct phone numbers they have (that gets them cookie points at HQ) and we are talking ministers and their families. 
  • The journalists of Magyar Hang (the former journalists at Magyar Nemzet, a paper that was shut down in revenge just days after Orbán’s 2018 reelection) told a story how they were begging for advertising at a big German carmaker. Their audience profile was a match, but the carmaker said that they can’t advertise with them because they cannot risk state subsidies and the goodwill of Orbán. 
  • Aldi even removed non-Orbánists publications from its shelves, just to please the Orbán-government. 
  • When the German embassy held talks about the state of the media freedom in Hungary, they expressed profound shame at what had happened. “But please understand that Germany is a democracy and the foreign ministry cannot influence German companies.” (Not even when they are corrupting third world countries. Also, now we know where Orbán’s government got its go-to line about press freedom.) Next day the embassy subscribed to their paper. In one copy. 
  • German businesses also don’t like sanctions against Russia and thus agree with Orbán who acts as Putin’s Trojan horse in the EU. Presumably they also run their businesses in the German way in Russia so they would prefer a dictator in their pockets to a democrat keeping subsidies from them and making them equal before law and economy. 
  • Although the German press is getting more open-eyed about Orbán’s corruption, German businessmen don’t really see it. If Orbán would chase girlfriends and flaunt luxury cars, they might have see it differently – said one source. 
  • Orbán’s government worked hard to isolate Mazsihisz, the Hungarian Jewish organization and stand between them and Merkel’s ears. Orbén has his own Jewish organization that he can send into war to whitewash him when needed and Mazsihisz struggles to cope with the situation. 
  • Orbán envisions the 2015 migrant crisis and Merkel’s stance to stand up for humanism as the clash of civilizations, where Merkel is on the opposite side. Orbán attacks quotas party because the idea came from Germany and the female German chancellor must be destroyed. 
  • Orbán even became an election topic in German and helped Merkel gain popularity to stand up against him. 
  • Orbán is on the communication offensive in Germany, mobilizing any German journalist hack of  a Hungarian ancestry to paint him as totally understandable just misunderstood. (One of these hacks just received a juicy position to teach loyalist journalist in Hungary.) 
  • Orbán has dropped AfD, the French Le Pen and Austrian FPÖ as potential allies, simply because they can never get into power. Even tough they adore Orbán and they are ideological twins. 
  • But CDU is not a guarantee of Orbán’s friendship either. Just as he ran a billboard and media hate campaign at home against Jean-Claude Juncker, his fellow EPP politician, he demonized Manfred Weber of the German CSU for standing up against Orbán’s kleptocracy. When Weber lost the EC-presidency to von der Leyen, Orbán even received cookie points. 
  • So Merkel came to Hungary in 2019 and praised Orbán’s economy and jobs. Diplomats called the visit a turning point. 
  • Orbán also bought more German weapons recently “than the entire German Bundeswehr” (and signed the contract under von der Leyen’s tenure as defense minister) and thus finds German political criticism of his autocracy surprising. Von der Leyen enjoyed his political support for her election. 
  • Orbán also supports the now ailing German car industry, with more tax exemptions and less labor rights and employment taxes for them.
  • Orbán is greasing palms to get his way in the 2021-27 EU budget, and not link the gift money to rule of law criteria. 
  • He is also treading hard to get reinstated in the EPP. They still seriously argue that Fidesz may get even more radical if dropped from their party family – read: they kept Orbán this tame by letting him stay. (Orbán also still successfully plays the Jobbik-card, even though the new “Jobbik” bogeyman is now a splinter faction breaking off from Jobbik and being even more radical. But they benefit Orbán on so many levels, it hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention. Except EPP-politicians’, apparently.) 
  • Orbán would love Merkel to stay, despite all the above. He even tried to convince her not to retire. If something changes in Germany, it can only be worse for a corrupt strongman in Hungary.

Read the whole article here. 

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