System Decay

Orbán pulls the same old tricks – Will they work for him again?

A fake survey with loaded questions, creating new parties in the opposition, blaming the previous government – Orbán’s miracle weapons are getting tired.

If something once worked for you, you will keep repeating it over and over again – long after it ceased to work. Just ask the rats. The same appears to be the case in politics when an autocrat reaches his apex and stops innovating. Instead of new methods to enforce submission, he uses the tricks that worked for him once – surely, they will deliver the reward again.

But the thing is, tricks need to evolve to keep working. And aversion to taking risks may be the natural state of a status quo autocrat, but the failure of trying out new methods may turn to be lethal for the status quo.

Orbán is such a status quo power in Hungary. Not only is he the definition of the old establishment of politics, he has been in power throughout the last decade. And now his old miracle weapons to divide and conquer Hungarians are also getting tired.

Take the horrible institution of “national consulting” campaigns. Orbán has roughly one per year, sending a fake questionnaire with loaded and inciting questions into every household on taxpayer money. It is supported by massive advertising campaign that is a splendid opportunity to stuff cronies and loyalists with billions of taxpayer money for delivering these “public service” messages.

Last year Orbán has been preparing to launch one, pivoting for new enemies. The migrant-theme was tired and way past its expiration date, so Orbán was gearing up to incite against inmates, gypsies and judges instead. He called it the “prison business“. That was in February 2020 and the campaign was to launch in March. We all know what happened next.

But the money must be paid to cronies, so there had to be a campaign. So Orbán has launched one on the pandemic instead. Among other things, he asked the 9.3 million armchair epidemiologists about their expert opinions, what kind of pandemic measures they would like to see. Ever since that, he could claim that whatever he was doing, it was “the people’s will”. (We have no way of knowing if a single person really returned those letters.)

It should be a masterclass in pulverizing responsibility – only it didn’t work too well this time. And the reason for that that paternalism doesn’t mix with real threats – only imaginary ones. This is what happens when you condition people that the leader can solve everything, he knows everything: they will demand solutions even in a no-win situation such as the pandemic.

The lockdown and the lack of state assistance to non-crony businesses have proven to be too much so hospitality workers have been protesting against the lockdown and the government’s mismanagement of the crisis.

Orbán couldn’t handle the discontent, he even backpedalled, promising to pay out the rescue checks to small businesses. (He lied that it is an “advance” payment, it was just what they were owed up to this date – and even that was outrageously meager compared to what crony businesses received in the meantime.)

And to pave the way to the reopening and the possible fiasco that may follow, Orbán has turned to his trusty wonder weapon: “national consultation’ questionnaires. He doesn’t know what to do, or doesn’t want the responsibility for his decision. So he needs to be able to say that someone else made the decision. The gods, the tea leaves, the people. In other words: pulverizing responsibility.

But he had sent one such letter last year. Not only is it yet another fake survey – it is literally about the same topic as last year’s: the pandemic. He wants to pull the same trick again.

But that’s not the only stale tool coming out of his box.

Orbán spent almost a decade fending off accusations of being far right by pointing at Jobbik, a supposedly even more far right party. Apparently, it passes as an argument in Brussels that “if I don’t spout racist propaganda, they will and they win”. European politicians must like Orbán’s person very much because they bought this argument. Because of Jobbik.

Now things have changed. Jobbik has not turned into a civilized party, but it walked out of Orbán’s trap of extremism. Rather than playing the “even-more-extremist” in Orbán’s game, Jobbik has pivoted into a more moderate role. They took heavy blows in the process, one of which was the formation of Our Homeland Movement, a new party consisting of the more aggressive members of Jobbik who were disenchanted with the moderate party line.

Our Homeland is widely regarded as Orbán’s stooges, having always reacted in a manner that best served Orbán. When Jobbik refuses to play extremist, Our Homeland rides to Orbán’s rescue by burning books and marching against gay people. So Orbán can once again point at them in Brussels and claim that Our Homeland is the reason he, Orbán, must be an extremist. He would so very much like to be civilized, but he can’t. He must move to the right, you see, to somehow stop Our Homeland from growing.

No, this argument makes no sense whatsoever. And maybe this time even corrupt European politicians will see it for what it is.

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