Corruption is a feature, not a bug

With emergency power comes absolute responsibility

This was supposed to be the moment when Orbán could shine and demonstrate how superior his unlimited power is in tackling a crisis.

And yet we have the world’s highest death rate per capita and the government acts like they are still unprepared that a pandemic might happen. Will anyone spot the contradiction?

For the last decade I have been annoying my friends and non-friends with the same persistent question: Please name a single policy under Orbánism that is really a policy (i.e. it was meant to improve people’s lives) and not just a pure exercise in corruption and communication.

The bar was set low. Of course even a real policy will be riddled with corruption opportunities for cronies and it will be a frantic propaganda tool. But even so, does a single real policy exist?

For years and years everyone has drawn a blank. And then the loan-for-babies breeding policy started – and although it was geared for corruption on every possible level, and it was a massive and shrieking propaganda tool, it might be interpreted as wanting the good of the peasants. It pushes them down, it delimits their life choices, it makes them miserable and unable to escape a bad marriage or a jobless village, and it doesn’t allow them to stop having babies because of health reasons, but a certain fat, gloating and condescending man might actually think he is doing good to his peasants. It takes a lot of benefit of the doubt (and after 11 years of explicitly working on the opposite he might not deserve that) but someone will always insist on assuming the best of intentions about the kleptocrat-in-chief.

So let us say that the loans-for-babies-sign-away-your-life-choices-for-a-pittance program is a policy, not just a corruption opportunity. That makes one. And that’s about it for the last 11 years.

In the meantime Orbán amassed legendary amounts of power and influence. He overtook the vast majority of the media, from public to private outlets – his media-takeover recipe is much sought-after in autocrat circles, from Slovenia’s Jansa to Poland’s Morawiecki and far right parties in Austria and Italy. He stuffed the constitutional court and worked to tame the regular ones, he appointed a loyalist to the top of prosecution, ensuring that no loyalist ever gets charged. He did all this at the time the EU’s well-meaning but corrupting money has started to flow into the country – and Orbán used every cent of it to build his patronage, to enrich loyalists and to make dissenters suffer for not kissing his ring. Without EU funds Hungary would still be a democracy – it may even be more prosperous.

And when the pandemic arrived, he was standing there in full force of his alleged glory, with all the power he might ever get – and without a single man to coordinate the pandemic response. Competence has somehow eroded out of his party as loyalism has grown – who would have been able to foresee that?

But he didn’t stop here, he also tampered with emergency powers and gave himself an unlimited one. Because pandemic.

And yet…

The farce around the pandemic and the vaccinations is difficult to describe. One day Orbán was gloating that he could vaccinate millions in one weekend if only that incompetent EU would send enough vaccines, the next day they had to cancel their much-advertised, weekend mass-vaccination – of a mere 74 thousand people. Because no one in the system appears to know what they are doing, while Orbán is jealously rejecting offers to help by opposition figures, opposition cities, or anyone with any practice with healthcare. Not letting them look helpful beats saving lives. Politics trumps reality in an autocracy.

With massive power comes massive responsibility – but Orbán is now busy blaming the EU (even though they still sent more vaccines than Orbán’s Russian and Chinese overlords combined) and even doctors. He “commands” them, he “orders” them, he uses grossly military vocabulary on healthcare now, he even whipped them into a quasi-military status and forced them to sign it during the pandemic – and now he says things like they have “lost their minds” if they disagree and blames them for speaking up and not managing to cope. The fact that they seem to have found a voice during the pandemic – the voice of desperation, no doubt – does not help.

The Chamber of Doctors has shed its Orbánist leadership just before the pandemic broke. It didn’t help them to avoid falling into the usual Orbán-trap of promising whatever they want and then giving something else, but at least now they speak up when Orbán is lying about them. They have even asked for volunteers – completely untrained, non-medical people – to report to help in Covid-wards because anyone with a medical training, even masseuses and optometrists have been “commanded” to take up Covid-duty already. A few months ago (pre-Covid) a hospital was punished for begging the public for basic supplies and now they are openly begging for much more serious help. While Orbán insists that Hungary even has the capacity to help other countries and Orbánist experts keep stretching the capacity numbers every day just to paint a rosy picture.

And what is the government busy doing? Clamping down on information coming out of hospitals. On the people spreading bad news. On the media reporting about it. And of course, stealing like there’s no tomorrow. The priorities are clear and absolute power is only used for those purposes – not to benefit the public. Never to benefit the public.

Compound that with the first ever economic crisis that happens under Orbán’s rule and you have the perfect storm. For decades, successive governments claimed to fix the economy for us – and now when it is crumbling they are blaming even the prime minister 13 years ago, just not themselves. It is as though they could only “fix” the economy for us when it doesn’t need fixing, even in possession of absolute power. Curious.

The blame-game has started but Orbán sounds less and less credible as he is blaming doctors, his predecessors (until 2008) and the whole world for what he gained emergency powers to fix himself. The capacity of submissive authoritarian minds to explain things away is virtually limitless. Will they explain this away as well?

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