System Decay

Moving first is the only way – Lessons on fighting bullies

Orbán keeps his words to Chinese communist autocrats, but to no one else. Maybe some lessons should be learned.

The biggest news (apart from the outsourcing of the state into the hands of Orbán’s loyalists) is the fact that a mass protest against the Chinese communist mega-university in Budapest seems to have worked. There a few lessons to be learned.

Breaking: A protest worked!

For someone spoiled by a first world political culture where politicians can be shamed and made to retreat if the public disagrees (or made to resign if they are caught stealing) the fact that one has to protest if he disagrees is not news. In Hungary, it is.

The reason is found in decades and centuries of history when protests were neither customary, nor allowed, and the only desperate attempt to be rid of an dictatorship has been squashed by Russian tanks. When the Russian dictatorship ended in 1989 it was not brought about by protests, it was decided for Hungarians above their heads.

This internalized helplessness has been duly exploited by Orbán whose rise into becoming the EU’s last autocrat has not been due to the exact steps he took (no matter what he is trying to tell his buddies in Poland, Slovenia and Italy), but to sheer luck and the masterful exploitation of Hungarians’ collective traumas.

Orbán’s own 11-year reign has not helped either. Little by little people resigned from expressing political opinions as they could only suffer consequences in their private lives and careers, but they couldn’t hope to accomplish anything with it. Protests being the most obvious example, having gone from massive and angry to small and desperate. Because nothing ever happened.

How Many Protesters Do You Think Are Enough?

The only instances Orbán retreated in the last 11 years were all either merely symbolic and/or motivated by secret opinion poll data only Orbán has seen. Active resistance never accomplished anything until a bunch of young people threatened to trigger a referendum against Orbán’s wet dream: hosting the Olympics that would bankrupt the country but provide corruption opportunities unmatched by any other tool. (Until Orbán started to siphon off state wealth into private foundations, that is.)

The resistance against Fudan, the communist Chinese mega-university has been the first time active resistance seems to have worked (for now). That may energize the opposition – or deliver the last blow to them if Orbán chooses to double down and build the thing anyway.

The lessons from this are obvious but important:

The protests were the high point of the gradual revival of opposition politics in Hungary, starting in October 2019 when the opposition scored a surprise triumph in major cities and Budapest at the municipal elections. From then onward, their sense of legitimacy has been restored and life has returned into opposition activism. It is not a game changer yet and don’t sit back with the job well done because it hasn’t even started yet.

The story around Fudan, in particular, has started on the wrong foot.

Time and again Orbán has proven himself to be a liar who promises things and then does the opposite. European politicians’ careers have been broken by believing him on multiple occasion only to see him walk back on his promises – a move first world politicians can’t even imagine, let alone prepare for or react to.

The new, opposition mayor of Budapest has also been burned a few times by his insistence to pretend like it’s a real country where negotiations with the government 1) happen and 2) the agreements there are respected by Orbán.

The Budapest mayor has been screwed over by Orbán when he allowed the preparations of the athletic championship to begin and signed off Budapest’s agreement to host it – only to find out that Orbán didn’t plan to keep the promises he made in exchange for the dumb corruption event.

The Fudan negotiations have also been conducted in the same vein. Orbán never kept his promises that any part of the originally planned student city would even happen, while he promised the sky and the stars to the Chinese communist comrades – and planned to keep it.

Odd that Orbán keeps his words to Chinese communist autocrats, but not to civilized Western politicians. Maybe some lessons should be learned.

What do Chinese communists do that the EU does not?

They both send money – but the EU insists on some lame degree of accountability and China does not. The EU may send non-refundable cash, and China only loans, but China gives loans that the taxpayer will have to pay back – while the political elite of recipient countries are allowed to skim the deals and collect kickbacks.

Strongmen Stop When There Is Pushback

Watching as Hungarian demonstrators with Winnie the Pooh and Tiananmen signs marched against the communist university to be built in Budapest, China has been fuming and released angry statements that the opposition is not even worth a statement.

Submissive minds have spoken: the Hungarian opposition must not resist and antagonize China because China will be angry and that will be a problem later if the opposition somehow gains power in 2022.

Well, the logic only works for authoritarian minds who first decide not to resist, then they make up excuses.

But if we look at what China does, we will see that China (with its current leadership) will only be friendly to any elite that sells out their country and work as Trojan horses for China. If the elite is a corrupt sellout, every previous anti-Chinese-dictatorship sentiment will be forgotten. Indeed, Orbán himself has met the Dalai Lama and protested for Tibet before, and all that is water under the bridge now because he serves China perfectly well. (So I guess it is water under a Chinese bridge that was unnecessary, gigantic and financed by a Chinese loan that will bankrupt Hungary in the long run, when Orbán is safely retired. Montenegro is the canary in the European coal mine and dying right now for the exact same reason.)

We should ask ourselves the question whether we want our politicians to be friends with China in the first place if that’s the kind of friends China keeps. Maybe there isn’t friendship without sellout. Maybe the benefits of such friendship are only for corrupt local politicians, not us.

And what lessons are there for the opposition?

The first thing is to stop giving the benefit of the doubt for the thousandth time. It was a surprise to no one that Orbán would not keep his words. Since when is the victim of gaslighting and long-term abuse obligated to hold fair and impartial trials for her abuser to find out if he is just repeatedly misunderstood and only beats her because… Since forever, if you ask the abuser.

The second lesson is to move first. No one wants to deal with bullies so we don’t want to think about them – but all they ever do is coming after us and think about ways to put us into a corner. Bullies thus always move first and put us into situations we have to react to. And if we just keep reacting, we can never win, we can never end the bullying. And it burns all our resources to even just swallow all the abuse and keep moving. And hoping it was the last time, surely, the bully is satisfied now.

But he isn’t. He is as surprised as any that we didn’t push back the first, the second, the thousandth time he abused us. Every time he pushes us deeper, he is surprised we let him – and is appalled by us. Far from over, the next instance of abuse is inevitable because he can’t believe we have let him come this far.

Renaming the streets around the planned Fudan campus to incense the Chinese communist party was a first punch. (After many, many punches received from Orbán in other fields.) Orbán could only react and he was put in a position he had forgotten a long time ago: being the one who is punched.

The argument not to offend the bully (be it Orbán or China) simply isn’t valid. It is merely a symptom of helpless minds and the equivalent of pulling in your stomach when you are being raped to please the rapist in the hope of raping you gently. With or without offence we will be screwed, but a first move might ruin the bully’s plans and bog down some of their resources in recalculation. Let us waste their resources for a change – don’t just let them waste ours.

Orbán may even use the ever-offended China to beat up his opposition at home, but the fact remains a fact: a bully doesn’t stop unless punched but he does stop when he meets credible pushback. The bully is not an inevitability so stop dependence bonding with them.

Why Autocrats Can’t Be Appeased – Neither by Peers, Nor by Victims

Featured photo: MTI Balogh Zoltán

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