System Decay

Orbán is improvising months before the election

Orbán threw in homophobia to distract from the Pegasus-scandal – and learned two things:

1) The Pegasus scandal really hurts him (according to him).

2) The man is improvising.

It may not lead to his downfall in 2022. But it is not a sign of an upward trajectory for someone like him.

The ink hasn´t dried on the last “national consultation” direct mail where Orbán “wants to know” my opinion about the economic recovery, he has already announced a referendum where he “wants to know” my opinion about homosexuals. And it came out of the blue, to distract from the Pegasus-scandal.

The deadline for the dumb faux questionnaire is in late August, where Orbán supposedly asks me whether I think families are important and free money is a good thing – or do I want Gyurcsány back? But as the Pegasus surveillance scandal broke, he came up with a new referendum idea out of the blue. It will be about how much I hate homosexuals, yes or no.

Let me say the obvious things out loud:

  • There will be a referendum if Orbán wants it. (The opposition’s counter-referendum, on the other hand, will be dismissed.)
  • There will be a referendum even if the question itself is illegal – makes no sense. The election office has no power against Orbán. It happened in 2016, when he asked questions that would have been against international treaties if put into action.
  • Participation will be low – and Orbán will get 98% of that. No one is motivated to vote at a referendum about homophobia, only the turbo nazis. They will vote yes to homophobia.
  • The low participation renders the referendum invalid, but that has never been the point. It is a mobilization strategy, it is meant to thematise public discourse, it is telling us thing, not asking it.
  • And it will be a great way to spend monumental sums of taxpayer money on 1) Orbán’s campaign, through 2) crony businesses like his perennial tender-winner communicators, billboard companies, not to mention the hundreds of media outlets under his control that will soak up “advertising” money for the “government information” ads.

This is not the first time Orbán uses a rapid referendum for distraction. When he was forced to backpedal on the mandatory closure of shops on Sunday that nobody wanted, he threw in an anti-EU referendum in 2016. No one talked about the Sunday closure anymore, and everyone forgot that he had to make an about-face on the issue. But we all remember the disgusting campaign that deteriorated the nation’s mental health permanently.

There are really only a few tricks Orbán keeps repeating – until they no longer work and beyond. Like lying in the face of western politicians and watching them getting burnt for believing Orbán. Or telling in Brussels that he is the only thing that stands between civilization and the extreme right fringe (by becoming the extreme right fringe). Or demonizing the prime minister of 15 years ago. He kept pushing the migrant-scaremongering from 2015 to 2019, until he lost the municipal elections and the topic lost its power beyond any doubt. He is not the big genius everyone dreads – he just keeps pushing the levers that once worked for him and struck gold with the migration crisis and the avalanche of EU money that started flowing under his reign. He didn’t even win a 2/3 in 2010, the other side lost that hard by screwing up majestically.

And at any rate – genius for him means being good at serving himself, not governing. Warmongering, waging propaganda and legalized kleptocracy.

MigrantSorosBrussels has been the Swiss knife of threats and enemies, the bread and butter for an aspiring autocrat. In the absence of such a great enemy figure Orbán has now resorted to financial giveaways, raising minimum wages, a giveaway to pensioners (standard in election years), and throwing more and more money on the property market (in exchange for babies). And he was telling us about it in his latest questionnaire.

But then international backlash for the homophobic law happened, and so did the Pegasus scandal.

After a week of inane non-answers from members of his government on the total and legal surveillance powers they have and the usage of the Pegasus software to bug journalists and dissenters, Orbán has still not spoken a word. Then his Friday morning radio sermon was due and he dismissed the Pegasus scandal with a single sentence, that his interior minister said it all and that’s it. (The minister said nothing.) .

Orbán spent the rest of the two-hour sermon on pontificating of homophobia instead and announced, out of the blue, that he will start a referendum on “child protection”. The questions will be like this:

  • Do you support that minors would get sexual education introducing different sexual orientations in institutions of public education?
  • Do you support that sex change operations be popularized to minors?
  • Do you support that sex change treatments be available to minors?
  • Do you support that minors be shown sexual media content that influences their development without any limitation?
  • Do you support that media content portraying sex change be presented?

The questions are either senseless, manipulative, or both. Everything on this list has been made illegal by Orbán’s homophobic law. None of these things are happening in schools, but if they ask the questions that suggests they are.

But all this is beside the point. People who read them will keep bouncing on issues like the fact that no one is popularizing anything, that these questions suggest children are shown porn or something, or that telling them that homosexuality exists will turn them gay. (And thus limit their parents’ control.)

Such a sudden move does not fly in a disciplined, steamroller-style campaign that is characteristic of Orbán. This is pure improvisation.

This is a communication flash bomb, thrown at voters and the media to distract from something he really doesn´t want to talk about: Pegasus.

Internationally, Orbán has isolated himself with his open and personal homophobia. No matter how his soldiers are trying to reframe it as anti-pedophilia and stopping civil society to forcibly sex change our hapless babies, the game is pretty simple and Orbán makes no secret out of it. He blames “liberalism” for not being able to control his children.

Donestically, the topic is equally losing. It can trigger very real harm for the LGBT people it attacks, but it will not win a single new vote. Doubling down on such a losing topic doesn’t look like the pinnacle of good decisions.

Orbán’s communication and propaganda machinery had its prime between 2015 and 2018 when they happened upon the super-toxic issue of dehumanizing refugees into Hungarian-eating subhumans and George Soros who somehow wants that very much. But an imaginary threat is difficult to be kept fresh in the minds of hystericized voters – and a threat must be fresh in order to work. A dragon that remains elusive can only remain the campaign theme for so many years. It’s a miracle it lasted three years.

Pivoting for a new enemy to wage war on has been ongoing since Orbán’s the 2018 reelection, but it has failed to come up with an enemy as toxic and poignant as #migrantSoros was. They have attacked Brussels, Juncker, judges, gypsies, etc. but none has shown enough potential to fire up hysteria in Orbán’s voter base to the degree refugees did.

After years of attempts they have settled on gay people – but it doesn´t exactly look like a carefully measured and tested campaign topic. It does not work to keep the fragile nationalist internationale together (it even backfires by making it profitable for any western European politician to attack Orbán) and it doesn´t poll well with Hungarians. Even after more than a decade of constant, taxpayer-funded hatemongering and hysteria, Hungarians are stubbornly not homophobic 56% of the time.

When we see Orbán discussing homophobia – just to distract from the Pegasus-scandal – we can learn two things:

1) the Pegasus scandal really hurts him (according to him). Not sure if it is bad for him legally (total surveillance without checks and balances have been made legal in Hungary and ECHR ruling in 2016 against it ignored), but he may even see its downside in popularity.

2) The man is improvising.

It may not lead to his downfall in 2022. But it is not a sign of an upward trajectory for someone like him.

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