Orbánism – if there is such a thing – is more Putinism Light than an American-style culture war.
There is a misconception that there is such a thing as Orbánism. But if that was true, it would mean that Orbán possesses any original thought. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Throughout his whole career the one thing consistent – besides the aim for power for himself and wealth for his family – is his adaptation of any method securing the above.
As I wrote a couple of years ago:
“Viktor Orbán has been labeled many things, ranging from freedom fighter to savior of Christian Europe, a neo-fascist dictator, and a populist. He is Europe’s most talented shape-shifter. Throughout his 30-year political career he has been a long-haired liberal, a pro-EU conservative in a three-piece suit, and now a nationalist, immigrant-bashing grandfather, fighting what he calls the Brussels bureaucracy.”
Since then he has progressed to gay-bashing, and some drew comparison between Orbán’s and Putin’s anti-gay laws.
Those who follow Russian politics might find the recent trends in Hungary slightly familiar to this and this albeit in a lighter form. Orbán may be trying to import his “Kulturkampf” from the US, but his way of governing is lighter version of Putin’s.
Putin may have imitated liberal democracy, but his originality lays in the fact that he has created a dictatorship, masked it as a democracy complete with check and balances. All the institutions one can find in a real democracy is present in Russia, it’s just how they work that is different. The only original thing about Orbán’s system is that he has managed to create it in a country which is a member of the EU.
After the bloody repression of the 1956 revolution, through the following thirty years, Moscow’s man János Kádár morphed from a Quisling into a grandfather figure in many peoples’ yes. During his rule, Hungary (together with Yugoslavia) enjoyed a higher standard of living and greater freedoms than any other communist country. Goulash communism, as it became known, was mainly financed by support from the Soviet Union and western loans.
Kádár made it clear who was in charge and active opposition was persecuted and harassed. But the era of gulags and executions of real or perceived enemies was over. People who behaved were even permitted to visit western countries every third year.
For many Hungarians, Goulash Communism is still remembered as a golden era.
In his almost twelve years in power, Orbán has created a system similar to Putin’s. The hostile takeover of nominally independent institutions and businesses, the news media and rewriting the election rules are straight out of the Kremlin playbook.
Where Hungary differs from Russia is the scale of repression, corruption, and graft. Whereas Putin’s critics have a tendency of turning up dead or on the gulag, Orbán’s are just slandered by his media, and may receive an occasional tax audit. Business owners in conflict with Orbán have a chance to sell their businesses and walk free. The worst that can happen to someone is losing their job and business.
Demonstrations are still allowed and courts are still able to rule against the government in many cases.
Any Russian oligarch with self respect has his own private jet and boat, the Hungarian ones seem to share the same boat (although it has been upgraded to a bigger one) and take turns in using the same plane. Compared to their Russian counterparts the current Hungarian elite looks almost as puritan as their communist predecessor did in their time, matched against leaders like Brezhnev and Ceausescu.
The 2019 local elections showed that it’s still possible to win in certain places, and the upcoming 2022 general election is still more dangerous for Orbán than any election Putin stands to face in Russia.
In 1989 goulash communism collapsed due to financial and political bankruptcy. People were not content living in the happiest barrack in the Eastern bloc, they wanted to live in the West without having to leave Hungary.
Just like his communist predecessors, Orbán is painting the West as a decadent place heading into chaos. The question is when most of the Hungarian society will decide that being a slightly better place than Belarus in the middle of the European Union is not enough.
Orbán doesn’t deserve to have a system named after him because he has not created anything. Just like the communists, he has imported something foreign and adapted it to the Hungarian environment. Let’s call it by its real name: Goulash-Putinism.
Featured image: Facebook