In the usual overnight decree flurry the Orbán-government issued a decree that Hungary is totally a democracy and everything is awesome.
Next up: a decree that Hungary won the football and pigs can fly.
Every time an autocratic bully runs into the brick wall of reality, there is a showdown. Can he intimidate his way out of the situation? Can he rescue his reputation of invincibility from the assault of reality? Can he intimidate the humans into ignoring and forgetting reality? Can he make them blame someone else?
Well, it depends. He can communicate his way out of reality as long as all it takes is intimidating and deceiving people. If that’s enough, propaganda is enough in lieu of governance.
When the European Commission issued a rule of law report that flagged Hungary Orbán didn’t bother with his usual tools of obfuscation, lies and corrupting the easily corruptible EU. He went straight to his superpower. He issued a decree that the EC is wrong and everything is awesome. Hungary has pluralistic media (even if it doesn’t), there is rule of law (even if he writes the law without any limitations) and that the anti-corruption strategy not only exists but it is effective. Oh, and NGOs totally thrive despite the government-run smear campaign against them. Maybe even because of it.
This is not his prime game – but he is past his prime.
And at an earlier stage Orbán would have pushed back by using his more sane tools. They have served him well for a decade between 2010-2020.
He could just lie to any old dude in the EC that it is a misunderstanding and he is unduly attacked for no reason at all. What’s more, he is attacked by the same enemy that is attacking you! Political correctness, anti free speech crazies, mutant feminist radicals, you name it. Or he could just straight up lie that he will change his ways – and then not change anything. Or he could threaten that without him the real nazis would get power in Hungary. It has worked for him for a decade.
From the domestic audience he could just hide what had happened. The part of the country that only hears his media outlets would never have known it had happened. Or they might have heard it because it is useful for Orbán. It could trigger anger, hatred and the feeling of hurt ethnic sentiment Orbán loves to stoke.
Those who don’t vote for him don’t need to vote for him for him to get a supermajority because a minority of votes is enough to conjure up a supermajority of parliamentary mandates according to his own election system. But only if his party wins it. So he really doesn’t need to convince anyone of anything, only to keep his core hystericized and the public servants who count the votes 100% dependent on him.
Orbán didn’t need to react to this new, toothless EU move at all. The report could only hurt him if it gets in the way of Orbán receiving juicy EU money for unfettered use. But even then, a decree can’t help him get out of his legal troubles.
No, this is not a calculated or even a necessary move. Issuing decrees of what is supposed to be going on is the habit of late-stage dictators. Not to mention writing into said decree that an international secret conspiracy is attacking the poor, poor Orbán. Pardon, the country. (We are all Orbán now, according to him.)
I half expect him to issue decrees that Hungary is now the world’s best in football, that he is forever above the law and so is everyone he names, and that Hungary has won the Olympics, no matter what the medal count says. That there is enough water in Hungary’s second biggest lake, no matter what the international opposition conspiracy says and that sport success is the same thing as real success. And that the country’s success, as he defines it, makes everyone in it prosperous and successful, even if they aren’t. Then he could issue a decree that members of his international enemy cabal are guilty and Russia please come back. And China, too. And bring those loans, because unlike the pesky EU, the Chinese allow local elites to steal all of it. And then appoint his horse to minister.
Nothing says “mental health” like issuing decrees to alter reality. Maybe just another decree to make the country hang your manifesto on the wall.