October 23, 2006 was a momentous day in Viktor Orbán’s life and political career – and he doesn’t let us forget it. For one thing he only talked about the 2006 riots and ignored the events of 1956 in his speech.
Every year, Hungarians celebrate the heroes who tried to send the Russians home in 1956. After WW2, the “liberating” Soviet Army has stayed in the country indefinitely and a Muscovite elite has oppressed the country as a Russian satellite state. In October 1956 people had enough and went to the streets – and for a few glorious days they appeared to be winning.
The western world looked at the revolution with admiration and passivity. After all, Hungary was given to Russia after WW2. Hungarians had no say in the matter, but good for them.
A new government was formed and Hungary appeared to have made the Russian withdraw – until Soviet tanks returned and annihilated the resistance. The prime minister of the revolution, Imre Nagy, has been executed alongside his government and thousands of political activists have disappeared into prisons. The following seven years of hard oppression caused hundreds of thousands to leave the country. Those who have stayed adapted.
In 1989, when the Soviet dictatorship disappeared from above Hungary, there was no revolution. Gerontocrats simply die off in the end. That was the year when young Orbán made his political bones by telling the Russians to finally go home – at the reburial of Imre Nagy. It wasn’t a risky thing anymore, but many still admire him for it. The more superficial one’s knowledge is about Hungary, the more they associate 2021 Orbán with 1989 Orbán – the guy who gave that speech. Many western commentators scored with their editors with the pitch “I have met Orbán in 1989” and wrote extremely friendly reports about him. Indeed, the halo effect of that speech lasted until recently.
But Orbán is not the same guy. For one thing, He called the Russians back in. He let Putin do whatever he wanted with Hungary, including a Russian nuclear power plant at an unbelievable price and incurring a debilitatingly disadvantageous Russian loan. It doesn’t seem like Orbán is in the position to say no to Russia.
Indeed, he actually had the statue of Imre Nagy removed from the square outside the parliament. He knew it would be controversial so he let a committee do it, without announcement, overnight, secretively.
Sending Russians back home or fighting autocracies is not his jam anymore, obviously. And at the same time, the 1956 celebrations have transformed into something else.
In April 2006, Orbán has lost an election again. He refused to accept the results. By October, he fought back. Fidesz strategically leaked a closed-door speech by the then prime minister who admitted to having been lying about the deficit and the indebtedness and implored his party to man up and start governing properly. The speech was recorded over the summer, but Orbán waited until the right moment to leak it. After his party won big at the municipal elections, he decided it was time to challenge the election results. Come October 23, his people were on the streets – and so were the hardcore, violence-seeking football enthusiast of both big Hungarian clubs.
This article is an excerpt from a brilliant book by a journalist at 444. It recalls the events that led to the 2006 riots. How Orbán courted football clubs on both sides, how he condoned their behavior, how he pulled a Trump by egging them on and wanting to join them with his party. (And just like in the case of Trump, there can be nothing concrete enough to evidence incitement.) The riots were catching on and the police was exhausted and unprepared. In the end, there was violence and poor decisions all over.
Although Orbán has never been challenged as the leader of his party, this time he came close. The brave men in his party almost said no to him. Almost. According to this account, they may even told him that they would vote no confidence if Orbán pushed to join the rioting thugs. Poor rioters have felt let down ever since. They may have nothing to do with Orbán – but they expected him to join and approve of them nonetheless. Weird.
2006 was the 50th anniversary of 1956. And the last celebration that was about 1956. The events of 2006 have been overshadowing the celebrations of 1956 ever since as Orbán never missed an opportunity to create political capital out of the violence against the rioters in 2006.
It took a financial crisis to remove that prime minister and Orbán returned in 2010, with a 2/3 overmajority that has been destroying the country ever since. No such overmajority should ever exist for any party or group because it removes all checks and balances on their power alongside civil liberties, they can pocket the entire country – and it will all be legal. They write the laws and rewrite them overnight if they don’t suit them. They appoint every official – and they appoint them for centuries if it suits them. And they will gloat that whatever they do henceforth is the will of the people.
1956 has been largely forgotten. A friend brought it to my attention that even the props of the celebration have changed from 1956 Soviet tanks to 2006 police water cannons – the kind that was used against protesters in 2006.
And I doubt that the revolutionaries who died fighting the Russian occupation would be delighted to hear what Orbán had to say today – on the 65th anniversary of the events.
He barely mentioned 1956. He was talking about 2006, the elections next year, his own election giveaways, and how he will stop LGBTQ in Hungary.
He also talked about the evil opposition. Orbán’s “enemy management” machine (that is what he calls his campaign team, seriously) has switched from never-ever mentioning the opposition to provoking fear from them. He still insists that they are a joke – but he envisioned a mighty western conspiracy behind them. He talked just like his communist predecessors.
In fact, a summary of his speech marvels just how prominent Washington became among the enemies who are attacking him. (Pardon, the country.) Even though the Biden-administration appears to have largely ignored him, the fall of his fellow strongmen due to corruption scandals in recent months has taken a toll on Orbán’s nerves – and he blames it on Washington. It sounded like he was preparing his audience that something might be leaked about him – and that will be Washington’s attack.
Orbán is always waging a “freedom fight” against something. The utility bills, Brussels, Soros, the national debt, multinational companies, anything. This year’s freedom fight is against Washington. And 1956=2006. His Soviet communist predecessors would approve of his speech.
Orbán talked so much about the opposition, he threw so much acid at them, that a friend who heard his speech texted me that he now believes that Orbán is truly scared about 2022. He didn’t believe that when Orbán started to empty the budget and taking our record loans to steal that, too. He didn’t believe that when Orbán set up asset management “foundations”, stashed tens of billions of euros, universities, and almost all the state assets in them – and then gave them to loyalists – then wrote into the basic law that it is now theirs forever. He didn’t believe it when Orbán rewrote the election law for the nth time. But he does believe it now.