Orbán’s spin doctor has only one trick: hatemongering. It might not be enough this time, especially if he creates so many enemies that we run out of bandwidth to hate all of them.
Hatemongering had worked miracles since the 2015 migration shock but the theme has been so overused in Hungarian politics, it eventually ran out of steam. Despite the fact that
Lukashenko Putin is reheating the problem, it seems to have run its course in Hungarian public discourse. There is a limit to how long they can scare us with a threat that never materializes.
By 2019 the migrant-threat was clearly not working. After the municipal election defeat in late 2019 Orbán has been pivoting for enemies for months. He even had a “questionnaire” campaign lined up to send a letter into every Hungarian household, informing us that we hate and fear gypsies, judges and assorted scapegoats.
But then the pandemic came and Orbán was forced to reluctantly let go of that theme. When the pandemic turned out to be unwinnable he distanced himself from it and returned to seeking new hate targets.
That was when the Pegasus-scandal happened that appeared to scare even Orbán for some reason. (The reason is definitely not popularity because his voters can’t be turned away by the fact that their idol is conducting surveillance. A strongman is even expected to know everything and be “effective”.) So he started improvising and threw in the homophobic theme out of the blue.
Thus came the homophobic campaign and the anti-LGBT law. For abroad, it was wrapped as an anti-pedophile law but Orbán never bothered to mention pedophiles in domestic communication – nor did his ministers and minions. It was always about homosexuals and the imaginary threat of gender change operation on kindergarteners.*
Another bogeyman of Orbán is a former prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány (PM before 2009), and threatening us with his return. Now Gyurcsány no doubt features big in Orbán’s personal world – but 2009 was along time ago. And the 2006 speech of Gyurcsány that Orbán successfully whipped up into a full-on riot against the then regime was even further back in time. Kids grew up to become voters since. But that didn’t stop Orbán from turning the memorial of the 1956 anti-Russia revolution into a celebration of his 2006 riot against the regime.
But Orbán never let go of the Gyurcsány-theme – to his misfortune. Because the opposition primaries failed to produce the results he expected (that either Gyurcsány’s wife would become the opposition candidate or Gergely Karácsony, whom Orbán made sure to smear with a large dose of Gyurcsány) and Orbán was left with an enemy built-up who is not even running at the elections against him.
So we are left with a mish-mash of enemies: migrants, homosexuals, imaginary LGBT activists operating on kindergarteners, fuel prices, energy prices, baby-hating liberals and even Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is not running at the elections, not even by proxy. Behind them all is the bloodthirsty “Brussels” (not the EU) that wants to force babies to change their gender, wants to replace babies with nasty immigrants, wants to increase fuel prices, wants to attack families, etc.
But that is just the campaign-enemy. For his personal campaign, Orbán has shifted from fear to love on the Machiavelli scale. From radiating menace to radiating the desire to be popular.
Since the debilitating fear and the sense of helplessness vis-à-vis Orbán’s system is clearly not working anymore, Orbán has switched to a popularity campaign for his person. He is giving away more cash than any other candidate in Hungarian history (while taking on more debt than any other regime in Hungarian history) and he is advertising it on his own, personal Facebook page, as his own, personal gift.
Now Facebook for Orbán is like Twitter it for Trump. We don’t have any Twitter penetration in Hungarian social media and Orbán’s 1.1 million Facebook followers are a significantly larger reach than most of his media has with the possible exception of the Orbanized index.hu that was once Hungary’s premiere news site.** The regime’s hostility to Facebook is down to the fact that their reach became the KPI upon which they are judged and the justice minister is often heard complaining against the power of Facebook to “silence” her. (I never heard them complaining about the power of Facebook to amplify them… oddly enough.)
Orbán’s all-important Facebook used to be solemn and above-it-all. That changed in 2021 – a sign of the disintegration of his image as the infallible, undefeatable ruler.
Policy issues are completely amiss in an autocracy and Orbán’s Facebook used to reflect that. Until September 2021, when his Facebook gained a new logo and his 2022 campaign was launched, his page never discussed policy. It was all cuteness, grandkids, rubbing himself to national treasures, to other Hungarians’ successes and to the international political elite, never sinking to the level of day-to-day or policy. It was all about grandeur and the image of a statesman. The underlying message was all the more powerful because it was not spoken: that Orbán is above politics, maybe even his entire party is above politics. He is the nation himself and “the nation can’t be in opposition”. He literally said the latter, numerous times.
Starting to post about his election spending is new. It clearly marks the shift from a ruler embracing an air of inevitability to a campaigning politician begging to be loved. The thawing has started, the end is approaching. It is no longer the rule of an unchallenged and unchallengeable ruler – but a popularity-seeking politician (for whom nothing is too dear to cling on to power, certainly not the taxpayers’ money). When change will arrive is anyone’s question.
Orbán’s Facebook imagery also reflects that shift.
* In fact, the only known pedophiles from Orbán’s party have been let go with a slap on the wrist and protected from prosecution abroad. Not only did they not get registered as pedophiles, but there isn’t even such a registry.
** Orbán finally got his hands on index.hu in 2020 and filled it with sycophants and raging propagandists. Index kept its reach and is gearing up to spew the most disgusting fake news and propaganda right before the elections.
Featured image: Orbán talking to a crowd with the text “Together we go through even the thickest of walls!” Source: Facebook