Orbán’s media conglomerate is beheaded and workers are fired in preparation for the election.
Orbán likes to tell his loyalists that Fidesz won’t leave their own behind “on the street curb”, meaning that once you pledge allegiance he will always make a position for you. Even if you fail, even if you go to jail for what you did for him, even if you rebelled a little. Confess your sin, submit to his rule and you are welcome back in the flock. If you committed crimes for him or said unacceptable things in public, burning your bridges to civilized society, you will even get promoted. The policy helps to keep the gang together and it is an oft-repeated mantra by crony-hopefuls. It is also what the mafia promises to its members.
Take The Man Who Challenged Orbán (But Not Really), for instance. No one remembers his name, but this guy became pseudo-famous because he was the first and last person who ever dared to challenge Orbán for Fidesz’ leadership after Orbán lost in 1994. He didn’t have a chance, of course, as Orbán was the uncontested leader of Fidesz as early as the 1980s. But the symbolic rebellion is not lost on anyone, as Orbán has emerged as the uncontested ruler of the country, not just of Fidesz. 24.hu even made an interview with him in 2019 for this exact reason, to ask him if he would dare to to it again. (No.)
Today he is “not left behind”. He is presiding over projects like the secret, overnight removal of the status of Imre Nagy (the prime minister who actually sent the Russians home for a few days in 1956) to make way for a monument that suits Orbán’s historic self-image better. All he had to do was forgetting political ambitions and finding the aborted architect inside.
And if this guy could get juicy jobs in the trusted inner circle of Fidesz decades after his betrayal, anyone can. Or so the hopeful thinking goes among those who believe that they, too, might be selected one day to be successful under Orbán. The mantra of not being left behind is spoken by the low-level Orbánist sees court for corruption, and by the journalists who chose to stay at media outlets after they were taken over by Orbán.
But the latter are wrong. They don’t dip their toes into Orbánism publicly, and that is not good enough. Sure, they secretly accept censorship and they know that they must not write about certain things. Sometimes they might have to write outright lies, smear and propaganda pieces, but at least they can write those anonymously. And the money is better than on the private market. There isn’t much left of non-Orbánist media, anyway. If they leave their positions, they also have to leave their profession. And finally, they have seen what happened to those who upset Orbán. I could continue with their excuses – and these are just the ones I have read somewhere already.
But pretend-loyalists don’t fare better than dissenters in the long run. Maybe even unilateral loyalists are disposable, too – the ones who truly love Orbán, but no one selected them for juicy positions yet. After all, there is an oversupply of sycophants.
In October 2016 the country’s oldest daily has been shut down without warning. It was a nasty affair, and it was meant to be a warning. One day the journalists were told that they will move in to new offices tomorrow, they even ordered the pizza for the moving in party. But the next day they were simply not allowed back into the building, not even to collect their notes. Some received their letters of termination via runners. (Their notes, containing sensitive information about their sources on recent scandals were also withheld, leaving sources exposed. Later on, Orbánist commentators freely quoted from the old emails of journalists whose newsroom they have taken over and who had to leave their jobs.)
Journalists who chose to stay at media outlets when they were Orbanized (it was always obvious) may have thought that something like this only happens to those who rebel. That they might be allowed to stay and collect salaries as long as they keep quiet. They don’t have to publicly burn their image to the new regime – they can just do their work in the background, pretending that nothing that resembles censorship has ever happened to them personally so they were free to claim that they are independent to their friends and family. But they were wrong.
Loud loyalists may always be rescued and put into juicy positions. But they also have to make a clown of themselves, openly eschewing professional standards and viciously attacking the enemy (i.e. the other part of the country). They have to irreversibly brand themselves as Orbánists.
They may always be promoted after every failure and criminality they commit in the war against the other half of the country. But those who just silently endure it for a job – they are easily replaceable. There is plenty of them.
This is what the aforementioned journalists have to learn these days as purges started at the Orbánist media. When the head of Mediaworks, a member of Orbán’s 500 title strong media conglomerate was suddenly replaced, he even had to be called by Orbán’s propaganda chief, personally, because he didn’t believe it. (He was given a job in a ministry, don’t worry.) But the shocks didn’t end there. The new boss called the employees for a getting-to-know-each-other celebration – and fired a dozen of them on the spot.
Pretend-loyalists won’t get a special treatment. Keeping up a clean façade and for pretending they personally haven’t seen any censorship, and that they had no idea. They may say that it is to maintain credibility for when the Boss needs them to burn it – but they really just want to maintain face to the outside world and Orbánists know it. They may not have been fired or left when the takeover took place – but they enjoy no warm feelings from the loyalist bosses either.
You either become a true believer and a soldier – or don’t bother pretending.
Orbán puts his loyalists in coveted positions with lush taxpayer-funded budgets. He makes his loyalist businessmen rich. So the top skill to get influential/rich today is to know how to get Orbán’s attention and how to please him. I yearn for a country where entrepreneurial/journalistic skills pay better than loyalism and ass-kissing, but this is not that place right now.