Loss

It may not be a message – but it was still heard

An opposition influencer died in Rome. Conspiracy theories galore.

We have come to the point where a prominent opposition figure dies and people no longer exclude the possibility of a political assassination.

On New Year’s Day, Gergely Homonnay, a prominent opposition influencer died in Rome. The circumstances of his death sound like a KGB job from a cold war spy novel: he was found dead in the bathroom of a club. Someone (not the police) contacted the Italian daily Corriere della Sera and made sure to let them know that drugs were also found. According to press information Homonnay arrived with an unknown man who disappeared without a trace.

The opposition activist has been worried for his safety for quite some time. His whole life was on social media but his address in Rome was a carefully guarded secret and he had left Hungary partly for reasons of safety. When the theologian who published a book about child molestation in the Hungarian catholic church (pretty solid anti-Orbán credentials) visited him at Christmas, Homonnay was still reluctant to reveal his address. He was also worried of traveling back to Hungary and often mentioned the threats he allegedly received. He was followed – and he was told about it. Once he was told that they knew his seat number on the plane.

Such a thing wears you down. It is meant to. Even if it’s just empty threats the psychological impact is perfectly real. And he did have quite a few enemies who would do that in their spare time.

After his death Orbánist commenters were quick to point out that he was evil incarnate. Some called him “the biggest cannon in the opposition’s army”. Orbánist media told them that, obviously. Even the public broadcaster. They regularly ran smear campaigns against him. Once they went as far as using his ex-boyfriend from Rome against him.

His social media reach put many Orbánist influencers to shame. Desperate shame. To understand how desperate, you must know that Orbán’s new command to his troops is to fight the war on social media (he had discovered social media at long last, despite being a proud luddite who uses his secretary to touch computers for him). For his sycophants it is now post or die. And their reach is the all-important KPI upon which they are evaluated and rewarded.

Orbánists’ desperate striving for likes and followers is financed by a purpose-built fund that has just recently its second billion (!!!) euros on Facebook in less than a year only to promote Orbánist influencers – many of whom are virtually unknown. And that does not include the “government’s” spending on Facebook, nor that of Fidesz and Orbán. These are the three biggest political spenders on Hungarian Facebook by a large margin.

Against them stood a cat – and it was winning. Without any paid promotion.

Homonnay has used his cat to convey political messages of civil rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights and the protection of children. He gave lessons on history and illuminated the perspective of minorities. It put him on a collision course with everything Orbán does. He conducted charity fundraising for tangible causes like buying a new home for an evicted family and when Orbán decided to make homosexuals the new hate target, it became personal.

Between him and his cat they had over 100 thousand followers – and very active ones. Not only was his reach organic (unlike the Orbánists’ Facebook-generated followers), they also followed Homonnay’s call to write to politicians, to cast invalid votes at the vile anti-refugee referendum, to post photos of cats under shameful, homophobic posts, or to protest. He was the organizer of the opposition’s biggest protest and he worked hard to create the rainbow coalition – the only chance to oust Orbán. After the 2018 elections he openly supported one of the opposition parties, incensing the campaign against him in the Orbánist media.

Orbánist influencers meanwhile are struggling to get any action going. Despite the shameful sums sunk into Zuckerberg’s pockets for faux followers they have to keep buying reach, likes and reactions to each post separately. Orbán’s ministers (!) regularly yelp publicly if their precious Facebook reach decreases, accusing the platform of censorship and shaking their fists at Zuckerberg. They are tense and desperate. But when I heard Orbánist voters hissing at Homonnay after his death I was still surprised how deeply they were trained to hate him.

Homonnay was a colorful, life-loving figure and his heart was always in the right place. He passionately defended every group that Orbán attacked, LGBT, women, gypsies, Jews, refugees – and he was also passionate about education, his beloved first profession he was forced to leave due to dismal salaries. Then he turned to writing and found success. After a career in tabloid journalism he published a number of books ghost written on behalf of his cat that discussed the world “from a feline perspective” with heavy political issues touched upon. And people loved it.

His confrontational tone was his trademark. He made many friends by sparring with them first – and many more enemies. He was the only non-politician in this country who dared to comment (and criticize) leading Orbánists on their social media under his own name. Even politicians with immunity stay clear from Orbánist ministers’ social media, but Homonnay always spoke up.

Some argue that he went too far – but what they really mean is that it was too far in this country. Homonnay called out spineless artists who started wearing the national flag and singing the song of nationalism for money. He was an incredibly active commentator never missing a chance to educate about human rights and history or to call out corruption and hypocrisy. When Orbán made LGBT people his new election scapegoat Homonnay reacted by sharing gossip about the sexual orientation of some of Orbán’s most vocal homophobic warriors. Whether those things were true or not, it made people gasp: How dare he? He may get worse than a libel suit for this.

He lived his life on Facebook (the most important social media platform in Hungary) and Instagram. In his last posts he was denying the accusation that he was The Devil’s Advocate, the infamous whistleblower who was credited with turning the 2019 municipal elections by publishing a sex tape of a Fidesz mayor. The Devil’s Advocate account was reactivated in December 2021 and threatened to out the justice minister as a bisexual as soon as in January. The minister visibly panicked. One dumb journalist tipped Homonnay to be the whistleblower because outing high-ranking, homophobic Orbánists is something he often did. Homonnay denied the accusations but mocked the minister’s desperate denial anyway. He criticized her libel suit against the anonymous whistleblower on the basis that being non-heterosexual is not a thing one can be smeared with because it is not shameful.

These were his lasts posts. He was found dead the same day.

The news of his death started a social media wildfire. Many are genuinely mourning but the theories of politically ordered assassination were also immediate – in both camps. One of his highest profile enemy was the future president (recently named by Orbán) against whom he lost a libel case and the justice minister was a close second. People are joking to test him for novichok and how long he has been planning suicide – it’s just that he was never found home. Those who followed his battle with cancer a few years ago will always refuse to believe the drug charges no matter what the investigation will come up with. (UPDATE – Italian police confirmed that it is now a criminal investigation.)

Even if it was a plain heart attack some people will never believe it. They updated and keep sharing the list of suspicious deaths that also happened to be convenient for Fidesz in the past. And it is now happening outside of the usual circles of deep opposition.

There is nothing we know for certain and there is little chance that the question will ever be settled. Regardless of what the authorities will ascertain one thing is definite: Hungary has arrived to the point where people believe en masse that a political assassination in not out of question. It may not have been a message – but it was clearly heard.

Rest in peace, Gergely! Your voice will be sorely missed.

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