The Poor Mental State of Fidesz Media

Fighting propaganda in the villages

An A4 sheet of paper folded in two. That is what people in villages get from the real news.

A group of volunteers started a movement in 2017. Every week they edit and self-print their little newspaper, which is really just a press digest of last week’s news from the independent media. Then they go to small villages and personally distribute them into letterboxes.

This is the only thing that currently penetrates the bubble of Orbán’s massive media blackout on the countryside, where papers and radio channels have long been taken over by loyalists and news from independent media simply doesn’t reach people any more.

The editor of the paper gave an interview to 444 and it is a shocking read for anyone who hasn’t followed the deterioration of press freedom in the last couple of years.

They distribute anywhere between 100 thousand and a million copies a week. They wish to cover the villages of 1-2000 people, roughly 2 million citizens who simply don’t have access to the free part of the media and are on an exclusive Orbánist media diet.

What is not seen is even more powerful than what is shown by propaganda.

According to the interview people in villages get shocked when they hear news that come from outside of the Orbánist media. Orbánist sources show a parallel reality where everything is awesome with governance, only the west is declining, it is uninhabitable. Volunteers also talk to people if they are open to it and their experiences are at once depressing and hopeful.

There are waves of hatred and fear washing through the countryside. People used to fear/loathe immigrants (that they haven’t seen) for years. It has now changed as the tune of the propaganda changed. Now they are afraid that their children will turn into homosexuals because that is the topic of the day from Orbán.

But people’s opinion change. The editor follows the regional polls and saw the change himself. He says it takes weeks of regular distribution in a village to break the ice – but then it does. Now thousands of volunteers coordinate where to distribute the paper and when – but sometimes anonymous volunteers beat  them to it.

Many don’t dare to sign up officially, but they print out the paper (it is freely downloadable from their website) and take it to letterboxes.

Villagers see volunteers every week who are not afraid and it sends a powerful signal of normality. They see people (and this is the only time they do) who are not part of the regime and not submitted to it. This is the only time many realize that dissent exists, that it is possible.

But it is not all public courage. When teams travel to distribute the papers they take a group shot at the village signs. But many of the volunteers don’t dare to be on the picture.

“…the majority of the volunteers are old. They have more time on their hands and they are not afraid of persecution at the workplace.”  

Q: The younger ones do?

“Of course, many don’t dare to give their faces. Once I was distributing with a group of ten. I wanted to take the group shot. I told them to step aside if it is sensitive for them. One left. Then another. The third one was in the process of applying to university. The fourth works at a local authority. The fifth’s husband… and so on. In the end only three of us were on the photo.” 

There are cases of confrontation by Fidesz believers. It only deteriorated into physical altercation once so far. Sometimes they yell and shout or burn the papers. They get very upset when someone tries to shatter their complete world views.

The volunteers don’t collaborate with opposition parties but they sometimes help with distribution. While the editor makes it sure to print it on the front page that they are independent from parties (a great relief for fearful readers) they show more of the opposition’s news and programs for the simple reason that there is no word about them in Orbán’s media.

In 2018 small villages didn’t even know who else is running apart from Orbán, let alone what they are offering. 2022 is a bit different because the existence of the opposition can not be concealed from the country – so the Orbánist media now just actively smears them and accuses them of wild things like trying to settle immigrants, raising prices and turning children homosexual.

Read the whole interview

Samizdat Is Back

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