What else can you do if your country is turned into a stale, 20th century autocracy, but you don’t want to leave?
In the Oscar-winning 1981 movie, Mephisto, is directed by István Szabó and is based on true events from the life of Gustav Grundgens (1899-1963) and based on the novel by Klaus Mann. Its protagonist is a German actor who can not transfer his skills to another language easily. Torn between the nazification of his homeland and his profession he decides to stay. He becomes the star of the national theater. He keeps telling himself that he did not collaborate, he was merely doing his job, and what is wrong with that, he is just an actor and an actor needs a theatre.
That is what TV news readers must also be telling themselves at TV2, one of the country’s two major commercial TV channels. It may be private, but it is now owned by an Orbán-loyalist and behaves as such. It has been Orbanized a long time ago and it quickly dived into the deepest pit of loyalism. The shenanigans of its evening news (alongside its shameless propaganda takes and harebrained captures) regularly went viral – until it became too boring to keep sharing.
TV2 is now just yet another propaganda channel, alongside the hugely overfunded public broadcaster.
By 2018 they were so thoroughly Orbanized, they released a clip where their star faces and news anchors all declared that they will vote for Orbán. The channel got a tiny little fine from Orbán’s election office, probably just a glitch. And in 2022 they repeated the propaganda clip to support Orbán’s reelection.
This time, however, some background gossip has leaked.
According to the industry gossip one of the news anchors refused to participate – while another one cried before she did it. But then she did it. She needed a little talking to, but she managed to say those words into the camera, to keep her job.
She probably also told herself that her Hungarian language skills would probably not get her an equally good job abroad – or even in the country if she were let go. What can she do? She is only a news reader, she was only reading the news.
According to the leak the command to make the clip came “from above” by email. The news anchors were told where to go and when to say those words into the camera, and a professional team waited for them.
At the same time another anchor was not willing to participate. (Both declined comment.) He has also declined in 2018 and got to keep his job. Whether the system will keep allowing that (especially now that it was leaked) is yet to be seen. Whether he was just more important to the channel than the woman is another issue. It reminds me of the much-quoted data that many of those who refused to collaborate with the nazi regime, the East German communist regime, or the communist secret services of Hungary have never met any known consequences, according to records at least.
True, it is bad enough if you have to live your life in fear that there would be consequences, to you or to a loved one, and perennially wondering if bad things that happen to you are punishment for refusing. Whatever we decide about collaborators, a regime that does this is definitely guilty, and without any redeeming qualities.
As of the crying news lady who declared into the camera that Orbán is peace and she is voting for him – she must be awfully happy now. She did the deed that proved her loyalty – and her side eventually won. She didn’t accidentally bet on the loser by refusing to collaborate with Orbán’s regime. Worrying to end up on the wrong side could be why she was upset in the first place.