Keep the Message Simple

The Orbán reelection campaign has been based on the principle that the key to effective political communication is to keep the message simple.

The Orbán campaign’s main election slogan: 

Only Fidesz!

(Csak a Fidesz!) (source in Hungarian).

Prime Minister Orbán explaining why “we need every single vote” during April 1 campaign speech:  

Big victory, big future; small victory, small future.

(Nagy győzelem nagy jövő, kis győzelem kis jövő.) (source in Hungarian).    

Prime Minister Orbán’s summary of the Fidesz election program on his personal Facebook site: 

[We will] Continue.

(Folytatjuk) (source in Hungarian).

The main Orbán reelection sign: 


(photo: Orange Files)


Ides of March

DSC_0643March 15: national holiday in Hungary commemorating the outbreak of the 1848 revolution against Habsburg domination. Along with October 23, the national holiday commemorating the outbreak of the 1956 revolution against Soviet domination, the most important date on the country’s annual political calendar (see The Soft White Underbelly).

All the parties are active, their leaders hold speeches at various places throughout the center of Budapest. Politically involved citizens of the city are out and about, showing support for their side, checking out the adversary, curious to see what scandal and outrage this year’s happenings will produce.

2014: the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party alliance is three weeks away from another landslide election victory. The only question is whether Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will get another super majority in the National Assembly, again giving him the power to implement his legislative agenda without impediment. All else is simply detail: how much will Jobbik gain, how much will the democratic opposition lose? Will Politics Can Be Different even get into parliament?

DSC_0576Across the Franz Joseph Bridge by bike, Orange Files rides toward the annual state commemoration at the National Museum, where Petőfi read his “National Song” at the start of the 1848 revolt. On Kálvin Square only red and white Polish flags: the Law and Justice weekly Gazeta Polska has organized another Great Trip to Hungary to show support for Prime Minister Orbán, just as it did for the second pro-government Peace March in 2012. Images of Pope John Paul II, the Kaczyński twins, banners in Polish, anti-EU signs in English, men in military uniforms, from the Polish-Soviet War perhaps?

Are they aware of Orbán’s rapprochement with Russia?

Through the main gate to the steps of the National Museum to get a good photograph of Orbán. His security has become much tighter than it used to be—it is no longer easy to get a good close-up of him. Standing in the crowd, camera in hand: a bellicose patriotic poem shouted in a shrill voice; a pop version of the “National Song” and some folk dancing; then down the stairs strides the short and girthy prime minister, right on past—dammit!—across a ramp to a platform overlooking Museum Avenue for his speech.

Excuse me, thank you, excuse me, thank you—press back out through the crowd to Museum Avenue, the speech begun in his throaty, constricted voice, a variation of the same one he has given a hundred times before: life and death struggle, identifying the enemies, always in danger, Labanc, Muscovites, global capital: “The weak and cowardly are no longer dealt into the game.”

DSC_0605Something interesting: a copse of orange flags with the heads of Orbán and Putin side by side. A dozen silent protesters, those around them shouting occasional threats and epithets.

“The word ‘utility-fee cut’ would not look good in the National Song, but it is easy to see that just as today the reduction of unjust and inequitable burdens was for them [the 1848 revolutionaries] the first and most important task.” 

“Hungary is the most unified country in Europe.”

Orbán makes no direct reference to the upcoming elections. He doesn’t need to because he knows he’s going to win, and win big.

The speech is over, the protesters furl their Orbán-Putin flags and give a short interview to a German-speaking reporter through an interpreter. They say they are associated with Bajnai. One of them has a bloody lip.

By bike toward Lajos Kossuth Street, cannot even find the Politics Can Be Different assembly. The sky is turning oddly overcast, the dust and refuse of spring swirls in puffs of warm breeze.

DSC_0626The Polish march past, there are a couple hundred young people lined up along the sidewalk wearing orange, red and green t-shirts and holding well-made signs that say “Vote Against Jobbik!” They say they are a Facebook group, but nobody seems to know who paid for all the shirts and signs. Fidesz has turned its sights away from the foundering  democratic opposition toward Jobbik in order to protect its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. 

Coffee with an old friend and then the surprise of the day: the democratic opposition has cancelled its assembly due to expected high winds. Organizers in fluorescent vests announce the news on bullhorns. Lajos Kossuth Street is reopened to vehicle traffic. 

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, they find some way to sink even lower. The reason for the cancellation is not really rain and wind: it is that they have nothing to say, no hope in the elections, no reason for being in their present form. Gábor Fodor and the liberals are down at the Petőfi statue for a separate gathering. There are about a hundred people holding blue flags bearing the image of Lajos Kossuth. Fodor looks tired as he chats with elderly supporters, like he wishes he were somewhere else. 

JobbikOver to the Jobbik assembly on Deák Square. Almost everybody in black; cracked and distorted faces, it has the feel of one-third penitentiary, one-third insane asylum and one-third school for the mentally challenged. The New Hungarian Guard is there. Vona, Előd Novák and the rest are there. At least they have the mettle to withstand a little stormy weather. They know where they want to go and are committed to getting there. And they just might do it.

A billow of red, white and green balloons rises into the air and dissipates slowly into the heavy gray clouds above.  


Too Close for Comfort

On February 28, 2014, Hungarian journalist Ferenc Szaniszló declared during his foreign-affairs program Világ-Panoráma [World-Panorama] on the pro-government television station Echo TV that Hungary must be prepared to reincorporate the Hungarian-inhabited regions of Subcarpathian Ukraine into the Hungarian state in the event that Ukraine collapses (see video in Hungarian and Orange Files transcription in English below): 

I welcome our kind viewers from Paso Robles, California to Stavanger, Norway, from Rochester in the state of New York to Moscow. Whether it wants to or not, Hungary must prepare to take back Subcarpathian Ukraine, at least its majority Hungarian-inhabited parts located alongside the Trianon border. In the event that Ukraine falls apart, we cannot pretend that we have nothing to do with the Verecke Pass, Munkács (Munkacheve) or the Carpathians. The new political powers in Ukraine are limiting use of the Polish, Russian and Hungarian languages once again. And it doesn’t really console us that the European Union also supports the genocidal, Hungarian-killing Beneš decrees. The Russian, Polish and Hungarian inhabitants of Ukraine cannot satisfy themselves with the fact that the European Union is supporting the Nazis and financing the fascists. It is the deeply held desire of Brussels that the new Ukraine be nationalist against the Russians, the Poles and the Hungarians, though internationalist toward the repositories of surreptitious global financial power—the EU, NATO and the IMF. And all of this from our money, because Hungary is also an accomplice to the EU, NATO and the IMF.

Revision of the territorial changes stemming from the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, according to which Hungary lost two-thirds of its Austro-Hungarian Monarchy-era territory to the newly created or expanded states of Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia and Austria, has been one of the greatest political taboos throughout the region of east-central Europe since the end of the Second World War. The only voices that have openly advocated the reincorporation into Hungary of Hungarian-inhabited territory in surrounding countries have been those of the radical-nationalist Hungarian fringe arising from extra-parliamentary political organizations such as the 64 Counties Youth Movement (Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom) and extremist websites such as

Echo TV owner Gábor Széles (center) at the head of a pro-government Peace March processions in Budapest.

Echo TV owner Gábor Széles (center) at the head of a pro-government Peace March processions in Budapest.

Ferenc Szaniszló, though notorious for his outlandish conspiracy theories and racist innuendo, is nevertheless much closer to the Hungarian political mainstream than others who have made similarly explicit irredentist statements. Echo TV, though only the 40th most-watched television station in Hungary, is the most popular pro-government news station ahead of the more moderate Hír TV [News TV] (source in Hungarian). The owner of the Echo TV channel that broadcasts Szaniszló’s twice weekly program is staunchly pro-Orbán media tycoon Gábor Széles, who has been one of the main organizers of the massive pro-government Peace March processions that have taken place in Budapest about every six months since 2012.

Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog (left) presenting journalist Ferenc Szaniszló with a Mihály Táncsics Prize on March 14, 2013.

Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog (left) presenting journalist Ferenc Szaniszló with a Mihály Táncsics Prize on March 14, 2013.

On March 14, 2013, Orbán government Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog presented Szaniszló with a state-sponsored Mihály Táncsics Prize in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. However, after several days of sharp protest from the socialist and liberal opposition and the US and Israeli ambassadors to Hungary, Balog requested on March 19 that Szaniszló return the prize, claiming that he had been unaware of the highly publicized incendiary statements the journalist had made during his program over previous years, including an anti-Gypsy diatribe in February 2011 for which the National Media and Infocommunications Authority fined Echo TV 500,000 forints (1,800 euros) for violating regulations prohibiting incitement to hatred (source in Hungarian).

Szaniszló complied with the minister’s request, asserting during his following television program “Israel has triumphed over Ferenc Szaniszló” (source in Hungarian).

Although Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the members of his administration have been very careful to avoid making statements that can be construed as irredentist and have never given any indication that they, themselves, maintain anti-Gypsy or -Semitic attitudes, Ferenc Szaniszló’s open reference to the possibility of territorial revision on February 28 and previous racist commentary during his television program on the pro-government television station Echo TV provide evidence of the direct connections that exist between the Orbán government and the exponents of radical Hungarian nationalism.


Notes from the Carnival Ball

DSC_0379Carnival ball (farsangi bál) at the community cultural house in one of the old Swabian towns on the outskirts of Budapest. 

A couple of hundred people, most of them 60 and older, sitting at long tables before a dinner of red cabbage and fried meat dumplings. Everybody is dressed up, almost all the men wear suits and ties. They watch a trio perform a variety of music in the shadowy hall, from German oompha to Hungarian and American pop hits from the 60s and 70s.    

They watch young people perform a waltz. The performers then select partners from among the spectators. Instantly other couples join and the floor is full of shining bald heads and white hair turning to the music. 

The music stops, the couples sit, the mayor stands for a speech. A proficient public speaker, confident, fluent, well-told anecdotes, a single political reference to the event as a needed distraction from the mounting tension of “public life.” 

All heads are turned in the same direction, listening intently to the town father. Conservative folk, many of them of German descent. Disciplined, practical, hard-working people, they are cultured to an equal or greater degree than their equivalents in the West, though are more linguistically isolated and less able to understand the greater world around them. 

Members of a small and vulnerable nation seeking community with those of the same language and background, looking for unaffected pre-System Change companionship in a crass post-System Change world.  

Rock-solid Orbán supporters, they will follow him through thick and thin as he turns Hungary back toward the East, as he wages populist battle against the European Union, as he dismantles the country’s democracy and takes control over their sources of information in order to create a highly centralized, semi-authoritarian state.  

It is a state in which they feel comfortable: secure under a strong leader fighting in the interest of the Hungarian nation against foreign predators and their domestic accomplices, one who has defended them against the manipulations and exploitation of the free-market and ensured their basic subsistence through cuts in the cost of household gas, electricity, heating and water. 

Friendly people. Generous people. Benevolent people, though inherently suspicious of the motives of outsiders.

This demographic—nominally anti-communist, though nevertheless uniformly nostalgic for the monolithic simplicity and unfailing continuity of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party dictatorship—has abandoned the affinity it once felt for the ideals of western liberal democracy. As one of the most powerful constituencies in an aging population, it will provide the Orbán administration with a steady base of support well into the 2020s. 


Understanding Fidesz

The young villager with higher aspirations.

The village lad striving for respect.

To understand Fidesz is to understand Viktor Orbán

Orbán is an exceptionally competent and charismatic leader who has molded the party in his own image. 

Everybody who has attained any degree of power within Fidesz has totally internalized Orbán’s ideas, objectives, logic, manner and speech. Nothing they do or say deviates from that which Orbán expects of them in either explicit or implicit terms. Their every act, phrase and gesture is orchestrated to meet with his approval.

To understand Fidesz is to understand a man who grew up fighting for his dignity on the fringes of Hungarian village society during the communist era—a tough and unforgiving social milieu within a tough and unforgiving political system.

It is to understand a man who never grew tall (he is officially 174 centimeters in height, or 5-foot 8), though compensated for his lack of physical stature through toughness and aggression that manifested itself primarily on the football pitch, where he excelled as hard-driving forward for several organized clubs in his late teens and early twenties.

It is to understand a man who has cultivated the high intelligence, fortitude and effectiveness of speech needed to survive and thrive as a smallish rural kid at his high school in the city of Székesfehérvár and then in college at the Loránd Eötvös University School of Law and Political Sciences in Budapest.

The young, pro-western liberal democrat.

The young pro-West liberal democrat.

Orbán has extended his fight to gain personal stature and dignity to a fight on behalf of the entire Hungarian people to attain what he considers to be its rightful place among nations. Back at the time when he and his fellow law-school students founded Fidesz in 1988, Orbán believed that this fight entailed winning independence from the Soviet Union, casting off the burden of communism and making Hungary part of the liberal-democratic, capitalist West.

Over the next twenty years he became deeply offended by what he viewed as Western exploitation and humiliation of the Hungarian people. He also become convinced that the West had become irremediably decadent and was on the verge of catastrophic collapse.

Since becoming prime minister again 2010, he has waged his fight on behalf of the Hungarian people against predatory Western corporations and culture, compelling him to turn Hungary back toward the east, toward China, Russia, the central Asian republics and the Arab states—countries with which he thinks he can do business without the threat of interference of any kind.

Orbán believes that he must have complete control over Hungary’s political system in order to implement this transition back away from Western free-market liberal democracy to Eastern guided economy and political authoritarianism. He will do anything within the law to hold on to power or regain it if he loses it. 

The middle-aged pro-east authoritarian.

The middle-aged pro-east authoritarian.

Orbán sees any internal opposition as a threat to this unity and therefore as harmful to the interests of the Hungarian nation.

He rules according to the logic of a tribal chieftain, not to that of a modern European statesman. Always fighting, always struggling, driven by an extremely unwarranted Hungarian inferiority complex to engage in perpetual confrontation with oppressors both real and imagined.

This combativeness has put Orbán and Fidesz at continuous odds with the European Union and most of the Western world.

Hungarians have experienced this phenomenon before: political leaders, parties and ideologies that claim the right to unchallenged political authority on the grounds that it is needed to ward off the enemies of the nation or of a particular favored class within the nation.

It has never come to a good end. Always conflict and disorder and the need to break with the past and start afresh.

But perhaps this time it will succeed. If Orbán is correct in his assessment that the West has entered a period of devastating cultural, economic and political decline and that the future lies in the East and Eastern centralized economy and government, then he will go down in history as a visionary and courageous leader who pointed Hungary in the right direction before it was too late. 

If he is wrong—if the shift in global power from the United States and Europe toward China and the East does not entail the catastrophic collapse of the West and the Western way of politics and economy—then he will go down in history as a leader who misunderstood the course of world events and led Hungary down the wrong path—once again. 


Having Your Cake

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: the Curia should make a decision on the legality of foreign-currency loans.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: the Curia should make a decision on the legality of fx loans.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said during one of his regular Friday-morning interviews on state-run Kossuth Radio on November 8, 2013 that the Curia (Kúria)—the Fidesz-renamed former Supreme Court of Hungary—should issue a decision establishing legal uniformity with regard to the lawfulness of foreign-currency-denominated loan contracts (source in Hungarian).

The prime minister said that such a decision was necessary due to conflicting verdicts on the validity of fx loans from lower courts: “This is why we must prompt the leaders of the justice system, primarily the Curia, to sooner or later put things in order in this area . . . “ (source in Hungarian). 

On November 25, the Curia initiated proceedings to establish such legal uniformity with regard to foreign-currency-denominated loans. 

Fidesz National Assembly caucus Chairman Antal Rogán: the Curia stood on the side of banks.

Fidesz National Assembly caucus Chairman Antal Rogán: the Curia stood on the side of banks.

On December 16, the Curia issued its decision on the matter, declaring that foreign-currency-denominated loan contracts were legally valid and did not violate moral standards or represent usury. The supreme court proclaimed that borrowers bore the risks of exchange-rate fluctuations affecting the amount of their repayments on fx loans. 

The Curia declined to pronounce a verdict on the legality of unilateral fx-loan contract modifications, turning instead to the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg for a decision on this issue (source in Hungarian). 

Immediately following the Curia’s decision, Fidesz National Assembly caucus Chairman Antal Rogán said during a press conference: “We are disappointed, because the supreme judicial forum has also stood on the side of banks, since this decision explicitly states that the borrowers have to bear the exchange-rate risk” (source in Hungarian).

Fidesz National Assembly Speaker László Kövér: the Curia made a cowardly decision.

Fidesz National Assembly Speaker László Kövér: the Curia made a cowardly decision.

On December 19, National Assembly Speaker László Kövér said during an interview on the pro-government commercial television station Hír TV: “This was a cowardly decision, let’s just leave it at that. Instead of taking responsibility, the esteemed judicial body found a legalistic solution, tried to find an easy way out, and thank you very much, it will wait for the European Court to make a decision on this question at some time in the future and will, as it were, transmit this decision to Hungary” (source in Hungarian). 

Fidesz National Assembly representative Lajos Kósa: the Curia made a cowardly decision.

Fidesz National Assembly representative Lajos Kósa: the Curia made a cowardly decision.

On December 20, Fidesz National Assembly representative and mayor of the city of Debrecen (eastern Hungary) Lajos Kósa referred to the Curia’s decision as a “bad, conflict-avoiding and cowardly step” that “exclusively favored banks” (source in Hungarian).

Speaking in Brussels later that day, Prime Minister Orbán stated that the “Curia stood on the side of the banks” when it made its decision on the validity of fx loan contracts (source in Hungarian).

Fidesz officials from the top down did not hesitate to criticize the Curia’s verdict on the issue of fx loans. 

It has not always been this way. 

After the Budapest Court of Appeals dissolved the radical-nationalist paramilitary Hungarian Guard in July 2009, Fidesz issued the following statement (source in Hungarian from website): 

Fidesz does not wish to comment with regard to the legally binding verdict of the Budapest Court of Appeals pronounced on Thursday dissolving the Hungarian Guard. Fidesz is the party of order and legality. Fidesz—as a political organization—has not in the past nor will in the future make comment regarding court verdicts.

Fidesz statement following the legal dissolution of the Hungarian Guard: the party does not comment on court decisions.

Fidesz statement following the legal dissolution of the Hungarian Guard: the party does not comment on court decisions.

Fidesz would undoubtedly respond to this apparent contradiction by claiming that Orbán, Kövér, Rogán and Kósa had all expressed individual opinions in their criticism of the Curia’s decision on fx loan contracts and were not speaking on behalf of the party. Fidesz officials use this tactic all the time: they claim to speak in the name of the entire party (or the entire Hungarian nation) in their own pronouncements, though decline to recognize this collectivity when asked to account for discomfiting statements from other Fidesz officials, claiming that they reflected private viewpoints.

Fidesz Spokesman Róbert Zsigó: the Curia stood on the side of banks.

Fidesz Spokesman Róbert Zsigó: the Curia stood on the side of banks.

However, Fidesz Spokesman Róbert Zsigó, whose statements can hardly be said to reflect mere personal opinion, also criticized the Curia’s decision on fx loans, asserting during a press conference on December 21: “With this verdict, the Curia has stood unambiguously on the side of the banks, just as the Gyurcsány-Bajnai governments did when they unleashed foreign-currency loans on the people.” (source in Hungarian).

Here again Fidesz wants to have its cake and eat it too, adhering strictly to the principle of judicial independence when it is to the party’s benefit not to take a stand on legal decisions, such as in 2009 when it did not want to risk alienating potential radical-nationalist voters by expressing approval for the dissolution of the Hungarian Guard, and totally ignoring this principle when it is to the party’s political advantage to do so. 


Follow the Evil Twin

The pretty extreme Hungarian nationalist.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The Orbán government likes to pretend, primarily for external consumption, that it has thoroughly distanced itself from the radical-nationalist opposition party Jobbik

“If we want to protect democracy, we must take a firm stand against Jobbik,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in May 2013 (source in English). 

National Assembly Speaker László Kövér, Orbán’s right-hand man, told the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Hírlap in July 2013 that “Jobbik, the HSP [Hungarian Socialist Party] and the liberals are striking a single chord in terms of their conception of the rule of law and their political morals. They proclaim as one: the worse it is, the better!” (source in Hungarian). 

The really extreme Hungarian nationalist.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona.

The Orbán government does not acknowledge that since coming to power three and a half years ago it has carried out the Jobbik political program almost to the letter. 

Before the first round of the 2010 National Assembly election, Jobbik published a party platform entitled “The Jobbik Government’s First 10 Measures.” 

The FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party-controlled government and National Assembly have implemented eight of the ten measures stipulated in the document, though specifically cited none of these in the party alliance’s 2010 electoral program (source in Hungarian).

Below is an Orange Files translation of the March 2010 Jobbik platform with notes regarding the Orbán government’s subsequent implementation of each of the specified initiatives (see original Hungarian version of the Jobbik program). 

Jobbik English Good

1. Parliamentary immunityThe Orbán government has not conducted a wholesale repeal of parliamentary immunity.

2. Tax and contribution cutsThe Orbán government has implemented tax and contribution cuts. 

3. Conversion of foreign-currency-denominated loans into forints: The Orbán government has passed legislation making it possible to convert foreign-currency-denominated loans into forints, first announcing their consideration of this measure in March, 2013,  three years after Jobbik proposed it in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

Imposition of bank tax: The Orbán government has introduced a tax on banks operating in Hungary. Prime Minister Orbán first announced this tax as part of his government’s Economic Action Plan on June 8, 2010, three months after Jobbik proposed such a tax in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

4. Utility-fee cuts: The Orbán government has conducted two centrally mandated cuts in utility fees. The government announced the first round of utility-fee cuts in December 2012, two years and nine months after Jobbik proposed such cuts in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

5. Taxation of multinational companies: The Orbán government has imposed extraordinary taxes on companies operating in the energy, telecommunications and retail sectors. Prime Minister Orbán initially announced these taxes as part of his government’s Second Economic Action Plan on October 13, 2010, seven months after Jobbik proposed such taxes in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian).  

6. Reducing the Pensions of former high-ranking communist-party officials: The Orbán government has withdrawn the pension supplement from those “whose actions before 1990 were incompatible with the democratic system of values.” The government first made reduction of pensions for former communist officials possible in the Transitional Provisions of the Fundamental Law adopted on December 30, 2011, one year and nine months after Jobbik proposed such taxes in the party’s election program. The National Assembly approved the law stipulating such a reduction in pensions on July 2, 2012, two years and four months after Jobbik published its 2010 election platform (source in Hungarian).

7. Tying social assistance to public work: The Orbán government has tied receiving social assistance to public work. The National Assembly approved a law requiring those who receive secondary unemployment benefits or social support to accept public work if offered or lose these benefits in July 2011, one year and four months after Jobbik suggested linking social assistance to public work in the party’s election program (see The Fluorescent Army). 

8. Amendment of the Land Law to prevent foreigners from buying arable land: The Orbán government has adopted a new Land Law, which Prime Minister Orbán said following the passage of the law in June 2013 would serve to ensure that agricultural land in Hungary “remains in the hands of Hungarians” (source in Hungarian). The government began talking about the need for such a law in June 2012, two years and three months after Jobbik advocated the adoption of a new Land Law in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 

9. Reconstitution of the gendarmarie: The Orbán government has not reconstituted the Hungarian gendarmarie (csendőrség) abolished in 1945 as the result of the force’s role in the deportation of Jews from Hungary the previous year. 

10. Guaranteeing Hungarian citizenship for Hungarian minorities: The Orbán government has passed legislation expediting the process of obtaining Hungarian citizenship for Hungarian minorities living in the countries surrounding Hungary. The government first announced this measure on May 3, 2010, about six weeks after Jobbik proposed the measure in the party’s election program (source in Hungarian). 


In addition to the proposals contained in the above Jobbik election program, party President Gábor Vona publicly advocated three further initiatives following 2010 National Assembly elections that later came to serve as cornerstones of the Orbán government’s economic and political policy. 

New Constitution 

Speaking at the annual Jobbik May Day celebration in Budapest on May 1, 2010, less than a week after the second round of National Assembly elections, Vona declared (see video in Hungarian starting at 4:18): 

Hungary has not had a constitution with legal continuity from a historical perspective since 1949. We are not proceeding along a constitutional path. We live within the framework of a Stalinist patchwork constitution and nobody has talked about this in parliament over the past 20 years. Well we will. 

In May 2010 the Orbán government had not yet announced that it would introduce a new constitution in place of that adopted in the second year of communist dictatorship in Hungary. In fact, Fidesz Member of the European Parliament and future president Pál Schmitt insisted between the first and second rounds of National Assembly elections in April 2010 that the party did not intend to “drastically alter” the existing constitution and would only make “required modifications” to it (source in Hungarian). Prime Minister Orbán first announced that his government would initiate the adoption of a new constitution on May 25, 2010, three weeks after Vona intimated that Hungary needed a new constitution. 

Eastern Opening 

Also speaking at the May 1, 2010 May Day celebration, Vona said (see video in Hungarian starting at 8:45): 

Since the time of Pál Teleki, for seventy years, nobody has declared Look east Hungarian! You are an eastern people. You are the most western eastern people. If Hungary were to build strong relations in Asia, in eastern countries . . . I am not thinking of the Middle East just in case anybody should accuse me . . .  it would present us with political, economic and cultural opportunities. Many countries there consider us to be brothers. We should try to benefit from this. This is one of the most important national strategies for us. The next century will be Asia’s century. And the country, Hungary, that recognizes this and has the chance to take advantage of it—that country will become the heart of Europe.

Although Orbán began to talk of strengthening relations with China while still in opposition (source in Hungarian), he did not begin to openly advocate reorienting Hungary toward the east until the late fall of 2010 and his government did not begin to refer to this shift as its Eastern Opening Policy until the spring of 2011 (source A and B in Hungarian).

Nationalization of Private Pension Funds

Finally, Jobbik President Vona made the following statement to the Hungarian News Agency MTI on September 3, 2010 in connection to the first 100 days of Prime Minister Orbán’s government (source in Hungarian):

It can be clearly seen that even with a two-thirds majority in its possession, the government does not dare to deal with questions such as renegotiation of the debt, the critical review of European Union membership, putting a stop to the tax evasion of multinationals or even the nationalization of private pension-funds.

Prime Minister Orbán did not initiate his administration’s nationalization of private pension funds in Hungary until October 13, 2010, six weeks after Vona criticized his government for failing to do so (source in Hungarian).  


The Orange-to-Black Continuum 

The Orbán government does not acknowledged that it has essentially implemented the policies that only Jobbik publicly advocated at the time of 2010 National Assembly elections. Prime Minister Orbán and his subordinates would like to maintain the illusion, perhaps self-deception, that their political thinking differs greatly from that of Gábor Vona and other Jobbik leaders.

Neither has Jobbik highlighted the fact that the Orbán administration has carried out its program for fear that doing so could drive the party’s voters into the Fidesz-KDNP camp. Perhaps foreseeing this prospect, Jobbik President Gábor Vona assured shortly after the 2010 general election that “Jobbik will remain a significant force even if Fidesz implements the complete Jobbik program” (source in Hungarian)

In parliamentary opposition, Jobbik has either supported the Orbán government’s policies or opposed them on the grounds that they were too moderate or failed to serve the intended objective. 

Jobbik supported the government’s nationalization of private pension funds, bank and sector-based taxes, utility-fee cuts, elimination of pension supplements for former communist officials and conversion of foreign-currency-denominated loans into forints, though sometimes expressed reservations (utility-fee cuts should have been twice as high, forintization of fx loans was “aspirin for the dying”).¹

Jobbik did not support the legislation making eligibility for social assistance contingent upon acceptance of public work for technical reasons and opposed the Fundamental Law due to the Orbán government’s exclusion of other National Assembly parties from the framing process (“Fidesz embezzled the procedure of constitution-making,” Vona said).²  

Jobbik vehemently opposed the Orbán government’s Land Law, not because the party disagreed with the stated purpose of the legislation to ensure that agricultural land in Hungary would “remain in the hands of Hungarians,” but because it claimed that the law would promote foreign ownership of such land. (Jobbik parliamentarians occupied the National Assembly Speaker’s rostrum holding a sign reading “Playing Hungarian Land Off to Foreigners: Treason!” before Fidesz-KDNP representatives adopted the law). Source in Hungarian. 

Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik are both political outgrowths of Hungarian nationalism and its main contemporary manifestations—rejection of western culture, rejection of the western free-market and rejection of western liberal-democracy.

In terms of concrete policy, Jobbik and Fidesz are virtually indistinguishable. The only true difference between them lies in the severity of their language and proposed means of attaining common objectives and their attitude toward religious and racial minorities in Hungary.

Jobbik is simply a somewhat more radical and outspoken, explicitly anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy version of Fidesz.

¹See sources A, B, C, D, E and F in Hungarian.

²See sources A and B in Hungarian.


Cracks in the Monolith

József Ángyán

József Ángyán

Over the past few weeks, two Fidesz legislators and one powerful, pro-Fidesz businessman have come into open conflict with the Orbán government over its recent moves to further increase its direct and indirect command over Hungary’s economy.

On June 21, Fidesz National Assembly representative József Ángyán withdrew from the party’s parliamentary caucus to sit with legislative independents after his fellow caucus members adopted a new Land Law that Ángyán said would preserve the hold of major capital interests and party-affiliated “maffias” over agricultural property in Hungary to the exclusion of local farmers. Speaking to the news website after announcing that he was leaving Fidesz, Ángyán said “I hope that an honest third platform comes into being. They say that there are no other possibilities—either Orbán or the Bajnai-Mesterházy group. In truth, a mafia network is pulling the strings in the background, while in the foreground morning and afternoon political-shifts replace one another. An alliance composed of honest people needs to rise up instead. Those who have taken part in government since 1990 cannot be considered, because they are all tarnished, they have all become intertwined.”

Ángyán had long been the only member of the Orbán administration who dared to raise his voice against its construction of a Fidesz oligarchy exercising ever-greater control over political and economic life in Hungary. In January 2012, he left his post as Rural Development Ministry state secretary, telling his supporters after a month-long period of silence that he had resigned because “a coalition of greedy, plundering economic interest-groups, not to say ‘maffia families,’ speculative capitalist ‘oligarchs‘ and major land-owning ‘green barons‘” had emerged to prevent implementation of the ministry’s program to help small independent farmers acquire agricultural land. Ángyán confirmed reports in the media that Prime Minister Orbán had angrily told him he would not have him kicked out of the Fidesz National Assembly caucus, because he did not want to do him the favor of making him into a martyr. 

Sándor Demján

Sándor Demján

On June 26, construction magnate Sándor Demján, one of the wealthiest and most influential people in Hungary and previously an open supporter of Fidesz (source in Hungarian) , wrote a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stating that the de facto nationalization of the country’s savings cooperatives announced two days previously “violates the protection of private property, the freedom of enterprise and the conditions regarding fair competition contained in Hungary’s Fundamental Law.” On July 5, Demján, who serves as the head of the National Savings Cooperative Association (OTSZ) representing most of the roughly 135 savings cooperatives operating in Hungary, said at a press conference that nationalization of the cooperatives “opens the way for interest groups to appropriate the profit center.” Demján said that OTSZ would seek legal redress for the law “integrating” the cooperatives within every Hungarian and, if necessary, European forum.

On June 27, Fidesz local council member Ákos Hadházy from the town of Szekszárd announced that he was leaving the party because the government had failed to properly investigate his claim that the state-owned company overseeing the process of granting 6,700 concessions for the retail sale of tobacco in Hungary under a state monopoly had selected the winning bids based on family connections and political allegiance to Fidesz rather than non-partisan economic and business considerations.  

Ákos Hadházy

Ákos Hadházy

Hadházy broke the so-called “tobacco shop scandal” during an April 30 interview with the online version of the weekly HVG in which he claimed that Fidesz National Assembly representative and Szekszárd Mayor István Horváth had gone over a list of local tobacco-concession bidders with local-council members from the party during a private meeting in order to determine which of the bidders were sufficiently loyal to Fidesz to be selected as winners. Following the expected denials, HVG published audio recordings in which Horváth is heard to say while examining the list that “one must be a committed right-winger” and “good, good, don’t let the socialists win!” 

Shortly thereafter, in one of his regular Friday-morning interviews with state-run Kossuth Radio, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán flatly rejected the notion that politics had played a role in selecting the winning bids to open the so-called National Tobacco Shops, though noted that “We will never turn our backs on our own supporters.” The prime minister then posed the rhetorical question: “Why would it be a problem for that matter if entrepreneurs who subscribe to our value system win if they submit suitable bids in the tenders?”  

Hadházy told HVG that he decided to reveal the pro-Fidesz political bias in the selection of tobacco concessions in Szekszárd because “I came to the conclusion that I am doing the best for Fidesz over the long run if I say these things. Over the short run it is certainly unpleasant, its popularity could fall by a couple of percent, but I think that this is what can help the party over the long run.” Hadházy added that “The Fidesz membership is disciplined and I think that the unity of the right wing is valuable, though it has moved beyond a certain point. Debate, either due to a lack of time or for some other reason, does not take place and that is very bad.” In another interview with HVG after withdrawing from Fidesz, Hadházy compared the process of establishing the government monopoly on the retail sale of tobacco to the nationalization of Hungary’s economy following the Second World War: “I could make the very grave historical parallel that the communists took the homes of people considered to be class enemies and gave them to others.” In reference to Prime Minister Orbán’s comments on Kossuth Radio regarding the criteria that had been used to determine the winning bids to open National Tobacco Shops, Hadházy continued “Comrade Rákosi, if he would have given a Friday radio interview, would have also certainly said that ‘we cannot turn our backs on our own people.’” 


The Cardboard Men

cardboard men

Representatives from the Fidesz-KDNP coalition (right) attend roundtable discussion on gay rights in Hungary.

The 2013 Budapest Pride gay parade was held on July 6 amid tight security, as it has since radical right-wing demonstrators severely disrupted the event in 2007 and 2008. For the past five years, the Budapest Police has prevented protesters from assaulting Budapest Pride procession by stationing riot cops at heavy security fence erected on cross streets one block on either side of the parade route along its entire length. One can gain access to the parade only by passing through a security checkpoint at the beginning of the route on Heroes‘ Square. Otherwise, one cannot get closer than a football field in length to the parade as it proceeds down Andrássy Avenue to the center of the city. There have been progressively fewer and fewer demonstrators heckling paraders from afar under this hermetically sealed security arrangement. Only a couple of hundred right-wing protesters showed up for this year’s Budapest Pride procession, most of them belonging to a new radical nationalist group that calls itself Guards of the Carpathian Homeland (Kárpát Haza Őrei).

The Budapest Pride parade is a microcosm of the overall status of homosexuality in Hungary: tolerated, though only in sterile isolation from the heterosexual world and to a lesser degree since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán started pulling the political strings in Hungary as opposition leader more than six years ago. The Fundamental Law that Orbán and the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) administration adopted after coming to power in 2010 stipulates that marriage must be between a man and a woman, thus making Hungary the fifth European Union member state following Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania to constitutionally ban, by exclusion, same-sex marriage. (A sixth European Union member state, Romania, prohibits same-sex marriage in the country’s civil code.) Fidesz declined to participate in any of the Budapest Pride week events to which it was invited, sending nobody to represent the party at a roundtable discussion on gay rights in Hungary or to march in the annual parade.

Fidesz’s official stand on homosexuality is one of cold neutrality. A party communiqué to the news website stated that “Homosexuality is a private affair that Fidesz does not want to make into a public affair. In connection to Budapest Pride, everybody has the right to participate in the event, just as they have a right to not participate in it.” In response to a question from the news website whether Fidesz supported the Budapest Pride parade, party Communications Director Máté Kocsis said “Fidesz has no opinion on this question. I have not conducted a poll regarding who is going and who is not. Everybody will decide for themselves. I, myself, am not going to participate.” Asked about news that  Budapest Pride organizers planned to present him with a rainbow flag to fly temporarily outside city hall, de facto Fidesz Budapest Mayor István Tarlós said that “It would be better if they would refrain from this open provocation, because the mayor does not have the ways and means of placing this flag on city hall.” Tarlós earlier in the week pretended not to know what Budapest Pride was when a reporter from asked him a question about the event. After being told what it was, he answered “I stand on the other side.”

Both Mayor Tarlós and Prime Minister Orbán declined invitations to participate in the Budapest Pride parade. This is understandable from a political point of view. Under the conditions of extreme political polarization that exist in Hungary, for them to attend an event that in political terms has traditionally been identified with the Budapest liberal élite would signify a concession to the opponent. Moreover, it would drive a certain number of Fidesz voters into the arms of the radical right-wing nationalist Jobbik party, which announced this week that if it ever comes to power it will ban Budapest Pride and other “deviant, provocative, exhibitionist programs.” However, in this instance Fidesz could still have sent lesser party representatives, even non-official known sympathizers, to attend the Budapest Pride events to which it was invited. Instead, only feigned ignorance, haughty standoffishness and rigidly noncommittal communiqués.

Throughout much of western Europe and North America national and city government officials openly support gay-pride events, often marching at the head of gay parades. Hungary, though a more traditional eastern European country, appeared to be proceeding in this direction during the first decade of Budapest Pride, which started in earnest in 1997. The reversal of progress in the area of gay rights in Hungary over the past seven years fits squarely into the overall pattern of democratic regression that has taken place in the country over that period.

See Orange Files photo gallery of 2013 Budapest Pride parade. 

Gay Parade Post Photo






See Orange Files photo gallery of 2007 and 2008 Budapest Pride parades.

Post Photo Gay Parade-2








Swallowing the Frog

Orbán the Bullshitter

Prime Minister Orbán speaking to the National Assembly on July 4, 2013.

The Orbán government reacted in predictable fashion to the European Union’s July 3 approval of the Tavares Report criticizing it for undermining fundamental democratic rights in Hungary: the EU doesn’t really object in principle to what we are doing, but is engaging in petty party politics at the bidding of corporate lobbyists who want to get back at us for reducing exorbitant company profits to the benefit of the people.

Speaking at a session of the National Assembly on July 4, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that the Tavares report is “unjust” and “hostile toward Hungarians” and that it “gravely insults Hungary” and “violates Hungary’s sovereignty.” Orbán also called the European Union “unjust” and accused the EU of “applying a double standard” toward Hungary and “abusing its power.” He claimed that corporate interests had instigated the report as a means of countering the government’s utility-fee cuts, which harmed the interests of European corporations that “for years collected as much money as they could from Hungarian families.”

Speaking during one of his regular Friday-morning interviews on state-run Kossuth Radio on July 5, Orbán asserted that the Tavares Report was a “left-wing action” taken against the government because it had written a constitution that “is not liberal” and because European left-wing parties “cannot swallow the frog” (literal translation of a Hungarian idiom meaning “to swallow the bitter pill”) of Fidesz’s landslide election victory over the Hungarian Socialist Party in 2010. The prime minister said that these left-wing parties are intertwined with “capital interests” that are attempting to reverse the government’s bank tax and utility-fee cuts. Orbán claimed that “Not since the Soviet Union existed has any outside force had the audacity to openly, choosing a legal form, limit the independence of Hungarians.”

Later on July 5, FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) National Assembly representatives approved a resolution submitted by Fidesz caucus leader Antal Rogán and two others entitled “On the Equal Treatment due to Hungary.” Representatives from the Hungarian Socialist Party and Politics Can Be Different boycotted the vote on the resolution, while the six representatives present from the Democratic Coalition and Dialogue for Hungary voted against it. Only Fidesz-KDNP representatives voted to approve document, which speaks in the name of the entire nation. The following is an Orange Files translation of the resolution (source in Hungarian):

We Hungarians joined the family of European nations more than one-thousand years ago with the foundation of the state and the adoption of Christianity.

We Hungarians have stood up for European values on many occasions.

There were times when we defended these values with our blood in the face of external attacks. In 1956 we took up arms against the communist dictatorship. In 1989 we contributed to the reunification of Europe through the dismantling of the Iron Curtain.

We Hungarians joined the European Union of our own free will.

We did this in the hope that we had joined a community standing on the foundation of law,  justice and freedom.

We Hungarians do not want a Europe in which freedom is limited and is not permitted to develop to its fullest. We do not want a Europe in which the stronger abuses its power, in which the sovereignty of nations is violated and in which the smaller must honor the bigger.

We had enough of dictates in the forty years spent behind the Iron Curtain.

We Hungarians have always honored the initiative of competent European Union institutions to engage in dialogue and have always been prepared to come to agreements conceived in the spirit of reason.

It is for this reason that we rightfully desire the respect and equal treatment due to Hungary from the institutions of the European Union.

We expect the European Union to honor the rights accorded to us following our accession just as it does with regard to every member state.

The Hungarian National Assembly voices its astonishment that the European Parliament adopted a resolution that it had no right to adopt and with which the European Parliament overstepped the boundaries of its authority. It arbitrarily establishes demands, arbitrarily introduces new procedures and creates new institutions that violate Hungary’s sovereignty as stipulated in the fundamental treaty of the European Union.

In this way the European Parliament is going against European values and placing the European Union on a dangerous path.

The fact that business interests are behind this abuse of power afflicting Hungary gives cause for further worry.

Hungary is decreasing the price of energy used by Hungarian families. This may harm the interest of several major European corporations, which used their monopolies to generate extra profit in Hungary for many years on end. It is unacceptable that the European Parliament is attempting to place pressure on our homeland in the interest of these major corporations.

The Hungarian National Assembly considers it dangerous for all of Europe if business interests are able to assert themselves without impediment within the European Union and are able to supersede the provisions of the fundamental treaty.

Today we approve a resolution aimed at defending Hungary’s sovereignty and the equality of Hungarian people within Europe.

We ask the government of Hungary not to yield to the pressure of the European Union, not to permit the rights guaranteed to the country in the fundamental treaty to be impaired and to continue the policies that serve to make the lives of Hungarian families easier.

The Orbán government’s claim that the European Parliament approved the Tavares Report at the behest of large energy companies seeking to reverse the government-imposed utility-fee cuts is especially absurd in light of the fact that the EP commissioned the report on February 16, 2012, more than nine months before Fidesz announced the mandatory ten-percent reduction in the price of household gas and electricity.