For Approximately the first two decades of Hungary’s post-communist history, Hungary was a young but stable democracy. International observers found Hungary as a model of a successful transition from authoritarianism to democracy (Beauchamp, 2018).
Ever since 1990, the Hungarian political elite consistently underestimated the importance of welfare issues. The general outcome is that, quarter-century since the regime change has brought growing social inequality, leaving entire regions behind, increasing the gap between rural and urban populations and, as a result of all these negative changes in the society, it has created a fertile land for a change that was on the horizon (Bíró-Nagy, Dobszai, Konig, 2016).
The first tactical changes in Orbán´s political strategy came in 1994. His strategy was to focus more on the nationalist center-right movement. The next step was then to cultivate links to church leaders. Orbán was previously an atheist but he has seen an opportunity to get more support amongst voters from the church. By going down this way, he got married in church and his children were baptized. This step, many people think, was the most decisive one that brought to Orbán many new voters, that have brought him a victory in 1998 and he became Hungary´s youngest Prime Minister (Buckley, Byrne, 2018).
In 2002, Fidesz suffered a defeat to the rival socialist party, which has made extravagant spending pledges. Orbán blamed justifyist media for the defeat. He never really accepted the defeat. This made Orbán rethink his strategy a bit more. During the time in opposition, he started to build a firm political root within his party to reinforce control. Orbán has used 8 years in opposition for building more Fidesz loyal media empire (Buckley, Byrne, 2018).
Later in 2010, Fidesz gained the majority in the parliament. This was a free ticket to rewrite the constitution by parliament vote. The constitutional changes were supplemented by legislation expanding the scope of Fidesz’s authority. Fidesz allies were installed in vital roles, like election supervision and media (Beauchamp, 2018).
Majority of Hungarians in the 2010´s do actually believe that they were better during the communism. Twenty-five years after the regime change, the majority of Hungarians continue to expect the state to improve their living standard. One-third of Hungarians do not care if the country is run by a dictatorship or democracy. All of these opinions within the Hungarian population have made it easier to pursue democratic changes in 2010 after Fidesz was reelected (Bíró-Nagy, Dobszai, Konig 2016).
In the public media sector, they started to buy out foreign media investors. The financial crisis was used when it was slashing profits the most as a cover to buy out foreign media investors. There have been arguments by some democratic defenders that this was absolutely irresponsible from foreign investors to abandon media in Hungary. These investors would not have done such a trade for economical gain in Germany. When Fidesz started to buy out foreign investors the main argument was that they were buying it to for the Hungarian people, but the fact is that these buyouts were financed by taxpayer’s money. This has stretched to such a level that there are executives today in most of media outlets that discourages tough questioning of Orbán and employees. Basically, all of his interviews nowadays are carefully choreographed (Buckley, Byrne, 2018).
Alarming is that by 2017, 90% of all media in Hungary was owned by either the state or a Fidesz ally according to a count by Budapest-based scholar Marius Dragomir (Beauchamp, 2018).
During the next ten years in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Orbán managed to get hold of properties that have been bought by foreign nationals during a period of privatization. He restored Hungarian majority control of the banking sector and fixed public finances without imposing any hard measures (Buckley, Byrne, 2018).
Starting from 2010, in order to boost his voter’s pool, Orbán started to hand out citizenships to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries. This law has passed in 2011 and it allowed more than 600 000 foreigners to successfully gain Hungarian citizenship, mostly from Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. This has helped Orbán to consolidate his grip on power. It was easily predictable that this new ethnic Hungarians will vote for Fidesz (Harris, 2015).
The Hungarian government estimated in 2017 that the number of new citizens that have applied for Hungarian citizenship abroad in the period from 2010 to 2018 will be 1 million (Bayer, 2017).
A senior Hungarian banker who has known Orbán since the 1990s adds: “the concentration of power in his hands is really incredible. He is the one who appoints members of the cabinet. He selects future MP candidates — so they depend on him. He selects members of the executive bodies of Fidesz. So he has no limits on him, either in the government or in his own party,” the banker says (Buckley, Byrne 2018).
In the following years, a new political strategy came to Orbán´s mind. There came new slogans like „The last bastion,“ or „The dark clouds are gathering,“ that were Orbáns slogans starting the Anti-Semitist opinion in Hungary. Orbán is also known for promoting his Anti-Muslim opinion for his theory of Muslim invasion and Islamization. It has become a part of a political campaign with anti-migrant topics. All of this was fueled from a migrant crisis in Europe that led to the building of a fence at the borderline of Croatia and Serbia. The quota system designed by the EU to share the migration burden within member states is an area in which Orbán sees no compromise (Walker, 2018).
An example of far-reaching anti-Semitic politics of Fidesz is Zoltan Fenyesi. Zoltan has offered free accommodation to migrants that came to Hungary at his pension. He offered to show them his village and, as Zoltan has said, the hospitality of Hungarians. He wanted to prove that refugees pose no danger. This was met with unbelievably vicious public backlash. Mr. Zoltan has received death threats. Viktor Orbán has backed protesters bringing the story to national attention (Byrne, 2017).
Orbán is also in regular conflicts with European institutions based on his policies of weakening democratic balances in Hungary. According to Freedom House, a Washington USA, based rights group they have degraded to some kind of a hybrid regime a category between democracies and autocracies (The Japan Times, 2020).
Ever since 2009, the score of the democratic index by The Economist has been falling in Hungary. It has decreased from 7,53 in 2009 to 6,63 in 2019. This index is based on fundamental questions that can be sorted into categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture (The economist democratic index, 2019).
Apart from anti-migrant focus Fidesz has designed posters featuring George Soros: “let’s not allow Soros to have last laugh,“ or against EU: „Let´s stop Brussels. “ Many government posters have had an anti-Semitic graffiti on it. Anti-Soros posters were literally everywhere, even on the tram so that passengers would see a laughing face of Soros every day. An estimation of 19 million Euros has been spent on this single anti-Soros campaign. He even held a referendum for migrant topic where Fidesz got 98% support from 44% of people that came to vote. This has become a defining part of his political image of late (Thorpe, 2017).
Orbán has also passed a peculiar bill in 2017 that intimidates civic groups that receive foreign funding. Many people believe it was the next step in Orbán´s war with Soros. By accepting this bill, the government has effectively displaced Soros´s CEU University from Budapest. CEU was offering prestigious diplomas that were accepted both in Hungary and in the USA. There have been huge protests in Budapest when this law was passed. The EU has launched a legal case against Hungary because of this law. Lately, European Court of Justice has ruled against Hungary, saying its law is against the EU values and basic laws. The CEU has been moved to Vienna where it is up until now (Deutsche Welle, 2020).
The biggest paradox in these clashes with the EU is that only strengthen his domestic support. Orbán now shows himself as the main defence against Brussels – against Islamization of his nation that wants to swallow Hungarians. Recently there has been an interesting switch in his party to the fields of poor people where he acts like a protector of the poor against elite like George Soros.
The senior banker who has known Orbán since the 1990s suggests that the premier has, over time, “convinced himself of his own patter.“ “At first, he didn’t take seriously more than 20-30% (of his conservative rhetoric),” the banker says. “My fear is the longer he is in this position, the deeper he believes in these populist ideas,” (Buckley, Byrne, 2018).
There is a general fear that all of this anti-Semitism and racist politics is sinking deep into Hungarian society. This proves correct especially in the case of Georges Soros´s name inscribed on a dead pig saying „this was Soros,“ posted on social media by Fidesz politicians (Oppenheim, 2017).
What is even shadier, is that in the past two elections Fidesz helped create several fake parties including one that was run by someone who turned out to be homeless (Beauchamp, 2018).
The Corruption Research Center in Budapest examined more than 126,000 government contracts issued by the Orbán government between 2010 and 2016. What they have discovered was surprising. The contracts that were awarded to the four men were given mostly without doing a proper tender bidding. All of these four people are publicly known to be very close to Orbán (Corruption Research Center Budapest, 2018).
Orbán´s reaction to the pandemic was introducing the state of emergency for an indefinite time. Officially parliament can decide whether to lift the state of emergency, but here comes a problem. Orbán has been carefully working ever since 2010 to put his MPs in parliament. They have never gone against his will since they were chosen by him. So it is up to Orbán when he will decide to give up this special status. The international Press Institute has said that the steps that Hungary is taking during the pandemic are leading towards total control of media in the country. They have made a serious concern over the new legislation in Hungary. The government gets to decide what is categorized as misinformation and Fidesz can act in response. The response is up to 5 years in prison for spreading misinformation that undermines authorities fight against COVID. This was the latest tool in his arsenal to fight the remains of the country´s independent press (International Press Institute, 2020).
The problem in Hungarian society is also characterized by a general lack of confidence in political institutions and in interpersonal relations. People have no real reason for participating in the democratic process. All of this distrust hampers the development of such fundamental social values as tolerance and solidarity (Bíró-Nagy, Dobszai, Konig, 2016).
These events that have been happening in Hungary during the past 10 years may come as a warning to other European states. Growing inequality between people, increasing and ignored social tensions may undermine the foundations of democracy and switch sympathies against the elite that, in turn, may prepare the ground for the further advancement of anti-establishment forces (Bíró-Nagy, Dobszai, Konig, 2016).
Orbán, by doing his politics, caused an increase in anti-Semitism and racism at the same time in the society. This is like a poison for society. Once it is started, it can be used as a powerful weapon as we have seen many times in the history. In recent years we can see a similar alarming situation of political populism in Poland that in many ways acts like Hungary. The way that Hungary is headed is dangerous and shameful for an EU member state because by entering EU every state has signed an agreement to respect basic democratic principles that promotes political freedom. Since Orbán came to power, he has been doing the exact opposite. The question is until when will the EU tolerate behavior Hungary that wants to be a part of the biggest economic bloc, use all the good things it provides and deceive the basic rules of EU. When will the glass of patience overflow?
Author: Pavel Matusak
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