This is why Orbán’s Hungary is set to stay
07 December 2016 /
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is enjoying clear support from inside the country, much to the annoyance of almost all European and EU institution leaders. Far in his third term, and his second consecutive, tides aren’t changing in Hungary.
According to an October survey about the strength of the right-wing parties in Hungary, the governing Fidesz has a clear lead at 34%, while the ultra-nationalist Jobbik comes second with 12%. On the left, the socialist, MSZP is at 8% and the Democratic Coalition headed by the former MSZP Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány who created a new party is at 5%. 34% remain undecided. The only real changes in the political landscape have been the rise of Jobbik solidifying its position as the second most important party and the further weakening of the strength of the left. Why does a leader, altough very disliked in the West, still enjoy so much support inside the country?
In the spring of 2006, one month after the socialist MSZP won a second government term, a speech by the then Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was leaked. Still famous quotes are such as these: “Clearly, we’ve been lying for the past 1.5-2 years”, “We’ve f****d up, not little, but big”, “We’ve lied morning, day and night”. The vulgar speech sparked massive riots and protests in the capital city, organised behind the scenes by the Fidesz. This speech was the beginning of the end for the largest party on the left. One year after the speech, a poll conducted among certain voters showed only 15-20% support for MSZP, which hasn’t changed much since. Viktor Orbán and Fidesz were essentially setting the groundwork for their future government four years before the 2010 election which they won with a 2/3rd majority in parliament.
Orbán’s 10 years in power
The Fidesz government immediately got to work. A controversial new constitution was drawn. A new media law was passed by the parliament which established a government controlled body empowered to fine media outlets, and an opposition radio station’s license was withdrawn. The re-entry of Orbán as Prime Minister after his less authoritarian 1998-2002 tenure also marked the beginning of unprecedented media campaigns. Billboards were hired from companies close to the government. Radio, TV and newspaper advertisements were also bought. In this way government funds started pouring to news outlets close to it, at the same time putting economic pressure on those of the opposition where the state didn’t buy advertisement. Today the posters with dark-blue background and yellow writing are impossible not to notice if you live in Hungary. In 2010 their slogan was “No to the IMF”, in 2012 “Hungary is doing better” and from 2014 “No to illegal migrants”. Propaganda like this are all financed by tax-payers money and impossible to evade.
The campaign was widened before the November quota-referendum put forward by the Fidesz and Jobbik, on allowing migrants resettle in the country by the EU. One government-financed placard stated “Did you know? Brussels wants to resettle migrants which would create a town in Hungary”. The number was 1297, which would have made it the third smallest town if the government chose to put them in the same place. The referendum failed, as only 41% of the eligible voters went to the ballots. Still, 98% which is equivalent to 3,36 million people, voted against the resettlement showing the anti-migrant sentiment in the country. The government succeeded in one of its goals: moving public debate and attention from corruption to “illegal migrants”.
Rallying up the population against the refugees is one aspect, the another is to further discredit the European Union. Although Hungary is one of the most important net beneficies of EU funds, there have been many public spats between Brussels and Budapest since Orbán gained power in 2010. Politically motivated disputes are recent, but resentment against the EU has been longstanding. Blaming the Union for problems in agriculture and economy is frequent in every member state. However, one of the most notable dissatisfaction of the EU in Hungary is the failure of the former to protect Hungarian minorities living abroad. This was one of the most important reasons for entering the Union, proved by the result of the 2004 referendum where 86% voted to join.
Romania, Slovakia and minorities
The treaty of Trianon in 1920 gave 2/3rd of the territory of Hungary to neighbouring countries along with 69% of its population. Most families in Hungary have relatives and friends living in these countries. The 1.2 million who consider themselves Hungarian in Romania often face provocations. Statues of Hungarian origin are regularly vandalised. A 2015 law banned the utilisation of a flag in public institutions which represents the Hungarians living in Transylvania.
The 700.000 Hungarians in Slovakia are perhaps even worse off. In 2006 the Slovakian Prime Minister, Robert Fico chose to form coalition with the radical-right and anti-Hungarian SNS party led by Ján Slota. The latter stated about his southern neighbours that “The Hungarians are a cancer tumour on the Slovak nation, which should be eradicated as quick as possible”. In 2009 the parliament passed a law prohibiting the use of any other language than Slovakian in public institutions, a clear move against the 9,4% Hungarian minority. In 2006 a young female was beaten unconsciously in Slovakia when some men heard her speaking Hungarian. She was charged by Slovakian authorities for making up the story, and even though the European Court of Human Rights ruled in her favour in 2011, Bratislava reopened her case in 2014.
In 2009 the parliament passed a law prohibiting the use of any other language than Slovakian in public institutions, a clear move against the 9,4% Hungarian minority
Laws and intimidation against Hungarians persist in Slovakia, and so does economic negligence. The stadium of the football club of Dunajska Streda which is widely supported by Hungarians was at center of attention in 2008. A video went viral showing police going into the stands beating supporters. Subsequently a law was passed by the parliament prohibiting the use of any national flags other than Slovakian in sport events. This year the same stadium got renovated. According to the club owner Oszkár Világi, this is the first big stadium renovation in Slovakia where the government isn’t the most important investor. Only €2,4 million comes from Bratislava while the remainder of the €22 million cost are financed by the club owners and the largest Hungarian company MOL, who also bought the stadium’s naming rights.
The European Union is nowhere to be seen
According to Budapest, the situation of Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries hasn’t improved with the EU membership. The case of the Slovak language law introduced in 2008 is a blatant example. José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president at that time treated it as a Slovakian internal affair. Many Hungarians already felt abandoned by Brussels even before Orbán decided to pour fuel on the fire.
It is widely acknowledged that the Hungarian political elite is corrupted and misusing public funds. Orbán is redundant investing into his favourite hobby, football, notably by building an academy and a 3200-seat modern stadium neighbouring his house – in a town of 1842. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any capable alternative within the country. The liberal-left’s “grand coalition” for the 2014 parliamentary election was a miserable failure. The election opened for the reintroduction of Ferenc Gyurcsány to politics which alienated many voters because of the leaked speech he made as Prime Minister. Today the left is more divided and weaker than ever since the fall of communism.
As in most poorer regions of Central and Eastern Europe, young people who don’t see a future move to the West. As a consequence, Orbán is attracting new balloters voters of them: He offered citizenship with the right to vote to all Hungarian minorities living abroad. As consequence, Hungarians who don’t live, and weren’t brought up in Hungary, have a right to vote: 97% of them voted for Fidesz in 2014. With these new balloters and fragmented left inside the country, tides aren’t going to change soon.
Recee James is a student at ULB.