“(For now) the politics of grievance cannot be defeated . . . It is only possible to win with lies. . . . (but) if the high-tide comes and we stand ready, then Hungary will once again be on the rise.”
– Péter Tölgyessy, political scientist
Translation of “Tölgyessy: It is not certain that we will live to see the end of the Orbán system” appearing in hvg.hu.
“Hungary, what will become of you? – Hungary’s political outlook after the the voters’ decision.” This was the title of the lecture held several days after (Fidesz won its) third two-thirds (parliamentary majority-tran.)
He painted a gloomy picture. He said not one true word was said over the course of the campaign, calling the entire thing totally shameful. Orbán is the master of the low tide. When it’s over there won’t be a change of government, but a system change (like that of 1989-tran.)
At the event jointly hosted by the Eötvös Group and the Societal Reflex Institute, the lawyer and political scientist said that several decades ago he had the opportunity to spend some time in Brittany. He recounted how eager he was to arrive to the coast, but that after arriving there experienced a huge disappointment in the form of mud, hopelessness, and low-tide.
“That is precisely the situation now.”
We’re at low-tide. However, society may not close itself off. In vain have we lived in this for eight years. He says this is not only a Hungarian matter, and that we are not the only ones taken captive by somebody, and for this reason Tölgyessy made an international outlook.
In 1989 everybody awaited the high-tide. We believed we would catch up, but that is not what happened. Worse and worse years came, and the situation of the middle-classes in the western world started to deteriorate. Support for the old parties started to wane across Europe and the knowledge of the elite was questioned by the broader public. At home the trouble was even bigger, as the crisis hit a non-solidified democracy. The 2008 economic crisis was smaller than the one between the two world wars, they said. But nobody could say how long it would last.
“Our small Hungarian system is part of this trend.”
Furthermore, the greatest master of the trend is Viktor Orbán, who masterfully built his low-tide system. It wasn’t Orbán who invented this system, but he is one of its most innovative representatives. According to Tölgyessy, what happened after the crisis was what usually happens: society became divided. He cited Ukraine and Russia as examples of countries where there was no transition, but either decline or the centralized exercise of power.
“We are on the border, I hope on the innermost side of the border.”
He believes the campaign was pitiful and disgusting. Not a single true word was said on the side of either the government or the opposition the past half year.
Structurally the two campaigns were similar. The one said migrants are coming to rape the women. The other said that without Orbán everything will be a lot better.
“István Bethlen (Prime Minister from 1921 to 1931-tran.) would have despaired to see this.”
It is no surprise, that it was Hungary whose population first said that this is not a good system. After the economic crisis the people said we do not need the West before the politicians. Here at home we turned away from capitalism and democracy. Judgement of the system change is the worst in Hungary. “It’s clear that they started to build politics on this.” But it was Fidesz and Viktor Orbán who reacted first to social changes. In 2010 they swept the majority of the old parties out of parliament, and strengthened LMP and Jobbik.
He thinks there are hardly any examples in Hungarian society on which to build democracy or capitalism. Society is paternalistic, on which the prime minister built a great deal. “Orbán restored the hierarchical system,” in which it is possible to bargain and negotiate.
At the same time Tölgyessy noted that in times of low-tide there is no growth. If the anti-migrant rhetoric loses steam, Orbán will find a new enemy. “I don’t know who that might be. Orbán doesn’t know yet either.” He tries to offer up success, but these are cheap successes.
He said that our country is the one with the world’s biggest complaint culture, with enough grievances to fill an ocean. And most often the one who triumphs is the one who expresses these grievances. “The politics of grievance cannot be defeated.”
According to the political scientist, the decrease of utility costs after a few cold days was part of this.
On the subject of the recent elections, he was shocked by what the opposition said. “They should have stood up and said that this doesn’t exist.” Until Hódmezővásárhely (when an independent won a mayoral by-election-tran.) the opposition knew victory was impossible and politicized against the opposition parties. Their community was happy to believe that the Szél, Karácsony, and Vona government was coming, even though these were 10 percent parties.
“The whole thing was a terrible sleight of hand.”
But then came Hódmezővásárhely and everything changed. It was possible to sense that the system was vulnerable. Fidesz was shaken, but it had a two-thirds majority for most of the cycle, and for this reason there were no big surprises. Among the opposition parties, those succeeded most that best deceived their voters. “There was somebody who played his cards even better than Orbán: Ferenc Gyurcsány.” Out of four members of parliament he made nine.
Jobbik and LMP – the green party remained a dwarf party, according to Tölgyessy – fell short of expectations. The traditional leftwing parties retained the opposition leader’s strength. The political scientist chided the press for pressuring the parties to come together in the interest of victory even though victory was impossible. The groups exerting pressure, the know-it-alls, the new civil organizations, all bear great responsibility for the election’s failure.
We cannot free ourselves from politics rooted in Kádárism, said Tölgyessy, summarizing the reasons for Hungary’s fall.
On the subject of the Fidesz system, he said such politics work in times of low-tide. “It is very difficult to do democracy in Hungary.” By way of conclusions, he said everything needs to be rethought from the ground up, beginning with honest discussion about the tax system. The problem, however, is that there is no model for us to follow as there was in 1989. The Orbán system will continue to function so long as the conditions present at its creation still exist, for example the middle-class crises and hopelessness. But hubris can bring on collapse when the power itself runs into the knife. It’s rare when a similar system fills its time.
“Such systems are rarely brought down in elections.”
On upsetting assumptions that electoral fraud took place, he said what we read about did not influence the election, and that the final result represents the will of the voters. “We needn’t behave like the Quaestor victims.” Anyway, it is necessary to live in times of low-tide, because it is not incidental in what condition the high-tide finds us. On the subject of migration, he said that this is a inward-turning country, and that the Hungarians are not accustomed to immigration, which Orbán very much sensed.
But the opposition must prepare for the high-tide. It must not speak irresponsibly, but confront it. He thinks it is necessary to conduct politics that take the country in the direction of rationality rather than insanity, in a manner consistent with Hungarian national traditions. “With the high-tide it is possible to step out of the swamp,” although this is not possible with the current opposition, says Tölgyessy, who does not believe the west is falling, but cannot tell when the era of ascension will come.
“If the high-tide comes and we stand ready, then Hungary will once again be on the rise,” he said, concluding his presentation.
In response to viewers’ questions, he said the country is very exposed to corruption, and that it is a party of daily life as well. However, for a long time it was taboo for top political leadership to accumulate assets, and that this applied to the Horthy and Kádár system as well. Social corruption and trickery, on the other hand, became the main rule in the Kádár system, and that confusing period of system change also brought political corruption. “Orbán has taken the system into this.” Unique to Hungary after the system change was that its elite remained unaffected, as well as the media, which was only changed under Fidesz with the use of its secret weapon, Lajos Simicska, who is corruption itself. But big oligarchs among the socialists also showed up.
Orbán has been saying for twenty years that he does not tolerate anybody over home, and that he is a sovereign power. That is why he created his own media. He also brought the oligarchs under himself and built a new elite. Tölgyessy believes this is the basis of his politics. The secret of success is not stealing money. In vain might the majority of Hungarians think that. Stealing does not legitimize the elite. How can such large estates be created that even Esterházy would be jealous?, he asked. While he did not answer this directly, he said that the Esterházy family had merit.
Another question, whether we will be a member of the EU in 10 years. Yes, categorically. In vain is the leftwing preoccupied with the idea that it won’t and demonize Orbán, which is easy to do according to Tölgyessy. He even plays on this role. Orbán is practicing EU politics, he is looking for allies, and sometimes even speaks the truth. On the subject of Paks, he said that the prime minister agreed to it because he smelled the possibility of stealing money.
There was a question about the migration issue as well. It does not directly threaten us because this is a “small, unfortunate, and wretched country.” However, if they come in droves, then western values could be endangered, said the political scientist. He said that what the leftwing says to this day is at a distance from reality. However, he did not go deeper into the subject because it would appear as though he was campaigning for Fidesz. At the same time, there are no gestures or arrogant individuals in the governing parties that could cause their decline.
At the end of the presentation he returned to the campaign, saying it was a huge problem treating voters in an infantile manner and promising that if they vote right there will be money for everything. However, there was no good solution as to how the opposition should deal with this. “The disappearance of this system has yet to be put on the agenda.” It is not certain that we will live to see the end of the Orbán system. Moreover, nothing works at home the way it does in western democracies.
On the subject of the opposition, he said it was tied to Fidesz, and that for this reason it was easy to imagine that they would disappear together with Fidesz. He said the current opposition would not bring down the Fidesz system.
However, when the end comes, there will not be a change in government, but a system change. But until then, Orbán will play on fear like a virtuoso.
And how can we protect ourselves in such a constraining system? “That is a very good question,” said Tölgyessy. Because if there is no success, then at least there has to be a scapegoat, that is Orbán’s thesis. He profited from the NOlimpia campaign and from Hódmezővásárhely as well.
In response to a question, he said we need to nurture fewer expectations with respect to politicians and parties.
Is it worthwhile staying here? Do we need an intelligentsia? Today somebody is either a servant or an opponent. For the intellgentsia bears much responsibility for how we got here, as does he. Tölgyessy suggested facing the entire country.
And why isn’t there a modern conservative party? Tölgyessy believes no such thing exists, nor do modern conservatives. For Fidesz is radical, and very much so. “It is only possible to win with lies.” But many voted for Fidesz because it was still better than chaos, and the voters did not believe that the opposition was capable of governing. By way of a solution, he proposed a new respect for facts and that there be consequences, because the high-tide will come and we can also be successful.
I was afraid of tonight, that in the midst of mourning I would not be able to speak rationally, he acknowledged at the end.