Paul Lendvai: “I consider the situation hopeless”

October 30, 2016


“With the exception of Vladimir Putin, nobody possesses as much power in eastern and central-Europe as Viktor Orbán. I consider him to be the most talented and most dangerous politician in Hungarian history since the system change. ” – Pál (Paul) Lendvai, author of Új honfoglalás (“New conquest of the homeland”).

The Austrian publicist of Hungarian birth, Paul Lendvai, attended the launch of the Hungarian edition of his latest book, Új honfoglalás (“New conquest of the homeland”) at Budapest’s István Örkény booksellers Wednesday evening.

“My book is a short review of the history (of Hungary) after the system change, primarily of the Fidesz eras (1998-2002, 2010 to present), and within this primarily Viktor Orbán’s biography, personality, politics, and worldview. I make no secret of the fact that I consider him to be the most talented and most dangerous politician in Hungarian history since the system change,” writes Lendvai on the rear cover of his book.

“As with my previous books, I wrote this book as a completely independent author.  Neither Austrian nor foreign institutes supported my work,” he wrote in the invitation to the book launch.

“Releasing such a book in Hungary today is brave,” said former central bank deputy chair Júlia Király in praise of the Hungarian translation prepared by Lídia Nádori from the German original.

In the forward, Lendvai thanks a number of Hungarian notables for “sharing with him their opinions about the events and players of the modern Hungarian history,” including former Socialist prime ministers Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyucsány, and a number of former MSZP, SZDSZ and even Fidesz politicians, as well as a variety of primarily left-wing intellectuals, some of whom attended the book launch.

The first 100 pages of the nearly 250-page book address events leading to Orbán’s return to power in 2010, including his first administration.  The balance of the book addresses the events of the past six and a half years characterized by the complete takeover of Hungarian politics, economics, culture, education and society by Orbán and his Fidesz minions.

“The portrait has been made in broad strokes,” said Király, who believes that for Orbán “politics is a mixture of wild-west films and a football match which knows no forgiveness.”

She believes that before 2010, “political leaders could not handle the country’s completely unique national identity,” but that Orbán ingeniously played the national card.  Király referred to a 2008 Tárki study according to which “Hungary is a country desirous of paternalistic state intervention.  Viktor Orbán studied this well.” She said “this book is a memento, so that we do not forget that the tendency to submit is in all of us, because that is what we grew up in.” Even though the forward to the book was written in August, “since then much has happened: the latest developments in the media war, the continuation of the persecution of the civil sphere, the rigging of a referendum and the total falsification of 1956.”

Lendvai said: “Things are happening quickly.” He plans to release a second, supplementary edition as well.  He called attention to the fact that Hungary no longer ranks 63th internationally in terms of competition when he wrote the book, but 69th.  “And in the meantime they killed Népszabadság,” he added.

In response to a question from the audience, the author said he did not see any alternative to Orbán.  Lendvai spoke very critically of the current leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP).

The book is interesting to read but at the same time cannot be considered impartial.  Of course, it is not necessary to be neutral when choosing between those who believe in the rule of law and those who do not.

Unfortunately, the book contains a number of minor factual mistakes, including the claim that Orbán was the youngest prime minister in Hungary’s history when in fact this distinction belongs to András Hegedűs, who became prime minister in 1955 at the age of 33.

Afterwards, Budapest Beacon correspondent Péter Szegő conducted a brief interview with Lendvai:

Budapest Beacon:  At the book release you spoke extraordinarily negatively about the current leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Party.  Could you imagine a democratic change given the current electoral system, the complete centralization of power and the takeover of media, in the case where the democratic side consisted of geniuses?  Not to mention Jobbik.

Paul Lendvai:  I consider the situation hopeless.  There can only be fundamental change if something happens to Viktor Orbán’s person, or some sort of explosion within Fidesz.

BB: Do you see any signs of the latter?

PL: No. I do not see this.  But pre-eminent people in the form of former Fidesz politicians and government officials – like Attila Chikán, Tamás Mellár or József Ángyán – have openly stood up, and within the party a number exercise their ius murmurandi (right to murmur-ed.).  So there are tensions, but I do not believe an explosion or rupture will follow that endangers Viktor Orbán’s power.  It would be irresponsible to suggest this.

BB:  The autocratic Slovak prime minister Vladimír Mečiar lost in 1998.  Doesn’t this offer hope?

PL: Vladimír Mečiar never had so much power as Viktor Orbán.  With the exception of Vladimir Putin, nobody has as much power in eastern and central Europe as Viktor Orbán.

BB: Do you think it possible that Hungary will be kicked out of the European Union or even leave on its own?

PL: I would not rule out Hungary leaving if Viktor Orbán sees opportunity in this, but I can only imagine this taking place after the end of fiscal transfers after 2020.  So long as German, Austrian and French taxpayers supply five percent of Hungary’s national income, it would be insanity to leave the EU.  I think it completely unlikely that Hungary will be excluded from the EU.  That would only happen if Viktor Orbán followed the politics of Vladimir Putin or Slobodan Milošević.  A large number of red lines must be crossed for this to happen.