Pro-government propaganda outlet Origo.hu reports that the Hungarian government will produce another national consultation — this time on the “Soros Plan.” Experts we spoke to offered us a very grim forecast for the upcoming several months. This may be the most intense national consultation campaign yet.
Orbán wants a national consultation
The decision for the national consultation was reportedly announced by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during Fidesz’s parliamentary group’s autumn summit in Velence, Hungary. According to Origo, Orbán said the following:
- The economy is growing, wages are on the rise, and family subsidies are increasing.
- The opposition is not in control of itself, but is actually controlled by outside forces.
- The European Court of Justice’s recent ruling on EU refugee resettlement quotas opened the door for the “Soros Plan,” which Brussels will now try to force on Hungary.
But, Orbán argued, all this can be stopped at the upcoming national election if Fidesz emerges victorious. A Fidesz victory would mean Brussels will not be able to defeat Hungary and the “Soros Plan” will fail. According to Orbán, Brussels wants to quickly adopt a new immigration mechanism, which is why Hungary needs this latest national consultation.
Shortly after the first day of the party summit drew to a close, outgoing Fidesz parliamentary group leader Lajos Kósa held a press conference to announce “it is imperative that we propose launching a national consultation on the Soros Plan.”
The “Soros Plan”
George Soros is Orbán’s eternal bogeyman. Over the years, Orbán has used the retired businessman and philanthropist’s name to shrug off criticism on everything ranging from Hungary’s lack of rule of law to the government’s response to the refugee crisis.
The “Soros Plan” can be understood to mean anything that poses an existential threat to Orbán’s political power and, by extension, the very fate of the Hungarian nation.
In this particular context, the “Soros Plan” relates to Orbán’s mantra about Soros’ plan to bring millions of Muslim terrorists into Europe to destroy nation states and trample Europe’s Christian tradition. By attempting to alleviate the strain put on certain EU Member States from the influx of asylum-seekers, the European Commission, or “Brussels”, has made itself a de facto co-conspirator in the Soros Plan.
Goran Buldioski, director of the Open Society Initiatives for Europe, says Orbán’s mantra is about distracting Hungarians from pressing domestic challenges.
“The campaign against George Soros and the Open Society Foundations is an attempt to distract from pressing domestic challenges like failed delivery of basic health-care services, difficulties in education, under-development in rural areas,” Buldioski says.
Attila Juhász, the deputy director of Political Capital, a Budapest think-tank and consultancy, tells the Beacon the national consultation will help Fidesz achieve multiple goals at once:
- Creating an enemy: By creating a common enemy and a shared fear, Fidesz pulls together and mobilizes its base. We can count on Fidesz instigating more fear this time around than we saw in any previous national consultation.
- Thematization: The national consultation is a strong tool for thematization. Since 2015, Fidesz has learned that thematizing the issue migration is beneficial for them. This saved Fidesz from its deep slump in the polls in 2015. For this reason, Fidesz wants the upcoming national election campaign to focus primarily on the issue of migration.
- Direct marketing: The national consultation not only allows Fidesz to thematize public discourse, it also provides the party a way to insert its message into the minds of voters by sending direct mail marketing to every Hungarian household.
- Updating the database: Fidesz can update its database of supporters based on the responses it receives through the national consultation questionnaires.
- Campaigning on public funds: The national consultation effectively allows Fidesz to campaign on public funds.
- Invisible opposition: The national consultation serves to project support for the government, while completely sidelining opposition to the government’s position (because those who disagree with the government will not respond to the national consultation letter).
- Lack of transparency: Only the government knows the details of the national consultation. Only the government knows how many questionnaires are returned and how they are answered. There is no other way to verify this information.
Media domination of epic proportions
Another important factor to consider in assessing the announcement of a national consultation (just preceding a national election) is the extent to which Fidesz has continued to widen and entrench its control over the Hungarian media sector in recent years.
Gábor Polyák, a lawyer and head of the Mérték Média Műhely, a Hungarian media analysis and advocacy group, offered the Beacon a grim outlook for how this latest national consultation will play out in the media:
- Creating a virtual reality: “There is a perverse genius to dominating public discourse until the election with something that simply does not exist. Fidesz has every tool at its disposal to build a virtual reality.”
- Media blitzkrieg: “Several recent studies have shown how the Fidesz media machine operates in concert. Fake news in Hungary spreads wittingly from one Fidesz-controlled outlet to the next. This web – which includes outlets with a strong reach such as tabloids (Lokál and Ripost), online news portals (Origo), print newspapers in the countryside, nationwide commercial television stations (TV2), and popular music radio stations (Rádió 1) – reaches every single target audience. Also factor into the equation the country’s state-run media. When these media organizations operate in concert, the effect of their message is incredibly powerful.”
- Discrediting independent media: “An important element of this type of political communication is the labelling of what little remains of Hungary’s independent media. From this perspective, these outlets (444, Átlátszó, Direkt36, even Magyar Narancs) will be labelled as ‘Soros hirelings’, and others will be labelled as ‘Simicska media’. Labelling these outlets is important because it will justify not having to address the assertions or criticisms they publish. It will be enough to say, “We know who they are. They’re not worth dealing with’.”
- Billboard advertisements: “The new billboard law ensures that this campaign will be much more expensive. The government will advertise for list prices, which means financial support for companies close to the government and foreign-owned businesses.”
- Using the results this blitzkrieg creates to define the upcoming election: “It is important to emphasize that the national consultation has nothing to do with consultation or dialogue. It is a list of loaded questions – gathered and assessed in the most non-transparent way possible – which are then used for party politics. There are no binding legal consequences for a national consultation and it is not democratic. At the end of the process, the government throws out a number they claim represents support levels for their position to the virtual reality they have constructed. They will use this campaign to justify making this issue the central theme of the national election.”
According to Polyák: “The opposition must immediately come to its senses and start using Facebook – at least – to start defining new themes. They should not allow for the thematization of a ‘Soros Plan’ to completely sideline public discourse of real issues.”