Tusványos: where Orbán always saves the world

July 26, 2017

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the 2017 Tusványos jamboree

Hungary has not been as close as it is now to being a strong, prospering and prestigious country since [the 1920 Treaty of] Trianon,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in his speech at the 28th Bálványos Open University and Student Camp in the Romanian town of Băile Tușnad on Saturday, July 22.

Băile Tușnad (Hungarian: Tusnádfürdő), situated in the southern part of the mostly Hungarian-populated historical region of Székelyföld, is notable for two reasons. One, it is the smallest town in Romania and two, it has been the home of the week-long Bálványos Open University and Student Camp for two decades. The Open University, which was initially organized as a platform for dialogue between Hungarians and Romanians by members of the then-newborn Fidesz party and ethnic Hungarian Romanian politicians right after the political system changes of 1989, steadily grew into a youth festival and annual gathering of Hungarian right-wing, conservative intelligentsia. In the first few years the event was held in Băile Bálványos (Hungarian: Bálványosfürdő) but as the event grew in size and participants, organizers resettled it to neighboring Băile Tușnad (Tusnádfürdő). Combining the Hungarian names of the two towns, Tusványos – the more casual name for the festival – was born.

Tusványos has grown into an institution over the years and while the tone and actual themes of the gathering have gradually changed, there has been one steady point in Băile Tușnad – Viktor Orbán’s participation. The current Prime Minister has visited – except for one occasion – all Open Universities since 1990. As Fidesz slowly transformed from a libertarian youth party into a nationalist conservative one, Tusványos became an important vehicle for him to appeal to Hungarians in Romania and to deliver the themes of Fidesz’s agenda to the domestic audience.

This year, Orbán’s speech was essentially a prelude to the impending campaign for next spring’s general election. Instead of addressing new topics for the year, Orbán emphasized the Fidesz government’s (and his own) importance to the fate of Hungary, and repeated the party’s currently fashionable political tropes – namely George Soros’s alleged wrongdoings against Hungary, the threat of a left-wing government that would serve “alien, global interests”, and the bashing of the European Union.

Orbán’s tendency to portray himself as a global player continued this year with statements like:

  • The big question of the 2018 general election is whether Soros and Brussels can weaken the Visegrád Four (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) by removing the engine of cooperation (him)
  • The Fidesz government is the sole guarantee for the survival of European culture
  • Orbán personally took money away from evil multinational corporations and gave it to Hungarian families
  • Hungary defended all of Europe against the “migrant invasion” and the EU owes Hungary some HUF 250 billion (USD 953.25 million) in exchange for this

To a preselected question – why does the government not strike down harder on “Soros hirelings”? – Orbán answered with his prankish smile, saying enigmatically “we still can.”

There are some topics that have been integral parts of Orbán’s speeches for years, but were absent from this year’s revelations, such as the failed policy of the so-called “Eastern Opening”, a policy of flirting with authoritarian Asian countries rich in natural resources that has failed to produce any tangible economic benefits or contribute to the fight against public debt. Orbán also avoided speaking about declining Hungarian public health-care and the education system.

This year’s Tusványos did, however, produce some highly controversial statements from lecturers such as Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog, who said that “neither Hungarian communities nor the Hungarian government have decided whether Hungarian-speaking gypsies living outside Hungary’s borders are a burden or an asset.” Or Fidesz communications director Balázs Hidvéghi’s boast that the government’s negative campaign is working so they will carry on conducting it into campaign season. The government’s war-rhetoric and negative propaganda is in fact so successful that some members of Orbán’s Tusványos audience assaulted a female counter-protester on-camera to the approval of onlookers.

The habit of Orbán presenting his domestic and world politics visions on the last day of Tusványos began after Fidesz fell out of power in 2002, and became a mainstay of the event after the party regained power in 2010. Here we will attempt to evoke Orbán’s most controversial and important Tusványos revelations from the last 15 years.

The left-wing ambushes their own nation whenever they can”

In 2005, after three bitter years in opposition, Orbán provided an upbeat prelude to the 2006 general elections by likening the then-governing Socialist (MSZP) and Free Democrat (SZDSZ) coalition’s governance to the historical crimes of Hungary’s socialist left, from Béla Kun’s 133-day Hungarian Soviet Republic, to the brutal Stalinist dictatorship of Mátyás Rákosi, to those who smashed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

“The left-wing ambushes their own nation whenever they can, and the present Hungarian left … does the same,” Orbán said in response to the governing coalition’s decision to campaign against Fidesz’s initiative to provide Hungarian citizenship – along with the right to vote – to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries.

“Good morning, Hungary!”

2006 brought the second lost election in a row to Fidesz. After the initial shock, Orbán jumped back into the saddle and announced a national signature collection campaign at Tusványos in protest against the austerity measures of the government and the lack of transparency regarding the country’s real economic situation, something that according to Orbán led to Fidesz’s defeat in the elections.

The campaign called “Good morning, Hungary!” was the first in a series of anti-government voter mobilizations that later became a permanent Fidesz strategy that kept on until 2010 when Fidesz finally returned to power.

“One only has to win an election once, but then they have to win for good”

In his 2007 Tusványos speech, Orbán foreshadowed the Fidesz-style exercise of power it was to adopt after its landslide victory in 2010. He said that once the alliance of Fidesz and KDNP has a serious majority in the Parliament, the time for big changes in national policy will come.

“This requires a national catharsis, there is no way for corrections, goldplating … the civic alliance must have an overwhelming victory in the next elections.”

The 2007 Tusványos also marked the first occasion Orbán engaged in ideological reasoning not just about Hungary, but Europe as well. Orbán stated that up to that point, European politics were determined by ideas stemming from the protests of 1968, and that even conservative parties included elements of these ideas into their programs. However, he said, there was an ongoing change as Europe began to find out that the movements of 1968 wanted to liberate the individual by tearing them out of the community, but this is a not a good direction. According to Orbán, the community must have an ever-increasing role with emphasis put on community thinking.

Orbán likened he and his party’s policies to those of then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Labeling the directing “new conservative” – which includes being “national, democratic, pro-competition and social” – everything the Hungarian left is not, according to Orbán. He promised that Fidesz would create an alliance between the middle-class and the poor, and underlined the necessity of protecting the Hungarian market from authoritarian capitalist systems such as those of China and Russia (all darkly ironic statements in retrospect).

The crisis of western capitalism

Orbán brought up the recurrent Fidesz trope of the “declining West” for the first time in his 2010 Tusványos speech. With a historical landslide victory under his belt that same year, Prime Minister Orbán spoke verbosely about the crisis of western capitalism and the effects of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Orbán also spoke of a restructuring in world politics in which countries that stuck to their values would rise up, citing India and China as positive examples. Orbán – who for long had been vehemently anti-communist and anti-Russian – also said that East-Central-European countries, while taking into account their own interests, must find a common voice with Russia.

Work-based society for everyone!

“Instead of welfare states, Europe will need work-based societies,” Orbán declared in his 2011 speech, providing an ideological framework for his government’s punitive social policies in the future, based primarily on the financial deprivation of the social sector and the channeling of unemployed people into underpaid public work.

“In the now-ending era, many believe that economic growth and consumption can be increased to an unlimited extent. As a result of this, economic competition has turned into a competition of consumption. (…) Western countries are on an unsustainable growth track now, the young generation’s future has already been mortgaged while value-creating work has been devalued,” the Prime Minister said, and laid out his vision of Central-Europe as the center of a forming new economic era.

National big business

Orbán’s 2013 speech was dominated by economic themes. He stated that after the political system change of 1989 Hungary was struck by multiple “money pumps” – for example the profit of banks, the artificially high central bank base interest rate, or the construction of foreign currency loans. Orbán declared that the new constitution – which entered into force in 2012 without previous national consultation or any coordination with the opposition parties – was not a liberal but a national constitution which provided the framework for national economy policy and kept rights and obligations in balance.

He underlined the importance of Hungarian companies and announced with satisfaction that “the network of big Hungarian companies required for international competitiveness is slowly building,” citing the Hungarian Oil and Gas Company (MOL), the property developer TriGranit (owned by billionaire Sándor Demján), the pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Richter, and even oligarch and long-time Fidesz treasurer Lajos Simicska’s construction firm Közgép, as flagships of this network.

Orbán also proudly announced that thanks to the Hungarian economy’s soaring performance since 2010, Hungary was able to pay back its International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, and that he had already ordered Minister for National Economy Mihály Varga to initiate the early repayment process.

“We will pay the IMF back the total amount, thus we will stand pure before the Lord,” the Prime Minister said after a year-long war of words with the IMF.

Dreaming of an illiberal democracy

Regardless of Orbán’s intentions his speeches rarely raised significant interest beyond the dedicated circle of his own followers. But his 2014 speech put both him and Băile Tușnad on the map for good. The crux of his speech was that Western democracies are (still) declining, and therefore Hungary most seek good examples in countries that are “not western, not liberal, maybe not even democracies, yet they are still successful.” The Prime Minister cited Singapore, China, India, Russia and Turkey as the “stars of today.”

Orbán said that “what all this exactly means, honorable ladies and gentlemen, is that we have to abandon liberal methods and principles of organizing a society, as well as the liberal way of looking at the world.”

Both domestic and international reactions to Orbán’s speech were harsh, pointing out the highly authoritarian and oppressive nature of the “star” states whose examples Orbán was willing to follow. His statements also put the traditionally Atlanticist Hungarian foreign affairs apparatus – which was equally shocked by Orbán’s sudden change in foreign affairs orientation – into a very uncomfortable situation as diplomats in the subsequent weeks constantly had to prove to Western partners that Orbán was not willing to turn Hungary into Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Orbán also advanced a theme that was to become a party mantra in coming years, saying of Hungarian NGOs that “if we look at civil organizations in Hungary, the ones in the public eye, (…) then what I will see is that we have to deal with paid political activists here. And these political activists are, moreover, political activists paid by foreigners. Activists paid by definite political circles of interest. (…) It is vital, therefore, that if we would like to reorganize our nation state in place of a liberal state, then we should make it clear that these are not civilians coming against us, opposing us, but political activists attempting to promote foreign interests.”


Orbán’s 2015 speech targeted migration and the Hungarian left, which had suffered a devastating defeat in the previous year’s general election. The Prime Minister suggested strong connections between migration and unemployment, terrorism and even sexual abuse. He did so while citing mainstream European right-wing politicians like the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy or then-British Prime Minister David Cameron. Apart from raising xenophobic sentiments, Orbán also seized the opportunity to launch a full-scale attack on the Hungarian left, masterfully linking the political parties to the migration crisis.

“The Hungarian left incited against Hungarians beyond the border in 2004, now they would hug illegal migrants to their chests with arms wide open,” Orbán said.

The Prime Minister also boasted of the unsurprising results of the highly manipulative, so-called national consultation on illegal migration, performed that year. Not surprisingly, responding voters did not support illegal immigration.

“It is tough, it is unfaltering but this is the Hungarian standpoint (…) Hungarians do not want more immigrants and they will not share the European left’s ideological mayhem (…) Hungarians made a decision,” Orbán said of the results of the grossly manipulative survey on illegal immigration that was was filled out by 1 million people out of Hungary’s 9.8 million population.

Hail the Donald!

Orbán’s 45-minute speech in 2016 did not make any new additions to the old mantra of Western Europe’s decline, a bit of Brussels-bashing, emphasizing the need for protecting Hungary’s borders and conflating migration and terrorism. But to a certain degree Orbán managed to step back into the international limelight by being the first state leader to publicly endorse the then-unlikely hopeful of the American presidential election, Donald Trump.

The eventual victory of Trump that surprised and shocked people all around the globe later made supporters and even the closest aides of Orbán believe that he is indeed a visionary leader who senses changing trends in world politics before anyone else, and that the days of troublesome U.S.-Hungarian relations would be coming to an end.

The latter, however, proved to be a false hope as the Trump administration made it clear that it will not let the Hungarian government close the Central European University without a word, and Orbán is still awaiting a much hoped-for meeting with the American President.

Sources used for this article