|2018 Február 18 (Vasárnap)
||Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s political daredevil, will be judged by results
Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s political daredevil, will be judged by results
Viktor Orbán is the only politician in Hungary – no matter how much he is hated by his enemies – who has genuine popularity.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at a press conference after a working session of an EU summit Photo: GETTY
By Tibor Fischer
In 1989, as the Communist system was disintegrating, I was driving back to Budapest from a meeting in the countryside with Viktor Orbán, now the prime minister of Hungary. It was dark, and we were on a narrow road. Orbán’s driving style was to stand on the accelerator of his Lada.
Suddenly, in the middle of the road, a Russian soldier appeared, waving a lantern in the internationally recognised signal for “stop”. Hungary was still under Soviet military occupation then. Orbán didn’t stop, he tried to summon up extra weight to put on the accelerator. The soldier dived into a hedge.
“What was all that about?” I asked.
“He wanted us to buy him some vodka.” The countryside, apparently, was full of Russians wandering around begging or selling military equipment for booze. Not only did Orbán not slow down, he didn’t even think about slowing down. His attitude hasn’t changed much since then.
Now prime minister for the second time, aged 48, Orbán and his party, Fidesz, enjoy an extraordinary two-thirds majority in the parliament and have just brought in a new constitution. But he has engendered a tidal wave of condemnation from the British and, indeed, Western press in general (a recent cartoon in Le Monde associated Orbán with Le Pen). True, there is a lot of nonsense talked about in his government, but only in the same way that Britain has its own humbug: “big society”, “hug a hoodie” or “no more boom or bust”. I’m writing this not because I want to defend Orbán’s policies, but because as someone of Hungarian background I’m tired of the general ignorance and arrogance towards the country.
I understand that most people don’t know anything about Hungary’s history, culture or politics – it’s small and doesn’t matter much. But media coverage has confused matters. “Small country has election”, or “small country has new constitution” doesn’t make for a thrilling read, so there will always be a preference in the newspapers for the “rise of the far-Right” headline (the far-Right, curiously, has been rising everywhere in my lifetime without getting anywhere) or “democracy under threat”. However, despite the Fidesz leadership stating practically every day for eight years that they will have nothing to do with Jobbik, the party with far-Right elements, they are constantly being accused of cosying up to them (Fidesz, incidentally, has three Roma MPs). The far-Right is nowhere near power in Hungary and blaming Orbán for the existence of unsavoury elements in the Hungarian parliament is like blaming Cameron for the BNP MEPs.
One reason why the opposition is squawking so loudly about the end of democracy (ironic coming from former members of the Communist dictatorship) and slinging the mud so freely is that they have no other option open to them; not only do they have a negligible presence in parliament, they are making no inroads in to Orbán’s popularity. Despite nearly two years of harsh budgetary measures, Orbán and Fidesz are not only ahead in the opinion polls, they are way ahead. Orbán is the only politician in Hungary – no matter how much he is hated by his enemies – who has genuine popularity.
Certainly, Hungary has a wealth of problems, economic and social, but few are down to Orbán, who was elected in April 2010. What he has done, with characteristic vigour, is to push through an abundance of legislation without hugely caring what people think. He is openly at odds with the EU and the IMF on several, mostly financial, issues which is perhaps imprudent, but there’s nothing undemocratic about this position, nor can the EU seriously claim to have a unique genius in money matters.
While having a methodical, Germanic outlook in many ways, there’s a streak of the daredevil, the gambler in Orbán. Like a football manager with an unexpected formation or team, it’s about the results. If Orbán pulls Hungary out of its hole, he’ll be the greatest Hungarian politician for 150 years; if not, he’ll find himself back in the crowd.