This morning saw the third installment of our breakfast meetings at Visegrad/Insight, as we met to discuss the results of the Hungarian election over the weekend and what Fidesz’s commanding win might mean for the future of the country and the EU.

Responding to the basic question of what happened, three main reasons for Orbán’s victory were highlighted:

  • The Anti-immigration Campaign
  • The Illiberal State
  • Election Laws

First, it was pointed out that Orbán’s anti-immigrant campaign began before any migrant had arrived in Hungary. He saw this as an issue which could both galvanise the population as well as be a useful tool to steer the European narrative. (More on this below)

Second, Hungary had never been an oligarchy, but over the past 8 – 10 years, he has transformed the country into a corrupt semi-authoritarian state. Orbán builds up oligarchs so that he can control them, and the Hungarians who are the most influential today owe their fortune and power to Orbán’s concentration of authority.

Third, the change to the electoral system had already guaranteed that Fidesz was going to remain in power, but these laws are only indicative of the larger systematic control which Orbán holds over the country.

Succinctly, Orbán often changes the laws to consistently reaffirm his dominance in the political and governing spheres which means Hungary is no longer a country with rule of law, but a country ruled by law, an important distinction.

Orbán’s European policy is not foreign policy

He needs the power to change the status quo, and even when Orbán has been a member of the opposition, he has still been one of, if not “the”, principle player in forming the agenda of Hungary.

How has he accomplished this? He is a skilled politician and knows how to frame a debate. In the context of the EU, it was argued that Orbán was the one who has shifted the potential future of Europe through his (false) dichotomy that the EU should be a union of nations, not a federation.

A picture is then painted that those wishing a closer integration of the countries within the EU are in fact trying to strip away sovereignty from the nations themselves.

It is through this narrative that Orbán is able to convince his compatriots that while maintaining a supermajority in parliament, he is still a member of the opposition. Essentially, Orbán presents himself as a resistance fighter against the existential enemies in Brussels, against those politicians who want to destroy the unique nature of traditional nations in favour of a “United States of Europe.”

Setting aside some of the more obvious fallacies and pitfalls associated with his stance, one must give Orbán credit as he is the only leader giving a cohesive vision of the future, and when those in Brussels respond to his accusations, they are automatically on the defensive which was pointed out to be a losing position from the get-go.

What is needed is a viable alternative for the future of Europe, and this could come in many forms, but until it does, Orbán will, in one way or another, be wielding more power than his station should allow.

Social policies and the domestic population

It was suggested that few domestic changes could be expected. However, an interesting point was mentioned regarding the issue of abortion.

In stark contrast to Poland, Hungary considers access to reproductive choice to be a mostly settled issue. However, when the constitution was changed in 2012, Fidesz included a definition that life began at conception, which means the abortion law runs at odds with the constitution.

Many thought that it will only be a matter of time before Orbán picks up the issue and challenges the status quo.

This is important as women’s role in Hungarian society, especially in the political sphere, is largely subservient to men’s. However, it was proposed that the model of the US suffrage campaign could potentially be useful in spurring on a women’s movement in Hungary, a movement which could lead to considerable societal change.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

The last point regarding the dismal state of media surprised many at the meeting. It has already been reported that most of the few remaining independent media sources were closing down; however, analysing the ownership structure of these entities allows for a clearer understanding of those with power in Budapest.

Lajos Simicska, a once ally of the PM, was the owner of Magyar Nemzet as well as Lánchíd Rádió both of which closed down earlier this week. Simicska had a falling out with Orban a few years ago, which is when his publications became critical of the government.

While it is lamentable that the Hungarian population will lose these voices which attempted to hold the government accountable for their policies and actions, an even more troubling theory was put forth.

It was speculated that Orbán would like to not only keep control of the state media and those run by loyal oligarchs but also to give the illusion that there are alternative sources of information for supporters of the opposition. Such media would, in the end, be under the control of one of the aforementioned oligarchs; whether or not that oligarch is outwardly loyal to Orbán would be simply a matter of window dressing.

 

Galan Dall

Report

Over the past several years, it has become ever more apparent that the post-Cold War era of democratic reform, socio-economic development and Western integration in Central Europe is coming to an end. Five scenarios for 2025 map possible futures for the region and encourage a debate on the strategic directions.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Download the report in PDF