Notes from Fideszland

2013. február 6. 12:55

In 2010, Fideszland was born. At that time I began a piece on the topic, and I have continued to write it ever since. Consider the following short paragraphs as if they were Post-Its clinging to an unfinished article covering an ongoing story about a never-ending topic: the status of the Hungarian Right.

"Shall we run away? We have nowhere to go. We will not find Hungary anywhere else... Our noble freedom under the sky is nowhere to be found but in Pannonia." Miklós Zrínyi, Hungarian earl, 17th century army commander and poet


Westerners and Easterners

We may also refer to the Labanc and Kuruc. Or, the Atlanticists and Post-Kadarists. These are the various groupings of today's Right in Hungary. We ourselves, the members of this blogging community and affiliated circles, are Western-minded people who share the values of the Right: classical liberals, conservatives or both at the same time. We have stood for these values for more than a decade and our circles have formed and grown organically through the years. We would like to become respected citizens one day, and the word "plebeian" makes us shiver. We believe in freedom, in tradition, in diversity of opinion, in community. Because we stick to these values, we are predictable, unlike those who change their worldviews based on the latest opinion polls. We believe neither in playing hardball, confrontational politics against the rest of the world, nor in the ideological explanations of the approach to the East. We find it particularly regrettable that all these fissures exist even among the moderate Right in Hungary. It is discomfiting that some opinion leaders of the mainstream Hungarian Right try to sell leftist politics (with a measure of nationalist syrup) to voters. And the failure to face down post-communism (post-Kádárism) and its political Twilight Zone is a mortal danger for a Right that has repeatedly insisted that the country’s communist past is truly behind it.

Forever 1998

For many of us, the political awakening came around the years of the millennium. Those were good years, and not just because we were all 10 years younger. We dreamed of a free and thriving Hungary, of a united Europe, of a West with which we planned to catch up in 20 years (just as we do now). In 1998, a smart, bold yuppie named Viktor Orbán defeated the old proletarian, Socialist Gyula Horn in the elections. His was a different dress code, a different style of communication, a different worldview. Orbán presented a different choice: a civic, bourgeois Hungary, or at least the promise of it. We are still waiting for that promise’s fulfilment, even as our dreams about the free and thriving Hungary have faded. And our expectations about that era's Fidesz were too high. Could the Fidesz of today, shouldering the responsibilities of majority leadership, ever possibly live up to our idealistic dreams?

Forever 1992

For a great many, the clock somehow stopped around 1992, in the era of József Antall's conservative "kamikaze" government. That government fought the good fight against the post-communist economic and government network, and their liberal-mainstream allies. Those on the Right whose clock stopped still do not believe that the Right has won, and with a two-thirds majority. They still dig trenches. They still think that every little criticism is tantamount to hostile sabotage. They view the Right as a fortress besieged by a preponderant enemy force. It seems they never ask themselves or others what is the Right and what is right. This bunker mentality is of no use, in 2012, for a Right that enjoyed resounding victory in 2010. Now it is time for a deep breath and a fresh look, a time for building up the Right.

Fidesz

The Fidesz party is a machine. A factory. A big company. A professional party. The 2010 elections, swept Fidesz into leadership in parliament, regional governments, and the vast majority of major local governments. This was a historic event, and one we’re unlikely to see again. No other party in the post-war history of European democracy achieved such success. But success came with costs. In the last 22 years, and especially in the last decade, Fidesz assimilated into Hungarian society. Fidesz is neither better nor worse than the citizenry it represents. The average Fidesz voter is the average Hungarian. This is the party of the plebeians, and not of the citizens. Fidesz, once made up of the young intellectual avant-garde, has turned out to be a center-right people's party. Quantity became more important than quality. Although the leaders of Fidesz understand what is going on (whether they always admit it to voters is another question), the second, third and fourth lines of Fidesz, the army of "mamluks," are as flawed as they are diverse. Their only consistent merit is their loyalty to the party. Fidesz is now everywhere. Its politicians occupy all the seats. Fidesz is trying to reshape the country, but the country has already reshaped Fidesz, which routinely calls itself a party of the Right. Conservative? That's no longer the right term for Fidesz.

Jobbik

It is a sign of crisis. A danger. But somehow, it is still a playground. Jobbik is at once a blessing and a curse for Fidesz. They are rank amateurs compared to Fidesz leaders. Yet the latter pay too much attention to Jobbik and to radical voters. Fidesz should simply focus its game on the politics of moderation. The genie is out of the bottle. Helmut Kohl’s warning -- in which, while accompanying Orbán on the 2002 re-election campaign trail, he allegedly told the prime minister to mind his right flank -- has lost its significance. No, the moderate Right should not court radicals. Jobbik is a network of subcultures. It looks like it’s on the rise, but in fact it is treading water, and precisely where it was two years ago. This is what youthful subcultures look like. They rise and fall at the whim of fashion. Back in 2006, they were nowhere. When things settle and society finds its way out of crisis, they will sink again. If they stay in the parliament, no problem. The Hungarian state should keep its friends close and its enemies closer. Right-wing radicalism has deep, stubborn roots in Hungary. May the radicals rally in a single organization, thereby freeing up more space for moderate politics. But Jobbik should never be given the keys to power.

Viktor Orbán

The Hungarian Right would be nowhere without Viktor Orbán. Viktor Orbán would be nowhere without the Hungarian Right. Orbán is an epoch-making statesman, one whose influence extends to all of Hungarian political life, and who eats his rivals for breakfast. An unpredictable, quick-witted country boy, Orbán stands ever ready to take on any challenger. Orbán is the motor of the dénouement of the Hungarian Right. He is also the obstacle of the dénoument of the Hungarian Right. He could lead the Right in any direction. Few are able to understand his current direction. But we’re getting used to the fact that Viktor Orbán remains a mystery – one this nation has been trying to solve for 23 years. Maybe one day he will write his memoirs, and we will come to understand who he really is and what he really thought during his decades in politics. Or not. Now the country belongs to him. He leads it where he wants.

Democracy Plus

The Hungarian Right, led by Fidesz and its allies, succeeded in organizing itself over the past decade. Economic, media and grassroots networks are in place. In this sense, the Hungarian Right added something to the formation of a real democracy, in which more than just a single political, economic and cultural network shapes public life. After decades of suppression and ten years of challenging circumstances, the Right began to evolve. The re-balancing of power among political groups has equilibrated democracy itself. Analysts envisioned the formation of a stable two-party system in Hungary, but they miscalculated. The two-party system teetered near collapse in 2010 when Fidesz, after eight years of building its party organization and social and economic networks both formal and informal, rose to dominance. Meanwhile, the old Left, in the form of the Socialist party, crumbled and two new parties emerged and entered parliament, one a radical, right-wing group and the other a green-liberal party.

Democracy Minus

In 2010, Fidesz wielded its burgeoning power with great effect, overwhelming the left-liberal coalition and winning a two-thirds parliamentary majority - and with it all the bastions of power. The book of a certain Niccoló from the city of Florence served as a sort of handbook. In the broadest terms, the approach was simple: the politics of power, the purchase of control, and then the jostling of the chess pieces. Sometimes the wrong people acquired power, and their judgement reflected as much. Hasty or ad-hoc decisions marked the politics of the new government. Their unpreparedness sapped governmental performance. Too often, commercial interests were too cozy with government. The rapid constitutional changes, the dearth of dialogue and debates has weakened public trust and belief in democracy. Pompous manifestos cannot compensate for this.

Missing the Chance for a Middle Course

Before the 2010 elections, one of Orbán’s main theses was that consolidated power can be a good thing. He clearly saw that he would govern as the head of a conservative government between the weakened left-liberal forces and a strengthened radical right-wing party. The 2010 elections offered a chance for a middle ground in politics. The simple and effective politics of temperance – and not simply making peace with those from the previous government – would carry the day. The government should have followed the aurea mediocritas, the golden middle, with humble gestures to the public and avoiding Kulturkampf. But under the pressures of crisis and unresolved social and economic problems, unnecessary conflicts emerged – often, with the government to blame. The unfortunate timing of the new media law, the complete overhaul of the Hungarian pension system and other rapid, large-scale lawmaking without sufficient discussions mostly hurt the Hungarian Right. After two years of hectic reforms, consolidation is on the agenda. We’ll see what will come of the promises.

Etatism

I don't share the Animal Farm ideology of "state bad, market good" views, but I don't like the opposite, either. As a native Hungarian, maybe it is in my genes to distrust anything too close to the state. We are waiting for the government to introduce its vision of "good governance" in practice. The government has centralized authority at the expense of regional and local leadership, and it does not particularly trust nongovernmental organizations. This is hardly a shining example of subsidiarity. It would be better if the government would leave us to our everyday lives, opening up pasture for individual and community initiatives and private enterprises. Instead, the philosophy of the Orbán government seems to hinge on an even stronger state, and we should expect that to manifest until the Orbán government ends.

Unorthodoxy

The economic policy of the Orbán government is a huge and bizarre experiment. Its authors, using epic phraseology, describe it as a future wonder. But the hair-raising, unpredictable economic policies of the past two years have yielded no breakthroughs for the Hungarian economy, according to the latest data. Meanwhile, other countries in the region have emerged from crisis on the wings of orthodox economic solutions (some, such as Poland, never fell into crisis in the first place). Unorthodox economic policy, ad-hoc decisions and short-term tax hikes have done nothing for consumer confidence or business investment. Unemployment rates have refused to budge; the sovereign debt remains a concern. To understand this, one need only listen to the opinions of economists linked to the Right, and I don't mean econo-magicians who mix Marxist theories with nationalism and philosophy straight out of The Matrix.

The Danger of Introspection

In the 1990s, it was Sándor Márai. In the first decade of the new century, Albert Wass. And now, it’s József Nyirő. The range of writers the mainstream Right placed upon the cultural pedestal shows the sort of dangerous introspection threatening the Right even as it enjoys its most successful era since the transition of 1989. Let us admit: the cultural world of the mainstream Hungarian Right is narrow, and its cultural performance and output is scant. Fidesz has always been a political machine with lawyers and economists as cogs. It remains culturally immature. Cultural policy languishes among the government’s lowest priorities. Although there are reassuring individual and community-based efforts, a Kunó Klebersberg (a government politician in the Horthy era with progressive ideas in the fields of culture and education) is missing -- that is, someone who could lend ideas and structure to conservative cultural policies for a postmodern world.

Reconciliation with Diversity

Mighty is the contrast between the roiling mix of ideologies of the existing Hungarian Right and the strict, martial inner order of its political party. The traditions of the Right fell into disrepair after 1944-1945. After 1989, an ideological chaos pervaded the Right, and two decades did not suffice to rediscover its roots. There are plenty of initiatives and communities representing varying tendencies of the Right. The 13-year-history of our publishing and blogging community -- UFi, Reakció, Mandiner magazines -- the broader blog network -- Konzervatórium, Jobbklikk, Mos Maiorum -- and the Kommentár periodical comprise just one stand of trees in this jungle. But this stand exists, and its roots are set. There are many other ideological directions on the Right, and they, too, should express themselves. A plethora of new workshops, think tanks, journals and online magazines await germination. And it would be the best for everybody if these communities were as independent as possible from the Right’s formidable political organization and the extended party machine. The Right has to accept its own diversity. The Right should get to know its own current, varied, and incredibly exciting traditions, which are largely unknown to the public at large. Only then, perhaps, will shady, mediocre opinion leaders fall from grace as idols of the Right.

What Has Begun: the Future or the Past?

The world has opened up to an astonishing degree, as is evident to those who can afford to travel as well as those who do their exploring online. Today's Hungarian Right seems unaware of this, though. It’s unsure of what to make of all these young people who have grown up in the open world, who have amassed information and knowledge in new ways. In addition to the danger of undermining cultural introspection, a lack of lifestyle introspection represents another risk to the Hungarian Right. Politicians must comprehend today's world – the world based on which they formulate laws, launch strategies and introduce new programs every day. Making efficient conservative policies in this postmodern era is no easy task for decision makers. It’s not clear to me that today's political and cultural conflicts, many of which are rooted in the past, can be reconciled with the needs of future generations. The Hungarian Right has begun to not understand today's world. No wonder, then, that the world doesn't fully understand the Hungarian Right, either.

Open Up!

The Right must make huge strides to live up to the endorsement voters gave it in 2010. The mastery of power politics is no longer enough. Opening, building, seeing and understanding the world, debating, conversing and learning - all this must be done, and quickly. This is not just in the self-interest of the Right and its political allies. What if Fidesz, the only force that has proven itself to be capable of managing the country, loses in 2014? We shall not be the next Greece. We shall, rather, be the next Hellas. Still, we are best off as a peaceful, moderate country – with a peaceful, moderate Right that sometimes governs and sometimes goes to bat as the opposition. The rest of us can then be independent, autonomous citizens. Let us say with Zrínyi: we don't run anywhere, we shall have our noble freedom in Pannonia. Let us feel at home in it.

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A version of this article originally appeared in Hungarian on the blog at Mandiner.

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