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Orban and His Strategy: The Rhetoric and Politics of the “Dark Side”

A contradictory feature of Hungarian politics lies in the fact that despite a significant proportion of the population being in a state of political apathy and disinterest in public affairs, society is nonetheless highly politicized. Polarizing strategies aimed at demonizing and delegitimizing political opponents, initiated and utilized mostly by the right and foremost by Orban and his party, have set the tone in political debates for over a decade. As Krasztev (2015) shows, private political preferences were transformed to identity issues, widely represented by a variety of commonly displayed symbols of self-definition against those with different political views. As a consequence, families, friendly circles and communities at work were split because of this sophisticated power trick (see also Rupnik 2012).

Thus, a defining feature of the NSC is, as political analyst and former FIDESZ MP Peter Tolgyessy argues, not to form and change society and culture (as Adenauer or Thatcher did), but rather to preserve the dark side of Hungarians’ values and orientation such as populism and pessimism, and to blame conspiracy theories and hostile foreign interests for all of the nation’s problems. (Lambert 2015; Jarabik 2015, p. 319). Hegedus (2014) demonstrates the irreconcilable polarization of Hungarian political life and culture through the example of Orban’s strategy for maintaining influence after losing the 2002 election. After this loss, Orban initiated a political discourse centered on the phrase “the nation cannot be in opposition,” and in doing so he relativized the outcome of the democratic elections. His expropriation of the phenomenon of the “nation” established a political environment that excluded any further compromise or cooperation with the governing socialists and liberals, even in important strategic issues. This contributed to the development of Orban’s personal and political charisma but it also created a political cold war, and after 2008 a permanent crisis of governance (p. 4). According to Rupnik (2012), Orban actively deepened political and cultural divides and transformed transitology to traumatology by not only breaking with the communist past, but also reconnecting with pre-communism by reopening old divides between “urbanists and populists.” He positions Western liberal democracy as counter to the rural lifestyle, which he poses as the source of true national values and authentic democracy.

The Rhetoric of Finishing the Political Transition Suspended in 1990 Although it was never part ofthe 2010 electoral campaign, the cornerstone of the rhetoric of the NSC is that the new constitution finally finishes the political transition and completes the de-communization process that was suspended in 1990 (Sarlo and Otarashvili 2013). In Jenne and Mudde’s (2012) words, Fidesz have argued that their proposed transformations represent the realization of the promises of 1989, which went unfulfilled by the communists and dissidents who signed the pacted transitions (p. 8).

Hungary certainly followed a unique path in post-communist transitions: unlike in other states, the first wave of democratization of the “pacted” or “post-sovereign” constitution making, the adoption of an interim constitution, which was designed as the first of a two-step process, was never followed by the adoption of a final constitution sometime after the first democratic elections (Halmai 2013, p. 75). The constitution, to be replaced by the 2011 Fundamental Law, consisted of a vast amendment (involving over 100 provisions) of the communist constitution, originally adopted in 1949 and passed by the communist legislature in 1989 following peaceful negotiations between the representatives of the authoritarian regime and their democratic opposition, in particular by its umbrella organization, the Opposition Round Table (pp. 69-70). The amendment, alongside a correction passed instantly by the first democratically elected parliament in 1990, promulgated on the 33rd anniversary of the 1956 revolution and just 2 weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall, practically created a new constitution with essentially only one provision remaining from the original Stalinist document: the provision that declared Budapest as the state capitol. The old-new document met most of the criteria liberal constitutional democracies require: a representative government, a parliamentary system, an elaborate system of checks and balances, an independent judiciary, ombuds institutions to guard fundamental rights, and probably the world’s most powerful Constitutional Court (Kovacs and Toth 2011, p. 184).

Thus, the unique feature of the Hungarian velvet revolution lies in the fact that the amended constitution was suitable for liberal democracy and a capitalist market academy and that there was no political and legal- technical (or constitutional) pressure to write a new constitution, and the constitutional moment passed. As Janos Kis (2011) points out, however, this symbolic defect had a price to pay. He claims that the very weakness of the substantially workable constitution lies in the fact that while it was democratic in nature, the 1989 amendment lacked democratic confirmation, and the unfulfilled (and substantially moot) reference in the preamble of the 1989 amendment that stated that a new constitution will be adopted after the first free elections created the impression that the new Hungarian post-communist society is still unfit for constituting a political community (p. 8). The old-new constitution, thus, could not serve as the symbolic glue for the Hungarian Republic, and subsequently, it was too weak to withstand the shocks of the political transition: the shocks of the dark-side of fundamental rights (i.e. hate speech, due process provided for even the guilty, and claims by minority communities - such as the LGBTQ community for example, which is seen as controversial by the conservative majority); shocks brought by the market economy; the shock of weak institutions, which were unable to sustain corruption; and the shock of globalization. The constitution could not stop the erosion of social solidarity, could not build trust in the political class, was incapable of combating skepticism toward market economy and democracy, could not sustain antiestablishment sentiments, and most of all, though being built to foster a constitutional partnership, could not withstand a polarizing and obstructive powerful political party. In sum, the constitution became an easy target and a useful scapegoat (p. 13).

It is noteworthy that despite the fact that Orban’s party played a crucial role in the 1989 negotiations, his rhetoric played on the lack of constitutional-making mandate of the Roundtable talks in 2010. At the end of the day, instead of completing its mission, he created a construct that builds on its negation.

The Rhetoric of Stability and Governance by the People Instead of Debates As Csillag and Szelenyi argue, “liberalism” for Orban means the excessive emphasis of individual interest over “national” interest (p. 23). In one of his most widely cited speeches, Orban envisions that in the next 15-20 years Hungary should be dominated by a single, massive right-wing political party that would rule the whole political field without “unnecessary” debates (Racz 2015). Bankuti et al. (2012, p. 145) quotes Orban in 2009, even before the victorious elections visioning a

... real chance that politics in Hungary will no longer be tied by a dualist power space ... Instead, a large governing party will emerge in the center of the political stage (that) will be able to formulate national policy, not through constant debates but through a natural representation of interests.

As Lambert (2015) argues, this also relies on the assumption that the rule of law state built in 1989 never belonged to the people. It was an elite project, manifested in the activism of the Constitutional Court, which brought only legalism instead of justice, wealth and prosperity for former communist elites, and the ordinary people were left behind and unattended. Halmai points out that his rhetoric also reinforces that there was no real transition in 1989-1990, only the communist nomenclature converting its lost political power to an economic one, which Orban exemplified by claiming that the last two Socialist prime ministers in office before his takeover in 2010 both became rich after the transition through the privatization process (p. 72).

Furthermore, Hegedus (2014, p. 8) cites Orban’s infamous speech stating that

The political and intellectual program of 1848 proclaimed: we will not be a colony! The program and the desire of Hungarians in 2012 is: we will not be a colony! Hungary could not have stood against the pressure and dictats from abroad in the winter of 2011-2012 if it were not for those hundreds of thousands of people who stood up to show everyone that Hungarians will not live as foreigners dictate, will not give up their independence or their freedom, therefore they will not give up their constitution either, which they finally managed to draft after twenty years. Thank you all!

 
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