For years Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been able to control his Fidesz party with an iron fist. Sharp exchanges remained within the walls of Fidesz offices while the leadership always showed a unified front to the public. His recent attack on the George Soros-backed Central European University (CEU), and the Lex CEU law which was approved by the Hungarian Parliament, changed everything. Conflicts have started to surface within Fidesz.
Tibor Navracsics has publicly broken with Orbán. Navracsics is a powerful Fidesz delegate to Brussels and the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. The 50-year old ethnic Croat, who speaks Serbo-Croatian, has declared that the “Central European University is one of the most important higher education institutions not only in Hungary, but also in the European higher education system.” He added: “therefore, I think it’s important that after the correction of possible irregularities, it can continue to operate in Budapest undisturbed.”
Boris Kalnoky, a German journalist in Budapest writes about the cracks within Fidesz leadership in the Austrian Presse. Gergely Gulyás and Zoltán Balog opposed the attack on CEU but they were overruled by Orbán loyalists. (Read here in German.)
Gergely Gulyás is only 35, a political wunderkind, a jurist, and one of the four vice-presidents of Fidesz. It seems that he understands that 53-year-old Orbán’s time is up, and he doesn’t want to tie his political fortune to the “Boss,” as they call Orbán within his party.
Zoltán Balog is 59, a Calvinist Pastor and an influential minister in Orbán’s cabinet. He maintains good relations with the right-wing Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria and last year received the prestigious Rainer Hildebrandt Medal in Germany. Balog is known to have dissenting opinions within Fidesz.
In contrast Orbán has close allies like MP Péter Harrach, a politician from the small Christian Democratic Party (KDNP) who supports the attack on CEU and has said that “an international crowd demonstrated for a university that serves international goals. It has become obvious that [CEU] is part of an ideological and political struggle and that it is the officer training school of an army that fights a hard fight in Hungarian society.”
Orbán has lost virtually all support in North America. In private Hungarian diplomats say that the regime “has peaked” and things can unravel rapidly in Budapest. Orbán’s most visible loss is the support of George Pataki, the Hungarian-American former Governor of New York who supports CEU. (Read more about George Pataki here.)
Orbán also has to worry about Senator John McCain, who thinks that Orbán is a “neo-Fascist dictator.” McCain is concerned about the situation in Ukraine and suspicious of Orbán’s friendship with Putin. Hungary does not seem to be a reliable NATO partner. (Read more about McCain-Orbán relationship here.)
Ironically, the Hungarian government-funded The Hungarian Initiatives Foundation gave $150k to the Arizona-based McCain Institute, yet its leader, Amb. Kurt Volker, the former US NATO envoy, did not come out in support of Orbán. While relations are still polite and cordial on the surface, the political establishment in the US, Republicans and Democrats alike, agree that the US would be better off with a Hungary without Orbán.
If Orbán wishes to stay in power, he may need a deep purge soon within his own party.