Gellért Rajcsányi: Hungary’s Fidesz has lost its buoyancy — Can it ever recover?

Based on the results of the recent Tapolca by-election (although no longer concentrating directly on this vote), one can argue that this is yet another sign that Fidesz has lost its political buoyancy. And it’s possible that the party, in this current form and in this construction, won’t ever be able to get it back. If it searches for different avenues, if it gives itself a good shake and puts the pieces back together, then perhaps it can. Of course, a lengthy golden sunset may now follow, and for a while Fidesz’s dominance may persist. But it is also possible that in the medium-term Fidesz will exit the political stage, precisely in the same form as it once entered: as the party of a single generation.

Gellért Rajcsányi, assistant editor at Photo source: National Audio-Visual Archive / Nemzeti Audiovizuális Archívum.

Gellért Rajcsányi, assistant editor at Photo source: National Audio-Visual Archive / Nemzeti Audiovizuális Archívum. HFP’s translation of this article is based on a Hungarian-language piece that appeared on the Mandiner website.

Fidesz has lost its buoyancy, because while in the past quarter century it followed a course that was ideologically, philosophically and structurally logical, the last decade has focused on the systematic winding down of the party’s character and image, rendering it drab. Everything was sacrificed on the altar of vote maximization.

Fidesz lost its buoyancy, because it gradually marginalized and ultimately ignored its liberal, then conservative and/or liberal-conservative, and most recently simply Hungarian right-wing intellectual base. The cult of pragmatism will, sooner or later, avenge itself, because after voiding the party of any philosophical spirit, nothing remains, except for the defence of their worldly plunder. One needs to have a strong stomach to engage in only that.

In the end, even Fidesz’s last remaining message — that of a “civic Hungary”–was labeled as naive and nothing more than a political product. But it’s possible that Fidesz has underestimated the tenacity of these old ideas. Rather than the Hungarian right-wing intelligentsia and Fidesz’s core voting base losing its way, perhaps it is only Fidesz itself, as a party, that has gone astray…much to the ever increasing head-scratching of committed right-wingers. The “new Fideszers” are encircling Viktor Orbán in growing numbers, and they are proudly neutral when it comes to ideology and values…much to the irritation of the grassroots.

Fidesz has lots its buoyancy, because by 2010 – but at the very latest, in 2014 – Orbán’s quarter century battle with “the communists” and the post-communist establishment came to an end–and with Mr. Orbán’s total victory. The remnants of the Great Enemy are running in circles trying to screw with him, while Fidesz controls everything on every level of Hungarian statehood, and in every branch of power. And then we haven’t even made mention of Fidesz’s political/economic connections. If the enemy is defeated, especially over an extended period of time, an important political catalyst is lost. And the only way to replace it is to come up with increasingly narrow-minded and incredible images of imagined enemies. But voters tends to get bored with virtual battles. Fidesz will fight anyone and everyone it encounters, until it forgets how to live in peace in its own country…and soon even forgets to live in peace with itself.

Fidesz has lost its buoyancy, because while it managed to remain the natural governing party in the eyes of the youth, which also allowed for succession planning, over the past 10 years it has increasingly neglected this base. They seemed to take it for granted that they will remain forever the party of youth.

Since 2006, Jobbik and — to a lesser extent — Politics Can Be Different (LMP) began to suck away the politically engaged youth from Fidesz. At the moment, LMP seems to have more-or-less fallen out of this race, while Jobbik has become the number one party for young Hungarians, according to the most recent polls. And smallish movements of radical left and liberal activists have also appeared on the scene, and they too are deeply critical of Fidesz. Thus far, these groups have been unable to develop into a broader movement, but seeing other countries on the periphery of Europe, plagued by acute crises, one cannot assume that there may never come a breakthrough for the new left. It’s hard to tell how Fidesz might be able to win back the youth vote.

Fidesz lost its buoyancy, because its political messages are increasingly aimed at lower middle-class rural voters, and even there, geared towards the older generations. This political base, this hardcore centre, is ageing alongside Fidesz. Their situation has not improved much, even as the years pass. In the sixth year of the Regime of National Cooperation (NER – Nemzeti Együttműködési Rendszer), one cannot keep referring to the “past eight years” of left-centre government, between 2002 and 2010. Fidesz’s most critical target audience is constantly weighing the messages of the moderate right, vs. the radical right. And in the last year, the dam that barely divided the two seems to have ruptured. In many areas, Fidesz had much the same to say as Jobbik, only in a more understated manner and, according to some, with less credibility. If that’s the case, then one might as well vote for the “real thing.”

Fidesz has lost its buoyancy, because Mr. Orbán has become tired. Twenty-five years on the frontline of politics, the rollercoaster of victories and defeats, is a staggering achievement. This is a career that could wear down the toughest, most persistent personalities. It is clear that Mr. Orbán increasingly likes to occupy himself with polishing his illiberal worldview and with soccer. Meanwhile, a growing number of tasks in everyday governance are passed on to János Lázár. Mr. Lázár has a remarkable propensity for work, and he is talented when it comes to politics. He has the training and preparation to run a growing apparatus. And he even seems to enjoy what he does. But while Mr. Orbán built up a persona that has been favoured by crowds of people over the course of two decades (and many only vote for Fidesz because of their affinity to him). Mr. Lázár’s style and his scandals does not make him popular. Even Fidesz’s grassroots supporters feel alientated. Whatever may happen in the relationship between Mr. Lázár and Mr. Orbán, it can said with some certainty that a Fidesz under Mr. Lázár would not be the same party that we have known for a good two decades.

But now I’ve really gone too far ahead in terms of predicting an uncertain future. The government is in its place. It no longer has a two thirds majority, but still retains a significant majority in parliament. Fidesz and its network controls the civil service and every level or branch of the state. This is true even if the Orbán-Simicska conflict has caused serious disturbances in some areas.

Yet inside Fidesz, something seems to be broken. Everything that I listed above together result in the obvious uncertainty and decline in popularity; the sense of having gone astray and the loss of the catalyst that keeps the right-wing afloat.

It’s quite the challenge to be born again from this state or to hit the re-start buton…if Fidesz is at all capable of this.

Gellért Rajcsányi
Translated by: Christopher Adam / HFP

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