The enemy within – Orbán’s trouble with his own party

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.”

Tibor Navracsics (left) with Kurt Volker – Navracsics is one of Orbán’s opponents within his own party.

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.

György Lázár


  1. I read some wishful thinking here. There have always been some in Fid who had some penchant for thinking or retained some morals or, noribile dictu, disagreed with Orbàn. Even those who naively refered to the goals and values professed by the party, all were dealt with promptly, remember Tölgyesi, Fodor, Mikola, little Màrius Martirius, Pokorni, sidetracked Àder and, the biggest of them all, Simicska. As Gàbor G.Fodor spilled it, middle class (polgàri) values and slogans were only for show.

    Notably many positions have been filled with young puppets without power base, Szijjàrto clone series, to make sure there are no newcomers.

    Orban keeps not only absolute power within the party, but the key to the coffers and has some thugs for good measure. Any palace coup also has to include Sàndor Pintèr, who is not a party stalwart, but an old fox in the security/police field.

    True, the opportunists they are, many will flip immediately, if convinced the other side is winning, but that moment is not here yet.

  2. Orbán has been mulling a Putin like “exit strategy” for years, since by now, he has built up a vast fortune for himself and his family via various straw-men, such as his village mayor, and ex-furnice man Lőrinc Mészáros, whom he helped to become, in 6 years, one of the richest man in Hungary. The Mészáros “empire” is an EU subsidies swallowing “one-arm bandit” that has been fattened up with hundreds of millions of dollars of EU funds, because the disbursements of these funds are coordinated by Orbán’s office, as are the official investigations into the misuse of EU funds. (Catch 22 ? Yes, of course.) Mészáros serves as Orbán’s private bank account, as shown by the recent payment of a 3.5 HUF billion debt on behalf of Orbán’s brother in law Imre Ökrös.

    Orbán’s exit strategy could parallel Putin’s shuffle between the Prime Ministership and the Presidency. Or he may simply “retire” into a safe-haven. Orbán-enriched Hungarian off-shore billionaire Andy Vajna and Orbán’s Swiss banker friend, and Hungary’s Ambassador Nagy István have both given Orbán plenty of financial advice on the financial route towards this exit strategy.

    Tibor Navracsics is far closer to Orbán than many think. He will do everything to enable his boss to have his cake and eat it too. He loyally followed Orbán’s most flagrant abuses of power in the past, helped hammer every single nail into the coffin of Hungary’s democracy. Lex CEU is a small drop of acid in a poisonous bucket produce by the Fidesz over the past 7 years. Hungarian democrats should not be cheering when they are shuffling the chairs on the Titanic.

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