An inside look at the Fidesz propaganda machine

This morning, a friend from Budapest sent me a digital copy of a print newspaper entitled Lokál, distributed free of charge at metro stations, train stations, public places in Hungary and also delivered to private homes. Lokál was established in 2015 by Árpád Habony, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s strategic adviser, and the print daily has a national circulation of 1.16 million copies. This morning’s cover featured a Photoshopped image of Gábor Vona, leader of the Jobbik party, wearing a traditional Saudi dress called a “thobe.” The headline reads: “Vona may be this type of Muslim.” (In Hungarian, they use a play on words and on the politician’s name: “Ilyen Muslim Vo(l)na.” The article itself, on the third page, bears the following title: “In the end, Vona will become a Muslim!”

The cover page of Lokál’s January 30th, 2018 issue.

Page 3 of Lokál’s January 30th, 2018 print edition.

Our readers will recall that last year, the pro-Fidesz media launched a coordinated campaign against Mr. Vona, spreading rumours that the Jobbik leader was a homosexual and that he engages in gay orgies. A year later, the Fidesz narrative claims that Mr. Vona converted to Islam and is now a closet Muslim. This most recent character assassination is based on a video that appeared on the conservative Mandiner website, produced several years ago, in which Mr. Vona is recorded speaking in Turkish to a group of Turkish youth. According to the video’s translation, Mr. Vona says:

“We are the nieces and nephews of Attila and our principle is the truth, we proudly resist that which is evil and we fear nobody, except for Allah.” Gergő Kereki of Mandiner understands this to mean that Mr. Vona proclaimed his faith in Allah and noted that in the video, the Jobbik leader’s Turkish audience erupted in cheers.

A Budapest-based imam, Miklós Ahmed Kovács, sees things differently. He notes that Muslims believe there is but one God, who can be referred to as Allah, or as Isten (in Hungarian), or as God in English and, of course, in many other ways. Mr. Vona simply proclaimed his faith in God and, speaking in Turkish to a Muslim audience, not surprisingly he chose to use the word Allah. For Mr. Vona to have converted to Islam, he would have had to also proclaim his faith in Mohammed, as God’s servant and prophet. Mr. Vona did no such thing.

One should not underestimate the effectiveness of this form of character assassination, which has made its way into some one million households this morning.  No opposition party today has the resources to fight this.


This morning, a disgruntled Fidesz troll spoke to journalists of the website, providing a fascinating inside look into how the ruling party has built a large network of internet trolls, whose purpose is to spread misinformation, attack those critical of Fidesz and share government propaganda online, and on a daily basis. Here is what we learn about this seemingly well-organized network:

  • Fidesz operates a local network of trolls in every riding represented by a Fidesz MP.
  • Unlike Vladimir Putin’s trolls in Russia, in Hungary Fidesz trolls work on a volunteer basis, either out of true conviction or in the hope that this activity will land them work with the civil service or the public sector more generally, or else long-term economic benefits.
  • In each riding held by Fidesz, the ruling party appoints a so-called “Virtual Colleague” (virtuális munkatárs, in Hungarian, or VM). The VM is responsible for assembling a team of 60 trolls in the riding. In practice, most ridings only have a team of 10 trolls.
  • In general, VMs fall into one of three demographic categories: (1) Enthusiastic university students or recent graduates, (2) Elderly female pensioners, (3) ambitious young men and women who are looking to secure their career within the System of National Cooperation.
  • When it comes to the trolls themselves, they are mostly elderly Fidesz sympathizers
  • Trolls in each riding are provided training by the party. The training teaches them how to generate internet memes and how to make effective use of Facebook and other social media platforms.
  • Trolls are given between one to five assignments per day. These generally involve posting misleading information and attacking those critical of Fidesz.

As some of our readers will know, I edit a Hungarian-language website called Kanadai Magyar Hírlap for the past 14 years. The site, which has turned into a type of online community, attracts around ten times more comments than HFP, having a consistent base of active readers who comment after our articles, and also having a larger team of writers. One of the regulars is an elderly woman from Hungary who goes by Boda Marcsi on KMH and is called Mária Boda in real life. She has commented on our site for the past six years on a nearly daily basis and her comments follow a pattern that is in line with’s report on Fidesz trolls. Her comments recycle around two dozen derogatory labels against the opposition and anyone who is critical of Fidesz, the comments demonstrate no critical thinking capacities and are strictly propagandistic in nature. They almost always appear near the end of the day in Hungary, and as other readers have noticed, clearly seem to fulfill a mandatory daily quota of some sort. Again, this is in line with 444’s report.

Fidesz today is heavily reliant a loyal base of around two million Hungarians, mostly elderly and poorly educated, but who the ruling party has been adept at mobilizing for elections. It’s odd, however, that Fidesz’s propaganda, particularly against Gábor Vona, is so over-the-top and hysterical in nature, considering that every public opinion poll shows that the ruling party is certain to win national elections on 8th April and by a large margin. This behaviour is more common for a party that is far less certain of itself. It raises a critical question: does Fidesz’s internal polling show a different, more nuanced picture of the electorate? This is possible, considering that internal party polling tends to drill down further into individual ridings than public ones.


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