Orbán’s threat of revenge has fired up the Hungarian opposition

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s decision to use his speech on a Hungarian national holiday to explicitly threaten legal and political revenge against his opponents has opposition politicians, journalists, academics and civil liberties activists wondering if the election on 8 April is, indeed, a “do or die” situation. The most recent Medián poll, released this week, shows that Fidesz is set to win a majority on 8 April, yet Mr. Orbán’s language was more becoming of a rattled dictator who after years of invincibility now fears that there is actually a chance that his regime might collapse.

Zoltán Lakner, a political scientists and editor of 168 Óra, suggested that Fidesz is constantly producing internal polls and that it is possible that these numbers tell a different story than the public ones. We know from the Medián poll that even a series of corruption scandals and a surprise election loss in Hódmezővásárhely has not discouraged two million hard-core Fidesz voters. Medián has Fidesz at 54% among decided voters, with Jobbik at 16% , MSZP-Párbeszéd at 12%, followed by the Democratic Coalition at 9% and Politics Can Be Different (LMP) at 5%. There are 600,000 allegedly undecided voters who are nonetheless committed to voting on 8 April–it is believed that many of them are purposefully concealing their intentions from pollsters and this does add some uncertainty to the outcome of the vote.

As for Fidesz voters, especially the tens of thousands bused to Budapest who participated yesterday in the so-called Peace March alongside the regime’s Polish fans: they truly behave like members of a cult–closed off from critical media reports and brainwashed by clever and cynical political communicators. Although they absurdly refer to this event as a Peace March, they physically attacked conservative journalist György Unyatyinszki of Magyar Nemzet, punched him in the ribs and threatened to drown him in the Danube. One of the security guards hired by the Peace March’s organizer, the (Civil Összefogás Fórum – CÖF) said with a smile that Unyatyinszki was hit because he asked too many questions. One cannot question Viktor Orbán. Peace March cult members declared that Mr. Orbán is the saviour of the Hungarian nation.

Peace March cult members declare Viktor Orbán to be the saviour of the nation. Photo: 444.hu

Gábor Török, a political scientist who previously had very close ties with Mr. Orbán and Fidesz, argued that explicitly threatening people who do not support Fidesz in a speech on a national holiday may prove to be a serious strategic mistake. While this sort of war language does successfully motivate and mobilize Fidesz supporters, it is likely to also mobilize opposition voters who may have otherwise sat out the 8 April election. And historically, the key to defeating Fidesz is high turn-out. In his blog, Mr. Török argued that Mr. Orbán could have used other channels to send a message to people like Lajos Simicska, who are causing him headaches–but a speech on a major national holiday was an inappropriate venue for this. It appears as though Mr. Orbán said what was on his heart, but not what is politically practical for him at this juncture.

I can certainly say that Mr. Orbán’s open threat against those opposing Fidesz fired up opposition voters perhaps more than anything else–including the recent corruption scandals or the results of Hódmezővásárhely. The very existence of the Hungarian opposition beyond April–including what remains of the critical media and the NGO sector–now appears at stake. A historian friend of mine, respected in his field and who has always been more of a conservative, certainly never aligned with the old MSZP-SZDSZ type liberal left, suggested that he could accept Mr. Orbán’s eventual exile to Russia, following in the footsteps of Stalinist dictator Mátyás Rákosi. But he also envisioned an angry Hungarian mob lynching the prime minister, using a tree in the hills of Buda. That is a disturbing and gory outcome, but one increasingly put forward by an ever-angrier “silent majority” of Hungarians.

These scenes of violence become a reality if it becomes clear that Mr. Orbán will not, under any condition, cede power peacefully. And this is one take-away from his speech.

Jobbik spokesperson Ádám Mirkóczki said on Friday that Viktor Orbán is “mentally ill.” He added that the Fidesz platform contains a single word: revenge.

Gergely Karácsony of MSZP-P said that what Mr. Orbán said on 15 March is typical of ruthless dictators: he put all voters who want a change in government on notice, that their decision will result in legal and political ramifications.

Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt, however, spoke out the most forcefully: Prime Minister Orbán has declared civil war in Hungary.

Regardless of the outcome of the April election, Hungary appears to be heading in a critical, potentially violent direction. If Mr. Orbán wins a clear majority, he has now announced that nobody should expect a period of peaceful consolidation. He will likely move more in the direction of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If Fidesz fails to win a majority, there is only one thing that brings all opposition parties together: a growing desire to hold the criminal alliance called Fidesz and its politicians to account for the last eight years. Mr. Orbán and the people around him know this–and this is why it is difficult to see him giving up power peacefully.

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