You Rang, M’lord?

“To fall with my corpse: it is the servant’s business.”  (Endre Ady)

Who seriously thinks today that power and fairness are compatible? How many in our country share the saying attributed to Lincoln: „If you want to test a man’s character, give him power” What became of those who were given power in their hands?

Regimes based on unlimited personalist power differ from other dictatorships in that they last longer, but when a leader fails, they collapse like a house of cards. They stay on because the person in power, step by step, like a spider in his web, extends his power to more and more areas. First he captivates only his followers, then the party, the state, and finally his opponents. He believes ‘his kingdom’s come’. Everyone is just another brick in the wall.

I wonder, what happened to the human-faced Fidesz politicians?  What happened to those who were lost in favor, retreated, and moved further away from the ravines of power? Where are they and why are they silent? How some of them were among the “133 brave men” of the pro-government faction who have betrayed our freedom for thirty pieces of silver.

On the photo Mr. András Bozóki (second from left) and Viktor Orbán (third from left) in 1990 on an election rally.

The rupture of 1993-94 was the last moment in the history of Fidesz when political alternatives appeared. Even then, the lives of renitent party members were not easy, even though the concept of democracy within the party was still familiar at the time. “What can you bring up for your political survival?” asked Orbán a representative of the Reform Fidesz platform. Then, after his opponent’s political annihilation, he added, “It’s nothing personal it’s just business, you know.”

The following quarter century was followed by the unparalleled rise and soaring of the leader. Like tiny pebbles, he kicked away potential participants in the resistance within the party. He gathered around him slavish-minded people without an independent identity, whom he later pushed on like a squeezed lemon. There were also politically talented among them, such as his former cabinet minister, János Lázár, who followed his boss until he was thrown out. Nonetheless, he still voted for the Authorization Act. So he’s been just another cynical pragmatist with a simple philosophy: the goal justifies the means.

In post-millennium Fidesz, there were still those who could have been a political alternative, but they surrendered out of fear, human weakness, lack of political character, and others withdrew voluntarily. Each case is different, but the actors listed below are also common: they could have been carriers of a democratic political alternative, but they have not.

Tamás Wachsler, the only man to stand up against Viktor Orbán was swept under the rug for decades and then allowed to direct the transformation of Kossuth Square and bring back the statues of the interwar Horthy era.

Zoltán Pokorni, once president of Fidesz, minister of education, then vice-president of Fidesz for a good decade. Today, he is a district mayor who maintains media attention by distancing himself disturbed by the actions of his ancestors who have turned out to be informers or criminals. Seeing his political career gone topsy–turvy one might even feel sorry for him.

Tibor Navracsics supported Orbán’s full party power and he founded the Nézőpont institute, a pro-Orbán think tank. As a rookie faction leader, he has stood alone against the ruling parties since 2006 when his party seceded from the Parliament. He rose to a high position in 2010, but as both Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, he let his boss wipe the floor with him. With the release of the Azerbaijani ax killer, he signed his own political death sentence. Although he was an EU Commissioner for five years as a consolation prize, he dropped out of democratic politics. Since returning home from Brussels, Orbán has quarantined him at the Ludovika Academy.

István Stumpf is a legendary swing politician who, after a few subtle twists and turns, exchanged the fruits of his reformist socialist socialization for anti-communist Fidesz.  Pozsgay’s former follower first became an advisor to Árpád Göncz, then turned to the board of trustees of the Soros Foundation before joining Orbán, following the call of the time. He created and ran the Századvég institute a pro-Fidesz think tank, which had once seen more beautiful days. He became Chancellor, but after Fidesz’s defeat in the 2002 elections, Orbán’s confidence in him faltered. But he still did not fall out of Orbán’s favor, so Stumpf could later become a member of the diluted Constitutional Court, the screen of a dying democracy.

These four politicians individually presented a number of different virtues, but each lacked something: courage, the ability to fight, adherence to democratic principles, as well as cunning and the ability to build alternative coalitions within the party. They fooled themselves too – provided they wanted something in advance. But they didn’t seem to want anything. “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.”

The problem with two other politicians was that they had always been sticking to their last just like the proverbial cobbler. Among them, Zoltán Illés was a former Danube Circle environmental expert in an area that never interested Orbán. Unfortunately, he reached the peak of his career when Hungarian democracy was over. From 2010 to 2014, he was Secretary of State for the Environment, a gray official without an independent image, although he could no longer accept the Paks 2 (nuclear power plant) investment. Since then, he has returned to CEU, where as a professor he is forced to face his own past in the eyes of others every single day.

On the other hand, agricultural politician József Ángyán spent eight years in parliament and was Secretary of State for Rural Development between 2010 and 2012. He criticized the Orbán government’s land privatization policy to help oligarchs. He resigned as Secretary of State and then left the Fidesz faction. He was the boldest and it was no coincidence that Orbán named him a traitor. He became isolated as a politician, and as an intellectual he has remained at the level of a critic of agricultural policy ever since. It doesn’t matter if he’s an agricultural engineer, yet he doesn’t see the forest from the tree.

Since these two politicians only talked about policy issues, they reinforced the appearance that otherwise everything would be fine. Because they themselves voted for the government’s anti-democratic moves, they had no chance of becoming a political challenger.

There are such influential intellectuals as economist Attila Chikán and nuclear physicist József Pálinkás, both of whom were ministers of Orbán. But they are not setting a good example either. Attila Chikán, a father figure for many, is both a member of the CEU board and the supervisory board of the government-controlled MOL Group, i.e. he tries to hit two birds at the same time. The journey of the former Fidesz member József Pálinkás led from his Fidesz faction to the position of President of the Batthyány Circle of Professors to the position of President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, after which he transferred funds from the National Scientific Research Programs (OTKA) to his new research, development and innovation office. As soon as his term expired, he immediately organized an anti-Orbán intellectual initiative and envisaged the formation of a conservative-liberal party. This switch is too fast to be authentic.

Loyalty to the person of the leader is lasting because the members of the ruler’s entourage know that their destiny is united with that of the ruler. They have no independent political selves, simple puppets in the hands of the leader. With incentives and threats (stick and carrot), the ruler manages to keep his followers by his side, as they also know that they cannot expect to survive otherwise. The leader does not want to see martyrs, punishes the disobeyers to teach a lesson, but later gives them a new position to keep their mouths shut. If he temporarily lifts you up, he will then drop you down again for a while to learn where your place is before your ambitions begin to soar.

In such an authoritarian regime, the court can buzz and whisper, intrigues can intertwine, tempers can boil, but only the will of the leader prevails. The institutional base of power and the network of friendly oligarchs intertwined with them serve as the well-functioning machinery of the will of the ruler. According to Lord Acton’s evergreen: “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad man, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you super-add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

Outside the machinery, there are now only simple believers and unbelievers. The material and spiritual nourishment necessary to maintain the enthusiasm of believers must be continuously administered: the former include the reduction of overheads, the latter the incitement to hatred. The members of the machinery must be miserably supplied with all the earthly good. Little needs to be taken away from many in order for the few to get much.

So no internal rebel rousing factions are expected. The power of the Fidesz elite will remain on a gradually shrinking base until it is overthrown by other political forces. But by 2020, we have come to the point where the leader is now courting his own parliamentary faction, the faction accustomed to iron discipline, compared to which a Leninist party is a congregation of sloppy bohemians. This is a new development: the leader no longer trusts the members of the machinery either. He doesn’t trust anyone anymore.

András Bozóki

(András Bozóki is Professor of Political Science at the Central European University. In 1989, he participated at the Hungarian roundtable negotiations and served as Minister of Culture of Hungary in 2005-2006.)

2 Comments

  1. Avatar Don Hermiston says:

    Hungary should leave the tyrannical European Union.

  2. Avatar Don Kichote says:

    Something different and yet the same “and served as Minister of Culture of Hungary in 2005-2006” This analysis is unfortunately only a description and it buries the fact of where this behaviour comes from. No mention of obedience to authority being taught in schools and universities especially funny if the Central European University also allows gender studies which I consider important. András Bozóki is the victim of himself and his upbringing, but he doesn’t know what a pity it is. The article is another example of the described. What a pity … and a document.

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