Bernard Rorke analyses Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán’s increasingly toxic political vendettas
Viktor Orbán’s latest government-sponsored anti-George Soros hate campaign in Hungary is a mendacious “public consultation” designed to spread fear and hate among the electorate.
It is yet another signal that the challenge to democracy in Hungary comes not from the assorted goons of the far right in their comic-opera pick’n’mix paramilitary uniforms but from the prime minister himself, his oligarchic clansmen and the cluster of loyal party henchmen that do his bidding without demur.
In late September, people from the small Hungarian village of Őcsény subjected local guesthouse owner Zoltán Fenyvesi to violence and intimidation – including slashed tyres and threats of decapitation – after he offered to host refugee children for short vacations.
Days later, commenting on the incident, Orbán said: “I cannot find anything wrong in this. People do not want to accept migrants. They do not want to accept them into their country and they do not want to accept them into their village. They have been lied to so many times about migrants that they do not believe that only children would come.”
More shocking than the incident itself is the appalling spectacle of a prime minister condoning violence against those who would offer hospitality to refugee children.
Őcsény mayor János Fülöp, who resigned soon after, told the Budapest Beacon how villagers had described refugees as animals and terrorists intent on blowing things up and raping children.
In his eleven years as mayor he remembered only peace and quiet: “No one spat on or cursed each other. That’s finished now,” because the hatred of refugees has fundamentally changed the place.
This ugly racism is the product of two years of relentless official anti-refugee propaganda by state-controlled media. Orbán’s hate campaigns have led to rising xenophobia and continue to feed a growing appetite for conspiracy theories where philanthropist George Soros is purported to head a hidden cast of powerful and rootless cosmopolitans, bent on destroying Hungary.
Orbán’s illiberal, nativist brand of politics and his party’s capture of the state has won him the admiration of far right extremists across Europe. One thing that became clear to us covering the extremist Stop Operation Soros! event last March – when we interviewed visitors like the Swedish alt-right poster boy Daniel Friberg, Knights Templar supremo James Dowson and clapped-out BNP has-been Nick Griffin – was that nobody had a good word to say about the fascist Jobbik party but all were effusive in their praise of Orbán.
In particular, they lauded him as a “strong leader” who understood the threat of ‘Islamicisation’ and what was at stake for European civilization.
They were very taken with Orbán’s state of the nation address in February, when he proclaimed that Hungary “shall let in true refugees: Germans, Dutch, French, and Italians, terrified politicians and journalists who here in Hungary want to find the Europe they have lost in their homelands.”
Orbán also railed against the transnational empire of Hungarian-US billionaire philanthropist George Soros and spoke of the need “to take up arms against increasingly strong activists from international organisations”.
The insignificance of this gathering of far-right “identitarian” (and fascist) loons bellowing about George Soros being one of the “biggest threats to the survival of our people and our civilization” quickly became apparent in the face of the government’s own official massive, nation-wide anti-Soros campaign.
The springtime billboard campaign was deemed fascistic and antisemitic by critics and attracted a degree of international opprobrium.
Along every major highway, in metro stations and at tram stops, large government propaganda posters featured a grinning Soros, claiming that the “world’s most influential billionaire” supports illegal immigration, open borders and the ruination of Hungary and sported the giant caption “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh!”
Activists from the anti-racist Együtt (Together) party took direct action by publicly tearing down the posters and András Heisler, president of the Hungarian Jewish organization Mazsihisz, condemned the government campaign as poisonous, harmful to the whole of Hungary, and called for an immediate halt to the campaign and the removal of the posters “from our streets and squares.”
Between the spring and autumn anti-Soros campaigns, Orbán’s henchmen never let up. In September, the Speaker of the Parliament, László Kövér warned of “hot times” ahead with imminent Soros-sponsored street riots, and claimed that “Soros activists” were primed to do the “dirty work” of the opposition parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections to create “an atmosphere in which civil war psychosis overwrites everything else.”
Launching the second anti-Soros campaign, Orbán announced on radio: “George Soros has bought people and organisations, and Brussels is under his influence; they want to demolish the fence, allow millions of immigrants into Europe, then distribute them using a mandatory mechanism; and they want to punish those who do not comply”. Orbán declared: “We have revealed the fact that a Soros Plan exists” and “we have placed it at the centre of political life”.
Much of the international media coverage on Hungary overlooks the wildly aggressive irrationality of everyday Fidesz (Orbán’s party) propaganda and rhetoric that includes bizarre and outlandish interventions variously attributing the fictitious “Soros plan” to the work of Satan and the Freemasons.
The constant stream of lies, and the general crudity, vulgarity and incivility that characterise government communications serve to conjure up fear and uncertainty to justify a permanent state of exception, to defend the nation from what Orbán describes as “covert foreign attempts to exert influence” and the work of paid activists, those “large predators swimming in the water…the transnational empire of George Soros.”
Orbán’s attacks on civil society have intensified, the slanders and abuse continue unabated, with independent journalists now being singled out for official harassment.
Recently he told radio listeners that NGO people “are on the payroll, they transport migrants, they stand on the wrong side, they want a mixed population in Europe … they want to harm Hungarian people.”
Orbán raised the stakes still further on 27 October by announcing that he had instructed the country’s spy agencies to investigate and expose the activities of the network of groups and individuals supported by Soros that were seeking to have Hungary “condemned, stigmatised and forced to change its migration policy”.
This latest xenophobic anti-Soros campaign – combined with the attacks on civil society and press freedom and the attempts to shut down Central European University – make it clear that the real threat to democracy in Hungary comes not from the heavies of the far right.
The real threat comes from Viktor Orbán and his relentless hate mongering in his quest to fashion an authoritarian, ethnically homogenous, Christian-national state.