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Hungary: The False Friends of Viktor Orbán

Reading Time: 7 minutes

By Modeste Schwartz.

Hungary – In connection with the small “earthquake” of February 25, I stated in a recent editorial that the “communication” problems (which are currently hotly debated within FIDESZ and among its supporters) reveal underlying sociological realities that it is less easy for the participants to identify and name, and in particular “the fact that FIDESZ, after 8 years of exemplary and effective policy at the service of the Hungarian middle class (practically the only one in Europe not to have been systematically sacrificed by the ruling power), is increasingly caught between two structurally hostile categories – one old, one new: a sub-proletariat for which it is true that it has not done much, and a “creative class” for which it has done everything, and which is still likely to betray them.

I thought it would be a good idea to re-visit this question by digging a bit deeper into the analysis. Let’s begin by presenting the two “rebel classes” that could, if not on April 8, then at least in the near future, weaken the apparently unshakable construction of FIDESZ’s Hungary.

The best known of the two classes, and most often demonized by some pro-FIDESZ media outlets, is the underclass, whose massive existence points to the main failure of the FIDESZ experiment: having failed to wrest Hungary from the grip of a German economic colonialism that requires an impoverished Hungarian society to perpetuate the margins of competitiveness by which it kills the economies of southern Europe. Such a criticism of FIDESZ’s record is extremely rare in Hungary, where even those of the tenors of the left who maintain a semblance of intellectual decency (like the philosopher Gáspár Miklós Tamás) have the recurring characteristic of not knowing how to count, of ignoring everything about geopolitics and of never going beyond a critique of the results, demanding FIDESZ social assistance policies that no one specifies how they could or should be funded. Obviously, in a country with a low tax burden (compared to France or Scandinavia) a low level of taxation partly justified by the country’s development needs FIDESZ cannot continue to invest heavily in infrastructure, maintain an ambitious policy of family support (mutatis mutandis, probably the most ambitious in Europe) and meet the many needs of a massive and unproductive sub-proletariat. But everyone carefully avoids asking why this sub-proletariat is so unproductive.

This, however is no mystery: underpaid in the German industrial subcontracting, the active Hungarian worker cannot consume enough to generate sufficient secondary jobs; the renovation of his bathroom will be done “under the table” by precarious workers, actors of the informal economy. Not only this precariat, living in villages and slums where no migrant has ever wandered, cares little for the threat of migrant invasion (a real threat, though, in the near future), but above all, its economic weakness often makes it unable to enjoy the real benefits of populist FIDESZ policies: with no car, one can hardly enjoy the gleaming new highways which Orbán has spread throughout the country, and, to take advantage of the state-guaranteed home-loans offered by FIDESZ to families, one first needs to be eligible for bank loans. For these people, the only tangible effects of the “national revolution” of 2010 were taxes on minimal wages and the single-rate income-tax (two neo-liberal hand-me-downs that clutter the luggage of FIDESZ since its Reaganite phase of the 1990s, though their economic inefficiency has been proven for a long time). Which means that instead of pissing on the sub-proletariat, the tenors of the Hungarian right would do better to be astonished and to congratulate them on the very patriotic patience with which they wait for their turn at the turnstile of the “New Hungary” because part of this class (as Communist journalists recently noticed with awe) continues to support Orbán’s government by its vote or abstention a process made easier, of course, by the quasi-nonexistence of the socialist left in Hungary (the MSZP is “socialist” only in name). The question is, how long can this patience last?

The other social group, on which we hear fewer comments and, in particular, less vitriolic comments deserves, in my opinion, a more rigorous examination and a harsher judgment. It is a new social stratum of young provincials (thus generally children of FIDESZ voters) who have moved to Budapest, and whose social ascension owes almost everything to FIDESZ and its policy of supporting the middle classes, but who are nonetheless ready to shoot it in the back for “cultural” reasons. This group, halfway between the French bobo and the Muscovite “creative class”, is the bulk of movements such as the LMP or Momentum (see my previous VP analysis). It is sociologically characterized by high international mobility (which will allow its members to flee the country once their electoral whim has thrown it back into the clutches of the IMF) and heavy cultural consumption, which makes it highly permeable to ideological messages of the Budapest cultural scene (90% of which come from the postmodern anti-FIDESZ left). Through this hostile acculturation of its own children, FIDESZ is actually paying the price of the cowardice that has long characterized its relations with the world of culture: a world (as everywhere else in Europe) surviving mainly on state subsidies, and whose greatest pleasure is the denigration of said state, of its representatives (“corrupt politicians”) and their electoral base (the “stupid rednecks” of the FIDESZ-voting provincial Hungary). This curious masochism of the state apparatus in its relations with the cultural fifth column of Brussels can be explained by the (urban and bourgeois) sociology of FIDESZ executives, whose class contempt as I have already pointed out only evades the limelight thanks to the political genius of V. Orbán.

Interestingly, the complaints about the over-simplification of (especially anti-migration) messages in FIDESZ’s current campaign usually come from members of this group which, in my opinion, is not the group targeted by such campaigns (it would surprise me if Árpád Habony had many illusions about the electoral potential of FIDESZ in this sector of society). As a result, one may wonder to what extent it makes sense to take into account these criticisms, which generally serve rather as an explanatory pretext than a real reason for an anti-FIDESZ vote: mentioning giant posters on Soros and migrants, as “instruments of indoctrination” is an easy alibi, compatible with the anti-totalitarian (in reality: anti-popular) ideology characteristic of the new Hungarian left (but also of the FIDESZ of the 1990s); no doubt the people quoted are largely sincere and believe (as is often the case) their own alibis. But the real cause of their deeper “dissidence” is the need for this upwardly mobile youth to adapt to the culture of Budapest’s old urban elites (which are almost completely anti-FIDESZ from the very beginning), and to the global culture of Western coolness, apparently apolitical, but in fact heavily burdened with all the gadgets of left-wing globalism, from hipster fashion and the metrosexualization of social life to the subdued no-borderism of these cosmopolitan young people to whom FIDESZ also had the suicidal generosity to offer scholarships “abroad” (meaning: in the West).

If FIDESZ wants to survive, not only in the elections of April 8, but more crucially in those of 2022, that is to compensate the electoral losses inevitably caused by the erosion of power, the time has come for it to map its growth potential without preconceived ideas. On the “creative class” side, this potential is zero: not only because Hungary has already given them everything, but also and especially because, retarded in their own way, these “Budapest scenesters”, in 2018, still consider the Western type of pseudo-alternation as the paragon of any democracy. It would be no use for FIDESZ to legalize same-sex marriage, to remove the name of God from the constitution or to pull down the fence installed on the Serbian border: they would still want Orbán to go.

The growth margin is thus situated in that underclass which FIDESZ, prisoner of a thirty-year-old anti-communist rhetoric, continues to largely ignore, seeing it as a preserve of the MSZP even as its current majority of two thirds, mathematically (with Jobbik in second place), could never have happened without a number of defections from the “left” (more exactly: from the MSZP, which has betrayed its proletarian base, like the French PS, the Greek PASOK, etc.). From this point of view, to summarize the situation with a certain cynicism, it’s an either-or situation: if FIDESZ wants to continue to more or less neglect this class, to stay in power, it must imperatively make it (demographically, electorally) negligible, i.e. try and extract out of it tens of millions of citizens through upward mobility, that is, access to decently paid jobs. If it cannot, then it must stop neglecting this class.

It goes without saying that FIDESZ, in its right-wing phobia of public assistance, would find the first solution more logical but its implementation faces a strong cultural inertia (weakness of entrepreneurship reflexes) and various structural barriers, most of which are linked to being part of the EU which Hungary is not currently planning to leave, hoping instead to become the centre of a Visegrad enclave (extending the V4 to the Balkans) with some degree of de facto sovereignty.

A dead end? Not necessarily. If Hungary has neither the desire nor the means to embark on Western-style welfare policies, it can still explore alternative ways. As a net agricultural exporter refusing GMOs, Hungary, by restoring (through the distribution of non-alienable land, settlement aid, etc.) the wealthy small peasantry that it lost at the time of mechanization, could become a regional champion of quality food, while providing many of its citizens with a living standard (and even more: a quality of life) which would be regarded as enviable in the region.

In any case, unemployment is declining, and will continue to do so, if only for demographic reasons: even if FIDESZ’s family policy would eventually put an end to Hungarian feminism, it would take two decades to have a significant impact on the labour market; in the meantime, the proportion of working people in the total population can only fall. As a result, the employment problem is itself destined to take a back seat, leaving the spotlight on the wage problem and here one should not forget that in Hungary, as in the whole of post-communist Europe, the corporate payroll/profit ratio is much more favourable to capital than it is in Western Europe. In other words: the need for infrastructure recovery following the economic decay of the 1980s and the deindustrialization of the 1990s cannot be evoked in perpetuity, now that the state of equipment of the country and its companies has become comparable to that of some southern European countries. The legendary “transition” will have to end sooner or later. And Hungarian bosses will then have to learn that employees should be paid.

FIDESZ is thus today almost exactly in the situation of Gaullism in the France of the late 1960s: patriotic, popular, aware of being targeted by a destabilization campaign organized abroad, but too confident in its bourgeois base (a part of which is only waiting for the first opportunity to betray it) and unable to achieve the junction of social and national even though the state of dereliction of the Hungarian left seems to be begging for such a move (an opportunity which Charles de Gaulle, at odds with the still powerful PCF of the 1960s, never enjoyed). Perfectly achievable and present since the beginning in its programs, the ideas of national solidarity and Christian mutual aid are slow to take shape in the act of government. In the meantime, descendants of the craftsmen of May 68 (and even some surviving dinosaurs who have never stopped doing harm ever since, such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit) sow the seeds of a comparable movement in the Hungarian youth.