I found an exciting call to action on Index. Okay, not that exciting, but a call nonetheless. The New York Times ostensibly would like to know how we live in Hungary (and Poland), what we think of the ceaseless warmongering against the European Union at all that. I hastily clicked the specified link to share my impressions, but I found that the American paper is no longer all that interested.
Not to worry, I’ll have it out here, just in case New York Times contributors regularly read us here at Szalonna. Har har.
If this country wasn’t my homeland, but some foreign land where I happened to be staying in for a while – receiving my foreign wage packet from my foreign firm – I might actually find this quite amusing. However, as I am of here and find everything that happens here important, because this is where my grandparents are buried, and my friends, family, and I myself live, it is no joke at all.
There have always been problems, former governments and politicians were always light years away from perfection. However, what’s held sway in this country for the last eight years has changed my life in quite astonishing ways.
The country had barely started recovering from the effects of the recession when it inaugurated Fidesz. This didn’t happen unexpectedly, as the groundwork had been laid thoroughly. The establishment of a media empire (thanks, Simicska), sabotaging work in the Parliament, the successive waves of demonstrations – we’ll pay neither at the GP, nor for education – the perennial and fruitful efforts to ingratiate themselves with the brunt of trade union heads (series of strikes), the smear campaign wrought around a single decontextualised sentence from the Oszod speech, the docile demonstrators meekly weaponising kerbstones and setting cars alight, and the promise made to local authorities who’d by then assumed the hues of the party – by all means, do pile on the debts, when we wrest power back from the usurpers, will make it all right again – and the allience with the church all paid off in the end. Polling booths saw unprecedented traffic.
The diligent work began. Labour law got swiftly rewritten to appeal to foreign interests in search for cheap labour. They rewrote, or, more specifically, destroyed the Constitution and replaced it with a legal baseline which sanctions all this. As nothing is ever perfect, including this shambolic piece of work, they rewrite it with no compunction whenever they feel it necessary. They’ve also done their utmost to extend their control over the courts too, but found only partial success.
They had the population repay local authority debts, and managed to have simpler souls believe that this was some kind of benevolent act of theirs. They hounded the IMF out and took on much more expensive loand to finance the operation of the country. They took control of local authorities, revoked their independence, then divested them of all their wealth, took away all educational institutions while continuing to have local authorities finance them.
They took over schools too, aggregating them all under the auspices of a single, centralised, bloated Fidesz body. They took over sports clubs, supplanting professionals with their own henchmen. They extended state ownership to service providers, citing the interest of the Hungarian people as they did so. They adjusted the rental system of state-owned lands in a way that had the more valuable areas fall into the hands of their own men.
Then the harvest began. Their minions bought up the rented lands. Entire sectors fell into the hands of their strawmen. Farmers were rendered destitute, tens of thousands lost their livelihoods to enable Fidesz henchmen to own tobacco shops, and more tens of thousands to make Vajna casino caesar.
They removed anyone who might have posed the slightest danger to their power – pillars of the community, politicians, jounalists, musicians, actors, anyone – they manoeuvred their own loyal comrades to top positions of the tax authority, the National Bank and the public prosecutor’s department. They razed the media market to the ground first by assigning income from advertising on the basis of political allegiance, not market forces, and secondly by buying up, destroying, or intimidating the rest. Those who’ve survived both methods up til now have to face their fate soon.
They’ve hounded out professionals, destroyed the intelligentsia, do not tolerate criticism, or even any kind of independent thought. In their world, supine subservience constitutes the only virtue. Through propaganda and round-the-clock brainwashing, they’ve made imbeciles of large swathes of the population, wherever possible. They’ve turned everyone on each other.
These days they no longer need pretend to be honest or have competence in anything. No-one bats an eyelid any more when they hear about corruption where billions vanish or lives thrown into the gutter. Not important.
These days, a few strawmen and family members can buy up the country’s resources unhindered – land, castles, campsites, hotels – for peanuts, to have the government do them up out of public funds, and the newly multiplied wealth remains in their hands.
Responsible governance has been supplanted by blaring success propaganda, while funds are being syphoned off and out of the country in every possible way. The billions missing from the economy have been stashed away in secret and not-so-secret offshore accounts. The nationalised of otherwise appropriated concerns and sports clubs have morphed into cash cows, the economy has tanked, the healthcare system is broken, the education system is being systematically, deliberately and purposely demolished.
The cult of the leader, corruption, fear and hatred have become the new normal. A sizeable chunk of the country is just as kept from information and reality as it was at the height of the Kadar-era. Countless people live without access to the internet, or what remains of the free press, radio, television. Instead, giant billboards, Habony-television, Vajna-radio, and Meszaros-rags cover, plaque-like, the informational landscape.
The section of the population who does see and voice the wrongs, has become an outcast in its own country. Literally.
The country has turned on itself. The destruction is clearly visible, but as yet there is no solution. We pull through in survival mode, and fear for yet worse to come. Much worse.
This is what i would have written to the New York Times, if the questionnaire had worked. And that this is but a fraction of what’s going on here. I would have also written – just to let them know – that not everyone is deliriously happy about this, that Orbán does not speak for everyone but strictly himself and those 1.5-2 million people who support him out of bottomless stupidity, self-interest, fear, or ignorance. There are quite a few of us left here who want to live and not merely eke out a living yoked to our daily desperation. A few of us do remember the country that was heading in the right direction, getting its first taste of freedom and democracy. That was good. And this is bad. Very, very bad.
Written by Róbert Tamás (29/07/2017)
Translated by Judit Gábris
Edited by Réka Eszter Szabó