In the heyday of communism in Hungary, the so-called “public educators” went door to door encouraging less than enthusiastic citizens to vote for the communists, the only party on the ballot. Not voting was, of course, frowned upon. According to a family legend, one of my relatives opened a silver cigarette case and offered it to the “public educator”: “Please, choose one. They’re all the same brand”. Needless to say, a lot has changed since. For example, most people no longer carry silver cigarette cases anymore.
The “public educators” have been succeeded by more modern “national consultation” leaflets. And the choices doubled. On paper you either support the government, or you are to be considered a harmful moron. In reality, although it is the other way around, it doesn’t seem to matter in the world of post-truth. The gems of the Hungarian propaganda machine include such key matters as:
“There are more and more organizations operating in Hungary funded from abroad with the aim to meddle into the internal affairs of our nation without transparency. The operations of these endanger our independence.
What do you think Hungary should do?
Force them to register, declaring which country or organization commissioned them, and what is the purpose of their operations.
Let them go on with their risky operations unchecked.”
The government, of course, hasn’t provided any proof substantiating the claim that the NGOs are endangering Hungary’s independence.
There are other very apparent ways in which Hungary of today differs from the communist era. Back then, the Hungarian leadership was eager to suck up to the Soviet Union. It has changed substantially. Nowadays, it’s Russia.
It is not the NGOs that endanger Hungary’s independence, but the government itself.
The “national consultation” questions can be answered online as well. However, the website, run by the state, uses a code from Yandex, a Russian company which provides analytics. The company has been known to hand over the details of Putin’s critics to the Russian secret services. The Hungarian propaganda questionnaire claims (in its privacy disclaimer) that it won’t transfer data to third parties or abroad, nor make it public. Nevertheless, upon inspecting the code, this proved to be a lie as the enclosed data is being trasferred to Russian servers – a setting that is not selected by default. When confronted about this in the National Security Committee of the National Assembly, Fidesz members stormed out of the room without giving any explanation. After the information about the code leaked out, it vanished from the website. Recently, the Hungarian government also signed a cryptic agreement with Russia pledging to share state secrets.
Some say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But it seems that the old dog may learn new tricks on his own – as apparently did Viktor Orbán. Although in the early 1990s he was one of the biggest proponents of Western values in Hungary, he recently learned how to successfully criticize not just the EU, Soros, but the West itself, positioning these aspects in his rhetorics as the Hungarian public enemy number one. And so, Orbán blames economic difficulties, migration, multiculturalism, liberal democracy, and even communism on the West in general. Just like under the communists (except, of course, the fact that they actually took credit for their own system).
The Hungarian state propaganda media outlets ooze out fake news similar to those by the Putin’s mouthpieces. And when they run out of ideas, they just borrow from its well-known Russian counterparts.
It is not easy to offer a real alternative to the mainstream message in the times when the government tampers with election laws. However, just like communism, Orbán’s regime is unsustainable and doomed to fail. Just like the communists, the current government sees only the collective, rather than the individuals. And the individuals who don’t share Orbán’s illiberal ideas are getting angry.Once again, they want liberty.