Terrific! – I cheered to myself seeing my face on far-right websites. I was genuinely happy with this achievement, because it meant I managed to reach out to an audience with whom I am at odds with on probably every single issue. There is no point in preaching to people you are at the same page with. The reason I was attacked online by the very angry crowd of radicals is because, as the Director of the Free Market Foundation in Hungary, I issued a statement berating the ever warming ties between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. And I had good reasons for doing that.
The far-right in Hungary is supported by Russia, so no surprises there. A lot of fake news websites serve Russian interests, thus the fact that my admittedly not too flattering picture looked back at me from there is no great shocker either. What did surprise me, however, was that these platforms are actually effective. Their greatest achievement is not making some idiots believe that the Holocaust is just some extensive Jewish conspiracy, or that Hitler possessed alien technology. Their biggest success is instilling fear in the minds of people to whom are these sites truly appeal.
I am called a traitor, a foreign agent, a communist, a Nazi, a murderer, a faggot and a Jew quite regularly – sometimes even in the same sentence. Sometimes I am personally held accountable for events that happened a hundred years ago. I grew a thick skin and I laugh off the insults and threats of the paid commenters. You sort of have to if you are in the same line of business in Hungary. But most of the people are not, and they still have to put up with similar attacks if they dare voice their opinions. And they are now usually too terrified to dissent. They are even afraid to agree with critical voices.
Every time I even slightly disagree with the government, my family and friends warn me not to speak up. Lay low, they say, remain under their radar, or else… The unspoken half of sentence hangs heavily in the air, impregnates the silence, tortures some metaphors, gets plastered and loses all meaning in life. But the damage was already done.
It is not only the neo-Nazis that threaten to execute the mysterious “else”. The government and its circle of cronies managed to bully enough people and so the rest just falls in silent line.
The governing party, Fidesz, managed to kill off the independent media, either by laws they made or by installing their cronies to the top of the news outlets. Now, apart from some smaller online portals, the Hungarian media spews out state propaganda, attacking critics with blatant lies, wielding conspiracy theories and nursing outrageous articles from Russian websites. So people are afraid.
They are, in fact, terrified to the extent that many do not even dare to “like” mildly critical posts on the social media. For good reasons too. The “or else” got very real when an employee of a think tank which accepts state money “liked” a post supporting a campaign against Hungary’s application to bring to 2024 Olympics to Budapest. Since the position of the government, with the iron fist of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán crashing any other opinion, is that Hungary should organise the Olympics, the think tank’s leader openly stated that whoever supports the anti-olympics campaign shall be fired. The matter went further, however, and an employee who defended her colleague’s right to “like” in his private time whatever he liked (even though she supported the Olympics), was fired.
This fate awaits many public employees as well – such as teachers who in their private lives dare have political opinion which is not widely approved. Even most businessmen dare not donate money to any civil organisation which is not state funded, lest Fidesz will seize their businesses.
But we must not give in. We must not remain silent, we must not accept fear. The government is still in power because it made people believe that it will protect them from the immigrants, NGOs, the EU and capitalistic and imperialistic American interests. And in the meantime they make people terrified of dissent.
This is the state of affairs in Hungary, where pussilanimity is no longer frowned upon, but is a necessary tool of survival. The neo-Nazis, and the government are scaring people with more and more converging means. The majority of the opposition is not helping either with their self-serving interpretation of free speech in the name of political correctness. In the meantime, Vladimir Putin fiddles merrily.