The Friend Behind Viktor Orban

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Republikon Institute

Nowadays, Viktor Orban’s government informs citizens via thousands of billboards, TV spots or even letters that Hungary is doing better than ever before. Naturally, all of these have been funded from taxpayers’ money. Even though many would argue with the aforementioned statement, one person is definitely a beneficiary of the successes of the ‘Hungarian economic miracle’.

Ten years ago, after having had more or less profitable periods on the liberated market, a gasfitter-entrepreneur almost had his business bankrupted. He really liked sports, mainly football, so when he was on the grandstand of the local club, he often met with his childhood friend, an already influential person by that time. This friend was a big fan of football as well and not much later, he asked the gasfitter to become the president of the foundation that subsidizes the town’s football academy, established by him. Since then, the one-man entrepreneur tried out himself with a great success in several distinct industries. Today, he is owner of hotels, agricultural companies, newspapers, and a television channel, he owns football and handball clubs, some of them are even located abroad. He continued pursuing his main careerpath in the building industry, but he also got elected as the mayor of his hometown in 2011. The story sounds as the perfect example of a self-made man in Hungary’s relatively young capitalism.

However, putting all this into a contextual interpretation, the man is Lorinc Meszaros and his influential friend is Viktor Orban. Undoubtedly, merit of an individual should not be automatically linked to another significant person in his/her life and no one deserves to be judged by personal friendships, should we have either negative or positive opinion about this companion. Even so, a good friendship is certainly a symbiotic one, and for many Hungarians it seems to be evident that the Prime Minister needs Meszaros as much as the other way around.

There was an intense uproar this April, when the press figured out that Meszaros became the fifth wealthiest Hungarian, as he gained more than 100 billion forints – or roughly 325 million euros – just in a year. For comparison, he had 7.7 billion forints – around 25 million euros – in 2014, when he appeared on the list of the richest Hungarians for the first time. An average Hungarian works seven years for the same amount of money – 11 million forints/35,500 euros – that Meszaros earns in only an hour. Where does all this money come from?

His construction company, Meszaros es Meszaros Kft., won over thirty procurements since 2011, with roads, highways, bridges, railways, and stadiums amongst last years’ state investments. A stadium was also built in Felcsut, the home of both Meszaros and Orban, where the former is still the president of the football academy. With a population of 1,700, the small town got an arena worth of 3.8 billion forints/12 million euros. It has double the seats of the number of inhabitants and is next to the house of the Prime Minister. Meszaros was given more than half of the lands that have been put up for auction in the recent years, and he used to ‘lend’ these areas even to close members of the Prime Minister’s family.

Orban also benefits from his friend becoming a media mogul. Last week, Meszaros has just bought his 194th newspaper/online news site, meaning that he has a monopoly over all regional media. He even owns some national ones as well. These acquisitions are benefiting Fidesz since it means that the media will remain loyal to them, and that the people in the rural parts of the country, with restricted access to other news sources, will not have a chance to turn against the most powerful party Hungary has seen after the fall of communism in 1989.

Meszaros is therefore a crucial ally to Viktor Orban and became an influential addition to the Hungarian political sphere. Notwithstanding the fact that the author of this article may not agree with most ideas and thoughts of the Prime Minister, in one case we certainly share similar views. Democracies have worked differently in the past decades, where the images of politicians were generally treated with a bit of skepticism by the public. In the last years, however, something has dramatically changed and we’ve entered a post-truth era of politics. This is a world where actual facts are having no influence on the opinion of millions of voters, even if some are relatively aware of injustices. It seems that this doctrine poisoned Hungary way before it became a global phenomenon. The obvious evidence of Meszaros being Orban’s front man does not actually change people’s judgement on the government.

Republikon Institute just has published an opinion poll focusing on the oligarch. The collected data show that seven out of ten Hungarians have heard of the influential entrepreneur, and a clear majority of those unable to recognize him are either Fidesz sympathisers or uncertain voters.

The study also reveals that compared to other politicians, the mayor of Felcsut is as known as ministers of the current government and the leaders of the main opposition parties. One of the most crucial question of the poll referred to the basis of Meszaros’s prosperity: only 6% of the Hungarian population believes that he gained his wealth due to his talent. It might not be a big surprise that both left-wing and Jobbik voters, 91% and 89% respectively, consider Meszaros’s success to be the result of his friendship with the Prime Minister. However, even a little bit more than half of Fidesz supporters (53%) agrees with the abovementioned statement and one third of them are either uncertain or just feels neutral about the mysterious businesses of the gasfitter.

Pollsters also asked people about the state of corruption: 43% of all respondents indicated that corruption has increased since the governing parties won with a landslide in 2010. Notably, one in every five voters of Fidesz share this belief as well. What could be done against nepotism? Nearly half of the whole population (47%) thinks that Viktor Orban could be capable of efficiently reducing corruption in the country, while only 13% of all respondents said that the Prime Minister cannot achieve any significant drop in this regard. 

Yet, if we look at current voting intentions, almost every other Hungarian would vote for Fidesz (49% ) in the next election; followed by MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) and Jobbik with a modest 17-17%. Why is that? Many explanations could be provided, starting with the lack of ‘a serious opponent image’ to fights between opposition parties.

Generally, no one can predict what will put an end to this new era of politics, neither globally nor locally. But for the time being, it seems the average Hungarian should embrace the fact that Meszaros keeps buying more and more media coverage, winning more and more procurements, and successfully climbs the list of the richest Hungarians.

Mark Matusz
Republikon Institute