Outlook for Hungary 2023

H. A. Brendekilde : While Reading the Newspaper News (1912) // Public domain

The 2022 elections changed the political landscape not in the sense that a new chapter has opened but by reinforcing the sentiment that the Orbán-regime is fully entrenched in power and cannot be removed within his own system.

Unpredictability of the Government

Since the elections, the regime introduces changes to the system even faster and more unpredictably than before. Governance is conducted increasingly by decrees – unannounced, unanticipated, and without any time to prepare for them, let alone having any public discussion over major changes. It is as if the government explicitly wanted to conceal from the public any plans of future regulations.

It raises the question of predictability and stability of the economic, political and legal situation, which makes operating under the regime more difficult and risky, but makes the regime itself more entrenched in power as every harsh, unexpected regulation makes the victims more introspective, battered and preoccupied with survival.

Position of Orbán’s Regime Abroad

The international political landscape has continued to deteriorate from Orbán’s perspective. During 2022 some of his allies got out of power or moved further away from it, like former US president Trump, while others have returned. The balance still seems overwhelmingly negative in his tally of allies.

Orbán’s announced plan to lead the country out of the Western sphere of influence and into the East (or at least closer to autocratic regimes worldwide) appears to be more and more ill-conceived – if we look at it from the perspective of the country’s interest. Yet, his determination only appears to grow with every step back for Putin’s war and international status – raising the questions whether Orbán is a free agent in this game or whether he has the country’s interest at heart. His defense of Putin’s interests in Brussels even in lost cases raises the question of his autonomy as a political player.

Orbán’s political future and his regime’s durability now appears to be completely determined by whatever happens in the global arena – and not at all affected by domestic developments as his opposition is more divided, dispirited, bankrupt and corrupted than ever.

Orbán’s fight against the European Union on the rule of law conditionality in exchange for the craved funds will determine whether Orbán wishes to stay in the EU. If not, he has every tool to make the decision himself and he has said that the country should consider leaving once EU-funds dry up. His media and loyal opposition parties are visibly testing the waters on the idea of Huxit and the propaganda machine has cranked up the anti-EU campaign.

The global economic downturn as well as the economic impact of Russia’s war have made their presence felt in Hungary in the form of austerity and inflation, but the full impact of the inflation is still inexplicable by only external factors. One must also explore domestic causes of the problems, like the chronic economic mismanagement, compulsive price controls, unannounced and unpredictable regulation and windfall taxes on targeted industries, and the purposely increased dependence on Russia to account for the sheer degree of inflation in the country.

Tackling the Civil Disobedience

Yet, it might not affect Orbán’s power at all. This is the time his decade of preparation (increasing economic dependence and a militantly obedient propaganda media) finally pays off. Keeping a substantial part of the population in the dark about the outside world, peddling his own narrative, and running the twelfth so-called “national consultation” government campaign has enabled Orbán to spin the narrative in his favour and make claims like: things may be hard in Hungary but Europe is much worse off economically, or that the hardship is only on account of sanctions against Russia.

He can also make uncontested claims that the situation would be a lot worse without him. And much like victims of domestic abuse who see no alternative and gradually lose sight of their own interests, people soak up any excuse the government offers them to justify the problems. A substantial part of Hungarians apparently believe Orbán’s spin – or at least can’t argue against it.

It is difficult to remember what normality looks like after a decade of gradually increasing abnormality and an endless onslaught of blame and hate campaigns, and outrageous things (like major corruption and openly autocratic aspirations) that all went down despite backlash or resistance. At this point every act of resistance, like teachers’ ongoing strike and civil disobedience is just another opportunity for the regime to demonstrate its power and teach people a lesson that nothing can be done. Their resistance is futile, if not downright punished. It happened to healthcare a year before, it will happen to education in 2023.

Outlook for Hungary 2023

Eszter Nova, lecturer at Cevro Institute in Prague and political commentator, who runs a blog Meanwhile in Budapest, wrote a publication Outlook for Hungary 2023 that further unfolds the above-mentioned developments of the Hungarian political landscape and its possible impacts on 2023.

Whole publication is available at https://www.freiheit.org/central-europe-and-baltic-states/outlook-hungary-2023

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Eszter Nova
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom