A Travelers Guide to Viktor Orban’s Hungarian ‘Dictatorship’

It seems obligatory these days to lie about Hungary in the western media. Unfold an American, British, German, or French newspaper tomorrow and you will find that Hungary is governed by the “populist” Viktor Orban, a mini-Il Duce in the morning, a destroyer-of-Europe-in-waiting in the afternoon, and a Hitler in the evening. A prime minister who, together with his center-right Fidesz party, has transformed the country into a dictatorship where there is no freedom of the press while following in every footstep of the autocratic presidents of Russia and Turkey, his role models. Moreover, you will get to know that Hungary and its people are intolerant, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, — a country where neo-Nazi guards are marching back and forth in the streets, on public squares, and through the villages. A country that would take only two seconds to turn into a post-Weimar Republic. And we all know history, etc.

Never mind that the huge influx of tourists coming to Hungary actually won’t see a single black-clad “Hungarian Guard” member such as used to march under the previous reign of the ex-communist/liberal pet coalition of the West. They would see, instead, Jews wearing kippa – a no-no in France, Belgium, and quite a few other European countries west of Hungary – hurrying to the kosher butcher from a sidewalk café. And these tourists would also see a people much more politely and patiently reacting to a foreign registered car hesitating or lost in traffic than Hungarian drivers would feel if lost in any Western capital.

And if these foreign visitors were able to read the Hungarian press, as most of the foreign correspondents stationed in Hungary’s “Kazakh-style dictatorship” can but pretend not to, they would get a far different picture than the one in stories the same correspondents send back to their home countries.

I understand that any suggestion regarding fact-checking with regard to Hungary is, in itself, condemnable to its rotten core, and stinks of anti-Semitism just as is demanding a factual description of the country’s press situation. In order to see it with your own eyes, I urge you to drive to the nearest gas station. By looking at its newsstand, you will see that there are five national political dailies of which two are pro-government and the other three are friendly to the opposition. In addition, these three pro-opposition dailies have a combined circulation far outstripping that of the remaining two.

You will equally see that out of the seven to ten national weeklies on sale there, only two to three are pro-government periodicals.

If you open them, you will be amazed at the tone and content of the attacks aimed at the powers-that-be.

Hungary is perhaps the only country in the Western world in which you can write in the mainstream press without any backlash that, for instance, the prime minister is an a**hole, a f**king gypsy, in addition to the everyday mantra of calling him an inveterate liar and a thief, along with each and every member of his administration.

If that is self-censorship, then the total silence of the German media for five days after the mass violence committed by migrants in the center of Cologne on New Years’ eve is proof to the contrary, that is, a lack of any self-censorship.

Getting back to your hotel room, switch on your television set.

You will see RTL Klub, a channel whose share of viewership is far greater than the rest of all television channels put together. RTL Klub’s newsreel, very heavily critical of the government, has a viewership of 1.4 million. Add to that the number of Hungarians watching the news on ATV, the second most popular newscast source and also very close to the opposition, with a viewership larger than that of the newscast running on the public television station.

If you are still not convinced that any criticism or attack on the government in Hungary is just as ordinary as it is mandatory in the western press to blame Russia for the migrant crisis in order to undermine the European Union, switch to the third most popular newscast, running on HirTV /News Television, a channel where members of the government are not even willing to show up.

At the same time, it is a fact that public broadcasting is strictly controlled by the government, just as it was during the socialist/left-liberal coalition ruling Hungary for all but a few years between the 1989 fall of communism and 2010 when Fidesz was elected. Of course during those years, the Western media found everything fine and dandy with press freedom in Hungary even though there were years when the politically conservative right had a very weak presence in the media.

It is simply unfathomable to call such a media scene “dictatorial,” worthy of Central-Asian republics, as the Hungarian neocon opposition calls it.

A Hungarian neo-con is a neoliberal on the economy and a left-liberal on everything else. As you can read daily in the media, he regards his own country as the most disgusting place on the face of this earth, but never calls into question anything done by the US, Israel, Frau Merkel, the Western powers, financial institutions, or multinational corporations — including the invasion and total destruction of countries from where people flee as a result of foreign and armed interventions.

The second most popular party in opposition in the country nowadays is the far-right Jobbik, which has no media presence to speak of. Incidentally, if control of the media were the most important factor in gaining popularity, it would be the least attractive party in the country in the eyes of the potential voters.

Hungarians on the political right ask themselves why fact-checking is thrown out the window with the Western press covering their country. And they also do not understand why those human rights lovers are not finding, from time to time, some other countries to berate, such as Mexico, Saudi Arabia, or Israel — all friends and key allies of the United States.

No wonder perhaps that they come to the sad conclusion that the Western press writes exactly what Hungarian neocons tell them to write. If this amounts to a conspiracy theory, then many Hungarians are, of course, guilty of believing in outlandish plots. But if you wish to convince them that they are wrong, supply them with an alternative explanation. And do it soon, please.

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