by Csaba Toth
Monday, 4
April 2022
Analysis
13:46

Liberals were never prepared to beat Orban

The Left's plan failed miserably
by Csaba Toth
Credit: Getty

Everyone here in Budapest was shocked. They were sold the idea that Péter Márki-Zay, the small town Conservative mayor, and now the honorary knight of La Mancha, could put a stop to Orbán’s rule by appealing against his many corrupt economic practices, chastising his statism and calling him a Fascist and a Communist at the same time.

All this happened while the overwhelming majority of leftist and liberal observers and pundits (including yours truly) told the public that the opposition might stand a chance in this election. There was a single party list of most opposition parties that, combined in 2018, got more votes than Fidesz — with single constituency candidates and a prime ministerial candidate selected by core opposition voters in a tumultuous primary last autumn.

The problem was that the designers of this plan forgot the most important ingredient to any electoral breakthrough: reading the room, and reacting accordingly.

The southern small-town knight of La Mancha was not interested in that. His success in the primary came after viral interviews in Hungary’s hip new YouTube channel, and gathering a small group of young, upper-middle-class faithfuls who saw him as some kind of a centre-right, pro-Western replica of the Hungarian prime minister. But the reality was that neither Márki-Zay or his opposition backers, including Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony, had any idea about what would be their counter-offer for Hungary in the place of Orbánism.

In truth, the real challenger to Orbán came not from the Left, but from the far-Right party rival Jobbik. Following Jobbik’s emergence on the electoral map in 2010, Orbán was deft in moving the party Rightward and taking anti-immigrant territory previously dominated by Jobbik. The party soon found itself in political no-mans land, with its momentum being completely halted. The party’s then leader, Gábor Vona responded to the challenge by gathering supporters for a carefully formulated and slow shift towards a political centre. That project was, again, stopped by Orbán in his populist offensive in the 2018 election.

By 2022, Jobbik voters, whom the liberal elite and Márki-Zay both considered voters successfully converted and pacified into a pro-Western, pro-market liberal consensus, turned out to still be Jobbik voters in the 2010’s-mould: angry, radical, anti-liberal, partially opposing Covid measures and vaccines.

The liberals could not see this, but Orbán could. His resounding success was a message to pacify this most difficult, far-right electorate, with the promise of staying out of Putin’s war in Ukraine, and a centralised management of the deep economic crisis looming over Hungary. Instead of outdated dreams of a return of a capitalist-democratic gilded age, Orbán promised voters peace and a shield against the collapsing global economy and order.

If you are paying attention in Europe in 2022, you can’t say you could not see it coming. But most commentators, and all the knights of the neoliberal La Mancha order, failed to do so.

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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago

In the Telegraph the report of Orban’s victory was headlined as “Putin backed ..” In the comment section many protested against this editorialisation. A subsequent article highlights MEPs complaints that Orban had used EU money to rig the election.
Too often, even in supposedly conservative newspapers, journalists seem reluctant to accept that Orban is popular because he actually listens to what his electors want and positions himself accordingly rather than regarding them as a basket of deplorables that need to learn to appreciate what the politicians want to sell them.
Anything more conservative than Theresa May seems to be regarded as far-right authoritarian. As a result some rag tag political grouping with no coherent aim was regarded as likely to defeat Orban. What is wanted is accurate reporting rather than boosterish propaganda from a left perspective.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Great comment

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I read a while back in Die Welt that Macron Was using money from the much-vaunted corona reconstruction fund (or whatever it’s called) to finance election promises and goodies. Somehow that passed without too much comment or furore.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
7 months ago

“If you are paying attention in Europe in 2022, you can’t say you could not see it coming. But most commentators, and all the knights of the neoliberal La Mancha order, failed to do so”.

It’s because they don’t want to see it. You’re all inside your nice little echo chambers, talking to yourselves, creating and then sinking into your own preferred narratives. And then can’t work out why those pesky Deplorables just aren’t cooperating. Is anyone really listening to what’s going on on the ground, or is it easier to spend time on Twitter?

Last edited 7 months ago by Katharine Eyre
János Klein
János Klein
7 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It’s very difficult to see and evaluate foreign affairs accurately or objectively when we don’t live in those places and have no first-hand experiences to rely on. Journalists these days are not usually very objective either because they often tend to have leftish, pc. leanings which will influence their reporting. Orban is very much a case in point and I wouldn’t dream of criticizing him without at least knowing a lot of background and Hungarian culture. Of course if we only read comments on Twitter or Facebook, or else The Guardian, Der Spiegel etc., we won’t be getting the full story.

Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
7 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

That deserved 2 upticks Katharine.

Last edited 7 months ago by Alex Tickell
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
7 months ago

A simply splendid result, and thank you for your contrition.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
7 months ago

A sentence starting with “Everyone ….” tells you everything you need to know about the foolishness of “herd thinking” within “bubbles”.

Last edited 7 months ago by Ian Barton
Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
7 months ago

Surely the answer is pretty simple? People who are shielded from Western obfuscation, propaganda and coercion, see what has happened and has continued to happen to our society since GM was forced through parliament, are frightened and dismayed.
We are moving in the wrong social and political direction to produce a viable lasting society.
Let’s get rid of the opportunists and elect a real conservative government.

Last edited 7 months ago by Alex Tickell
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  Alex Tickell

What is GM? I don’t know, maybe I should. There is no point in talking in code if you want to make those societal changes!

Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

It has come to the pass that some words or subjects cannot be discussed openly, even on this, one of the best platforms. The acceptance of GM/EM was in my view a signal that any social change was on the table regardless of societal or personal damage. In Scotland we are now legislating for even greater idiocy in how we treat women and disturbed children

Peter McLaughlin
Peter McLaughlin
7 months ago
Reply to  Alex Tickell

GM/EM
At least give us a clue

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
7 months ago

Gay Marriage / Equal Marriage

Oliver McCarthy
Oliver McCarthy
7 months ago

What exactly is this? Jobbik were part of Márki-Zay’s alliance. (Google it. It’s on Wikipedia – for example!)
Why does Mr Toth not mention this?
Because the obvious problem with Márki-Zay and his Naftali Bennett-esque, pantheon-of-all-things-vile attempted coup d’état was that he certainly did not offer an alternative to “Orbánism”.
Because Márki-Zay is clearly not a conservative – except by the deluded standards of modern “liberals”. (Google “Márki-Zay gay marriage” for more.)
Certainly I can’t imagine all those Hungarians who voted for Jobbik last time round were terribly pleased to see them on the same list as the Far Left and “liberal conservatives” in favour of LGBTQRSTU rights and such nonsense.

Last edited 7 months ago by Oliver McCarthy