Meet the brave, consensual mayor set to face down Hungary's autocrat

Gergely Karácsony does not have the commanding features of a warrior who can fight Europe’s authoritarian nationalists. The mayor of Budapest is 46, but his mild manner makes him look like an unassuming junior lecturer who could not take on a class of rowdy students, let alone Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s de facto dictator.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Bernadett Szabó/Reuters

He doesn’t shout or sloganise. He talks in a learned manner about how the European Union has fallen for a Fukuyaman delusion that democracy is irreversible while all the time providing cover for the dismantling of democracy in Poland and Hungary.

Yet Karácsony has a fair chance of being the sole opposition candidate in next year’s Hungarian elections precisely because he is not a populist. In desperation at the threat to the rule of law Orbán poses, six Hungarian parties have revived the classic anti-fascist tactic of a popular front. Politicians, from the formerly far-right Jobbik party all the way through to the radical-left Greens, have put aside their ideologies for the greater good of smashing a rigged system. After a decade of fruitless infighting, they have learnt that, when democracy is in danger, divisions between left and right, social conservatives and woke progressives are irrelevant.

© Photograph: Bernadett Szabó/Reuters Since 2010, Hungary’s PM Viktor Orbán has worked on creating the fear that if you speak out you will lose your job.

To win, they must build a consensus and appeal to the widest possible spectrum of support. They cannot beat populists by being populist. They cannot afford to treat large numbers of their fellow citizens as enemies. They must focus their energies on isolating and overthrowing the elite who run the ruling Fidesz party and everything else that matters in Hungary. The high stakes are not immediately obvious. To the casual visitor, Budapest appears unchanged. The baroque and art nouveau architecture is as gorgeous as ever. The supermarket shelves are full in eastern Europe, to the wide-eyed wonderment of British visitors from behind the Brexit curtain.

Orbán understood that the tactics of the troll and the thug could be used to mould whole nations

I found Zsuzsanna Szelényi can help foreigners understand how deep the rot has penetrated. She became one of Fidesz’s first MPs in 1990. Orbán posed as a liberal back then because liberalism seemed the way of the future. She broke with him because his innate authoritarianism became too hard to ignore and now sees her former ally as “Europe’s most unscrupulous autocratic political chief”.

Better than Vladimir Putin, Orbán understood that the tactics of the troll and the thug could be used to mould whole nations. As soon as Fidesz won power in 2010, it began rigging the system. It redrew parliamentary boundaries and added a novel concept of “winner compensation” that awarded the victorious party with extra votes. Fractured and often discredited opposition parties helped. But political fixing gives Orbán a two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats, which allows him to rewrite the constitution at will, without a majority of the votes cast.

State capture has followed. Bureaucrats and police and military officers know their position depends on not crossing the ruling party. Power in Hungary is not based on fear of arrest and torture but on the gentler but no less effective fear that if you speak out you will lose your job.

Meanwhile, and I accept this is a bold claim for a British journalist to make, the Hungarian media are the most prostituted in Europe. The state controls its broadcasting services directly. Elsewhere, it relies on a network of Orbán-supporting oligarchs, who put 500 media outlets under the editorial control of a state foundation. The simple but effective tactic of rewarding servile journalism with taxpayer-funded advertising revenue mops up most of the rest. No stratagem is too debased to follow. Orbán has been the leading promoter of the conspiracy theory that the Jewish financier George Soros is using his wealth to destroy the white, Christian west by flooding it with migrants. Across the world, a belief in his “Soros plot” is as reliable an indicator of far-right affiliation in the 21st century as a swastika badge on the lapel and a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion on the bookcase were in the 20th.

Taxes and EU funds are routinely stolen. The only benefit of Brexit I can see is that our money is no longer ending up in the pockets of Fidesz’s thieves. For it is a bitter truth for those who support the EU that until last year Europe’s Christian democrats in general, and the over-praised Angela Merkel in particular, were the protectors of anti-democratic movements in Hungary. Merkel’s long overdue retirement and a defeat for her party in the German elections will do wonders for European freedom.

The Central European University academics and students are nowhere to be seen because Orbán drove them into exile

I am writing from the Budapest forum, a conference of progressive European mayors at the Central European University. There’s no better place to contemplate the apparent futility of fighting the autocratic state. Its academics and students are nowhere to be seen because Orbán drove them into exile in Vienna rather than permit the existence of a centre for independent thought.

To their credit, the Hungarian opposition has not given up. Starting next month, opposition parties will hold primaries in every constituency to decide who should be the sole unity candidate at the April 2022 general election. Karácsony may not win the separate primary to be the stand-alone opposition candidate for prime minister – leaders of other parties have an equal claim – but whoever wins must imitate his reassuring manner that tells wavering Hungarians that it is safe to risk a change of government.

And what of us? The UK is not heading towards dictatorship. The police do not hound opposition politicians as they do in Hungary. The full resources of the troll state’s media are not used to smear them. But look at this government’s attempts to nobble the Electoral Commission, put a rightwing radical in charge of broadcasting regulation and rig the system to the Conservative party’s advantage. Unlike in Hungary, Labour and Scottish National party obduracy has scuppered the idea of electoral pacts that would ensure parties stood aside to allow the candidate with the best chance of beating the Conservative to have a clear run. Nothing can shift their parochial sectarianism.

Fidesz came to power in 2010, the same year the Conservatives took power in the UK. Perhaps because the threat to freedom is greater, Hungarians are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop a one-party state. Meanwhile, their British counterparts are willing to see it stretch on for years without end.

• Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related


All the latest Portsmouth team news ahead of Ipswich Town clash

© Provided by Football League World League One – Portsmouth v Accrington Stanley Portsmouth will be looking to get back on track in League One tomorrow when they host Ipswich ... Read more »

All the latest AFC Bournemouth team news ahead of Stoke City clash

© Provided by Football League World Championship – AFC Bournemouth v Barnsley AFC Bournemouth have no fresh injury concerns going into Tuesday night’s clash against Stoke City at the bet365 ... Read more »

West Brom injury update emerges on "magnificent" £36k-p/w ace, Ismael surely buzzing - opinion

© Provided by Football FanCast Diangana West Bromwich Albion have been handed a significant boost regarding the fitness of Grady Diangana. What’s the latest? In recent comments cited by Birmingham ... Read more »

Barcelona change stance over signing 28-year-old, January talks ruled out

Barcelona have changed their mind with regards to a potential move for Paul Pogba next summer. The Manchester United midfielder could be available on a free transfer in 2022, with ... Read more »

Inside Newcastle's strange first game under Saudi ownership as fans make feelings clear

First the celebrations, then the reality check. After 11 days playing fantasy football, speculating on which superstars could arrive, and director Amanda Staveley insisting the Saudi-Geordies are targeting the title ... Read more »

Christmas rations: The two food items supermarkets could put limits on

Let’s face it, Christmas is all about sitting down with your loved ones and enjoying an extravagant, hearty meal. Last year’s festivities were blown to pieces by the UK Government’s ... Read more »

Covid survivor: ‘I was so auto-immune compromised that I am sure it was the vaccine that saved my life'

A man (41) who was vaccinated against Covid-19 – but still ended up in ICU for six days fighting the virus – says he believes the vaccine saved his life. ... Read more »

Roast pumpkin soup with sage butter recipe

Roast pumpkin soup with sage butter – Yuki Sugiura I like to use Crown Prince for this as it has sweet flesh and a great colour, but butternut is fine ... Read more »

Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness schools ‘dumb f**k' Marjorie Taylor Greene on the reality of HIV

Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness stepped in to school Marjorie Taylor Greene after she attempted to draw comparisons between anti-vaxxers and those living with HIV. The infamously dreadful Republican congresswoman ... Read more »

Netflix's Mega-Hit ‘Squid Game' Will Generate Almost $900 Million In Value

Netflix projects the Korean-language megahit Squid Game will create almost $900 million dollars in value. In a confidential document reviewed by Bloomberg News, Squid Game generated $891.1 million in impact ... Read more »

Kenyan court allows police to hold husband of athlete for 20 days

© Reuters/Ibrahem Alomari FILE PHOTO: World Athletics Championships – Doha 2019 NAIROBI (Reuters) – A Kenyan court on Monday allowed police to hold the husband of long distance runner Agnes ... Read more »

Russian court to consider transfer of jailed ex-U.S. Marine Whelan to U.S. - TASS

© Reuters/MAXIM SHEMETOV Detained former U.S. marine Whelan attends a court hearing in Moscow MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court will consider a request next month to transfer former U.S. ... Read more »

Jesy Nelson downs shots and cocktails on night out as Leigh-Anne Pinnock makes teary speech at birthday bash

JESY Nelson downed shots and cocktails as she hit the town with friends – while former bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock threw an epic birthday party. The Boyz singer, 29, let her ... Read more »

Passport warning as government announces new rules for 26 countries

THE government has updated their latest passport warning for Brits going on holiday to Europe. With families heading abroad this week during the summer half-term, many are being warned to ... Read more »

Jack Fincham joins Towie to confront Frankie Sims as the exes have explosive row on-screen

JACK Fincham is set to confront ex Frankie Sims on The Only Way Is Essex following their split in July. The Love Island champ, 30, reportedly filmed the scenes for ... Read more »

‘Great signing!',' Didn't expect that' – Many Bournemouth fans react to emerging transfer news

© Provided by Football League World robbie brady AFC Bournemouth have announced the signing of winger Robbie Brady on a free transfer. The Cherries have bolstered their squad with the ... Read more »

Forget Dier: £60m-rated Spurs star who lost possession 14x endured a nightmare at NUFC - opinion

© Provided by Football FanCast Spurs defender Cristian Romero in action against Chelsea’s Kai Havertz in the Premier League Cristian Romero had an afternoon to forget as Tottenham Hotspur defeated ... Read more »

Carlton Palmer makes win-win claim on West Brom's Sam Johnstone situation

© Provided by Football League World Championship – West Bromwich Albion v Birmingham City Ex-West Bromwich Albion midfielder Carlton Palmer believes it could be a ‘win-win’ for both the club ... Read more »

Klopp could land perfect Mane heir at Liverpool in “pure class” £22.5m-rated star - opinion

© Provided by Football FanCast noa lang celebrates With 22 goals scored in their opening eight Premier League games of the season, it’s safe to say Liverpool have not been ... Read more »

Aston Villa, Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea all face the same January problem

Marvelous Nakamba, Bertrand Traore, and Trezeguet could miss up to three games for Aston Villa in the month of January due to their possible involvement in the Africa Cup of ... Read more »

'Should've been sold years ago' - Many Newcastle fans slam star who's 'League One level at best'

Many Newcastle fans have taken to an official club Tweet to lay into Jonjo Shelvey in the wake of Newcastle’s 3-2 defeat against Spurs. © Provided by This is Futbol ... Read more »

Opposition party writes to Agong over 12th Sarawak state election

© Provided by New Straits Times KUCHING: Parti Sarawak Bersatu has written an appeal to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah not to accede to any ... Read more »

UK MPs to pay tribute to slain colleague in parliament

© Adrian DENNIS Tributes have been paid to David Amess, since he was stabbed to death on Friday British lawmakers will on Monday pay tributes in parliament to their fallen ... Read more »

Military veterans to appear in court over hostage drama

© Provided by eNCA JOHANNESBURG – 56 military veterans are expected to appear in connection with Thursday night’s hostage drama, at the St George Hotel in Centurion. The members of ... Read more »

Aren't you supposed to be ill? What ARE the rules around medical parole?

© Provided by CapeTalk – Jacob Zuma was spotted at a Durban casino on Friday, weeks after being released on medical parole – One does not need to be terminally ... Read more »

Ferrari: P3 in F1 championship clear target after gains on McLaren

© Charles Coates / Motorsport Images Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M Ferrari cut into McLaren’s advantage in the fight for third in the standings last time ... Read more »

Guantanamo Bay detainee could give evidence on torture

© MCT Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a Palestinian known as Abu Zubaydah, is imprisoned at Guantanamo. (Department of Defense/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) A suspected high-ranking Al Qaeda ... Read more »

1 dead, 7 injured as US college endures two shootings in a week

© Provided by Khaleej Times 1 dead, 7 injured as US college endures two shootings in a week One person was killed and another seven were injured at a US ... Read more »

Australia's Queensland state to open to vaccinated travellers

© Provided by Khaleej Times Australia’s Queensland state to open to vaccinated travellers Australia’s Queensland state announced plans on Monday to open up to vaccinated travellers, ending the status it ... Read more »

Twins 'trying to see moon' fall to death from 25th-floor flat

© Provided by Khaleej Times Twins ‘trying to see moon’ fall to death from 25th-floor flat Two brothers, aged 13, died after falling from the 25th-floor balcony of their apartment ... Read more »

German greens vote to join coalition talks

© Martin Meissner A preliminary agreement in coalition talks calls for Germany to accelerate its exit from coal-fuelled power. Photo:AP Germany’s Greens have voted to enter coalition talks to form ... Read more »

Akifcafe instant coffee to enter Middle East market

© Provided by New Straits Times KOTA BARU: A Kelantan-based company which produces instant coffee powder, is spreading its wings into more Middle East markets. Deputy Agriculture and Food Industry ... Read more »

Sultan Selangor terima menghadap Menteri Kesihatan

© Provided by Sinar Harian SHAH ALAM – Sultan Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah berkenan menerima menghadap Menteri Kesihatan, Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar di Istana Bukit Kayangan pada Isnin. Menerusi ... Read more »

#Showbiz: Duet gets Namewee, Kimberley Chen blocked by Weibo

© Provided by New Straits Times KUALA LUMPUR: Chinese social media platform Weibo has blocked the accounts of Malaysian singer-actor Namewee and Australian singer Kimberley Chen, for their satirical duet ... Read more »

#Showbiz: 'I have to talk loudly due to the voices in my head' - Janna Nick

© Provided by New Straits Times KUALA LUMPUR: Award-winning actress Janna Nick who suffers from bipolar disorder, constantly hears voices in her head, which consequently cause her speak loudly. The ... Read more »

Ahmadinejad: ‘No War in the Region Will Have Any Winners'

US has helped install Taliban in Afghanistan which will lead to a resurgence of Al Qaeda, only to clash with Iran, but this plan will be foiled soon, Iran’s former ... Read more »

Dos penggalak untuk 'frontliners' Pulau Pinang bermula Isnin

© Provided by Sinar Harian GEORGETOWN – Program Imunisasi Covid-19 Kebangsaan (PICK) bagi dos penggalak untuk petugas barisan hadapan peringkat Pulau Pinang bermula pada Isnin. Ketua Menteri, Chow Kon Yeow ... Read more »

PH Melaka bawa isu pembuburan DUN ke mahkamah

© Provided by Sinar Harian MELAKA – Pakatan Harapan (PH) Melaka akan meneruskan langkah membawa isu pembubaran Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN) Melaka ke-14 ke mahkamah dalam minggu ini. Pengerusinya, Adly ... Read more »

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar unveils 'Bhoodan Grove' plaque at Jerusalem Forest in Israel

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday unveiled the “Bhoodan Grove” plaque at the Jerusalem Forest, bringing out lesser-known aspects of Indo-Israel relations before the establishment of full-fledged diplomatic ties ... Read more »

Tata Power zooms 15 per cent on renewable energy unit IPO buzz

New Delhi: Shares of Tata Power zoomed as much as 15 per cent on Monday as the company is eyeing to raise funds for the initial public offering (IPO) of ... Read more »