The National Cooperation System is not a dictatorship, but its logic is the same: it knows only one answer to conflict, crisis, growing social tensions, and that is the new emphasis on power and mind control. – Sándor Szénási
Translation of Sándor Szénási’s op-ed piece “Propaganda Spree” appearing in the October 15th, 2015 edition of liberal weekly 168óra, pp. 24-26
It really isn’t clear why a new propaganda team is needed. This is what they call the Prime Minister Cabinet Office being set up under Antal Rogán, because undersecretary (sic) János Lázár called the Office of the Prime Minister two-headed which recently withdraw its second head, and who are we to argue with him? But that isn’t even the point. Rather it is the goal itself which is the reason why the body responsible for promoting the governments policies came into being, since the friendly public radio and televisions is already there, and regrettably the Magyar Idők (Hungarian Times) launched to replace the Magyar Nemzet is revisionist, as is the tabloid Lokál supposedly printed in 500,000 copies and its online version. And then there is the 888.hu portal under the editorship of Gábor G. Fodor who is especially sensitive to citizens values, to make no mention of TV2 which Andy Vajna is about to purchase. Earth, water, air — everything is covered. If we imagine our homeland as a box, certain sides of which are protected by fences, then covering everything is a system of fact-dismissing media services closing the box off from reality, then there does not seem to be much room under the sun left for Antal Rogán. Concretely: he cannot be distinguished from his government image smoothing colleagues.
Alright, we’re exaggerating. because there remains independent—in Fidesz terms: opposition—media figures, including opposition, bald critics as well, as well as those looking for a non existent middle road. Bug keeping these in line does not require somebody of Antal Rogán talents, especially not a ministry with three different secretariats. A little legal maneuvering here, a little intimidation of advertisers there, the falsification of tenders, the rewriting of laws regulating public pronouncements, and naming non-friendly powers as foreign agents, and depriving critics and self-respecting intellectuals of their jobs—easy, and the list is endless. What else is there left to do?
The situation is that, just as there are many generations alive today that remember the Kádár era, all of them lapse into a coma whenever propaganda is mentioned, especially if we’re talking about journalists. It is as though we were at a viewing of an old film. First a huge room appears before us, and then somebody dressed in gray sitting at a desk, piled with stacks of paper, who reads the government’s latest successes suitable for publication in the media. The old colleague realizes that the late Minister Council Information Office, which in a dream turned into the MSZMP Agitation and Propaganda Department, whose tone was harder. This is permitted, comrades, and this is not. This is obligatory. At first we only request, but then we ban. And then we post an article based on heresay about such an such an editor-in-chief of an impartial newspaper. Final warning. And then the negotiations come to an end, comrades, and once again we’ve had a good discussion. They dream, though not happily, those who remember, and they think, perhaps this is coming back, since in the past they experienced good fortune in two kinds of worlds: one in which the press was not free, and one in which, after 1990, it was free. Clearly, we can no longer speak of the latter. In Freedom House’s 2015 report Hungarian freedom of the press is somewhere between Denmark and a cheap dictator named Mugabe in Zimbabwe. In light of this, in theory the already known alternative comes to life: once again the fat man is sitting there in an official place, and he gets upset and threatens and tolerates and bans.
However, in connection with this variation we ask questions. The situation is a little palatable. The Kádár system never lied about itself by claiming the be a civil democracy.
Returning to the opening question, let us acknowledge that this still reflects the atmosphere of a freer world in which citizens are certain that events have order and borders. After all, who needs more propaganda? Why would it be a good thing to have an even larger power over our souls? However, Hungarians learning in the Orbán system, that is, those living in a world that is moving backwards away from freedom, suspect that the power’s mind does not work this way and cannot even work this way. The National Cooperation System is not a dictatorship, but its logic is the same: it knows only one answer to conflict, crisis, growing social tensions, and that is the new emphasis on power and mind control. The answer to this were the anti-government demonstrations of last year, and after that the one million decrease in the number of Fidesz supporters in under three months. The answer to this was its own panic, that the power is pulverulent, Jobbik is coming up, and that the former right wing liberal youth are fleeing it, as well as the old supporters or order. Orbán’s reaction to this and to the dog fight among the Fidesz elite, is to redistribute power and money in the suspicion that ultimately it will be at his expense. He cannot give in to pressure. He senses the self-liquidation of reforms, compromises, citizen politics, and he is right. He prescribes a centralized medicine for the problems. Nationalism for poverty and dangles the fortress mentality syndrome to the declining middle class in the countryside, which becomes the refugee matter, culminating in the defense of a “Hungarian way of life” condemned to destruction. But mostly he wants to control public expressions of power and society. Perhaps he does not believe that the people accept what is rammed down their throats as reality, but at the same time it is no longer this simple. However, he can be confident that what they do not hear about will not be missed. So masking that which is actually going on over their heads, moreover at their own expense, over ensuring himself is not in vain.
And now Orbán distributes everything. There is no more Simicka, who recoils and kicks. There is no one to expose him. Reliable people are placed everywhere who would lose a lot were he to fail. The papers, the portals, television and radio all serve him because he holds the keys to the cash desk, and buys a significant part of their advertising time. The message is central and uniform, just as before, but extending over a larger area. There is no dissension, sophistry, independent thought. The weekly briefing which the government’s men previously held for HirTV and presumably Magyar Nemzet will everywhere be an accepted ritual. Antal Rogán’s friendly smile may appear in the environment of the non Orbán media, characterized by influence, manipulation, some drops of honey on the string can advantageously supplement the already proven methods. Why always wrestle and bother unnecessarily with the complaints of the foreign press and the free media? We can agree, since we’re all Hungarian people.
They might say it’s an old tale, the weatherworn and now somewhat boring outrage of those who have seen many disgusting things in this and that world. Where there is power, there is brain washing. Seen from this point of view, Kádár and Orbán propaganda do resemble one another in that a fat man is still sitting in some office, and he is shaking his fist before a figure dressed as an editor-in-chief. Except, of course, the present government propaganda is rawer, it like to play on people’s heartstrings, and to play with fear, and is scarcely able to restrain itself from displaying the photograph of the Leader on every schoolroom. Even though this is pointless, say the outraged who have seen a lot in an abandoning tone. The system might have noticed that Hungary has already surrendered itself to it. For now, there is no fever and they do not even dream of another savior, because they know none exists. Sleep or just wait, who knows. But the power just goes, oppresses, gobbles up everything, transgressing its own boundaries as well. As though it had lost all sense. But it is also possible, that it is uncertain, the fears are still fresh, and already the country is afraid of this.
We look around and we do not understand.