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I don't really see how Orban qualifies as a dictator. Even with the absurdly gerrymandered electoral system and the corrupt influence buying, Hungary is still a democracy and Orban is still a democratically elected head of state. To my mind, the line separating democracies from dictatorships is whether or not a majority of the people can vote out the party/leader in power, and whether or not people can openly campaign against the party/leader in power without being arrested or murdered. Both things are still pretty clearly true in Hungary. If Orban were to rig an election or violently repress his opposition, he would hop right over that line, but I don't think even his harshest critics have claimed that he's done that yet.

All democracies exist on a spectrum from more-or-less gerrymandered and more or less corrupt, but even the ones at the extreme end of the spectrum are still in fact a democracy.

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I suggest Pulitzer winning nytimes guy Joe Lelyveld's book "Great Soul", on Gandhi, next. :)

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Sadly every Hungarian I have met were extremely nationalistic and somehow believed it to be the best country in the world and Hungarians to be the best at everything. Never mind reality.

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I don't think any of the people in the so-called "Dictator's Book Club" have actually been dictators. I really dislike the hyperbolic use of dictator for anybody who has any kind of "authoritarian" tendencies, it really cheapens the label and makes the word meaningless.

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Should probably plug here that Hungary has elections coming in 2022 in which all of the non-Fidesz parties have united into a single coalition, and are currently leading in the polls. Unclear how much that will matter given all the gerrymandering, but this is the most significant threat to Orban's power in a long time: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/28/hungary-anti-orban-alliance-leads-ruling-party-in-2022-election-poll

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All of the things you accuse Orban of doing, are routine with the Left in most Western countries. In fact, if he ever rigged an election it could be called "fortifying" it (see NYT on February 4, 2021).

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Gabor Fodor - any relation to Magda, Eva and Zsa Zsa? In Hungary the family name is first, like in China.

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Was this post written by someone else? It doesn't read like Scott's usual writing at all and is riddled with strange typos.

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It's interesting that Orban seems to be, by your description, a tyrant in the original Greek sense of the word: an illegitimate popular ruler. With the caveat that the illegitimacy here is by liberal procedural standards.

That said, given that we have illegitimate unpopular rulers in the States today I'm not sure it's such a bad trade. Orban writes blank checks to his supporters of taxpayer money; likewise with Biden (see Build Back Better). Orban transparently rigged the election via insecure mail-in voting, expanding the franchise with foreign nationals, and his party's near-total control of the media; likewise with Biden (see Fortifying the Election). Orban is a pathological liar; likewise with Biden (see his bizarre Amtrak story and history of similarly weird and insistent lies). Honestly, following polling and implementing popular measures rather than Davos-favored ones seems like a plus.

I don't expect Orban to solve Hungary's problems, whether their poor fertility or poor economic prospects, but again I've seen no movement on that front by any equivalent liberal politician in the West. So if they're not going to have their problems solved either way, in the end it comes down to whether you prefer ineffectual corrupt populism or ineffectual corrupt elitism. Just by the numbers the former seems preferable.

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“He passed a new law saying he could fire any civil servant at will, then fired people in key positions and replaced them with his cronies and college buddies.”

Smart. Trust people you have known all your life, and no one else. I’m at that point myself. It's good practice, in any line of work.

“But why were Hungarians so opposed to refugees when the West was so eager to accept them?”

Sanity? Not being guilt-ridden suicidal leftists? Not being willing to your country be invaded and destroyed? The Swedes, to pick one example, are living the wreckage of their own stupidity. Everyone else is finally waking up in Europe. Orban gets no credit for seeing what a fucking catastrophe this was going to be, and preventing it? Really, Scott?

“And in fall 2015, he constructed a Trump-style wall along the eastern border. Immigration numbers dropped from tens of thousands a month to a trickle.”

Orban should get The Defender of Civilization Lifetime Achievement Medal. Bring on the Trump style walls. They are one of the few public policies with a proven track record of actually working.

“Still, it’s not really obvious what positive lessons one could learn from the policies of Orban’s Hungary.”

See above. It's plenty obvious.

Funny, Orban is described as a guy who makes a mockery of democracy and is unaccountable. Yet he keeps getting elected. Democracy and elections, there is some connection there, what was it again? How weird is it that a guy figures out what voters want, does what they want, and when it works, they like it, and he keeps getting elected. How undemocratic can you get???

And his main enemy is the totally undemocratic and totally unaccountable EU. Not a word about that.

Orban looks to me like the kind of guy Yarvin writes about, a guy who uses executive power to benefit his people. We are used to elected governments being totally ineffectual and doing what their experts want, often the college cronies of the people in office, and smirking at the voters, stupid chumps, who never get what they want. So when we see a democracy that works, doing what it was elected to do, and executive power that is achieving critical goals, like national survival, it looks ... weird. That is because we are no longer democracies, not because Hungary is not.

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"But why were Hungarians so opposed to refugees when the West was so eager to accept them?"

Well, maybe I'm an idiot, but if we combine (1) national foundation mythology you have already mentioned, historical "we were stomped by the Ottoman Empire like most of Eastern Europe and who cared about us then?" and that these were Muslim refugees with (2) using an emotive issue to build your party's support, then we can get "No to letting Muslims back into our country because we remember what happened the last time https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_Hungary".

Yes, it was cynical political seizing of advantage by Orban, but so was Alexandria Ocasio Cortez crying for a photo opportunity: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/politifact-aoc-parking-lot-fact-check-mockery

(No, I am not saying AOC is the same as Orban, or that Orban is okay, or whatever. I'm saying part of the natural political animal instinct is to glom onto an opportunity that appeals to the gut, not the head).

"There’s an urban legend about a test for psychopaths. Usually the test is some kind of riddle that can only be solved by killing a person for some completely stupid reason - the one I remember hearing involved how to meet with one of your father’s friends, without your father knowing, when you don’t have their contact info".

Hmm. My solution to that would be "Ask your mother" since it's usually the women of the family who keep up with contact details like that.

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Agree about the court packing thing. Any route to a dictatorial America pretty much has to go down that road. Amending the constitution not only requires 2/3 of both houses of congress, it must also be ratified by a simple majority in 75% of state legislatures. Basically impossible in 2021. Or you appoint 10 of your buddies to the supreme court and they make it so the constitution has always said whatever you want it to.

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I notice that the Modi book review expressly noted that the book being reviewed was biased, and gave a perspective slanted in favor of Modi (I believe the term "hagiography" was used). In both the Erdogan review and this one, the book's claims seem to be taken much more at face value.

Scott, was it the tone of the Modi book that stood out to you, or were you just aware of other sources that dramatically contradicted that book's claims, whereas you're not aware of counter-evidence against the Orban book's claims? The contrast between reading the Modi review, which pauses repeatedly to discuss the reliability of the narrative we're getting, and reading this review is striking.

(To be clear, I'm not arguing that you were wrong to question the Modi narrative; biased hagiographies are absolutely to be guarded against when talking about polarizing dictators.)

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"The modern Hungarians are genetically more or less German. Realistically, they're completely normal white people who give their kids names like “Attila” and build yurts to celebrate the ancient ways."

To be fair, the etymology of Attila is debated, and half the people are saying it is of German origin :D

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This Sunday there will be a presidential election in Nicaragua. President Ortega is expected to win easily his fifth presidential term (his third consecutive term). The reason for that expectation is quite simple: this time the other main candidates are in jail.

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Hungary is such a beautiful place with a dour populus, many folksongs tell of famous defeats and battles lost. That being said Orban is doing his best to lead them to a glorious future. EU has paid for vast infrastructure upgrades and expected compliance for these bribes.

Instead the EU have aroused the great unwoke. Now Orban and his little coalition of like-minded states ( Poland et Al) will catalyse the downfall of the EU experiment. Not Bad for a Hick from Hicksville.

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I only read the first part, but I found a factual error and two things that misrepresent what Orban faced during his youth.

First, he didn't speak against the church at Imre Nagy's reburial. He just didn't, and why would he do that anyway: the regime he was speaking against was anti-clerical, systematically so, you might say. 1989 anti-communists in CEE didn't have anti-clerical rhetoric, tropes, sentiments. The cosmopolitan, liberal part of that group had those later, after 1990, as a response against pre-WW2 and conservative-clerical nostalgia.

You mention how poor he was as a child: the hot-water tap and so. I checked what his parents' jobs were and that indicates that his family was okay. He wasn't excessively poor compared to his peers in Hungary in the 1970s.

Finally, you mention that he had to drop his accent. Don't envision a British Isle-like cast system based on accents in Hungary. First, Hungarian regional variations had almost all gone by the 1970s, and where he is from doesn't have a distinguishable one anyway. The most he probably had to do was to get his enunciation more articulated to make it standard. Second, whatever social linguistic stigma he might have had (his parents were sufficiently educated not to hand over a very stigmatised version) was rooted out in primary school, I'm sure.

So after the above startled me, I didn't read it on. I'd like to read about the topic, and I have been thinking about democracy, kleptocracy, Orban, Russian and Chinese influence in Hungary and in Europe, but I want to trust the writer; I welcome outside views, so even if they aren't impeccably knowledgeable about the context (Orban talking anti-church re: Imre Nagy???), I want them to be humble about their gaps and focus on what they grasp firmly about the topic.

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Point of fact - to freely amend the US constitution requires the control of three quarters of state legislatures, which is probably - though not certainly, maybe getting a tiny majority in a lot of different states is easier than getting a supermajority in the federal congress - the higher bar to clear. In any case it's significant, because controlling lots of less-powerful legislatures, all of whom have relatively little to do with each other and answer to different electorates, is a very different task from controlling one really thoroughly.

(Possibly, amending the US constitution *only* requires those three quarters of state legislatures. While it's never been used, the amendment process as written can be started by two thirds of state legislatures - a strictly lower bar than three quarters - with not a single vote in the federal congress, but in traditional fashion, no details are given, and the congress still needs to call a convention that noone has any idea what it would look like, it's a whole mess.)

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> But why were Hungarians so opposed to refugees when the West was so eager to accept them?

You mentioned some ideas. In my opinion (as Eastern European), it's simply the fact that most of the countries in this region are much more ethnostatey than e.g. Western European countries. These countries have often very similar history: Being oppressed by Germany, Russia, Ottomans and each other for the past 200 years since the notion of national state came into this region. They often have only really young democratic regimes (most of them ~30 years) and they don't yet really match the level of democratic society that the Western countries have. Additionally, they are feeling economically left behind with not clear path forward and depressive demographic trends. This mix creates a very defensive countries. They finally get the chance to have a truly independent national states, but the future looks bleak and they will probably never catch Western Europe. They are worried about their fragile countries that are just started to get on their feet, and they are not willing to change their national identity by incorporating completely foreign elements

Also remember that these countries have very little history of accepting migrants from outside of Europe (you mentioned no colonial history). But on top of that, these nations are still mentally processing conflicts from the first part of the 20th century, where literally millions of people were forced to move between these countries to make them ethnically homogeneous. These people really like their pure ethnostates and they are not yet ready to accept different people.

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“Yeah, after learning that right-wing nationalism did well in focus groups, he became a right-wing nationalism; after learning that refugees did poorly in focus groups, he turned anti-refugee. But you can tell that if focus groups ever started saying nice things about Trotskyist international socialism he’d pivot in an instant.”

Isn’t that, like, the whole idea of democracy?

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1.) Your bafflement that so many of Orban's key players are his college roommates is... strange. Orban's political movement came out of reformist anti-Communist student movements. Of course they're a bunch of people who knew each other in college. That's what a student political movement is! You get to it eventually but this change is not even vaguely surprising. There's a long history of reformist but kind of conservative, kind of liberal rural movements in Eastern Europe. They were called Agrarian Parties or Peasants Parties and were usually distinct from the socialists but seen as a kind of popular power movement. That is the direction Orban moved in. It's not particularly unusual for conservatives in the region. The more unusual thing is that usually they end up the junior partners of Christian Democrats. In Hungary, the Christian Democrats are their junior partners.

2.) The Hungarians are descended from steppe nomads to at least the extent that Americans are descendants of the English. You can equally say most Americans have very little English blood and have it be true but a weird take. Now, Magyarism as a nationalist ideology is full of weird false facts. The idea they're the Huns that invaded Rome is just plain false. But there's significant linguistic and cultural continuity between Hungarians and their ancestors in addition to a distinct ethnic gene cluster. The article you cited itself even says this. Now, do they have large amounts of Germanic (and even more Slavic) blood? Yes, absolutely.

3.) You've misjudged Orban's background. Orban grew up in Communist Hungary and went to university. Yes, he was from a peasant background and probably emphasized that fact because it was advantageous in the Communist regime. And his parents weren't particularly powerful. But they were solidly middle class. I think one was an agricultural scientist and the other a doctor(?). He had a good education, got to study abroad even in the west, and if he had an accent it was no bar to him taking fairly prominent positions. Do you think the Communists let random nobodies give speeches at key events?

4.) The idea that Orban doesn't have core beliefs is a bit of a smear. He clearly does and his brand of conservatism has its unique traits. Notably, it's one of the more intellectual brands of conservatism. Fidesz sponsors colleges, holds scholarly symposia, etc. It also tends to promote expertise far more than populist revolts though its funding of schools means it actually has sympathetic intellectuals. Compare the Hungarian EMP from the Danube Institute (iirc) vs the Poles sending an actual monarchist reactionary troll.

5.) My understanding of the conservative Hungarian mood following their 2002 government was that it was basically just something they had to wait out. They considered the socialist policies bad and corrupt and thought the country had a natural disgust for socialism after Communism. More objectively, they spent their eight years out of power winning European Parliament, consolidating right wing parties and voters under their banner, winning local races and building party infrastructure.

6.) I haven't read these books but the fact it skips right over the mismanagement, economic issues, failed attempts to fix or strengthen the economy, the corruption, and the various scandals and lies makes me suspicious. It's "Orban pounces." It's not that the Socialists actually DID anything. It's that Orban reacted. The part that attributes the view of the Socialists as liars to Orban gives him more power than he had. The Socialists had been caught lying several times and denied it. Now, Gyurcsany was committing to change this in the speech. But it confirmed what the right had been saying for years: that the Socialists were lying and knew they were lying. Imagine if a tape leaked where Biden said something like, "Look, we need to run a better, more clean Democratic Party. We can't keep stealing elections like we did in 2020 or burying stories like my son's laptop or sabotaging investigations like we did with Benghazi!"

7.) Also, this is a small detail, but it wasn't leaked to Orban. It was leaked to the Hungarian equivalent of NPR and other journalistic establishments. The fact this is all attributed as Orban's doing rather than something he took advantage of, again, makes me suspicious of this source.

8.) Most of the description of Orban's tactics are pretty accurate. Though I will note that Orban does not use violence or actually interfere with the votes as far as anyone's been able to prove. Both sides accuse the other of election fraud when they lose but there's been no outside confirmation as far as I know. Orban's power continues because the left is fractured into multiple warring factions and because he's built a strong political machine. Which is definitely not good for democracy but is also short of an actual dictatorship. Orban took some pretty heavy losses the last election and the opposition has finally united heading into 2022. If Orban starts rigging things to defeat the United Opposition then that will be a transition to an Erdogan or Putin-like figure. If he doesn't then he was just a party boss in an imperfect democracy.

9.) Another way Orban resists the EU is a strategic alliance with Poland which allows them to protect each other in Parliament.

10.) Yeah, Fidesz's control of the country, at least for now, is not impregnable. The left could win. But it'd need to unite and make a concerted push. And getting a supermajority would be hard due to gerrymandering. And if it didn't win a supermajority the various constitutional provisions and stacked bureaucracy would make things lean continually towards Fidesz's policy preferences. But this is also the case in, say, Texas or Illinois. Which is not to say this isn't bad! But, again, I think there's a qualitative difference betwen that and (say) Russia. And there's definitely a difference between that and North Korea.

11.) Jobbik is a third way party, arguably semi-fascist in the "nationalist, moderate economically, conservative culturally" sense. Their big issues are things like the mistreatment of Hungarians in surrounding countries or Orthodox persecution of Catholics. (These are not made up issues, by the way. But they do tend to exaggerate.) They were never the farthest right party, that was various forms of openly Fascist irrendetist militias, but they were the most socially acceptable form of that politics. They dislike the European Union because they're nationalists. But they like many of the European Union's economic policies, see it as a path to prosperity, and like when it intervenes to protect Hungarian minorities (as it does with minorities generally). The big reversal was not some huge shift in policy but moving away from ties to those openly Fascist militias and cooperating with the left on the economic issues they always agreed on. It helps the Hungarian left isn't exactly happy about those Hungarian minority populations being mistreated either.

12.) The right likes Orban because he's the only right wing leader who's successfully established a right wing intellectual elite. Plus the various technocrats necessary to run a competent administration. Also, those right wing intellectuals invites academics over to Hungary to give talks or do various kinds of academic work in a welcoming environment. That's basically the only academic culture in the world where being openly right wing gets you a pat on the back. This attracts a lot of favorable commentary from intellectual right wingers who spend a few months teaching there or whatever.

13.) The fact you dislike most the one who hasn't done actual violence or led ethnic pogroms or used the military is strange to me. Partly, I think it's because you read a book that seems like it was written by the opposition. Partly, I think it's that the source apaprently didn't give you any idea of the underlying political issues in Hungary. You don't mention anything about Hungary's economic policies or the various political issues aside from refugees. Contrast the Modi and Erdogan reviews where various political coalitions and their motivations were touched on. This let you put Modi/Erdogan in their political contexts. Something you haven't really done with Orban. You know Jobbik exists but you don't know why they'd cooperate with the left. You don't even mention the other right wing parties Orban went into coalition with. You don't talk about how the left failed to form a unified opposition. Etc. Everyone is more sympathetic in context. Even corrupt party boss types.

14.) The equivalent in the US would require getting a 2/3rds majority in Congress and a 2/3rds majority of governorships and state houses and then several court cases because we're not a unitary state. The people who wrote the Constitution were specifically aware of people grabbing large temporary majorities and doing things like this. For good or ill, we've been increasingly tearing down these barriers for a century and a half because some people see these limits as intolerable. You can have a debate about those trade offs, of course. Maybe goverments that do more and swing more radically between parties are better than stable but rigid ones. But it is a trade off.

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Re: what is going on in Austria. Fertility there is about as low as it has been in the past 20, 30 odd years: the recent spike is in those areas that have seen a large influx of largely Muslim migrants. In quite a number of areas in Vienna children of recent migrants are the absolute majority in public primary schools. Out in the countryside, much less so: but there, fertility rates are about the same as they have been those past few decades.

Having this sort of scenario playing out at his doorstep is something Orbán exploits for his nationalistic propaganda. Not openly, but indirectly - "you don't want to end up like the Austrians or the Germans, now do you?"

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> The Hungarian border fence (source). Does anyone want to explain why this wall apparently worked but everyone says Trump’s wouldn’t?

From Mexico you want to get to USA and only USA, while Hungary is not destination andyou can get around?

Also, difference in scale, remoteness and resources of people trying to get through?

Compare length of this fences. Also, this is clearly designed to be patrolled/manned on scale impossible with planned Trump fence.

(all above are uneducated guesses)

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My favorite bit about Orbán is that when he was 20, he played in a movie (the movie version of a famous Hungarian children's book), where he played a robber turned into a football player. Make of that what you will :D

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"seized control of an old Soviet tank that had been wheeled out as an exhibit for the commemorations, and for a *shot* time drove it around the center of Budapest".

This is one of the great typos, but it should probably be corrected anyway.

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Well, some of the political developments in Hungary since 1992 may have to do with Hungarian national culture. Orban might to some extent be an example of the "there goes my people - I am their leader - I must follow them" leadership strategy.

This is admittedly political gossip (since I have not bothered consulting serious historical research to back it up), but Hungarians have a long-standing reputation in neighbouring countries as rather nationalistic and big-brotherish.

Some claim that this is a result of losing 2/3 of their territory after World War 1, which still gnaws on the collective memory.

While others claim that this loss only amplified feelings that were already there. It is said (yes, I have not checked the sources) that in the old Austro-Hungarian empire, the Hungarians were the nasty ones. They pressed for forced Magyarization of smaller (mainly rural) ethnic/national minorities living in the large Hungarian borderlands. Unlike the German-speaking Austrians, who took a liberal/multicultural view. Good old grandfather-of-the-nation, Kaiser Franz (and Vienna with him), had the classic-paternalistic "you are all my children" attitude.

It was Hungary, not Austria, that were the nationalists. (Although both were - and to some extent still are - crabby about the Czechs, who were the ones that made it abundantly clear they wanted out in 1918, and got the Slovaks with them.) The distant past still casts long shadows in Europe. At least for some of us.

Perhaps ACT readers in those parts of Romania, Ukraine and elsewhere that formerly were part of the Hungarian part of the Empire have more, or different, historical reflections.

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>But why were Hungarians so opposed to refugees when the West was so eager to accept them?

The West wasn't eager to accept them. The few countries that were are the exception that requires an explanation, not the hundreds of countries that did not. E.g. judging by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugees_of_the_Syrian_civil_war, Sweden took in about one Syrian per 90 inhabitants, whereas the US took in one per 39k and Hungary took in one per 10k. Hungary is not the outlier here.

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"a strange non-Indo-European language with lots of SZ's and ZS's"

To be fair, those are just a normal 's' sound and a normal 'zh' sound (as in the sound in the middle of 'measure') - they just have a confusing spelling system where an 's' that *isn't* followed by a 'z' is what we would normally write as 'sh' (or, I guess, think of it as the 's' in 'sugar').

What really gets you are the 'gy' and 'ty' sounds - try saying the 'g' in 'good' and the 'j' in 'judge' at the same time, and you'd not be far off - the middle of your tongue comes up to meet the roof of your mouth...

... which means that the Hungarians have provided us with a neat resolution, if we are brave enough to accept it, of the perennial squabble over how to pronounce 'gif'.

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"I don’t see any of that with Orban. Yeah, after learning that right-wing nationalism did well in focus groups, he became a right-wing nationalism; after learning that refugees did poorly in focus groups, he turned anti-refugee."

Wait. So he's giving the people what they want and trying to be popular? The bastard!

He's basically running a Tammany Hall on the Danube. But I think that's still democracy.

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On the subject of appointing friends ... Henry Morgenthau was Secretary of the Treasury under FDR — and a neighbor and friend of FDR. I can't think of other examples, but I suspect the pattern is common.

The Institutional Revolution by Douglas Allen is an interesting book about premodern institutions, why they existed and why they changed. An important part of that was the patronage system, where someone got appointed to a job not because there was evidence he was competent at it but because he was someone the person in charge could trust. I discuss it in some detail in a draft chapter I have webbed: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Ideas%20I/Economics/History.pdf

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I'm just slightly too young to have met Orban, but I was involved in European Liberal youth politics (an organisation called LYMEC, which still exists) in the mid 1990s when Fidesz was still officially liberal - they switched from the liberal* group to the main right-wing group in 2000. While the Fidesz people I did meet were obviously on the right of liberals, they were mostly liberals and you would get them quietly complaining about how far right and how conservative Orban was getting. Especially the gay ones.

I know that Fidesz had a split in 1993 and some of the liberals left for SZDSZ, but there was another one around 2000 when they formally left liberalism, and I think all the people I knew left back then. At the time, we all thought that Orban was going to vanish entirely... which shows how arrogant a bunch of mid-twenties liberals could be.

*Liberals in Europe comprise two wings, one which is similar to American liberals; we call that group left-liberals or social liberals, the other is what we call right-liberals or economic liberals and you'd probably call something like "moderate libertarians". They tend to be liberal on social issues, though rarely radically so (they were generally a little ahead of the average party on gay marriage, but not as early as the greens or the left-liberals), pro-business but tend to prefer small and medium-sized businesses to corporates, in favour of low taxes, hostile to unions and also usually calling for a smaller welfare state (though smaller than Germany or Sweden is still much bigger than the US). All European liberal parties are members of the liberal group (it was ELDR back then, later ALDE, now Renew Europe), but the individual parties are sometimes just one strand and sometimes both. So the British Liberal Democrats are both, the Dutch have D66 (left) and VVD (right), the Germans have the FDP (used to be both, kicked the left out in 1982 and has been right since). Fidesz was a right-liberal party until they switched to joining the main "centre-right" group (PPE). This is the same group that Merkel is in, to give you an idea of what a typical PPE party is like.

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This is all fine, but I would just point out that this is the year of our lord 2021 and it's been a good decade at least since newspaper coverage was any sort of key to political success. I'm not sure a crooked politician buying friendly media coverage is quite the trump card it once was, in the age of social media (are there Hungarian substacks out there, like Matt Taibbi, only of Magyar lineage?). To this cynic, it sounds more like Hillary Clinton supporters blaming fake news pages on Facebook for why she lost to Trump in 2016. Didn't help, but it was probably wasn't higher than 455th on the list of reasons she took the L in that election.

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“I don’t see any of that with Orban. Yeah, after learning that right-wing nationalism did well in focus groups, he became a right-wing nationalism; after learning that refugees did poorly in focus groups, he turned anti-refugee. But you can tell that if focus groups ever started saying nice things about Trotskyist international socialism he’d pivot in an instant.”

Tongue firmly in cheek, but this sounds like a remarkable new flavour of democracy-by-proxy.

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"Does anyone want to explain why this wall apparently worked but everyone says Trump’s wouldn’t?"

I assume that this is a joke and Scott is fully aware that the US-Mexico border is extremely dissimilar to Hungary's borders. Just to be explicit, illegal immigration in America is driven primarily by visa overstays, which is why a wall would mostly not work.

I wonder if the Straussian reading of this, that Scott is pandering to the MAGA crowd, is correct.


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In the paragraph where the writer (Scott?) writes about how Hungary’s history with communism, and how not being a colonial power, shaped its modern day political beliefs a fairly significant historical part was missed out: Hungary was colonised by the Ottomans, and it wasn’t pretty. A country with that history is going to be less sympathetic to the ideology of white guilt.

(And actually the distribution of “white guilt”, even the use of the term whiteness, across Europe isn’t related to imperialism but to US influence).

In the paragraph about the fertility increases in Hungary I don’t really see a regression to mean at all - not that that’s a guaranteed statistical certainty anyway - the rate recovers after 2010 more than it falls before it.

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You forgot vaccines, Hungary under Orban performed far above replacement politician on getting vaccines to the population, and then turning off unnecessary restrictions.

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"But you can tell that if focus groups ever started saying nice things about Trotskyist international socialism he’d pivot in an instant."

There's something that he'll never have to pivot on.

But that is his sin, isn't it? He isn't a urban intellectual, he isn't an EU yes man. He actually has the nerve to defend his nation's borders, he has the nerve to fire civil servants at will, he is not a globalist/one-world/davos pig at the trough.

Imagine living in a nation that was behind the iron curtain, gaining freedom, and then having the socialists again force austerity measures upon you - of course you do not want what the liberal effete are selling when they are really doing is serving you stale bread.

"How do we prevent it from happening here?" End judicial filibusters? Import millions of illegals? How about colluding with big tech to quash your opponents' messaging? How about completely overreact to a bad situation and scuttle the economy? Make everyone get a covid ID, but end the filibuster process in the Senate and assure no one ever needs a voter ID?

Interesting how parts I and II, I'm thinking Trump Trump Trump, then it all changed to the dem playbook (but doing nationalist things instead of anti-American things).

Good stuff, well written (should go without saying). Budapest is a wonderful city...if I was 25 again and have a bit of cash, I'd be there in a heartbeat.

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Perhaps it would do well to treat cultural lineage at least as, if not more, seriously than genetic lineage. If "The modern Hungarians are genetically more or less German. Realistically, they're completely normal white people who give their kids names like “Attila” and build yurts to celebrate the ancient ways.", then the Portuguese are, realistically, a completely normal Gaelic people who get up to silly cultural projects like speaking a Latin language and showing up at Roman churches; or the Ashkenazim to be, realistically, completely normal white people who give their kids names like "Schlomo" and play Klezmer music to celebrate the ancient ways. Though the Hungarian identification might not have as consistent an arc over the millennia or two that stands behind the Portuguese or the Ashkenazim, I don't see why it deserves a little gaff of derision.

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I'm not sure how serious you were with your fence comment, but there were two main arguments I saw.

1) Unlawful entry only accounts for a small portion of illegal immigration in the US, with most immigrants entering legally and overstaying their visas. [This article](https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/04/real-immigration-crisis-people-overstaying-their-visas/587485/) was the first Trump-era hit on the subject I found on Google. As far as I can tell, the current numbers are similar, with there being about double the number of visa overstays annually as unlawful entries. Obviously a wall would only affect unlawful entry.

2) The wall would not necessarily be effective at preventing unlawful entry in the long term for practical reasons. America's southern border is almost 2000 miles long and crosses several different types of terrain. The barrier would not only need to be built, but manned and maintained across this huge distance. This task is much cheaper and easier for a country like Hungary, whose barrier is only 325 miles.

Argument 1 is hard to dispute. If your overall goal is to reduce illegal immigration, it's not very cost-effective to spend billions to maybe reduce it 30%. Argument 2 is weaker in my opinion; I think it's probably true, but impossible to really prove without actually building a wall and finding out.

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"Is there something he’s doing that proves that being conservative works, or is better than expected?"

"Does anyone want to explain why this wall apparently worked but everyone says Trump’s wouldn’t?"

These questions seem to answer each other.

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Biden created a commission to look into Supreme Court reform. They haven’t released their final report yet, but they released a preliminary version (link in article below). I was pleased to see the report was very negative on the idea of court packing, and warm-ish on the idea of term limits (with some details to be worked out, including whether or not it would require a constitutional amendment). FWIW the Orban post makes me the most uncomfortable out of all these because if one of these paths were to be taken in the US, I think it would look a lot more like Orban than like Modi or Erdogan.


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"There was a rule that the Hungarian constitution could not be amended by less than a four-fifths majority. Unfortunately, that rule itself could be amended by a two-thirds majority."

Ending the filibuster with only a 50 vote majority seems like exactly the same sort of thing.

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One thing needs to be added to the article : Hungary is a very strange country, independently from Orban. I have been there twice, the last time was 3 weeks ago. I have traveled in most of European countries, I speak 5 European languages, but I have never felt so disconnected from the people living there; communication is very difficult, simply because most people only speak Hungarian (even younger ones). And foreigners are simply not welcome. Oh, and just ask my son about his football teammates who happened to be black...

This is very different from, say, Poland, Croatia or the Czech Republic. Poland may be super-conservative, yes, maybe more than Hungary; but I never felt rejected there...

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I am quite surprised about the review. I am no expert of Hungary, but my understanding has been a bit different.

My impression (even reading opponents of Orban) has been:

1) Fidesz rise to power was caused by Socialists, their corruption and mismanagement of Hungarys economy.

2) "We lied" tape was leaked in 2006, Fidesz won elections in 2010. The review gives an impression that these two events were closely related. They were not.

3) Reading opposition newslets of Hungary, I would say that up until 2013-2014, their main narrative was: socialist were bad, Fidesz promised change and won, thats the reason, not leaked tapes or tricks by Orban. And (grudgingly) Orban has delivered change and improved economic situation of Hungary, that boosted his status even more. From 2013-2014 stories about corruption, anti-democratic measures etc have became more prominent.

4) For most of his political career Orban was described (even by his opponents) as quite ordinary right of center free marketeer. Just recently reread some stuff from Anne Applebaum, typical liberal cosmopolitan, what she said about Orban: "For 20 years we were on the same side".

5) I am not hungarian, but I am from Eastern-European country. I do not think that hick vs urban elite applies here. If talking about social status and background, communism (and fall of communism) changed so much, that everything else is irrelevant. I am coming from a small Baltic country and most of our political parties have their historical roots in different underground movements of 1980-s. 30 years late you can still see lot of friends, schoolmates, roommates in politics. So, I am not surprised that smth similar can be seen in Hungary.

6) I am not sure what to make about gerrymandering. It seems that Orban has used it to benefit himself, but I have read some credible people who say that these accusations and effects of gerrymandering have been overblown.

Overall, I am on the fence. Having watched situation in Hungary for years, it seems to me that critics of Orban (especially from the outside) are a bit biased, they simplify, exaggerate and misinterpret sometimes. At the same time, I also cannot agree with defenders of Orban, who say that nothing is wrong and they attack him only because he is conservative. This does not seem true either.

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I'm mostly curious why you seem so certain that Orban's political opinions are insincerely held.

"Yeah, after learning that right-wing nationalism did well in focus groups, he became a right-wing nationalism; after learning that refugees did poorly in focus groups, he turned anti-refugee"

Isn't it more parsimonious to assume that actually he's just a fan of right-wing nationalism, and that everything else is downstream of his genuine beliefs?

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Most modern democracies are really some combination of democracy, liberalism, and technocracy (Trust Experts).

Orban (and Erdogan and Modi) strike me as being radically pro-democracy, at the expense of liberalism and technocracy. Some of the main complaints here are: (1) he does what he thinks the most people will want instead of having consistent personal beliefs, (2) he allows a lot of Hungarians who live in other countries to vote, (3) politicians can fire any civil servant, and (4) the people who win elections should control the press. These all increase democracy at the expense of liberalism or technocracy.

For example: Making principals accountable to politicians is more democratic than having them mostly insulated from public opinion. It would be even more democratic to have principals directly elected by their school district, but that isn't what the EU is pushing for.

Unfortunately, we have come to use the word "democracy" to mean "government we like". So the European Union says that Hungary is being "anti-democratic" instead of arguing why liberalism or technocracy is the more important value in this situation. This is especially ironic since the EU is a mostly liberal technocratic organization: only one of the seven major decision making bodies of the EU is directly elected by the people.

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As a Hungarian I liked the review.

As opposed to other writings about Hungary on the non-Hungarian internet it did not contain any obvious errors (ot at least ones I could detect as an error, I don’t really follow politics).

I have a few comments though: (sry for bad english)

>The Hungarians believe themselves to be the descendants of proud steppe nomads.

>Realistically this is all false.

I would be very surprised if this was true and no one had told me about it. Many people in Hungary are very nationalistic and some believe much weirder false beliefs presumably because of it (eg. some Hungarians believe that Jesus was Hungarian),

but many are not (some on the left are even vaguely anti-Hungary) and I expect they would have told me about this widespread falsehood.

But, I don't actually know this and I will reasearch it a bit, when I will have some time.

There are a class of images which I semi-commonly come across on the Hungarian internet which constitute small evidence in favour of the separate genetics hypothesis (small partly because I never checked the veracity of sources) and for fun I will leave them here without (much) comment:



>Or maybe it’s colonial guilt: the West is wracked with it, but Hungary, never having colonized anywhere, doesn’t see why it owes anything to the rest of the world. Or maybe it’s because bad blood between the Hungarians and Roma has soured Hungary on the entire concept of having minorities. Whatever the reason, anti-immigrant measures in Hungary were polling around the mid-80s-percent.

There is definitely a sense of Hungary defending Western Europe from various invading powers and not receiving much thanks for it from history, and so the “not feeling obligation towards the rest of the world” part is true and often referenced, but I’m pretty sure most of the anti-immigrant sentiment comes from common attitudes towards minorities.

> Is [policies trying to increase fertility rate] working? Lyman Stone analyzes the question at length here and says “maybe a little”. I am a bit skeptical [..]

My impression was that the most consequental family planning policies only recently started and it is too soon to evaluate them. For example CSOK started in 2015 (in some cases 10 million Ft state support + favourable interest rate loan for new houses), but I might be wrong. For me they only recently became relevant and that might color my impression.

>That if you have enough kids, the government repays your student loans?

While true, I don’t think this matters to most people as most already have their education paid for by the state.

I think some mention/analysis of Orban’s relationship to other authoritarian regimes, eg. Russia and China would have been interesting.

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I'm kind of surprised that there are still so many ethnic Hungarians outside of Hungary given all the ethnic cleansing that went on in Europe last century.

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When did we start calling it football?

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As a Hungarian, I found some glaring problems in the review, almost enough that I feel myself in a Gell-Mann Amnesia situation. I don't really blame Scott though, getting informed about the politics of a foreign country is very hard. Still, I trust the Erdogan and Modi reviews significantly less now.

First of all, I broadly agrre with the personal characterization of Orban, and I also think he is an extremely corrupt leader and a threat to democracy.

The review doesn't even mention some of the worst strikes against him: his schoolmate from his home village, who he got to know while going to the same football mathces is now the richest person in the country, whose hand is in every conveivable industry. Everyone knows he is Orban's straw-man, and collects the money for him and for his political cause.


Also, at one point, Orban's agents secretly bought up the largest Leftist newspaper, Népszabadság, and simply cancelled it. In the post Too Much Dark Money in Almonds, Scott wonders if there is so surprisingly littel money in politics, why doesn't some billionaire simply buy up all the newspapers and get to control what people hear about. Orban did exactly that, using the money his straw-men, like Mészáros, got from corruption.

On the other hand, the review is probably based on books and articles seriously biased against Orban, which causes the review to be seriously misleading about a number of things.

Most importantly, the gerrymendering problem is way less serious than the review portrays. I looked up the population of electoral districts, and all have population between 75 000 and 102 000. I couldn't find a source how the article quoted in the review got that 1 Fidesz vote = 2 Left votes, but it must have used some very creative accounting. I suggest that this quote should be removed form the review, unless it is supported by more sources, because I stronly suspect it is just blatantly false.

Also, you can just look at the election maps: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Hungarian_parliamentary_election


Orban won almost all districts. There is no gerrymendeing that can explain that.

The main change Orban's new Constitution brought was that previously Hungary had more or less a proportional electoral system: every party gets seats in the parliament proportional to the number of votes they got. On the other hand, if I understand correctly, in the UK, every district delegates one member of the parliement with first-past-the-post voting.

In my opinion, both system has advantages and disadvanteges, the German system is more balanced, but its result is that usually no party has parliamentary majority, which forces them to form coalitions, which can be a nightmare of instablility (eg Italy).

Orban changed the Hungarian electoral system to be a mix of the two: there are 199 seats in the parliament and 106 districts delegating members with first-past-the-post voting. The other 93 seats are distributed among the parties proportionally with the votes they got. (On a ticket, you vote both for a delegate in your district and you also vote for a party.)

I think this system is not entirely unreasonable, although the first-past-the-post element gives the winner more seats compared to the previous system, so it is easier to win 2/3 majority. But this also means that it is aeasier for the opposition to get 2/3 and remake the changes (although it is very unlikely that they will get that in this election).

The votes from abroad are also seriously overemphasised in the review. It is true that they overwhelmingly vote for Orban, but only the 4% of votes come from abroad, and they don't have district delegates, so that's like 4 seats from the 199. Significant, but Orban's power doesn't depend on these few seats.

I had some othe minor problems: Orbán emphasisees Christian, not Catholic ethics, as Hungary has a significant Protestant population (Orban himself is Protestant). The review claims that Orban was pretty bad in governing during his 1998-2002 leadership, meanwhile I usually hear from older friends, both left and right, that Orban-government was reasonably good back then, they were a moderate center-right party and mostly played by the rules. Most people I know claim that Orban only really broke evil when he lost the election of 2002.

Also, I feel the review is a bit too kind to Socialist leader Gyurcsány: when he gave the infamous speech, he was already the prime minister for two years, the speech is about his premiership, not his predecessor's. And after he was caught on tape claiming he lied all day and night and meanwhile didn't do anything good, he refused to step down. He used police brutality against the protesters and governed for three more years while being probably the most hated man in the country. No wonder Orban won in a nandslide after that. And Mr Gyurcsány still didn't step down after that, because there is approximaeetly 10% of voters who are really devoted to him, so he can remain an important figure in the opposition to this day, while the majority of the country still loathes him for his speech, for the police brutality and for mismanaging the 2008 recession which hit Hungary especially hard. Any reasonablye person would retire in his place, but he is never going to, because he is as much of a mud-fighter as Orban is. A big part of the reason the Left can't beat Orban is that they can't throw out Gyurcsány and his devoted supporters, but they can't win until he is on the ticket.

Also, border wall: not long after Orban built his wall and was called a fascist for that, the Germans also panicked after the first one million migrants poured in in a few months, so they made a deal with Erdogan, and paid Turkey not to let in more migrants to Europe, so now most Syrian migrants are stopped on the turkish border, sometimes by gunfire.



Orban is understandably bitter about being called a fascist, when in a sense he was just ahead of the curve, and I agree with him that EU leaders were pretty hypocritical about this. Also, before Orban bouilt is wall, leftist critics in Hungary also confidently calimed that it won't stop any migrants, but it did. I give it a nice chance that Trump's wall would work too.

Overall, Orban is still very bad, and I agree it is a shame that some western right-wingers are admiring him, but his critics often seriously exeggerate: somewhat similarly with the situation with Trump. If you only hear about Trump from texts written by angry leftists, you will get a very biased image, hited with a few banal lies. Scott has some good articles from the past calling out some of the craziest accusations against Trump. There are a similar number of absurd accusations written about Orban in the western media, but fewer well-informed people calling them out. So treat everything with a grain of salt.

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It's curious that Orban specifically has become this cause celebre for American reactionaries - even here, the comment section on Erdogan seemed to agree Erdogan was bad, and even the one on Modi still didn't seem as swarmed by his defenders.

As to why.... Republicans don't praise Putin because they genuinely dislike Russia due to the Cold War (also they'd get called Russian spies for it, even more than they are now). India has friendlier relations, but it's a significant power, so idolizing Modi would also cause concern about split loyalties. Even Turkey and Poland are regional powers, and supporting them is a geopolitical statement as well as an ideological one. So Orban is idolized precisely because Hungary *isn't* relevant, because despite his claims he hasn't made it significantly stronger, and therefore his oppression is only hurting Hungarians. (See also: Salazar's Estado Novo.) Of course, for the most part this is initial conditions rather than actual competence or lack thereof.

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It's not very hard to understand how Orbán rose to power if you don't make the very surprising omission from the description of circumstances you made (unfortunately using Paul Lendvai as a source is an extraordinarily bad choice, as evidenced by the many factually false statements in the post, but this is something that sort of stands out anyway). The country was coming out of communism, and the political party you describe as the Socialists consisted of the people who operated that party-state previously (as the party itself was and continues to be legally the same entity as the former communist state-party ). And as the Socialists kept winning elections after what you incorrectly call a revolution, and maintained most of the economic power and media influence, the millions of people who were on the receiving end of their activity for decades basically gave Orbán a carte blanche as long as he defeats the ancienne regime. And this kind of support is available to him to this day, and he in turn used it to grab all that economic power and media influence to himself. This is such a massive overlook that basically any reasonably informed Hungarian with no personal ties to the communist party-state establishment would have immediately called your attention to it, and explains most of the power dynamic.

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I don't consider this very fair assesment of Orban - couple of points which make Orban look better (or at least not so bad) from the perspective of the Czech (which means that Hungary is both locally and culturally close):

1) his huge advantage is that he (unlike his opposition) doesn't have communist past. He usually don't mention people from opposition by name, he says only "left"

2) all ordinary people in central and eastern Europe hate immigration from Islamic countries - it is seen as danger to our own culture

3) but they hate allocation quotas even more

4) Hungarian border wall was popular even here because it did divert the path of refugees

5) his described cronyism is quite normal here: his friends getting suspiciously rich? Normal. At least he himself doesn't profit billions

6) electoral system giving unfair advantage to big parties? We've had worse one since 2000 => no big deal (that said 2 party system in the US isn't coincidence either); + when I looked at wikipedia, it doesn't look that bad comapred to previous one - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Hungary#The_voting_system_between_1990_and_2010

7) unlike Czech politicians he was vastly successful in all kind of negotiations with EU (partly because he was able to use to his advantage interests of German companies in Hungary - he may be dictator, but if he gets stuff done...)

8) he is true populist - he makes popular political decisions and he is vastly popular (as seen on his FB page, for which he had never any ads) - compare it with our own leaving PM who himself owned biggest newspaper in country and his business made got literally billions from state, he was never that popular. You can talk about being a dictator, but since 1998 elections Orban's Fidesz did always get at least 40% of votes, even when they lost.

9) his government handled Covid pretty well (started vaccination sooner etc) (yes, Hungarian numbers don't reflect it, but Hungary has quite old and obese population)

some points to history:

10) you make Gyurcsany seem like a nice guy even with his speech about lying all day and night - but he told it after elections in which his party retained position in government - so it took another 4 years before Orban got his landslide victory

11) Fidesz did prioritize getting media influence only after losing really badly in 1994 - unlike parties with post-communistic connections, Orban's party didn't have money and media influence (and then it kind of repeated in 2002 when Fidesz was predicted to win) - that's why Simicska built media empire (in 2005 BBC wrote "With the exception of the conservative Magyar Nemzet, all the political broadsheets have left-liberal leanings." - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4068565.stm )

12) that said citation from NY is BS - Hungary's most viewed TV is RTL, which has been critical of Fidesz. And most popular news site 24.hu also doesn't support government

13) Simicska's media empire was actually against Fidesz before 2018 elections (supported Jobbik) , but when Fidesz won they came back to supporting Fidesz

P.S.: since it seems that opposition is really uniting in Hungary, I expect* Fidesz losing next elections (which will make this post age quite badly :) ), even then they will still be a party with biggest support in whole Europe.

* 55% confidence? (but don't take it too seriously, even though I'm officially a superforecaster ;) )

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In fairness the atomic bomb was also a Hungarian high school project, so maybe Hungarian education is just very good at building impactful cliques.

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2/3 majorities in both houses of Congress isn't the hard part. It's 3/4 of the states.

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"The American equivalent would require 2/3 majorities in both houses of Congress, which seems hard to do in these polarized days (though LBJ managed it, briefly)"

Plus 75% of the states ratifying the proposed amendment - there is a reason that the US only has a handful of amendments while states like CA and TX have over 500

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Your retelling of the refugee crisis of 2015 irks me. Having volunteered at a makeshift shelter for a short time, and sorting donations for refugees for months in 2015, I've met a couple of people who went through Hungary at that time.

"When there was no food or tents left, they rioted" - your own image source, under the picture right after that sentence, tells this differently: Hungary, in violation of Schengen, erected a border fence and gate, refugees tried to break through, police responded with tear gas, the refugees started throwing stuff in retaliation. The article mentions at least two children being thrown over the fence by their desperate parents.

The image description in that article is "Refugees throw rocks, water bottles at Hungarian police, who respond with tear gas at the Röszke/Horgos border crossing."

You do not source your quote that you chose for yours, instead: “Muslim migrants [shouted] ‘Allahu akbar!’ as they set garbage bins on fire and jumped on cars in the parking lot outside the refugee camp” I assume this has happened at some point somewhere, but Google turns up nothing for that quote. You probably tried to keep this part dense and meshed together events. Your point is probably to make us see refugees with Hungarian nationalist eyes. But I think you're being actively dishonest here.

You ask "But why were Hungarians so opposed to refugees when the West was so eager to accept them?" - I would offer one point you didn't mention, which is that there has been very little exposure to cultural diversity in the East, nothing compared to Western levels. Speaking of East Germany as that's what I know (from living here, and taking an active interest in this history, and having taken classes on the differences in the lives East and West, specifically): the foreign workers (from Vietnam, mostly, also Mozambique, Cuba and, guess what, Hungary) were segregated and often exploited, there was little integration going on, and very few managed to stay beyond their contracts. After the fall of the wall, immigrants coming to Germany started being allocated into East German counties by quotas, too, with lots of NIMBY-style backlash, political failures to house them and a series of violent racist attacks, one of which my home town of Rostock is world famous for.

I am guessing immigration to Hungary has been mostly from neighbouring countries until 2015, because Hungary didn't have a West Hungary that had an influx of immigrants from all over to distribute. As with the pogroms of the 90s in East Germany, this could be the backlash of (purposefully) badly-managed culturally/racially different immigrants to a population unused to them. Keep in mind that most were only trying to pass through - keep them from boarding trains, keep them without access to food, shelter, toilets and yes, the locals will not be happy with them.

Under a picture of the Hungarian border fence you ask "Does anyone want to explain why this wall apparently worked but everyone says Trump’s wouldn’t?" I assume this is a rhetorical question, but in case it wasn't: because 1. It's a proper fence, Trump's hasn't been. 2. Hungary is about three times more densely populated than the US, making it easier patrollable and more efficient. 3. There is no pre-existing economy dependent on exploitation of immigrants (at least, not those). 4. There's no pre-existing trafficking routes, drug trade etc for those refugees to use. 5. There's no large pre-existing community of people of the refugees' ethnicity for them to "disappear into" undetected. You can probably think of more reasons in that vein - to stop a long history of migration is harder than stopping a new, disorganized influx (that also has waned for unrelated reasons).

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My impression, inherited from Western European family, is that the EU and its constituents routinely condemn Orban as dictatorial (rightfully so) and decry his policies on everything, including immigration. But they're also grateful, whether secretly or openly, for his immigration policies. Whether you think "the problem" is the influx of immigrants and their behavior, or nativist reaction to and resentment of them - there's no question that increases in immigration have blown up European political systems and often vaulted right-wing parties to power. Obviously the right-wingers like Orban; but the leftish parties are also acutely aware that their hold on power depends on his policies. And nobody is actually eager to accept more immigrants, or to have tent cities on their borders. So a grudging gratitude for Orban's policies is the norm.

TL;DR: when it comes to immigration, the only thing Europe would detest more than Orban, is no Orban.

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The issues with building a fence on the US border are, AIUI:

1. Unlike Hungary, the border is really long. We do have a fence in the places where it would be most useful, but a lot of the remaining length is too desert-y, environmental-damage-y or eminent-domain-y to be worth the trouble.

2. A fence isn't much good without guards to patrol it, and recruiting border guards who won't needlessly brutalize foreigners has been a recurring problem. Presumably this isn't a worry for Orban.

3. The most common way to become an illegal immigrant isn't "sneak across the desert in the dead of night," it's "overstay your visa," and a fence doesn't do anything for that.

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> But why were Hungarians so opposed to refugees when the West was so eager to accept them?

This question disappears if you stop defining the West as the US plus a few Western countries. The Hungarian position is mainstream in Eastern Europe and has significant popularity in the Western countries, too (even Germany -- unless I have ended up in a bubble of my own). The US shouldn't be a comparison, as the differences between the refugees (South Americans vs. Arabs/Afghanis/Africans) go far beyond language, and as the expectation of security and urban functioning is a lot higher in Europe than in the US. I'd say Germany and Sweden are the two outliers here, not Hungary and Poland. Germany is a case of incredible political inertia: I won't be surprised if the migration crisis finally launches the Right into power in 2035 because none of the issues around crime and housing (I don't think the "taking our jobs" is a big thing in Germany) will be resolved by then; nor will I be surprised if it does so with a majority of the 2015 immigrants' votes. Sweden seems to have cooled on immigration as well, if Malcom Kyeyune isn't exaggerating ( https://unherd.com/2021/09/swedens-cultural-revolution/ ).

Orban's popularity post 2015 is no mystery to me at all; it's his pre-2015 success that worries me.

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But Orban is also unique in how he can be treated by the international community.

If he isnt an ideologue and is smart and willing enough to change his mind and his policies, then perhaps he can be reasoned with to pivot his policies towards more 'common good' ideas

I don't mean liberalism here, just sounder economic policies/experiments. Orban's stance seems to be that he isn't willing to take chances with him winning,

But anything that might let hold onto power/deepen his wealth, would be amenable to him..

It would at least be more unexpected a play than the current EU negotiation playbook that Orban has already dismissed.

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A few notes from a Hungarian:

Fidesz moved to the right around 1993, but it wasn't usually considered far-right within the Hungarian political palette. Since the mid-2010s it has shifted farther right.

Gyurcsány definitely didn't mean the previous government in his infamous speech. He made it shortly after the 2006 elections that he won; "the last one-and-a-half, two years" referred to his own government (he'd became PM in 2004). The "fuck-up" and "lies" referred to holding off the austerity measures until after the elections, and pretending that the deficit spending was sustainable. OTOH Fidesz promised even more in terms of reckless spending, and bashed the budget cuts all the while they bashed Gyurcsány for the "fuck-up", so in some ways it was the pot calling the kettle black.

Amending the Constitution never took a 4/5 majority. What I could find about this is that there was some rule that some step towards writing an entirely new consitution took a 4/5 majority; Fidesz proceeded to write a new constitution after removing this rule. But they could have done pretty much the same thing by amending the old constitution beyond recognition.

As far as I understand, the anti-migrant sentiment was mostly a top-down thing, created by Fidesz's fear-mongering. Previously, many Hungarians hated the Gypsies, some hated the Jews, but even on the far-right, but immigration was a low-priority question even on the far-right. And the Syrian refugees were mostly passing through Hungary, trying to go to Western Europe, rather than stay in Hungary. (But I have moved from Hungary by then, and I haven't followed the Hungarian situation very closely since then, so I'm not sure about the order of the events between people fearing the refugees and Fidesz starting its propaganda.)

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Just a note. There are two section IV's and no section V's.

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"Does anyone want to explain why this wall apparently worked but everyone says Trump’s wouldn’t?"

On the off chance that this isn't a rhetorical question, Hungary's southern border (the one with the fence) is 523 km long and the Hungarian border patrol has 12,000 men. The US border patrol has 21,370 agents but the US-Mexican border is 3,145 km long. As I think we discussed back on SSC a few times, walls and fences only serve to delay crossings, hopefully long enough for actual border guards to show up. The guards stop people from crossing the border, the barrier is a force multiplier (and you get most of the available multiplication from a good three-meter fence) Hungary has three times as many border guards per kilometer of contested border.

Also, I suspect Hungarian border guards don't need to spend nearly as much time filling out paperwork when they just shoot some poor SOB trying to cross the border, or on a good day beat them up and throw them back, which is another sort of force multiplier.

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The real drama is, that the EU is somewhere in between being helpless and being not willing to risk a conflict.

>How do we prevent it from happening here?

... or elsewhere? To me, that's the key question.

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On the topic of Hungary's Hunnic heritage, Attila actually is a pretty interesting figure. He really reads like the love interest from a romance novel.

Attila, the barbarian king, has dear ties to the Romans: their great general, Flavius Aëtius, spent his exile living with and learning from the Huns, and he has aided the empire in several campaigns. But then, his aid is asked in a very strange way. Honoria, the sister of Emperor Valentinian, sends Attila her engagement ring and a plea to free her from an arranged marriage to a repellent senator.

Attila, naturally enough for the love interest of a romance novel, interprets this as a proposal of marriage to him, and graciously accepts, asking only half the empire as his dowry. Aghast, the Emperor writes to Attila denying that his sister was really proposing to Attila, but Attila responds that he will not allow Valentinian to gainsay his sister and so besmirch her honor. Attila begins to march towards Rome at the head of a vast army.

Meanwhile, Valentinian is irate at his sister Honoria for precipitating the invasion, and plans to have her executed. However, their mother, Galla Placidia pleads with him to spare Honoria, and Valentinian relents, sentencing her to exile instead.

The defense of the Roman Empire is entrusted to General Aëtius, Attila's old friend. Attila's army is formidable, razing cities where it passes — though it can be turned aside by priestly intercession, since Attila respects the power of the Catholic Church. Aëtius harries Attila's army, driving them back for a time, but at last Attila reaches Rome itself. The Pope himself comes out, flanked by the highest civilians of Rome, and persuades Attila to make peace. Attila, persuaded by the Pope (and disease and starvation in his army) accepts and returns home, to later attack the largely-unrelated Eastern Roman Empire.

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> the “tiny, wretched village of Alcsutdoboz” in an outlying province

I looked this up, and it's only a few miles from Budapest.

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What here is called "the dance of the peacock", is in other places known as the Queen's Duck: https://bwiggs.com/notebook/queens-duck/

See also TV Tropes page: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CensorDecoy

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> To that end, he - probably sarcastically - opened Hungary to “genuine refugees”, by which he meant refugees from globalism [...]. A few right-wingers took him up on it and resettled in Hungary. Potentially his most famous admirer is former Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon, who’s been going back and forth to Hungary as part of his plan to build a populist network across Europe.

> I’m on the fence about how exaggerated this is.

This might be unfair of me, but — do the comments on this post shift where you are on that fence?

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1. Alcsutdoboz is only 40km from central Budapest. Doesn't seem like the furthest reaches of Hicksville.

2. "Viktor Orban is a man who almost automatically believes in the veracity of whatever he considers to be politically useful to him"

LBJ was said to have a very similar trait: https://erenow.net/biographies/master-of-the-senate-the-years-of-lyndon-johnson-3/38.php

I am not a fan of either.

3. Is there an expiration date when supporting palestinians' territorial claims vs Israel becomes far-right irredentism? Or Tibet's territorial claims? By the dictionary definition all the colonial independence movements were irredentist. Allies splitting up Hungary with the stroke of a pen in 1920 was kinda like the UK splitting up Africa with the stroke of a pen. I don't mind the status quo borders, but I sympathize with the Hungarians who are pissed.

4. "Around ninety per cent of Hungarian media is now owned or controlled by people with personal connections to Orbán or his party"

What does a "personal connection to [Fidesz]" mean? Anyone among your close friends or family is a party member? By that standard one could probably say that 99% of US media are owned or controlled by people a personal connection to the DNC. If the standard is that either the owner or controller must himself be a registered democrat, maybe that number comes down to 90%. I've seen data that 96% of political donations from journalists go to the DNC.

5. "Viktor Orban shocked Europe by saying no. Not no as in “we agree with your grand vision but we request that you lower our quota”. No as in “haha, as if”."

For all his other flaws, this was the best thing about Orban: standing up to the EU on immigration and not letting them bully Hungary into becoming yet another multicultural melting pot. 90% of white countries is more than enough for the multicultural experiment. Let's let Hungary and Poland be the control group. There's no fundamental reason Ethnonationalism can't be compatible with liberal democracy. I wish we could get some relatively normal politicians who were that hawkish on immigration and otherwise mostly libertarian.

6. "Does anyone want to explain why this wall apparently worked but everyone says Trump’s wouldn’t?"

I suspect bad faith arguments from people who want to allow as much illegal immigration as possible but won't admit it openly. Every other country I have data on that built a border wall saw levels of illegal border crossings go down a lot. Even the US saw a large drop coincident with its construction of a border fence in the 2000's. If it was only yet another billion dollar useless pork barrel project, the DNC would have acquiesced to it to avoid a long government shutdown that was much more costly than the wall would have been. They knew what they were doing. Biden knows what he's doing by stopping arrests of illegal immigrants in the interior of the country (unless they have a long rap sheet of other crimes). It's a big game of red rover. If you get through, you can stay. Biden doesn't actually want to reduce illegal immigration because it benefits his party. The American people never got to have a real debate and political process for deciding whether they wanted to become a minority in their own homeland. Politicians just elected a new people by looking the other way for decades. A border wall would have been a more permanent barrier, not subject to the whims of an administration that wants to look the other way.

7. "It so completely outflanked Jobbik that they gave up on being neo-Nazi and switched to being a moderate pro-EU party that “rejects hatemongering” (what is it with Hungarian parties changing their whole platform?)"

The former is what hostile outsiders called them, and the latter is what they called themselves. More than half of the change is probably in the perspective rather than in the referent. I don't know anything about Jobbik, or if they were ever actually neo-nazis, but I know most of the media can't be trusted to tell me if they were, since journalists cry wolf so often. Also wikipedia has a tendency to cherrypick the worst epithet that any journalist ever published about a right wing figure. Then other journalists who don't know any better copy wikipedia. So a symbiosis of wikipedia editors and bad journalists basically get to invent facts this way. In 2016 Stefan Molyneux was just an anarcho-capitalist who advocated peaceful parenting on his youtube channel. But after five years of the dysphemism treadmill applied to all immigration restrictionists in an extremely politicized media he's a nazi, allegedly. Also he's falsely alleged to be a "cult leader" just because he suggests people with abusive parents should consider cutting off contact instead of enduring abuse out of a sense of duty or societal expectations or whatever.

8. My hope is that the experience of Trump and Orban has shown that being hawkish on immigration is wildly popular, and some more-normal and more-competent politicans will follow that incentive gradient so that we can get some immigration restriction without the downsides of those two. Maybe we can even get the libertarian party to stop advocating the mass importation of people that disproportionately oppose libertarian policies.

9. I too am an admirer of Lee Kuan Yew: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxaBCg72hxs

10. "Overall I agree with Lyman that maybe Orban has boosted the fertility rate by 0.1 - 0.2 children per women, certainly no more. And this is by bringing out all the stops - transforming the entire culture and spending heaps of money on the project. I’m not sure this really provides some kind of exciting proof that conservative policies work, even if you’re only looking at the fertility rate."

This is a good point and I have updated away from blaming low fertility on liberal views of sex and gender.

11. "I also have to recommend banning court-packing, by Constitutional amendment if necessary. I can’t stress enough how many descents into dictatorship go through something like that, and how much it’s a gaping security hole in our current system."


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>Haha, no, he decided to destroy Gyurcsany harder than anyone had ever been destroyed before. Without leaking the speech, Orban started shifting the frame, starting a PR campaign around the idea of the Socialists as liars. When the Socialists said they weren't, then Orban leaked the speech.

Khrushchev did this to the US in the U-2 incident: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1960_U-2_incident#American_cover-up_and_exposure

>He shamelessly gerrymandered unequally sized districts. Left-wing voters were crammed into a few very large districts; likely Fidesz voters were put into many much smaller ones.

This is not gerrymandering. This is malapportionment. Gerrymandering (drawing a bunch of equal-population districts in an unequal way) is strictly less bad than malapportionment (drawing districts with unequal population); malapportionment at the extremes allows a literal aristocracy (give each aristocrat a one-voter seat, to which he will elect himself, and stuff everyone else into a single seat), while gerrymandering cannot be used to hold onto power with less than 25% of the vote (50%+1 of voters in 50%+1 of districts). Gerrymandering is more common than malapportionment in Western countries, because malapportionment is generally unconstitutional (though Joh Bjelke-Petersen performed malapportionment in Queensland), but the distinction is important and shouldn't be elided.

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>The Hungarians believe themselves to be the descendants of proud steppe nomads.

>Realistically this is all false. Some steppe nomads conquered Hungary in the 9th century, but their lineage soon died out, probably through centuries of bloody warfare. The modern Hungarians are genetically more or less German. Realistically, they're completely normal white people who give their kids names like “Attila” and build yurts to celebrate the ancient ways.

Isn't continuity of language more evidence of continuity of culture than is continuity of genes?

Is there a big difference here between mostly-genetic-German Hungarians believing they are descendants of Attila vs. some other mostly-genetic-Germans believing they are descendants of Abraham?

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Hey, anyway I feel like since so many Hungarians are commenting on this post, it's a good place to mention that I'm running a monthly meet-up in Budapest and that our next meeting should be Sunday. https://www.lesswrong.com/events/NuFAwmKmpJ9FJCWnE/budapest-less-wrong-ssc-1

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Coming from Poland, another country that likes refugees even less than Hungary - all the reasons you mentioned are valid, but the most important one you need to understand is - we saw the shitshow already happening in Western EU and we want none of it.

EU as a whole fails terribly at integrating immigrants into the host societies.

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I was surprised there was no mention of Orban's hatred of George Soros, using him as a scapegoat when any problem in the EU comes up. Before the elections, Fidesz spread anti-Soros billboards throughout the country. Orban wants people to believe that Soros is literally building an evil empire inside EU. This rhetoric is also often latently anti-semitic.

An example: https://hungarytoday.hu/orban-soros-letter-post-eu/

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Re: steppe nomad origin theory. A classically over-politicized, but ultimately undecidable historical question. While it seems undeniable that 9th century Hungarians did come from the east as steppe nomads, who _exactly_ those steppe nomads were is a question that does tie in to politics (a sort of identity politics, albeit a different one to the one in the US).

Take language, for example. The claim that modern Hungarian is a descendant of a proto Finno-Ugric is/was contested by groups who claim that '“Finno-Ugrism” was devised to serve the political goals of Habsburg and, later on, Soviet imperialism' (quote from here https://homepage.univie.ac.at/Johanna.Laakso/antifqa.html ), basically robbing the local populace from the "more noble" Turk origin. You can read more about it on Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_theories_of_Hungarian_language_origins ), but if you see that someone with no Hungarian roots takes the time to put together a FAQ on this issue, then you can be sure this is a serious issue for some. Now, my guess is that these views are not shared by most of population: going to festivals portrayed in the photo is a fringe activity, at best -- and probably strongly correlated with your political views, that is, you would find probably zero liberals at these events.

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A few points on EU immigration policies that seem not to have been noticed by non-European ACT readers:

EU refugee migration is regulated according to the so-called Dublin agreement. The core point is that a refugee must seek asylum in the first EU country he/she enters.

This means that if you have a large border with a non-EU country, EU countries further inland can send refugees back to wherever they first entered. Since Hungary has a border with non-EU countries, the Hungarians risk being stuck with refugees, even if the refugees themselves would prefer to move further West or North. (The problem is even larger in countries like Italy and Spain.)

…A North American equivalent would be if there had been an agreement between Canada, US and Mexico that refugees could be returned to the country of “first entry” – which would usually be Mexico. For obvious reasons, Mexico would not have been happy with such an agreement (and EU countries bordering on non-EU countries, including bordering on the Mediterranean, have also tried – so far unsuccessfully- to change the Dublin agreement).

Are other EU countries secretly “happy” about the Hungarian border fence, as some commentators suggest? Well, because of Dublin, they should not really care that much, since they can legally send refugees crossing from Hungary back to Hungary.

Notice that it therefore makes sense for Hungary to build a fence, since they risk being stuck with refugee migrants thanks to Dublin.

...Which can also explain why the Poles now build a similar fence at the border of non-EU Belarus.

On the moral issue: The main ethical dilemma in EU does not concern Hungary, but EU money channelled to sometimes rather brutal governments or even paramilitary gangs in so-called “transit countries”, to prevent refugees originating in the Sahel region or beyond from reaching EU territories.

The support of Libyan paramilitary groups is particularly tricky, but difficult to avoid (if you want to prevent refugees from reaching EU land) since Libya is a failed state at the moment, i.e., no government holds the monopoly on violence in the territory (=Max Weber’s classic definition of a state).

..a US equivalent would be if the US paid rulers in countries further South to prevent migrants moving Northwards - by whatever means they chose. Less ethically tricky though, since the US would not have to make deals with very unsavoury paramilitary groups in lieu of a government (like in Libya).

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I find it interesting from a rationalist perspective that Scott would object more to Orban for rationally but unauthentically adopting the platform that would bring him support and popularity, than to other 21st century leaders/dictators who were (at least in part) ideologues who got swept into power by being in the right place at the right time.

Should we give more credit to the principled over the rational actor? For me the answer could be yes, but it depends on what your principles are.

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"All these people vote by mail in poorly-observed conditions and a lot of observers suspect rampant voter fraud" . . . and how is this different than in many U.S. states post-pandemic?

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So Orban has amassed all this power, didassembled the checks of democracy. I keep waiting for him to do something evil with it, but it doesn't seem to have happened. Or I don't know about it, I guess. Has he done something directly harmful to ordinary Hungarians? Has he destroyed their economy or security in some way? You could say he was bad to immigrants, but that seems to enjoy widespread public support there, so chalk that up to democracy.

Not that I think disassembling democracy is not a bad thing, I'm just not sure why you would do it unless you wanted to do something the public is opposed to. Is it just thirst for power by an individual?

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It's important to write about dictators' rise to power through democratic means, and it's a great hook. But I wonder, is it in some sense lacking to look at the individual people, and not the entire country? Seems like it's not the work of an individual alone, and there are certainly structural factors in the country as a whole which contribute to these rises (many people vote for them, most people don't violently resist the government, ...). I wonder if there's more to learn by a more holistic analysis of the countries involved.

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Note how Dracula - ethnically Hungarian - goes on and on about his Hunnish heritage.

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Kurt Gödel was concerned about a similar loophole in the U.S. Constitution:


There has been some debate on the precise nature of the loophole. But I'm pretty convinced the issue centered on amendments to the amendment process itself:


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> As Syrians began trickling in, Orban watched the neo-Nazi Jobbik Party’s polling numbers go up and up, until they started to look like a serious competitor. But they only had one issue, and Orban could easily steal it from them. So he did.

Loopholes aside, it's hilarious that selfish, power-hungry populists are among the most effective centrists in a democratic system, because they care about winning elections above any ideological commitment. (See also: Trump's embrace of non-interventionism and protectionism which for the past 40+ years had been mostly Democratic talking points.)

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>I also have to recommend banning court-packing, by Constitutional amendment if necessary. I can’t stress enough how many descents into dictatorship go through something like that, and how much it’s a gaping security hole in our current system.

I agree, but I don't know if that's enough.

One time in DC, I sat down to eat dinner at a restaurant and happened to be about three feet away from John Roberts, in the next booth over. And the thought I couldn't get out of my head was: good lord, it would be so easy to assassinate him right now. He had no security -- not nearby, and not anywhere around the room, unless they were in plain clothes and tremendously convincing actors.

It's absolutely insane that such a vitally important individual hangs on by such a thread wherever he goes. Far and away the greatest risk to the political future of the country, in my mind, is that someone will perform a coordinated assassination of politically hostile Supreme Court justices to leave openings for an Orbanesque president to simply take over the entire Court. Sure, a Biden-type would probably appoint three moderate Republicans as a gesture toward bipartisanship, but I doubt someone like Trump would.

I'm not sure how we mitigate this. Something like "mandate at least 3 justices of each political party on the Court" would seem the best option, but then political affiliation becomes another checkpoint that can be systematically undermined quite easily, considering political party membership can be switched at will.

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I just want to note the (anti-)rhyming of history, that (victor) orban is a hungarian who built a wall to keep out muslims, and orban (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orban) was a hungarian who built cannons so that muslims could get through the walls of constantinople.

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I don't know a lot about Orban or Hungary but it seems kind of wack to me to declare him a psychopath capable of anything when you don't even list him ordering any assassinations or mass killings or running torture camps, all of which are things recent dictators have done and are doing

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> He granted the franchise to Hungarians living abroad. Remember, the Treaty of Trianon took 2/3 of Hungarian territory and gave it to neighboring countries (especially Slovakia and Romania). Lots of ethnic Hungarians still live on that land; Orban gave them all voting rights. Their situation made them natural irredentists and nationalists, plus Orban was the only person who thought it was reasonable to let them vote, so in all subsequent elections they have voted 95%+ for Fidesz. Or something. All these people vote by mail in poorly-observed conditions and a lot of observers suspect rampant voter fraud.

Italy does this too. I was born in the US and have never lived in Italy, but gained Italian citizenship by blood. After learning of my existence, the Italian consulate has started sending me ballots to vote for my US-based Italian parliament representative. That is, portions of the world outside of Italy are also districts in the Italian parliament(!)

I'd never thought of the political implications of this very much. The messaging about which party I was supposed to give my undying loyalty to as a result of this never made it to me.

I'm allowed to vote by mail instead of driving 500 miles to the consulate, so I have to assume I'm a favored group. Hmm....

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I am a long time reader who did not like this article, it's tone was much less balanced than your previous work, and reading it felt like the analysis was below your usual standards. I don't have any Gell-Mann amnesia because I suspect that Orban's actions hit closer to home in a western democracy, "this could happen here" elicits more of reaction than a sober charting of the course of a Modi or Erdogan.

Nevertheless I reject the part III characterisation of Orban as a dictator for the following

1. "There was a rule that the Hungarian constitution could not be amended by less than a four-fifths majority. Unfortunately, that rule itself could be amended by a two-thirds majority. Orban used his two-thirds majority to trash the rule, then amend the constitution with whatever he wanted."

Orban used his democratically elected two-thirds majority to amend the constitution, through the procedures established by a democratic constitution. Maybe, if the content of those amendments was "I am now the eternal president and cannot be removed even after I am dead and this clause may never be removed from the constitution" but the mere fact of amending the constitution, in a European civil law context where this is normal means exactly nothing.

2. "He passed a new law saying he could fire any civil servant at will, then fired people in key positions and replaced them with his cronies and college buddies. He made sure everyone knew that their continued employment was dependent on his good will"

The independent civil service, which in the modern world is how most of government is actually done, is normally subject to no democratic oversight or constraint whatsoever. I am not sure how amending this makes one a dictator, in reality it seems he is bending the power of the state to his will (which, given his democratic election, is the mediated will of the people). The idea that the civil service can never be interfered with by politicians is a *non-democratic* concept.

What Orban is doing is not even a novelty, it was the normal practice of the United States for most of its history. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoils_system> Is Orban's spoils system a likely occasion for corruption and incomptence? Yes. Is it dictatorial? No.

3. Media Control

I accept that Orban is using every possible advantage here to benefit himself and his party. Nevertheless media organs favouring one party over another is hardly exclusive to Hungary, and the country has a free press, social media and tolerates dissent. If those things were fiddled with the dictatorial claim would have some weight.

4. Gerrymandering and irredentist franchise

This is the most egregious error on your part.

"He shamelessly gerrymandered unequally sized districts."

Orban introduced reforms to the electoral system in 2012, this "reduced" anomalous differences in the population of districts. Your source seems to assert that the districts where likely fidesz voters live are all slightly smaller than districts where other voters live, but it states openly that it lacks the data to make a real determination.

Further, it states of the gerrymandering claim:

"Fidesz won 45% of the votes in the individual constituencies in 2014 and yet got 88% of the seats. The effects of the gerrymander, even on the rough analysis above, assisted massively in producing such a disproportionate effect."

I'm sorry but a 20% margin across the entire country, in a first past the post system, is going to produce a result like that without any manipulation at all. I am unwilling to trust a source like this. If the opposition to Orban were not divided, this would not have happened, but it is and that is a problem for the opposition and not Orban to solve.

Of the overseas Hungarians, these amounted to around 120,000 votes in a franchise of over 5 million, this is hardly a corruption of democracy, whatever the legitimacy of the actions is.

I don't see how any of this makes Orban a dictator, he has certainly undermined the checks on democracy, and is facilitating a system open for corruption and future degredation of democracy itself. Nevertheless, he has the support of a plurality of Hungarian voters, but can be lawfully removed by a united, serious opposition.

Orban is a case of using democracy to reshape the country and gain further advantages for himself and his party, this may all be awful, but it is not dictatorship. Your criticism should be directed at the Hungarian opposition and perhaps the fact that people opposed to the Orban program tend to move to Western Europe and not stay to change Hungary.

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One missing angle from this post is the EU accession of Hungary in 2004. This opened up two things: 1) Access to the single market for a country with low labour costs 2) turned on the taps of EU aid money.

Hungary has been riding a wave of economic growth based on EU accession. the economic growth has driven support for Orban as a leader overseeing raising living standards, and dished the aid cash out to supporters.

Orban now looks a bit more vulnerable as the economy has stalled and the EU has belatedly started to act on the funding.

For those wondering why the EU has done nothing, Poland has also had run ins with the EU, and it requires a consensus of all other countries to act - Poland and Hungary have protected each other. The EU is now moving toward qualified majority voting for some funding aspects, and there are some issues Poland will not protect Orban on.

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It’s not. The target isn’t the median person, but the most vulnerable. The immunocompromised, the infant. Not being vaccinated creates externalities and is an appropriate place for govt to step in.

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typo shot - short

"An extreme right-wing pensioner seized control of an old Soviet tank that had been wheeled out as an exhibit for the commemorations, and for a shot time drove it around the center of Budapest".

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I want to join the previous Hungarian posters who were having feelings of Gell-Mann amnesia: I can't stand Orban, and the stories of endemic corruption and taking over newspapers are true, yet I don't recognize the country I'm reading about here. Maybe learning about a foreign country's politics from books simply can't replace following the local news as they happen - try to imagine what kind of picture you would get about US politics if you tried learning about it from books instead of following it in the news and on social media.

Putting Orban in the same club as dictators like Erdogan or Putin, whose political opponents or journalists that criticize them actually end up jailed or murdered, is simply ridiculous. The closest equivalent to Orban might instead be Netanyahu, and just as the opposition united to unseat him not long ago, there is a very real chance that Orban will lose the next election against the united opposition in 2022 where everyone from the far-right Jobbik to the inner city liberals will be running on a shared ticket against him.

Orban's shift from liberal to the hard right was much more gradual than described here, and it played out over decades, it wasn't some sudden decision one day.

About the descent from steppe nomads thing: there is a considerable right-wing subculture that takes this thing very seriously, but the way the article presents this as a general property of Hungarian society comes across as strange.

The "charitable reading of Gyurcsany's speech", that it was describing his predecessor's administration, is complete nonsense: the "last one and a half years" he is talking about in the quoted text was his own administration, and no one ever believed otherwise.

The metrics about the voting system like "1 Fidesz vote = 2.1 Left Alliance votes" are obvious exaggerations.

Electoral tricks like gerrymandering, giving voting rights to foreign residents, or taking over much of legacy media, are not what's keeping Orban in power - they might be enough to add a few % points that push him over the 2/3 majority needed for rewriting the constitution, but he would still have the strongest party without any of these.

Because the Left's collapse in Hungary, which started with Gyurcsany's infamous speech in 2006 and was made much worse by the 2008 economic crisis, was largely self-imposed. After discrediting themselves so spectacularly, they started splintering into ever-smaller new parties because of petty infighting. They also lost touch with the average voter, while Orban doubled down on his new messaging strategy that was the exact opposite of how the liberal intellectuals talked and thought. The leftist parties, for example, had nothing to say about the migration crisis: they were afraid of opposing things like the border fence that had >80% popularity among voters, even though it went against the sensibilities of the liberal intellectual class, so they just sat out the biggest political event of the decade, without saying much about it (except for the previously mentioned Gyurcsany, who alone among the opposition, campaigned against the border fence, gaining him even more notoriety). Another symbolic issue is the question of the Roma (gypsy) minority: Fidesz politicians regularly make racist comments about them, while the Left is constantly talking about how their social programs are going to lift them out of poverty: yet almost all gypsies vote for Fidesz, not the Leftist parties - the world of liberal intellectuals is simply too alien for them, while Fidesz is offering them money or other tangible goods in exchange for support.

In fact, the only message the opposition has left is that it wants to undo Orbán's system, this is the only thing they campaign on, and they can't put forward any other political vision. It's as if the Left had nothing left to say to the average Hungarian voter, nothing to say about global events, while the right can always fall back to invoking family, nation, identity etc.

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If you're looking for a more debatable dictator, but in a country perhaps more similar to the USA, you might look into https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joh_Bjelke-Petersen. I don't know a good book - maybe https://www.amazon.com/hillbilly-dictator-Australias-police-state/dp/064212809X

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"He was able to beat everyone else by taking advantage of loopholes everyone else left open because they didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to use them."

When I was learning about electoral systems in University, my professor, Reuven Hazan, a worldwide expert in voting went on to talk about an international academic conference he was at, where some academic presented an idea for a voting scheme that was supposed to be very good and democratic. Basically, when voting for a party in a non regional election (unlike the US and UK), there's importance to the order of candidates - the ones at the top of the list are more likely to get into the legislature and then be given Ministerial jobs. The academic suggested that when voting for a party in such an election, the voters would get to rank the candidates for that party in the order they'd want.

At the questions portion, Professor Hazan stood up and asked: "But what if people who are against that party choose to vote for it and rank the worst/most radical members of the party in first place?"

The academic was stunned by this question, and answered: "But... that's simply not done!"

The lesson, Professor Hazan told us, is to never build any political system based on the assumption that some things are simply not done.

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I have a bunch to say, but I will keep it at this. The evidence that his gerrymandering was very effective is - on it's face - thin at the system level. If you look at the bias between votes and seats in the election that gave Orban the 2/3's needed, and you look at the elections after, you see at best, evidence for a tiny effect. Gerrymandering is a problem whenever you have districts as you and every politically conscious American knows. It's not a unique autocratic problem. If the effects are gross and lead to strong inconsistencies consistently over time.. that's an issue. But there is no evidence of that here. Hungary does have a strong gerrymandering effect as far as I can see. The 'big picture' doesn't suggest a 'absurdly gerrymandered' picture.

Overall, though, I am not seeing the portrait of a dictator. I am seeing the portrait of a politician governing at a time when liberal democracy's appeal among average citizens is seriously strained by the actions and conduct of the elites controlling and shaping that system and is - as you say - channelling illiberal notions popular on BOTH the left and right of American politics. I just hope he loses the next election to the opposition... because then we can know for sure... because autocrats don't willingly give up power after elections.

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On the subject of countries raising fertility, I wonder how much of the decline is associated with improvements in contraceptive technology. Suppose a country banned the pill or severely restricted it and was able to enforce the ban, make it hard for most people to get it. One result would probably be a reduction in non-marital sex because women would be worried about pregnancy. That would increase the incentive for men to get married. Once married, being limited to less effective ways of reducing the number of children — rhythm, interruptus, non-vaginal intercourse — would presumably raise the marital birth rate.

Would that have a significant effect on average fertility? Has any country tried it?

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>There was a rule that the Hungarian constitution could not be amended by less than a four-fifths majority. Unfortunately, that rule itself could be amended by a two-thirds majority. Orban used his two-thirds majority to trash the rule, then amend the constitution with whatever he wanted. In fact, his party started amending the Constitution like it was going out of style. Certainly they removed roadblocks to their power. But they also wrote new laws they passed directly into the Constitution so future governments couldn’t change them.

This reminds me of the impeachment of Paraguay's president 11 years ago. The impeachment followed Paraguayan law. The president and other critics called it e.g. a "parliamentary coup" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_of_Fernando_Lugo).

When (if ever) is it illegitimate for a legislature to legislate/amend/confirm/impeach? In other words, what is the difference between legitimacy and legality? This is the upstream question. How the legislature should vote regarding Lugo, Orban, Trump, the composition of the US Supreme Court, etc. is the downstream question.

In constitutional theory, what are the basic positions on this issue?

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On the topic of "want to succeed? Be his college roommate". I think that it's pretty suggestive of something, but in a country with <10M people, where 10% of them live in the same city (Budapest), you're going to have like a 3rd degree of separation between everyone who matters. If social, political, business, etc. elites are more or less organically drawn from a handful of urban locales and educational institutions, into which they had been previously selected by educational attainment, money, interests, etc., there is already a high degree of connectedness that you'd have to expect, much much more than - a priori - in gigantic countries from US to India, to even Germany at 80M.

(I'm googling the population figures, so I don't know how accurate those are, but I think they're roughly right to make my point.)

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Several parallels to the Polish case come to mind: PiS, the governing party, was already in office 2005 – 07. They were quickly voted out of government, which seemed to come like a shock. When they entered government again in 2015 it sure seems they were strategically prepared to ensure they will not lose power that quickly again. Their very first moves were against the Supreme Court. Also, their victory was helped by several tapes that were published revealing corruption among the leading party. Those tapes were recorded in a restaurant where members of government used to meet regularly, and it’s still unclear who recorded them. As in Hungary, the government also claims that it wants to get rid of the communists who according to their narrative are still occupying various posts.

There are also differences: Orban seems strategic and willing to change position when needed, the Polish government rather conveys the image to be full of true ‘believers’ up to being fanatics. This maybe explains the common image that Orban backs down vis-à-vis the EU once he realizes he is really going to lose something – while Poland remains stubborn, regardless of the consequences.

The ‘true believer’ image especially holds for J. Kaczynski, who is unanimously regarded to be the unchallenged leader and most influential politician, despite being only chief of party 2015 – 2020. Since late 2020 he is Deputy Prime Minister of Poland.

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Hey, you may not see this, since it is buried under hundreds of comments, but as a Hungarian I like the article. I would add that the fertility policies work out well, we are the second most fertile nation in the EU (according to the latest surveys I read, it is not sure but I will read). Even Orbán's opponents like Márky-Zay likes them.

1992 was more of a conservative turn, not a far-right, that started around 2015 (I would call his government rather right wing populist). In my opinion Gyurcsány was a terrible prime minister who privatized healthcare and insulted ethnic Hungarians, also abused his power during 2006. He resigned in 2009. And Orbán managed to upkeep a great set of cultural values, the Hungarian film industry skyrocketed under him (especially under Andy Vajna, his friend).

Despite this and the fact that I am conservative, I learned much about Orbán's childhood and it was a great summary on his road to power, so keep doing these articles.

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I recently saw Hungary pop up near the top in a study of parent happiness vs non-parent happiness: https://mercatornet.com/the-countries-with-the-happiest-parents/20980/

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This article did not convince me I should dislike Victor Orban, or even that I should care about him that much. If all it takes to be a dictator is gerrymandering and helping your college buddies to buy newspapers, then we are certainly defining dictatorship down. The population of Hungary is smaller than the NY metro area, and politically Hungary did not seem from this description to be much less small-d democratic than NY city. "Illiberal democracies" of various sorts are common and we in the U.S. might be one ourselves.

Scott can be a delightfully original thinker about more obscure stuff, but he usually falls in line with the bien-pensant coastal conventional wisdom when it comes to issues where such a conventional wisdom has been declared.

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The post gets almost its details wrong (except the part about what mechanics Orbán used to transform democracy into a sort of plausibly-deniable soft-dictatorship, which is mostly accurate). I'll just focus on the biggest ones:

1) Orbán being a genius noticing the hidden backdoors no one else did has little basis in fact. He is a competent politician for sure, on par with the average European head of state. But absolute power basically just fell into his laps. The previous Socialist government screw up the economy (resulting in Hungary being the only country in the region in the state economic stagnation, during a period of global economic boom), then lied about it and made completely unrealistic promises, then the country got hit by the recession generated by the US subprime crisis, resulting in all kinds of austerity measures; the Socialist party basically collapsed, spent half a year at the height of the crisis searching for a new leader and not really doing anything; the new leader ended up being an outsider businessman with some experience in the recovery of bankrupt companies who saw his half-term as a purely economic exercise and made no attempt to improve the party's standing in the polls. Orbán (the leader of the opposition party in a mostly-two-party-system) then won a narrow two-thirds victory just by the virtue of being there and not being the Socialist party.

The Hungarian legal system was completely vulnerable to takeover with a two-thirds majority; any law (including the constitution) could be rewritten and any official could be replaced with that much support; and there wasn't anything like the staggered elections in the US (where a one-time swing of popular opinion would only affect a third of the Senate seats for example). This was a known flaw; when the system was designed in 1989, a two-thirds majority was assumed to be unlikely, and the system was meant kind of provisional. It's hard to blame the people involved - they had to ensure a peaceful transition from a communist dictatorship with state planning to a democratic free-market capitalism, in very short time, requiring changes to vast swathes of the legal and institutional system. And then of course it turned out that once the constitution is in place, it's impossible to gather the near-unanimous political support needed to change it.

So this was a known flaw (maybe not to the public, but to the scholars and statesmen, for sure), and Orbán just made use of it. Maybe the only remarkable thing is how little resistance there was from his own party and administration, and the intellectual elite that supported him. (Those who opposed him did protest but they of course could be ignored.) Whether that was his skill at organizing or manipulating people, or just plain political polarization, is hard to tell. (Compare how far Trump, a complete anti-talent in most required skills, got in overturning an election. Polarization is powerful. And Hungary had lots of it - the two ruinous totalitarian regimes, a fat-right one murder half million Jews and entangling the country in a devastating war, and a far-left one taking away everyone's property and forcing the country to forty years of economic decay and poverty, were still recent memory. No one who mattered associated themselves *with* either of those regimes; but most people positioned themselves as *against* one while kinda ignoring the other, and calling the other party a fascist or communist for not doing likewise.)

2) Orbán did some gerrymandering (and a number of other transformations to election law that benefited him) but it wasn't that substantial. Hungary is not significantly more gerrymandered than, say, US presidential elections are - the left needs to win with 3-4% of the votes to get an equal share of seats. Unfair, but hardly unsurmountable, nor unprecedented in democracies. Likewise, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that he orchestrated some straight-out voter fraud, but the scale of it wasn't too significant; and while giving the franchise to half the country's population's worth of ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries is scary in theory, and he might well tap more into it in the future, so far they haven't actually voted in significant numbers. The actual pillars of Orbán's power are:

* Money. It's hard to overstate the significance of this. He systematically stripped the opposition of resources by fines and by scaring away potential donors; kept them away from public funds using various means; and used public funds as a basicly unrestricted source of campaign money for himself, from transforming state media to a propaganda outlet, to making state-owned companies advertise at his newspapers, to running huge "public awareness campaigns" and "consultations" which were not-even-concealed party propaganda, to embezzling ridiculously huge amounts of taxpayer money and directing it to party slash funds. He owns the prosecution and the police, and the judiciary has no initiative of their own, so he can break any law with abandon. Estimates for how far he outspends his opposition at campaigns, polling, party infrastructure building etc. are around two or three *magnitudes*.

* Economic pressure. He replaced aid to the poor with public work, and his people decide who gets work and who doesn't, and voting and otherwise supporting the ruling party is fairly openly part of the requirements. In the poor rural areas he has built a kind of feudal system with the local mayor having a huge power over the people, and the mayors tell them the village won't have access to state funds if it doesn't vote pro-Orbán at a high-enough rate.

* Media takeover (and turning the taken-over media into propaganda tools which are little more than proxies repeating centrally-crafted messages), but this was already mentioned in the post.

* Creating an election system that's very favorable to large parties, which is how he could get a two-thirds majority with a minority of the votes: lots of first-past-the-post seats. The opposition is now forming a single "election party", but they are all across the spectrum from social democrat to libertarian to nationalist populist so of course this is painful and costs them votes.

3) It is just not true that Hungarians were less welcoming to refugees than other countries, and this would have pushed Orbán to the far right. He has spent years making the country xenophobic, with his media swamping people in far-right propaganda on how "immigrants" (the word "refugee" was banned in his media channels, likewise mentions of any connection to the Syrian war) are violent, rapist, a terrorist threat, disease-ridden, and a plot of George Soros and the international J̶e̶w̶r̶y̶ financial interests to destroy Christianity and eradicate white people. (This chart tells the story: https://media.springernature.com/original/springer-static/image/chp%3A10.1007%2F978-3-030-25666-1_8/MediaObjects/464293_1_En_8_Fig1_HTML.png https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-25666-1_8 - note that Hungarians had basically no contact with refugees outside of the capital, which still remains relatively refugee-friendly; this was no organic change of opinion.)

Initially this wasn't even out of electoral calculation, I think. As mentioned in other comments, the Dublin Regulation (which governs admittance of people into the part of EU that's free of internal borders) requires the country of first entry to be responsible for the asylum seekers (other countries can ship them back to the country of origin if they so choose), this put a huge and unfair burden on countries which were on the EU border and on a major migration pathway, and Orbán was somewhat understandably worried that despite all the Willkommenskultur, Western countries might abuse that if the situation sours and eg. send back the most problematic refugees to Hungary (who then would be stuck with them - it's pretty much impossible to force non-EU countries to take refugees back when they are denied asylum). So first he put up the wall to reroute refugees to enter through some other EU country, and when he got criticised for that, he went full racist just to make sure no one would think forcing Hungary to admit asylum seekers a good idea. The whole thing ended up not mattering that much (Merkel got a deal with Erdogan and the refugees were stopped in a way that let the EU wash its hands of the means), but it proved great at the polls and a much needed distraction from corruption and other scandals, so Orbán stuck with it, and has since then has built his politics on demonizing random groups (refugees then NGOs then LGBTQ people).

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The natalist policies in Hungary are a bit different from those made in many other places. In that they seem to have a longer term target (how very un-populist). They don't just give a baby bonus - which tend to just result in a one time baby bump. They specifically target larger families. Special benefits for 4+ children (if you have zero children, its going to take some years to reach 4). They promote marriage (married birthrates are much higher than average), and marriage rates have indeed skyrocket - but it still take some years for this to materialize into a higher birthrate. But when it does, it will likely be of a more permanent character than with a baby bonus. So while the birthrate has probably risen a bit already, it is really too soon to determine the effectiveness of the policies.

Also, I don't know why you'd include Austria in the graphs. Its clearly not a country which has had a post WWII history with the others.

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I hooe orban’s gerrymandering works. For if the opposition wins they can just flood the country with economic migrants from the third world, forever limiting the electoral prospects of Orban’s party (kind of similar to the strategy of certain political parties here in the west).

And these tactics seem a hell of a lot more effective illiberal and antidemocratic to me than anything orban has done

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You are mostly basing your claims about Orban on the claims of his most bitter enemies (some of them are from a book written on him before the 2002 election, which was clearly a hit job on him, not objective at all), not exactly neutral observers. Lot of these are simply not true or anecdotal, hearsay. Yes, Orban started as a liberal guy, but he didn't turn right-wing nationalist just overnight. Fidesz was still member of the Liberal International in 1998. He gradually shifted to the right though, more so after his 2002 defeat.

Your claim about massive gerrymandering is patently false for example. The new districts are more evenly distributed population wise as another commenter said too. Part of the changes introduced by Orban was to make the parliament smaller so the number of districts was reduced from 176 to 106, but there are no US style absurdly shaped districts or like that, and actually the populations of districts became more evenly distributed.

You claim that Orban controls almost all media in the country and the opposition cannot reach people. That is far from the truth too, while state radio and television is government propaganda, and the pro-Fidesz media companies own most local daily newspapers there is still a nationwide pro-opposition newspaper Nepszava (allegedly because Orban's wish is that it has to kept alive). The German owned national RTL Klub television channel's news are quite critical of the government and almost the entire population can watch it if they want, as it is free-to-air. ATV, another pro-oppostion TV channel is also available, it is not free-to-air though but included in most basic cable plans. Even most middle aged people use the internet and Facebook where Orban cannot stop them from reading/watching pro-opposition content.

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I wish you'd preserved the acute accents on vowels in the names etc. Hungarian has a wonderfully phonemic and consistent writing system. You don't have to know much more than that stress is on the first syllable, the accent marks indicate a longer vowel and that c, s, z are used for roughly the English ts, sh, z or combined in the digraphs cs, sz, and zs (ch, s, and the French "j"), while y is used in the digraphs ty, gy, ly, ny as a palatalization marker to write roughly the sounds ty, dy(!), y, ny (i.e. ñ).

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Anyone have any reference to something that summarizes how many dictatorships get started with something like court packing?

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