The self-declared left-leaning and Francophile sociologist Zsuzsa Hegedűs has been a chief adviser of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for a number of years. In an interview with the conservative weekly Heti Válasz, she provided some very interesting conclusions regarding the policies of the Orbán government. The following are excerpts from the interview.
Heti Válasz: Do you only organise the French appearances of Viktor Orbán or do you also have a say in shaping the international presence of the government?
Zsuzsa Hegedűs: I am a chief adviser of Viktor Orbán and not a consultant of the government. But I do have other tasks in addition to the Prime Minister’s French appearances. It’s a gratifying job. He speaks excellent English and he is a great interview subject. He is the best export material we have. The whole thing started in the autumn of 2006, when a journalist friend of mine – Bernard Guetta – came to visit. The three of us sat down and after the interview Bernard said this: “Zsuzsa, your guy is a real social democrat.” I kept saying the same thing before that but no one believed me.
HV: You have spent seven years next to Orbán. Do you still consider yourself a social democrat?
Zs. H.: Absolutely. I have always been a left winger. Green left since 1976. Being a leftist is not an ideological question. It is about choosing the side of the less fortunate in an uneven society. It is certainly not about standing with the minority possessing privilege, money, power and information, but choosing the expelled majority. It is about working on giving these people a chance to elevate themselves.
HV: How do you cope with the conservative Christian world?
Zs. H.: Ideologically, it is far from me, of course. The policy of Viktor Orbán, however – in the sense of the aforementioned criteria – is clearly leftist. This also explains the success of the referendum in 2008, when more than a million from the left voted against the multi billionaire-led (note: Ferenc Gyurcsány) leftist government (note: said referendum was a decision about paying a relatively low amount for doctor and hospital visits). They cannot be trusted to pursue a left-wing policy, that is for sure. They represent that early capitalist economic elite, against which labour efforts, trade unions, left parties and all social movements were founded. If money takes the left over, as it happened in Hungary in 2002 (note: when the Socialist Party won the election), then someone else must lead the marginalised majority. For this, only Viktor Orbán was ready (…)
HV: Orbán did not become very popular abroad...
Zs. H.: That’s not true. In the beginning of 2010, everybody expected that Hungary will be the first country to collapse financially. Instead the Orbán government managed to stabilise the financial situation within a year and did so without the assistance of the International Monetary Fund. Meanwhile the southern countries of the EU slid into a deep crisis, which resulted in insane social sacrifices and a recession still continuing today. This happened at a time when Hungary managed to scale down the budget deficit to below 3% of GDP and returned the economy to a modest growth. This would not have been possible without the support of the Hungarian society. At times, when the attacks were the sharpest, the Prime Minister of Hungary was celebrated on the streets of Athens, France introduced the banking and telecommunications tax, and a growing number of countries want to follow the example of the utilities price cuts. In short: Viktor Orbán has become a significant politician in Europe. The French interviews may have had a part in that, but the Prime Minister and the government would be much more accepted today if the people responsible for international public relations had done their job properly.
HV: Are you referring to the Swedish documentary?
Zs. H.: Not only that but the reactions were catastrophic in that case as well. Let’s be clear: hardly anyone speaks Swedish in the world, thus the overreaction from the Hungarian side was totally unnecessary. It would have been perfectly enough to send a friendly letter to the Swedish public television telling them about the distorted reality of the documentary (note: regarding the situation in Hungary under the Orbán government) and requesting a correction. Done. One should not position itself as the offended party in a conversation with someone else, but rather as a partner, and one should inform rather than instruct. In other words, one should provide answers instead of making propaganda.