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Playing It Again in Post-Communism: The Revolutionary Rhetoric of Viktor Orbán in Hungary



This longitudinal case study about the political rhetoric of Viktor Orbán—prime minister of Hungary between 1998 and 2002, and since 2010, respectively—demonstrates that the first, remarkable personal experiences in public communication may have a major impact (“imprinting”) on the future behavior of political actors. Orbán gave a memorably radical talk on June 16, 1989, urging Hungary’s democratic transition from Communism. The study uses critical discourse analysis and links it to media scholarship on live media events to show that Orbán became hostage of his own rhetoric and speech situation for the two decades that followed his 1989 entry.
Advances in the History of Rhetoric
Volume 18, Supplement 1, 2015.
Special Issue: Rhetorics of “1989” and After:
Rhetorical Archaeologies of Political Transition
Playing It Again in Post-Communism: The Revolutionary
Rhetoric of Viktor Orbán in Hungary
DOI: 10.1080/15362426.2015.1010872
Anna Szilágyi & András Bozóki
pages S153-S166
Published online: 15 Apr 2015
This longitudinal case study about the political rhetoric of Viktor Orbán—prime minister of
Hungary between 1998 and 2002, and since 2010, respectivelydemonstrates that the first,
remarkable personal experiences in public communication may have a major impact
(“imprinting”) on the future behavior of political actors. Orbán gave a memorably radical talk
on June 16, 1989, urging Hungary’s democratic transition from Communism. The study uses
critical discourse analysis and links it to media scholarship on live media events to show that
Orbán became hostage of his own rhetoric and speech situation for the two decades that
followed his 1989 entry.
Playing It Again in Post-Communism:
The Revolutionary Rhetoric of Viktor Orbán in Hungary
Anna Szilágyi & András Bozóki
The discourse of the Central and Eastern European regime change attracted significant
scholarly attention. Researchers have been mainly interested in the collective aspects of
language use, and studied the societal discursive impacts of the political change that the
collapse of communism in 1989-1990 brought in (Dryzek and Holmes 2002; Fairclough 2007;
Krzyżanowski 2009). Meanwhile, only a few works examined the individual language use,
and such works focused mainly on the intellectual and literary output of former dissidents
(Mungiu-Pippidi 1999; Marin 2007; Kovačević 2008). Consequently, the political rhetoric of
1989 per se, i.e. the public language use of those individuals among them former dissidents,
of course who delivered the major pro-transition public speeches and addresses in 1989, has
been generally overlooked. In addition, although many of these actors remained active and
became influential in politics after the collapse of Soviet rule, the long-term development and
changes of their political discourse, with a few exceptions (Zagacki 1996), have not been
explored either.
Besides identifying individual communication characteristics, our longitudinal case
study of Viktor Orbán Prime Minister of Hungary between 1998-2002, and, again, from
2010 onwards highlights the political importance of the under-researched area of discursive
continuity. Orbán’s case suggests that the overlooked interplay between the past and present
rhetorics of the Central and Eastern European politicians could significantly shape the flow of
post-communist national politics.
Viktor Orbán’s current right-wing government came to power in Hungary the spring
of 2010 and it has significantly altered the country's public legal infrastructure over the past
few years. It unilaterally voted on a new Constitution; it has substantially weakened the
balance of power; and, it did away with the principle of power-sharing. Power is concentrated
in the hands of the Prime Minister, who does all that he can to establish a monopoly of power:
his notion of a “central arena of power” has thus become a reality.
Orbán interpreted his electoral victory as “revolutionary”. This allowed him with a
two-thirds parliamentary majority in hand to employ exceptional methods, by making claims
to exceptional circumstances (i.e. “revolutionary conditions”). As a result, Orbán deployed
warlike, offensive tactics, pushing legislation through parliament, thereby quickly and
systematically rebuilding the entire public legal system. Fidesz often refers to the ideas
espoused by 1848 Revolution led by Lajos Kossuth (i.e., “revolution and struggle for
freedom”); however, Fidesz’s own “revolutionary struggle” has undermined freedom. In fact,
Fidesz established a single party state, where power rests with the party and the Prime
Minister himself. At this moment, there are no powerful groups within the party critical of
Orbán who could offer political alternatives. As such, the will of the “leader” (i.e., Orbán) is
largely binding and faces no limits.
Yet, in 1989, Orbán delivered one of the key pro-democracy speeches in Hungary.
According to his subsequent recollection, he himself was surprised by the huge impact of the
words he articulated at the reburial ceremony of the executed Prime Minister of the 1956 anti-
Soviet Hungarian revolution, Imre Nagy (Debreczeni 2002). At the time, Orbán was a
newcomer to politics, having become the founding member of the originally liberal party,
Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz) only a year before. Nevertheless, the emblematic
speech, in which he urged the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops and the announcement
of free elections, brought him at once both national publicity and popularity. The speech was
heard by an audience of 250,000 at the Heroes’ Square in Budapest, while millions of
Hungarians followed it live on television. This remarkable and unexpected early success
largely determined Orbán’s future political behavior. Adopting the common term from
psychology, we suggest that in 1989 Orbán went through an early, fast, deep, and irreversible
learning process that resulted in ‘imprinting’.
Although it is relatively rare in democratic politics that somebody becomes famous
and builds his or her political career on a single speech, that is exactly what happened with
Orbán. We combine concepts of political science, communication studies, and sociolinguistics
in order to show how this Hungarian politician became hostage of his occasional 1989
rhetoric. Our study involves the critical intertextual analysis of the speech Orbán delivered in
1989 and of other speeches he gave during his prime ministerial terms (1998-2002, 2010- )
and during his years in political opposition (2002-2010). While highlighting the salient
continuity of Orbán’s 1989 and post-1989 rhetoric, we also point out that the visual
presentation and the rhetorical strategies of Orbán’s 1989 speech, interestingly, proved to be
workable in the new Hungarian multi-party environment as well. However, the same
communication tools served quite different political goals each time. While in 1989 these
contributed to the successful promotion of liberal democratic ideals, after the transition the
same rhetorical tools became, instead, powerful spreaders of a populist and nationalist
political ideology.
1. Repeating the 1989 Speech Situation on the Streets
An analysis of a discursive interaction usually involves three units: a) the speech situation, b)
the speech event, and c) the speech act. The hierarchical categorization of the three was
developed by Hymes (2003) who used the example of an informal gathering to illustrate how
these relate to each other. Hymes conceptualized a party as a speech situation; a conversation
during a party as a speech event, and a joke during a conversation as a speech act (2003: 38).
In the context of Orbán’s 1989 rhetoric, we examine two of these units, conceptualizing them
analogously. On the one hand, we focus on the 1989 speech situation that was the historic
event of the funeral of Imre Nagy, Prime Minister of the 1956 revolution. On the other hand,
we study Orbán’s talk that was one speech event among many others that took place at the
reburial ceremony.
The funeral of Imre Nagy was an unrepeatable, historical event that dramatized the
conflict between Hungarians and the communist regime and triggered nationwide attention.
The ceremony attracted hundreds of thousands and appeared also on the television screens of
Hungarian families, as it was broadcast live. Consequently, the funeral formed the ground for
an exceptional speech situation, allowing its speakers to address the whole nation in a
historical moment. Nevertheless, among those who gave speeches at the ceremony, it was
only Orbán, the inexperienced young politician (only 26 years old at that time), who was able
to effectively use the rare opportunity provided by this unique speech situation. In 1989,
Orbán delivered a truly memorable speech, one that eventually became the major speech
event of the funeral.
How did he achieve this? As the following quotation exemplifies, the success of
Orbán’s talk stems largely from its extraordinary tone. The speech was both emotional and
radical, expressing national unity and announcing breaking news at the same time: “If we
believe in our strength, we will be able to end the communist dictatorship, if we are
determined enough, we can force the ruling party to undergo free elections” (Orbán 1989).
This first extensive rhetorical success of Orbán was followed by many others after
1989. Simultaneously with the conservative turn and first electoral victory of his party Fidesz
(1998), speech-giving started to dominate Orbán’s public activity. Orbán became the most
powerful political speaker of post-communist Hungary. Nevertheless, the popularity of his
subsequent rhetoric resulted not so much from further development as from his successful
efforts to reproduce the 1989 speech situation and the 1989 speech event. Despite the
fundamental change of the political environment, Orbán’s new speeches continued to recreate
the setting and the pattern of his old speech. Time and again, he tried to trigger the attention
of and speak on behalf of the whole Hungarian nation, while announcing breaking historical
The overlap between the design and structure of Orbán’s 1989 speech and his
subsequent speeches manifested itself univocally for the first time during the 2002 Hungarian
election campaign. In 2002, the governing Fidesz introduced a radically new communication
style that seemed extraordinary in comparison with the political communication of other
Hungarian parties. The rich spectrum of professional communication techniques and the
rhetoric that Orbán and his party applied in this period immediately grabbed the attention of
scholars and intellectuals. So much so that soon two separate academic volumes were
dedicated to their study (Sükösd et al. 2002; Szabó 2006). The analyses pointed out, that
among the new elements of political communication, Fidesz extensively mediatized its
agenda, attempted to adopt viral marketing techniques for voter mobilization, appropriated
historic national symbols, and applied a language that discursively identified the party with
the whole nation.
Scholars paid special attention to those huge party rallies that were organized by
Fidesz for the first time during the 2002 election campaign, and were broadcast live by the
Hungarian Public Television, MTV (Tamás 2002). These gatherings, which attracted many
party supporters, followed a strict dramaturgy. After the performances by popular artists and
speeches by other party officials, the final attraction was Orbán’s speech, to which audiences
listened with open enthusiasm: waving national flags, holding support banners, and chanting
the Prime Minister’s first name: “Viktor, Viktor.” These scenes of political PR triggered
notable reactions in post-communist Hungary. The real and the televised picture of the
passionate political crowds either shocked or, on the contrary, enthused Hungarian citizens.
These sharp and opposite reactions partly stem from the enormous size of the
gatherings. Tamás who, on the grounds of Bourdieu, conceptualized the 2002 campaign
rallies of Fidesz as examples of “political theater,” stressed that in the preceding 15 years, a
crowd of hundreds of thousands had never appeared on the streets of Budapest (2002: 83).
Tamás argued that the Fidesz rallies offered the “experience of collectivity.” According to
him, this could be perceived as exceptional, especially by young people, because, after 1989,
the leading elites of the Eastern European transition, among them the political leaders of
Hungary, consciously avoided such great street demonstrations (2002: 82).
While in the audiences the size of the gatherings could truly evoke a feeling of
political unitedness (either never experienced or not experienced in a long time), for the star
speaker, Orbán, the same events might also bring back the record of a very concrete speech
situation. Just as once in 1989, Orbán could speak before exceptionally large crowds and
address people who were excited by his speeches. After 2002, as a result of strategic
communication efforts, this street scene became common in Hungary. Between 2002 and
2010, Orbán delivered several major speeches a year on the streets and in the arenas of
Budapest, and these continued to be attended by large crowds. However, the successful
mobilization of party supporters was just the first step towards the re-creation of the 1989
speech situation, which was finally achieved by the simultaneous strategic media
representation of Orbán’s speeches. As Tamás put it, the goal of the organizers was not
simply to offer the “experience of collectivity,” but, more importantly, to broadcast it through
the media (2002: 84).
2. Repeating the 1989 Speech Situation on the Screens
Over the past decade, whether he was in government or in opposition, Orbán’s speeches
enjoyed enormous publicity. Since 2002, his speeches have been regularly aired live. During
Orbán’s first governing period, live coverage was provided by the Hungarian Public
Television, MTV. Later, the talks were aired live by the private channel Hír TV (News TV),
established in 2003 soon after Fidesz lost the elections and generally considered to have a
strong right-wing partisan orientation. Between 2003 and 2010, several speeches by Orbán
were broadcast live every year by Hír TV. The large number of broadcasts comes as a
surprise, not only because Orbán was an opposition politician during this period, but also
because live coverage of political speeches was not general practice either for Hír TV or for
any other broadcaster. Live coverage of speeches of those who were in power between 2002
and 2010 (three Prime Ministers: Peter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai)
was mainly limited to ceremonial events. The unique media treatment that Orbán enjoyed
compared to these politicians did not simply reflect the power of his spoken words. Live
broadcasting of Orbán’s speeches was part of a purposeful communication strategy.
Orbán’s party was the first after the regime change to start using mass media
strategically in order to achieve its political goals. The change that Fidesz’s new professional
attitude towards media brought in was noticed by Csigó in the context of the 2002 election
campaign. “Twelve years after democratic transition and five years after media deregulation,
Hungarian citizens experienced the advent of a new era of mediatized politics. The 2002
election campaign and, the right-wing government’s permanent campaign during the year
before will be long remembered as an unprecedentedly dramatic period of Hungarian
politics” (2008: 228). The media representation of Orbán’s 2002 campaign speeches
contributed largely to the societal reaction that Csigó describes. These speeches were
presented as media events, despite the fact that their content or importance did not deserve
that status. And although this specific mode of televised presentation which later even
intensified has generally been overlooked in the literature about Orbán’s communication,
we believe that it significantly shaped the course of his career in the past decade.
Dayan and Katz characterized media events as “historic occasions mostly occasions
of state that are televised as they take place and transfix a nation or a world” (1992: 1). The
1989 reburial ceremony of Imre Nagy was such a media event. As part of it, Orbán’s 1989
speech also became a media event. It was delivered at a historical moment and it truly
attracted the attention of the whole nation; millions listened to it. Although Orbán’s
subsequent speeches neither occurred at historical moments nor were permanently attended by
hundreds of thousands, the mode of their live transmission remained the same. Just as the
1989 speech, Orbán’s post-transition speeches were also part of carefully preplanned and
organized events (Katz et al. 1992: 4). In addition, time and again, the TV channels (MTV
and Hír TV) canceled other programs in order to air Orbán’s speeches live and connect
audiences from remote locations (Katz et al. 1992: 4).
It is quite clear, that all these factors allowed Orbán to reach the largest possible
audience. What is less obvious is that this mode of live transmission also established an
important background for the speeches, independently from their content. The special
presentation of the speeches created the impression of uniqueness per se. The way first MTV
and then Hír TV treated Orbán’s speeches was characterized by the interruption of the routine.
“The most obvious difference between media events and other formulas or genres of
broadcasting is that they are, by definition, not routine…. Like the holidays that halt everyday
routines, television events propose exceptional things to think about, to witness and to do”
(Katz et al. 1992: 5).
In terms of impact, the mode of broadcast in Orbán’s case can be considered
successful. Orbán’s speeches were truly apprehended in accordance with their media
presentation. Both the Hungarian mainstream political press and the political elite referred to
them when they were presented. In the past, the interpretation and the evaluation of Orbán’s
more formal, annual “state of the nation speeches” (which were broadcast live by HÍR TV as
well) regularly occupied the first two pages of Hungary’s most popular liberal daily,
Népszabadság. Reactions of major supporters, opponents, and political analysts, who heavily
engaged in the discussion of the speeches, filled not only the pages of this newspaper, but also
got into the center of attention of all Hungarian media. Even so, the excited political interest
primarily reflected the general power of media events that “are characterized by a norm of
viewing in which people tell each other that it is mandatory to view, that they must put all else
aside” (Katz et al. 1992: 8).
In 1989, “the norm of viewing” stemmed from a natural societal need to witness a
unique historical moment. In the case of Orbán’s post-transition speeches, “the norm of
viewing” was triggered by the specific mode of their televised presentation. We suggest that
Orbán’s later talks were not media events in the real sense of the word: they did not take place
in the context of historical occasions and normally would not electrify nationwide attention.
However, as the speeches were technically presented as media events, they were perceived
accordingly. In this regard, the organization and media representation of Orbán’s speeches
contributed to the re-creation of the original 1989 speech situation. Orbán’s talks
simultaneously invaded the streets of Budapest and the television screens of Hungarian
families, creating the impression that his speeches are not simply popular PR talks by a party
politician, but ceremonial, festive, unique, and decisive political events, important to the
whole nation.
3. Repeating the 1989 Speech Event via First Person Plural Pronouns
Besides the live broadcasts and the recreation of the structure of a media event as the speech
situation, the discursive and linguistic elements of Orbán’s post-communist communication
also display surprising continuity with his 1989 talk. In other words, it was not only the 1989
speech situation but also the 1989 speech event that determined Orbán’s subsequent political
communication. Interestingly, the discursive strategies that structured Orbán’s 1989 talk also
became constituting elements of his post-communist rhetoric as well.
The discursive overlap between the 1989 speech event and Orbán’s subsequent
speeches during the 1990s was manifested in two major ways. First, through the particular
grammatical formulas of first-person plural pronouns and common nouns, which implied in
the new political context that Orbán is not simply a party politician but the representative of
the whole Hungarian nation. In his 1989 speech, Orbán used exclusively plural pronouns.
Based on the classic work of Brown and Gilman (1960), various scholars have examined the
relationship between persuasion and pronominal choice (e.g., the use of “I,” “me,” “my,”
versus “we,” “us,” “ourselves,” “our”) in different contexts (Kuo 2002, Adegoju 2009). This
work shows that personal pronouns play an important role in persuasion. In political rhetoric,
the choice between the first person singular (e.g., “I,” “me,” “my”) and plural pronominal
forms (e.g., “we,” “us,” “ourselves,” “our”) may reflect important goals of the speakers. For
instance, according to Adegoju, the first personal plural pronominal forms create “the
impression of a symmetrical relation that holds among a people fighting the same (political)
cause that is presented in such a way that the interests of the country matters most” (2009:
234). Accordingly, in the case of Orbán’s 1989 talk, the first person plural pronominal forms
made it apparent that the speaker presents a collective perspective and speaks on behalf of the
Although plurality is generally expressed by conjugation in Hungarian, the personal
plural pronoun “we” appeared in Orbán’s talk explicitly as well, reinforcing the impression of
national unity: We learned from their faith [the faith of Nagy Imre and his companions] that
democracy and communism exclude each other” (Orbán 1989). As a result of the plural
pronouns, in the 1989 speech the nation appeared to be a homogenous community, sharing the
same values, experiences, and beliefs. In the 1989 talk, the plural obviously referred to all
Hungarian citizens, although the agent was usually not mentioned explicitly by the speaker:
“If we believe in our strength…”/ If we are determined enough…”/“Our goals remained the
same [as in 1956]” (Orbán 1989). Similarly to the nation, the sub-groups of society were also
presented by Orbán in the 1989 speech as being united. He referred to the Hungarian citizens
only in general, using such collective nouns as “youth” or the “elderly.” As Orbán was
delivering his speech in the name of Hungarian Youth, in the 1989 talk Orbán did not even
refer to himself as an individual: We, young people do not understand many things that are
probably natural for the older generations” (Orbán 1989).
In the 1989 speech, the first person plural pronominal forms and the collective nouns
reinforced the impression of unity, suggesting that both the nation as a whole and its sub-
groups form homogenous communities. This impression largely reflected reality in 1989. As
the extreme success of Orbán’s first talk suggested, in 1989 he was able to express emotions
and ideas that were truly shared by the majority of Hungarians. However, after 1989 such
level of national unity has never emerged again in Hungary. The communist regime was
replaced by the new, democratic multi-party system, offering a wide range of ideological
strands and proposing distinct political agendas.
Nevertheless, from 1998 onwards, Orbán gradually shifted towards a discourse that
reflected the ideological and political diversity of the new political context less and less.
Although Fidesz was only one party among several others, Orbán continued to use first person
plural pronominals, referring in this way not simply to his own supporters but implying that
they are equivalent to the whole Hungarian nation.
The election failure of Orbán’s party, Fidesz, in 2002, seems to be a milestone in this
regard. Before the 2002 election defeat, the re-emerging first person plural pronominal forms
mainly referred to the right-wing supporters of Fidesz in Orbán’s discourse. The following
sentence displays this tendency well: “According to the exit polls, the country expected our
common cause to win” (Orbán 2002a). Nevertheless, after the 2002 election defeat, the
originally vague distinction between the Fidesz supporters and the nation entirely disappeared
from Orbán’s discourse. In subsequent speeches, common nouns started to dominate his
language again, making it clear that in Orbán’s understanding the first person plural
pronominal forms refer to the Hungarians in general. This time, the agent of his rhetoric
became explicitly the nation. After losing the election in 2002, Orbán famously argued that
“the nation cannot be in opposition,” in this way openly equating his own supporters with all
Hungarians (Orbán 2002b). Moreover, he suggested implicitly that, even if the political
opponents won the elections, they, and their supporters, are not part of the nation, the
community of Hungarians.
After 2002, the common nouns “people” and “Hungarians” became keywords in
Orbán’s rhetoric, referring henceforth to the whole political community. Whenever Orbán
addressed his right-wing supporters, he always referred to them as “Hungarians”: We
Hungarians always knew and believed that without our history, traditions, thousand of glories
and defaults we were nothing and nobody” (Orbán 2002b). “Because of these [national
symbols] we can be Hungarians of the 21st century(Orbán 2006). Hungarians expect from
us a determined, brave fight and victory” (Orbán 2010b). Besides portraying the society (e.g.
the nation) and its subgroups (e.g., “youth,” “pensioners,” “mothers”) as if they were
homogenous communities, the re-emerging plural pronominal forms and common nouns also
implied that just as he did once in 1989, Orbán still spoke “from below,” representing the
whole nation. Again, Orbán did not refer to himself as an individual but as a member of the
larger community. The first person plural pronominal form “we” implied that Orbán spoke on
behalf of the people.
As in 1989, this collective mode of self-presentation involved a sharp, “we and they”
distinction. While in 1989 the plural “we” appeared as opposed to the Hungarian communist
government, in Orbán’s new rhetoric the same pronoun pointed to the “otherness” of his
political opponents. Interestingly, the new political elites during the 1990s were portrayed by
Orbán similarly to the old ones. In accordance with his 1989 speech, the revolutionary
narratives of Orbán’s rhetoric presented his political opponents mainly as exploiting,
oppressor elites against whom, on the behalf of the nation, the speaker fights.
4. Repeating the 1989 Speech Event via Frames
The political situation in 1989 allowed Orbán to be among the first to outspokenly talk,
without being censored by the communist authorities, about the key political issues before the
public at large. When Orbán voiced the need for drastic political change and urged the
withdrawal of Soviet troops and the announcement of free elections, he raised issues that
previously not been expressed publicly. This specific characteristic of his 1989 talk, i.e., that
it was reporting “breaking news,” largely determined Orbán’s all subsequent political
communication. After the regime change, Orbán continued to position himself as a leader who
always has “breaking news.” Obviously, the political situation was fundamentally different
before and after the transition; nevertheless Orbán’s revolutionary rhetoric remained more or
less the same. The specific frames of his speeches, which portrayed the ordinary events of
Hungarian democratic politics as historical developments, allowed Orbán to create and
announce again and again breaking news for his audience.
Already in 1998, when Orbán rose to power for the first time, he promised to the
public a radical break with the past. At the time, Orbán stressed that his takeover was “more
than a government change,” suggesting a previously unknown, new goal as well as modes of
governance that had never been experienced before. The slogan, “more than a government
change,” evoked the conceptual frame of regime change.
According to Lakoff, “frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the
world” (2004: XV). We can neither hear nor see frames; they exist in the human conceptual
system, and are evoked primarily by language. Every word can function as a frame, defined
relative to a conceptual framework. “When you hear a word, its frame our collection of
frames is activated in your mind” (Lakoff 2004: XV). Orbán’s “more than a government
change” slogan implied that even if the takeover by Fidesz in 1998 was not enough for a
regime change, the new government would introduce a new era. This slogan was just the first
of many, as from 1998 onward numerous words, catchphrases, and metaphors in Orbán’s
rhetoric evoked the conceptual frame of regime change.
During Orbán’s first premiership between 1998 and 2002, this tendency manifested
itself mainly in terms of self-presentation. During this period, labeling became important in
his communication. Labels functioned as frames of differentiation, evoking the feeling of a
“new beginning” as opposed to the old and common political practice. Among the different
labels that emerged between 1998 and 2002, the term “citizen” (“polgár”) proved to be the
most crucial one. Orbán regularly referred to his government as “citizen government”
(“polgári kormány”) and to Hungary as “citizen Hungary” (“polgári Magyarország”). The
multiple meanings of the word “polgár” (in terms of politics, it refers to citizens, the citoyen,
but in terms of class it refers also to the propertied -- the bourgois class), applied
simultaneously, promised a brighter future for Hungarians and implicitly suggested that
Fidesz represents the whole nation. Most importantly, the term implied groundbreaking
political change. Thus, time and again, Orbán appeared to be the outspoken leader who is the
first to announce new political realities to audiences.
After 2002, the communication practice of labeling was extended by Fidesz to its
political opponents. Orbán started to refer to the new socialist-liberal leaders of Hungary as
the “government of bankers,” implying their supposed money-oriented attitude and personal
wealth. In the case of political opponents, this mode of portrayal later even intensified: from
2002 onward, socialist and liberal politicians were generally described by Orbán as shady
business-people, to whom he referred as “Hungarian oligarchs” (Orbán 2010a) and who were
regularly presented in a criminal context (e.g., corruption). By evoking these frames, Orbán
implied that the illegitimate rule of the “corrupt elites” should be overthrown. Simultaneously,
during his time in opposition between 2002 and 2010, Orbán gradually shifted toward a sharp
anti-communist revolutionary language.
In his 2002 post-election speech, Orbán told his youth supporters not be afraid of
being shamed for their ideological beliefs by those who had been doing this “since 1947”
(Orbán 2002b), obviously referring to his political opponents. In a 2006 speech, Orbán called
the large Budapest election poster of the rival party’s candidate a “paper statue” that is bigger
than the statues that “Stalin, Mao Tse Tung or Kim Ir Sen built for themselves,” in this way
implicitly comparing his political opponent to the emblematic Soviet, Chinese, and North
Korean communist dictators (Orbán 2006). In addition, in this speech Orbán claimed that the
poster is a “clear sign” which points to the fact that “statues of the past that we already
successfully removed” are trying now “to come back.” In the same speech, Orbán also re-
called the historic words of Pope John Paul II spoken during the Pope’s 1987 visit to Poland,
“Do not be afraid!,” thus implying that the political situation in 2006 in democratic Hungary
resembled the situation in post-martial law communist Poland.
Accordingly, during the 2010 election campaign, in his speeches Orbán outspokenly
urged a radical, revolutionary break with the past, just as he did once in 1989. His rhetoric
twenty years after the regime change announced the same breaking news as his 1989 speech:
the forthcoming emergence of a new, historical era.
In commenting on his party’s electoral victory in the European Parliamentary Elections in
2010, Orbán said: “There were several such moments in Hungarian history. In the past
centuries the revolution in 1948 or the revolution in 1956 were like this, and for us the regime
change in 1990 was also like this. And today, we Hungarians have arrived again at such a
day. We arrive at a new one, among the rare great days of history, Hungarian history” (Orbán
The word “revolution” became a keyword in Orbán’s rhetoric in recent years. So much
so, that immediately after his party won the parliamentary elections in April 2010 with a two-
thirds majority, the huge electoral success was labeled as a “revolution” by Orbán in his
victory speech: “Today a revolution took place at the voting polls” (Orbán 2010d). The term
“revolution” was not used by Orbán only in the metaphoric sense. In Lakoff and Johnson’s
classic definition, “the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of
thing in terms of another” (2003:5). According to this definition, one could argue that
“revolution” was a metaphor in Orbán’s rhetoric that expressed the enormous electoral victory
of his party. However, interestingly, this was not the case. Orbán’s utterances today suggest
that within the formal set of institutions of the democratic elections a real revolution took
place in Hungary (Bozóki 2011), finally bringing the end of the communist era (again):
“Today in Hungary we learned a historical lesson, that is the lesson of the past 20 years, that
is the lesson of the regime change, and that is as follows: it is impossible to change a regime,
a regime can be only brought down and overthrown, overthrown and replaced by a new one”
(Orbán 2010d).
Thus the revolutionary rhetoric, which once had been used to initiate transition to
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... As rightly noted by Anna Szilágyi and András Bozóki, 'revolutionary rhetoric' had much larger connotations than just a huge electoral victory and the defeat of political opponents. 46 The metaphor of revolution was further transposed into political engineering of putting an end to the liberal ancien régime and the imperative to build a new system. Viktor Orbán left no doubt that: Today in Hungary we learned a historical lesson, that is the lesson of the past 20 years, that is the lesson of the regime change, and that is as follows: it is impossible to change a regime, a regime can be only brought down and overthrown, overthrown and replaced by a new one. ...
... Because he did not exactly employ the 1956 issue in his political rhetoric, I did not include Magyar Hírlap in the content analysis. 7 The second political actor who used this issue for his political profile was Viktor Orbán, but he entered the public discourse only at the moment of the funeral, and the political power he gained from his positioning in this discourse unfolded only later -and could even be considered to still be ongoing until today, c.f.Szilágyi and Bozóki (2015).8 Notably from Erzsébet Nagy, the daughter of Imre Nagy, whose semi-public speech in a private home of dissidents was later published in the underground magazine Beszelő(Nagy, 1987) ...
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The article is aimed at contributing to the discussion of the role of the mass media system in political transformation. For this purpose, reporting on a political issue relevant to the transformation was selected for tracing the theoretical assumption along empirical results: the hitherto taboo topic of Hungarian uprising in 1956. I studied how 1956 was reported in Hungary’s main print media, Népszabadság and Magyar Nemzet, from June 1988 to June 1989. These newspapers, despite still being controlled by the government in the dissolving socialist system of the end 1980s, helped a functional public sphere emerging. The newspapers broadened the interpretive scope by facilitating dissenting opinions and enabled a hitherto suppressed discourse about Kadar’s role in the historical events of 1956. The results suggest the newspapers acted as professional mediators and had a systemic stabilising effect on Hungarian society in this smouldering conflict.
This paper analyzes how the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán uses social categorization and populist rhetoric in an anti-LGBTQ campaign. Drawing on social identity theory and the scholarship on populist rhetoric and anti-LGBTQ politics, the article examines 46 interviews, press statements, public speeches, and op-eds by Orbán. Using critical discourse analysis (CDA) and Wodak’s discourse-historical approach, it shows how the prime minister frames LGBTQ communities as an out-group that poses a threat to Hungarian values and way of living. Similar to the issue of immigration and existing anti-LGBTQ frames in other countries, Orbán presents LGBTQ groups within his well-established anti-Western narrative. In addition, he connects LGBTQ communities to other out-groups that have been portrayed as a threat for a long time. The study sheds new light on the linguistic strategies of Orbán and shows how populist rhetoric and social categorization complement each other in a political campaign.
One of the salient features of the recent populist turn in Europe has been a redefinition of the European. Traditionally, (far) right-wing parties defined themselves as Eurosceptic and focused on national identity. Increasingly, however, they have referred to pan-European heritage, although against the mainstream conceptualization of it. The article looks at the case of Hungary and the image of Europe constructed by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose rhetoric has become a key reference point for other European populist movements. The past decade his government has witnessed, on the one hand, a tendency to redefine what is European against the dominant and institutionalized interpretations, and, on the other, an attempt to single-out the concept of Central Europe as the locus for maintaining and nurturing European values in contrast to perceived Western decline. This paper examines this discourse through a close reading of major speeches delivered by Orbán on the anniversaries of historical events. Analysis of these speeches reveals the ideological foundations of his political project and presents historical and philosophical interpretations of the European political situation. It seeks to identify how Orbán’s discourse evolved across time, by putting the speeches about the past into the present political context.
This chapter analyzes how the Great Replacement conspiracy theory is exploited in far-right discursive strategies. Indeed, the common ground and/or collective narratives identified in discourses such as the Great Replacement theory have been created through re- or de-construction of current news, such as the influx of migrants. We draw on the Dynamic Model of Meaning theory, combining the theoretical concept of (emergent) common ground – fundamental to intercultural pragmatics–and the notion of proximization. Our data comprises Marine Le Pen interviews, Viktor Orbán speeches, and Matteo Salvini tweets, where we examine various aspects of their narratives as well as the specific contextualization. Our analysis reveals both common ground and cross-cultural variation in the conspiracy narratives disseminated by these far-right leaders: inferences vs. directness; national history vs. doomed future. We conclude by suggesting that such narratives work as metaphor scenarios and could, in fact, represent covert hate speech against a specific community. Moreover, these narratives function as useful political arguments, since they arouse strong emotions against the declared enemies of populists. While a rational and well-documented counter-discourse is needed to answer such strategies, it is crucial to both deconstruct and understand the beliefs underlying the emotions that lead a person to trust such beliefs.
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The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, is considered to be one example of the rise of populism during the 2010s in Europe. During the decade that he has been in government, Hungary has been a forerunner in terms of democratic decline. In parallel, throughout this period, political communication has increasingly shifted online, and politicians are now actively using social media to gain political capital. Despite the growing literature on online political communication, visual political communication remains underrepresented. Orbán’s case offers a unique opportunity to examine what authoritarian populism and maintenance of illiberalism look like when a regime has been in power for more than 10 years. Using visual discourse analysis, we analysed 131 visuals of Viktor Orbán’s Instagram from 2019. We argue that by using the symbols of nationalism and masculinity, Orbán attempts to embody the features of an “ordinary man” and also simultaneously conveys statesmanship through outlining “us” in ethno-nationalistic terms, in an effort to strengthen his party’s message, renew its hegemonic position, and to remain in power. This is in stark contrast to the communication of the Hungarian government, which relies heavily on “othering” and the construction of “them” in legacy and social media.
In Hungary, right-wing populism has become the semi-official discourse that legitimizes the authoritarian regime of Viktor Orbán. In this sense, one may see Hungary as a successful laboratory of mature, hegemonic state populism. The country showcases, for the first time in an EU member state, what happens when right-wing populism functions as a regime ideology in a political system where democratic checks and balances have been largely dismantled. This chapter explores some key characteristics of Orbán’s populist rhetoric that contributed to the post-democratic transformation of the country since 2010. Using data from a longitudinal content analysis of 41 key speeches that Orbán gave in twenty years, it finds the roots of Orbán’s success in strategic, sustained securitization (framing issues as dramatic, existential threats to the nation) and enemy creation as consistent features of his prolific rhetoric and propaganda strategy. This deep securitization creates a resonance with Hungary’s history and a negative self-image related to victimization of the nation prevalent among Hungarians.
Redrafting Constitutions in Democratic Regimes - edited by Gabriel L. Negretto September 2020
Cambridge Core - Constitutional and Administrative Law - Redrafting Constitutions in Democratic Regimes - edited by Gabriel L. Negretto
Democracy is not just a matter of constitutions, parliaments, elections, parties and the rule of law. In order to see if or how democracy works, we must attend to what people make of it, and what they think they are doing as they engage with politics, or as politics engages them. This book examines the way democracy and democratization are thought about and lived by people in China, Russia and eleven other countries in the post-communist world. It shows how democratic politics (and sometimes authoritarian politics) work in these countries, and generates insights into the prospects for different kinds of political development. The authors explore the implications for what is probable and possible in terms of trajectories of political reform, and examine four roads to democratization: liberal, republican, participatory and statist. The book will be of interest to students and scholars of comparative politics, political theory and post-communist studies.
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are "metaphors we live by"--metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them. In this updated edition of Lakoff and Johnson's influential book, the authors supply an afterword surveying how their theory of metaphor has developed within the cognitive sciences to become central to the contemporary understanding of how we think and how we express our thoughts in language.
As is frequently suggested, Europeanisation ‘has gained widespread currency amongst scholars as a newly fashionable term to denote a variety of changes within European politics and international relations’ (Featherstone, 2004, p. 3). Perceived in such terms, Europeanisation has been used to describe diverse processes taking place ‘when something in the domestic political system is affected by something European’ (Vink, 2002, p. 1), or, referring strictly to the Europeanisation caused by the development of the European Union, it has been approached ‘as domestic change caused by the European integration’ (ibid.).
This chapter is an initial contribution to an area of research I am currently embarking on: the role of discourse in processes of "transition" (i.e., from socialism to capitalism and Western forms of democratic government) in central and eastern Europe (henceforth CEE). My particular focus here is on attempts in CEE, and specifically Romania, to construct a "knowledge-based economy" (KBE) and "information society" (IS). I begin with a brief sketch of the version of Critical Discourse Analysis (henceforth CDA), which I am currently working with. I then discuss discourse as an element in processes of "transition," and the construction of "objects of research" from research topics such as "transition," KBE, and IS. The final part of the chapter looks in particular at the recontextualization of discourses of the KBE and IS, especially the later, in Romania. I shall analyze a specific Romanian government policy text, the "National Strategy for the promotion of the New Economy and the implementation of the Information Society" (2002).
The transition of communist Eastern Europe to capitalist democracy post-1989 and in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars has focused much scholarly attention - in history, political science and literature - on the fostering of new identities across Eastern European countries in the absence of the old communist social and ideological frameworks. This book examines an important, but hitherto largely neglected, part of this story: the ways in which the West has defined its own identity and ideals via the demonization of communist regimes and Eastern European cultures as a totalitarian, barbarian and Orientalist "other". It describes how old Orientalist prejudices resurfaced during the Cold War period, and argues that the establishment of this discourse helped to justify transitions of Eastern European societies to market capitalism and liberal democracy, suppressing Eastern Europe's communist histories and legacies, whilst perpetuating its dependence on the West as a source of its own sense of identity. It argues that this process of Orientalization was reinforced by the literary narratives of Eastern European and Russian anti-communist dissidents and exiles, including Vladimir Nabokov, Czeslaw Milosz and Milan Kundera, in their attempts to present themselves as native, Eastern European experts and also emancipate themselves - and their homelands - as civilized, enlightened and Westernized. It goes on to suggest that the greatest potential for recognizing and overcoming this self-Orientalization lies in post-communist literary and visual narratives, with their themes of disappointment in the social, economic, or political changes brought on by the transitions, challenge of the unequal discursive power in East-West dialogues where the East is positioned as a disciple or a mimic of the West, and the various guises of nostalgia for communism.