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What do Andrej Kiska and Viktor Orban Have in Common?

Slovakia’s new president heard the unspoken wishes of the electorate – just like the Hungarian prime minister.

by Martin Ehl 1 April 2014

To compare the political newcomer Andrej Kiska with an experienced hand such as Viktor Orban might seem crazy. One of them comes off as a civil, political blank slate and the other as a political veteran shut inside a fortress of power. However know how to tap into something that is at once public and intimate, intangible, and politically very important: the trust of the voters.


In Kiska’s narrow rhetorical repertoire, from which he never strayed during the campaign that just ended, a key theme was restoring voters’ trust in the political system. Kiska thus hit on the more intimate part of the relationship between the politician and the voter, in which the citizen introduces, through voting in a secret and free election, that fragile part into the equation in the form of his or her own expectations. From that perspective the relationship is one-sided. After depositing that paper into the ballot box, the voter has few other tools to correct the politician if he violates the relationship.


The Central European, post-communist voter has the feeling, rather, that politicians try to figure out how to bypass the voter's trust in order to achieve their own goals, which do not always have to be declared during the campaign. Often voters feel that the politician is insincere, or does not hear them, or that he has ulterior motives. He does not care much about the public good, but in the best case about power and in the worst case about his own enrichment, or someone else’s.


It was in part owing to that distrust that Kiska won the presidency. He was at the right place (he offered himself as an original, unknown politician) at the right time (voter frustration, one-party rule). Next door in Hungary, on 6 April, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party will once again win the parliamentary elections in a landslide because he has understood voters’ secret desires for a while now. Kiska offered the restoration of trust and Orban its deepening because he already established that basic, intimate relationship four years ago.


As the sociologist Pal Tamas, from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Corvinus University, repeatedly stressed to me, Hungarian identity is strongly tied to language and the relatively closed cultural environment defined by it. Hungarians, even those who know a foreign language, do not want to leave that environment.


“Hungarian society is very local, it is very provincial with all types of historical complexes,” Tamas said. Orban is taking advantage of this. His regime itself is like that – provincial, non-cosmopolitan, inward-looking. I don’t think this regime will shape Hungary. Just the contrary: society looks like this and Orban is successfully playing a game with it, by monopolizing the manipulation of the media.”


A very nice summary and description of the intimate relationship between a politician and his voter, isn’t it? Hungarians have been frustrated with the deteriorating economy since 2008, with historical cultural isolation, and still in the depth of their soul they suffer from the Trianon syndrome – a loss of two-thirds of their territory in 1920. Since then they have never stood on the winning side of a war.


Understanding how to create trust with voters is the foundation of a successful politician, whether populist or not. Kiska would probably never admit it, but in terms of understanding the inner desires of the voters and establishing a close relationship with them, he is now a disciple of Orban like nobody else in Central Europe.

Martin Ehl
 is the foreign editor of the Czech daily Hospodarske noviny, where this column originally appeared. He tweets at @MartinCZV4EU. 


Translated by Anna Kotlabova.

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