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Football’s role in politics

October 21st, 2013

A liberal writer describes Viktor Orbán’s interest in and support for Hungarian football as symbolic elements of a mafia-style leadership, while a libertarian commentator thinks the Premier sincerely believes that his favourite game is an essential part of nation-building which was destroyed by the Communists. A conservative columnist writes that liberal commentators try to discredit Orbán’s government with various references to history, instead of trying to understand its nature.

In an analysis of Viktor Orbán’s “football mania” in Magyar Narancs (print edition), Márton Kozák, a former prominent Free Democrat argues against comparing PM Orbán’s policy decisions – such as building new football stadiums or channelling private support into talent management – to the known preference of autocratic regimes for spectacular and popular sports. While (interwar Regent) Horthy or (Communist party chief Kádár) supported professional sports to bolster the support for their political system through national or ethnocentric pride, but did not turn their favourite sports – hunting in Kádár’s case – into politics, Orbán turns football, his personal interest, into a national priority. These new stadiums will not be filled with happy and excited fans, says Kozák, because the point is not the regular seats but the VIP section, i.e. the bosses who benefit from both the construction craze and the satisfaction of a mafia boss in showing off his power. “The masses are there to be educated in hierarchy, Kozák contends, – not to be entertained”.
In Kapitalizmus, a libertarian blog affiliated with Heti Világgazdaság, an author who publishes his column under the pseudonym Elek Tokfalvi (paraphrasing the name of Alexis de Tocqueville) also accuses the establishment of running professional sports as a mafia-state in the sense that “few profit at the expense of many”, whereas Capitalism, he thinks, means that the successful profit while promoting the progress of the rest. He disagrees with Kozák’s analysis and contends that the Prime Minister sincerely believes in football’s role in the national revival and earnestly thinks that an enemy he calls “the Communists” are the ones who have to be overcome in order to rescue it. What Tokfalvi misses is a genuine business-like sports management based on a competitive market, which in his view would be the only way to heal Hungarian football.

In his Heti Válasz column (print edition), philosopher András Lánczi, the chairman of Századvég, a think tank close to the government, criticises liberal analysts who keep likening  Orbán with earlier political eras and leaders – a linguistic device used to discredit his government. Lánczi says comparing Orbán to Pinochet or Rákosi is cheap thinking. Even if Orbán follows the leader-principle, that does not mean he is the same kind of leader. To understand Orbán, says Lánczi, they should understand that democracy is not necessarily liberal. These liberals, he claims, find any democracy faulty where they are out of power, because they do not understand that there is nothing inherently leftist about democracy – it is “a framework for very different interpretations of government” with different ideas on who can influence the exercise of power.

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