Politics Is Everywhere

The Giro’s starting in Hungary and if you just want to enjoy the sport of a bike race riding across the countryside and through a capital city… then skip this post, do not read any further. A preview of the GC contenders should go up later today is available to read instead.

To look more closely at the race is to keep stumbling into Hungarian politics, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán seems to be everywhere.

The Giro’s Hungarian grande partenza makes sense on several levels. Part of Italy and all of Hungary were once united as part of Austria-Hungary in the 19th and early 20th century – this year’s route has the Kaiserjägerstraße and Blockhaus to prove it – so there’s a story of shared history. Budapest is a scenic European capital that wants to promote itself as a tourist destination and the Giro can show off a city better than football or Formula 1.

Only while we can evoke tales of history and look forward to helicopter shots of cathedrals and castles, the origins of the project go back to Bátorfi Béla. He’s a cycling fan, was president of Hungary’s triathlon federation (the dispute about the Budapest Ironman is a long story), and behind the UCI Continental Pannon cycling team. He also happens to be Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s dentist since 1992; he’s since tapped the government for a lot of money to fund “dental tourism”, for foreign patients who come to Hungary for treatment. An odd coincidence at first but you can find others in prominent positions and wealth in Hungary who knew Orbán from way back.

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Orbán started as a radical liberal in his student days but has since become a populist strongman, the type keen to blame foreigners and out-groups for problems. It’s the technique of what Venezuelan writer Moisés Naím calls the “3 Ps”: populism, post-truth politics and polarisation. On the last point, the aim is to ensure nobody is left indifferent, once you’ve heard of Orbán you either love him or loathe him.

Now a cycling blog ought to avoid to all of this – that preview of the GC contenders is ready – only it’s been hard. Trying to read the local media over the last few days to gauge interest in the Giro has been a strange experience, to look for any cycling or Giro coverage has been to scroll past the other news. One big story now is that Hungary is still a state of emergency. This was introduced because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the emergency legislation allows Orbán, him again, to rule by decree, ban large gatherings and much more, right down to small things like access to official statistics being restricted. To an outsider it looks like Orbán has gathered a lot of powers that he may not want to cede. Anyway despite the “state of danger” the Covid-19 situation is alright in Hungary and sanitary conditions look fine for the Giro; the health of Hungarian society once the Giro’s packed its bags is a different matter.

Browsing the country’s big news websites and portals this week there’s not been much about the Giro, although the stage winners will get locally-made porcelain trophies and another website has a look at key moments from the Giro over the past decade. Instead there’s the usual tabloid clickbait, “Lady Gaga’s buttocks are rounder than a ripe peach – bikini photo” promised one. But on several of the big news websites are so pro government it’s an experience to browse them, the ruling Fidesz party can do no wrong, while the opposition is frequently branded “The Left” rather than parties or people named. Sure you can find similar bias all over the world and yes, parts of the Italian media have a bias, an alignment. But at the height of Silvio Berlusconi’s powers his TV stations weren’t as loyal, nor did he create a system to bolster his media and downgrade rivals at the same time. So it’s rare in Europe; maybe Poland is comparable. US readers might think of Fox News, the channel even had their host presenter Tucker Carlson broadcast a series of shows holding up Hungary as a model society. Yet that’s fundamentally different because Fox’s hosts thrive by opposing the US government. In Budapest much of the media orbits around to the government, it’s often owned by people close to the ruling party, or dependent on government advertising for revenues. Up until now this was something to read about as a concept but thanks to the Giro (and Google Translate) it’s been a reality to navigate while searching for coverage of the race, and all the more eye-opening for it.

Unable to find much about the Giro in the local media, why not open the map and trace the Giro’s course? Only Orbán pops up en route. Stage 1 passes through Székesfehérvár, the country’s ninth largest city and where Orbán was born. The race then heads to Felcsút… where he grew up. Now if the race visits one town, it will go to a nearby one by definition; just as someone likely grows up near to their birthplace. Still, of all the places to visit and the roads to take?

The race goes to the finish in Visegrad might be familiar to those who know their European politics because of the “Visegrad Group” of Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia who’ve had an alliance, lately to coordinate policy positions within the EU and often taking a stance against proposals from Brussels; but this has fractured with even Poland, long Hungary’s closest ally within EU, being exasperated by Orbán’s cover for President Putin. For the Giro it’s a telegenic castle-top finish above the Danube but the sporting dimension of “Visegrad = 5km uphill finish” is just a new layer on top of many other, from tourism to geopolitics.

Stage 3 sees pork-barrel politics on a literal sense with the start in Kaposvár, home to the Kometa pork processing factory. Kometa’s an Italo-Hungarian company (and co-sponsor of the Eolo-Kometa team) and presumably no coincidence the stage starts here. This wouldn’t be new, many a bike race has started or finished somewhere because of a sponsor; in fact it’s not even the only grand tour stage start outside a sausage factory this year as Stage 11 of the Vuelta begins at “ElPozo Alimentación” rather than Alhama de Murcia, El Pozo being big in the business of salchichón. Stage 3 then heads for Lake Balaton, a tourist spot that the government wants to promote and where people connected to Orbán have become big investors according to Reuters.

What all organisers want from hosting a grand tour start is images of their city or region beamed around the world, to put Budapest, Visegrad and Lake Balaton on the map of your psychography. So expect shots of castles, cathedrals, the blue Danube and more… weather permitting as the forecast says rain showers this weekend.

But in Hungary to look more closely into the race is to keep seeing Viktor Orbán, from the genesis of the grande partenza, the ongoing state of emergency, or the war in Ukraine. He and his friends seem to pop-up along parts of the race route. Is this just coincidence, or a reflection of Hungary?

It feels different here, to pore over all the Italian stages isn’t to cross the path of, say, Mario Draghi all the time. Other foreign starts have their moments, Belfast in 2014 saw riders race past giant murals featuring masked gunmen and the Tel-Aviv start in 2018 was obviously political, but that was a long way from Italy. As we acknowledged at the top, part of Italy and Hungary used to be the country. Now they seem so far apart.

71 thoughts on “Politics Is Everywhere”

  1. The term ‘populist’ was invented by the right (they often call themselves the centre, or even ‘centre-left’, like Tony Blair, but they are neoliberal capitalists – if socially liberal, in some cases – and thus, right wing). They invented this term to conflate the left wing with right-wing extremists: call them all by the same name, and the public will dutifully fall into line, and will thus eventually see the left wing as ‘extreme’. And yet nobody with any political knowledge – who is not a right-winger – thinks that the left is extreme (ask yourself why most academics are left wing), nor were the policies and beliefs held by the left considered extreme in the 60s to early 90s. But the public have been successfully propagandised, and what they think of as the ‘centre’ has been dragged a long way to the right.

    There is no such thing as a ‘populist’ politician: it says nothing about one’s political views or policies.

    Terminology matters. Orbán is a fascist, and he should always be called such.

    • I appreciate why IR has steered clear of saying facist directly, but I echo everyone’s sentiments below. His regime is anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist and facist to it’s core.

    • Hmm, populism’s a well-defined term in political science and I don’t think it was invented by a nebulous “the right”, the guy who coined it was literally to the left of Lenin. Since then it seems to have taken hold in academia because of Ionescu and Gellner in the 1960s.

      Fascism’s not so easy to define. When Umbero Eco had a go in his famous essay he called it “selective populism” but also “fuzzy” while so many other labels like Falangism, Nazism are more precise, he said Italy under Mussolini had so many contradictions. Today academics seem to settle on fascism being populism plus added violence, the use of force or terror on top to oppress or murder. So Russia might fit this – but one day they’ll label it Putinism – but not Hungary.

      So for me Orban is a model example of populism but he’s not fascist going by these definitions. Hungary’s not there, eg people can demonstrate on the streets, the government did win an election with concerns over media freedom but it’s also lost a referendum (nor try to rig the results). Reading the Hungarian newspapers/websites does reveal some big bias but there are outlets that remain critical. The worry is of course the direction of travel in Hungary and being alert to this. Watch out if towns start erecting statues of Orban, if he starts dressing in army uniform.

      For now we’ll see how the Giro fits in with all of this, I wonder what Orban will make of all the state buildings about to be lit up in pink floodlights?

      • I don’t have any knowledge of political science, and I mis-used the word ‘invented’.
        I was talking about how the term is used today in the mainstream media. For example, politicians as disparate as Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump are described as ‘populists’ by the those who call themselves the ‘centre’ (the Guardian, for instance, even produced a graph of populists with those two names together at the extreme end of one of the axes). In mainstream circles, it is a pejorative term used to lump the left in with the hard-right.

      • And the right aren’t ‘nebulous’. They’re the ones in charge of big business, the mainstream media and almost all of the world’s powerful ‘democratic’ governments.

        • Hey J Evans – I actually think you’re being very harsh on INRNG here, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you but as a fellow long time reader and contributor to these comments surely you know the care and rigour that goes into INRNG’s articles. I do not for a second think INRNG would support or defend obvious bad actors in the political sphere and given the general make up of the commenters on this blog, it’s a fair shout to say we similarly all agree to an vague extent – so you can’t give INRNG the benefit of the doubt on the above? It feels like you’ve gone off, when he/she’s writing about a difficult topic as a journalist who is clearly trying to be as respectful as possible to all his/her readers opinions by making an effort to be objective. We can join the dots after surely? We probably all came to the same conclusion as you without it really needing to be said.

          Also – even if I agree that many of the tyrants in office or trying to wrestle power currently around the world should be called out for what they are, fascists – my general view is that politics is always extremely nuanced and there’s a benefit in most cases to standing back and use temperate/understanding language when trying to talk about it intelligently – watching the Navalny documentary last night when questions were asked about him marching with Ultra nationalists, what was initially surprising and worrying suddenly became understandable when you take into account his is not campaigning in normal circumstances or in a fair fight – similar to the Azoz battalion currently fighting in Ukraine who’s views are terrifying but the extremity of the situation has moved the goal posts, and how we speak about those situations probably needs to be reflective of their situation – so mild language before/during/after is likely the best course for a reasoned debate.

          • Hi oldDAVE, there’s too much in there that I disagree with for me to respond meaningfully without it being pages long and veering wildly off subject.
            I’ve had my say, inrng’s had theirs, you’ve had yours; I think it’s alright to leave it there.

          • Oh okay…. I thought I was just saying we likely all agree so give INRNG the benefit of the doubt! Ha – obviously not, I was likely wrong in the second half, unsure of it myself as I’ve been mulling it over myself since watching Navalny. Although I thought INRNG’s response above was exceptional and I don’t think I could respect the writing and the blog any more than I do right now.

          • @oldDave
            I appreciate your take, but… uff Azov? Not that. It’s beyond my control! – Hey, have a look to that Guardian *2017* video about Azov having summer camps for children in pure Full Metal Jacket style (I’m not joking, literally same tune), thousands of them through the country, being overtly promoted in public schools. And the barracks. Heck, those paramilitaries were defending on camera that their nazi tatoos were “a personal thing” and “not being used by instructors working with the children” (blatantly false)… while the camp’s barracks had *giant* wolfsangel on their façades. You might also read *Newsweek* (not Russia Today) interviewing *US Army officers* about the exact type of war Russia has been carrying on until now and their confusion and disappointment when watching home media on the subject.
            I know that having said this right now I have lost any option to ask people to restrain from further commenting on this subject, but I’ll try all the same. At least, I’ll really really really try to avoid writing any further line on this.

        • Written like a brain washed apparatchik. This sort of drivel is why people can’t get along. Populist is basically a term to deride anyone who uses politics and policies to whip up political support which stoke extremist ideas but appearing to be more ‘central’ – left or right. It’s a term with a particular meaning but if you sit too far to one side you only see it as applicable one way probably because you’re more extreme than you realise. You don’t realise what apolitical is and if you have no concept of that then you’ll struggle to understand anyone with a moderate view. You’ll keep running into resistance from mild mannered people who object to being lumped in with extremist views.

      • Good to have some reason in the debate. Yes, “terminology matters”, so when you say very strong statements you should avoid “misusing” terms and say things in which you reckon yourself you’re not a specialist… “Ok, none of my words were right, but I am”. Thanks Inrng for information on a sensitive subject.

        • Yes, ‘The term ‘populist’ is used by the right’ would have been much more accurate than what I wrote: ‘The term ‘populist’ was invented by the right’. However, fixating on those few words is obfuscating from the bigger point – deliberately or otherwise (this is a tactic so often used) – which is that the term ‘populist’ is used by the neoliberal ‘centre’ to equate the left with the extreme right.
          And while liberals debate minutiae such as this, moving the argument away from what is actually happening here and now, the capitalists get on with destroying the planet, putting billions into poverty and making the rest of us wage slaves, all to the end of making the ultra-rich even richer.

      • I’d happily challenge such a definition of “fascism”. And Eco, albeit an excellent philosopher, was far from a specialist. Mosse’s work – to cite another big name who, on turn. specialised on this subject – directly deals with the admittedly complicated task of defining fascism as a more general phenomenon than specific historical regimes. I’d also highlight Gentile’s (not Giovanni ^__^) work on Italian fascism to understand why the above definition really doesn’t work. Gramsci might look dated but is a classic and resisted better than most the passing of time. He also had the advantage to know alas way too well what he was writing about. To make a long story very short, I find the above definition to be both too general and not enough fitting, that is, a lot of regimes which are usually classified as “general fascism” – pretty much beyond any doubt (they’re even archetypical, sometimes!) – don’t fit the definition, think the military regimes in Argentina during the 70s (Perón might fit, in a sense, but that’s not what I’m referring to).
        At the same time, both “populism” and “violence” are very vague instances, to start with because they often depend on the POV of the observer and on degrees.
        What violence is legitimate? Fascism overtly claims that its use of internal violence is necessary – Putin doesn’t (he doesn’t claim that, I mean). Do we take into account what we “suppose” to be State violence, say, the killing of journalists in Russia? Well, in the last five years in Colombia the number of environmental activists who got murdered is *three times* the number of journalists who were murdered in Russia *since the URSS was over*. Perhaps in that case we would assume that it isn’t State violence? Why the difference? Or is it just about what category is easier to “buy” in a given country? I could also name “false positives” in Colombia’s case.
        And, when the (weak) category of “populism” is concerned, we should take notice that in Latin American right now the “anti-elitism” and the “spiritual connection” with the “authentic people”, which are two key aspects of populism (more or less the only two about which there’s sort of an agreement), are sometimes being used by high-class, conservative, right-wing politicians to justify their attacks to the “corrupted elite” of left-wing governments… of course, the “populist” are supposedly *only* the latter. Bolivia might be an interesting case study, but Venezuela isn’t far from that.
        Please be so kind to understand that I’m *not* “supporting” Putin or Maduro ^__^ They happen to be very convenient examples because in those cases it becomes apparent how categories are used in our social and cultural context essentially as ideological weapons according to an enemy-friend political logic. The resulting contradictions are useful to try to grasp why those categories are pretty feeble in themselves.
        I’d frankly descart all the “populism” stuff because it looks suspiciously similar to the old Plutarchian political theory of oclocracy/demagogy within the “spiral” of an evolutive theory of political forms of government (developing the concept from Polybius). The ideology behind it all has been studied well (when speaking of Classics, no risk of being labelled as “an enemy of liberal democracy”), and several considerations still apply today. In short, it’s about creating a shadow image – shadowy enough, indeed – of the critical aspects of a democratic system in order to *defend* its oligarchic drifts which you happen to suffer *at home*. The Other is a rhethorical device and a target.

        Uff, hell!, it’s pretty much impossible to deal with such stuff here. And we aren’t even on Facebook or Twitter! ^__^
        I tried to keep it short, and failed, plus it becomes unintelligible.
        I think we can all be happy with having tried sticking to pretty much decent manners (which is the contrary of populism, by the way! 😉 ) and being conscious, as I’m sure we all are, that things are way more complicated than what can be reasonably presented here.

        Just two final notes: Hungary might not be “a fascism”, but that doesn’t prevent Orban from “being a fascist”. Besides, I just *loved* that final observation about pink buildings 😀

  2. Thanks Inrng once again for approaching the sport from dimensions often overlooked. Not much to add from me but appreciate the read and look forward to Hungarian readers to add their comments and insights.

  3. “Now they seem so far apart”. Or not. How long ago was Italy’s own emergency legislation suspended? One month? After lasting, dunno, two years? And it came no shorter than Orban’s. Plus, and even more important, although it’s finally been suspended in terms of a general “state of emergency” as such, truth is that a very significant part of it is still being mantained active – actually, now without the legal framework which allowed it making constitutional sense of sort.
    For example, it’s being used to expand an already huge USA military base in a protected natural park area.
    Another example. Most political parties – and most people, indeed – didn’t see with much favour the decision to send heavy armaments to Ukraine. Yet, when your government is several institutional steps apart from any democratic election of sort, exploiting every single gray area to put it in place right on the very limit of the Constitution (on which side of that limit isn’t actually very clear)… well, suddenly the “opinion” of parties and citizens doesn’t matter that much.
    I don’t even start with covid, although finally some Courts are beginning to rule that most related norms and their applications (quite different from whatever you might have seen in your countries) were sitting pretty far from what’s constitutional, legal or even vaguely rational. Of course, now it can happen only because *that* emergency officially disappeared from the horizon.
    We’ve got a brand new one to justify more or less whatever but, above all, the need to avoid people voting (and, in case they do vote, any relationship between poll results and government must be absolutely coincidental, as it’s been for the last ten years or so).

    All that said, Orban is probably what comes closest to fascism in contemporary Europe. Hence similarities don’t allow any sympathy, quite the other way around if anything.
    Naím (he himself an eye-browsing figure from many POVs) and his 3Ps… those should be used to ask questions about *your own* government – the one you’re living under, I mean – rather than others’, where ideas like “truth” or “populism” may become more slippery if you don’t master the very exact context. I’ve seen a lot of those *Pees* from very democratic governments and very democratic media in very democratic countries, not only in Italy. As in the famous sentence popularised by Giorgio Gaber: “I’m not that worried by Berlusconi in himself, I’m rather worried by Berlusconi within myself”.

    • I was expecting a “but Italy’s not that different” response and it’s right to explore this side too. During the Giro there’s often a tendency for foreigners to portray Italy in one way, it brings to mind Beppe Severgnini’s line:

      “Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing. Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages, such as hills in the sunset, olive groves, lemon trees, white wine and raven-haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze. It’s alluring, but complicated.”

      Once the Giro’s back in Italy yes there are alluring olive groves but also in this complication there are many populist politicians with Berlusconi, Salvini, Meloni, 5 star etc. But they’ve struggled to get into government and when they’ve gone in, they’ve often quickly gone out. In Hungary it’s different and the longer Orban/Fidesz are in power, the more they consolidate, it’s more like Poland than Italy. Italy ended its state of emergency a month ago now and when it was implemented it had a time limit; the current story in Hungary is perpetuating its unlimited state of emergency – one which grants a lot more power than the Italian version – by amending the constitution (the “fundamental law”) so that if the pandemic is over, the war in Ukraine can be cited to prolong it indefinitely.

      • The quite serious constitutional and democratic woes, in Italy, aren’t currently due to “populism”, quite the other way around. And, yes, the state of emergency was put to an end, but the “special laws” which it allowed to be passed weren’t. Which just shows how slippery is the concept of *really* abiding by the fundamental laws.

        Besides, whereas Berlusconi more or less fitted the (to me, very weak) category of “a populist”, and so do Salvini, Meloni… or Renzi (!), the M5S doesn’t as adequately, although it is often defined as such by both other political forces in Italy (including the above mentioned figures…!) and international media. Surely, several aspects can be deemed as “populist”, but several others are quite the contrary. Disclaimer: I’m far from being a M5S supporter or voter! (not that it would matter).
        For example, while all the above mentioned leaders (*and*, to an extent, also their parties as such) progressively refused nearly every social structure of intermediation which create or created sort of a link-chain-connection between the membership/citizen base and the party (they also defended that from a theoretical POV in the case of the centre-left, speaking since the 90s of a cloud-party which floated above the people mirroring their political stance without needing any social link to materialise that), well, on the contrary M5S always tried to explore different ways to keep that connection active. Which I’m not necessarily defending as a good practice, especially as it was all pretty much tentative, but that’s a clear difference from what’s acknowledged as a “populist” stance (which isn’t just about defending the interests or the opinion of the majority, which in fact would be democracy, but it’s rather arguing that the party or even better its leader doesn’t need any social specific process to represent a popular will of sort).
        M5S, unlike Berlusconi or Renzi, also had an aspect of techno-optimism and faith-in-knowledge which supported the “we need the experts to deal with this” sort of POV (problematic in itself) which is also contrasting with the anti-elitism of typical populism.
        No need to go on… Italy is deeply perplexing for its natives, hard to require huge insight from the outside (although being outside adds perspective, no doubt).

      • “… Berlusconi, Salvini, Meloni, 5 star etc. But they’ve struggled to get into government and when they’ve gone in, they’ve often quickly gone out”.
        By the way, barring Meloni they’re *all* within the current government (their parties, I mean) and holding prominent Ministries.

  4. Orban and his dentist make me think about what Fabio Armao called “oikocracy”, a cross-cutting issue in pretty much every society within neoliberal capitalism (and beyond), when power starts to be managed by “clans” which leverage previously existing institutions.

    • Sounds a lot like the UK and the rampant croneyism surrounding the rushed through covid supplies (tests, masks, PPE). Still, plus ca change for a Tory government and I fully understand things are a lot worse elsewhere (doesn’t make it any more easy to accept, as a Brit, the country’s slow descent into the gutter).

  5. I didn’t watch the Israeli stages and I shan’t be watching these Hungarian ones. I have no interest in watching anything that promotes fascist regimes. Hopefully soon the organisers will stop these kind of “big starts”

  6. Interesting observations.
    Hungary has been on my list of places to visit, largely on the strength of how beautiful it looked on TV coverage of the Tour de Hongrie. (Bike races are generally kind to landscapes, of course.) But I must admit that as Orbán’s politics – or his implementation of them – become more extreme I’m feeling deterred. Do I want to support him implicitly by putting my tourist dollar into the country? Would I feel comfortable there as a free thinker, a western European specifically, or even as a foreigner? To what extent do the population share the views of their elected leader?
    We talk a lot about sportswashing, be that Russia or Qatar buying the World Cup, Putin hosting the Winter Olympics in his holiday town, the takeovers of PSG/Man City/Newcastle, various desert-based bike races… Unusual for it to be done by an EU member state.
    I love the Giro and will watch with curiosity at the weekend for whether politics cross over into coverage of this particular sporting event.

    • But you can visit Budapest because its administration is by the political opposition of Orban, despite massive efforts at a time of regional elections.

      It’s so complicated, how sport is used as soft power, as sportswashing, yet the performances and effort remain.

      Face it: If you’re a follower of procycling you will already be very familiar with needing to see beyond the backers, the names and nowadays the regimes that front-up and bankroll the sport. It is our loyal following and the sport’s own platforming of places, landscapes, tourism marketing that is ‘to blame’ for this. How comfortably you lay in this bed is up to you, but you didn’t have to get in.
      – Now pass me the remote. It’s under your pillow.

  7. Thanks Inrng for bringing up this aspect of the Giro start. Since I started to follow your work years ago this is the first time I felt obliged to comment as you’re describing my reality as a Hungarian living in Budapest.
    Orbán’s fascist politics have far more serious consequences on media freedom, social equality or environmental issues etc. than how his government uses sports as a self promoting device. Still, I feel very conflicted when his ‘achievements’ in bringing my favourite sporting events close to me allow me to attend them probably for the only time in my life (like the Euros last year, or this Giro). Part of me is ashamed that I’m becoming part of his propaganda machine by just being there, and it also makes me angry that I can’t fully enjoy someting I’ve loved for years just because his name is immediately connected to it. I don’t know what it says about me as a person that I’m still planning to watch the finish of the first stage from the road side on the way up to the Visegrád castle. At least I can still wholeheartedly support the local riders as this is the first time that three Hungarian guys (Attila Valter, Barnabás Peák and Erik Fetter) will start a Grand Tour.
    Just a quick note on the the media situation, I recommend reading this article which describes how one of the few idependent media news sites in Hungary was born 2 years ago (quite timely topic as yesterday was the world press freedom day), and that they can function and also grow just from the donations of like minded Hungarians:

    • Thanks for the local input, it’s not easy trying to get the feel of the Hungarian roads for the stage preview in the coming days so going off road into the politics of it all’s been harder.

      Anyway, do go and enjoy the race. It’s one thing to see it online and on TV, really another to see it up close for real. There are things that don’t come across on TV or computer, whether just how clean all the bikes are or, say, the muscular compact build of Almeida or the pedalling style of Tom Dumoulin.

  8. goes to show that propaganda works, and nobody is immune to it. hitler also got only 33% before the radio broadcasts started, then 47%. the same is true with orban: they outspend the opposition at least a hundred-fold misappropriating government spending and use it for party propaganda (mostly plagiarised fox news stuff, not much creativity on their own) and before the television, radio stations and local newspapers were centrally controlled they had well under 40%, not enough for victory. congratulations for fidesz for the first actual majority government of their history. previously they were always the minority on election day, now they have 52%, which is good for 68% of seats in parliament. it’s a mess.

  9. Long time reader and Hungarian journalist here. This is a pretty good summary of where Hungary stands now.

    Just a few points on why you don’t see much coverage of the Giro in independent Hungarian media. It basically boils down to two things: the fact that independent newsrooms have very few resources, and cycling is just not that popular in Hungary.

    Attila Valter and Kata Blanka Vas have started to change this a bit, but don’t expect Basque or Rwandan crowds lining the streets of Kaposvár and Balatonfüred. Like in all non-cycling mad countries, there is a small group of hardcore fans centered around a couple of bike shops, Facebook pages, podcasts and especially Eurosport’s Hungarian language coverage, but unlike Slovakia with Sagan or Slovenia with Roglic and Pogacar, Hungary has just not fallen in love with cycling, and this is unlikely to change with these three stages.

    • You have one more person/name to add to the list who put Hungary on the map of cycling. Istvan Varjas. Most likely a story of the past but definitely a significant and unexpected geographical detour. And I don’t mean it ironically, just as a fact.

  10. Politics and sport go back to the Greeks and the Olympics , though Nero’s “triumph” raises a smile …
    “One famous charioteer was the Roman Emperor Nero, who in A.D. 67 competed in the chariot race at Olympia. It was hardly a fair contest. Nero entered the four-horse race with a team of 10 horses. He was thrown from his chariot and was unable to complete the race, but he was proclaimed the champion on the grounds that he would have won had he finished the race.”

  11. Thanks for this. It’s depressing that cycling plays such a role in sportswashing dodgy regimes [I know it’s a way to go before we get to the level of depravity of the Saudi’s etc], so it’s important to keep exploring this and highlighting it, even in apparently near-benign situations like this.

    The Hungarian commentator above is not alone — the whole sport has this “hold your nose and enjoy it” aspect. I suppose it’s the same for almost everything everywhere when you get started.

    • RCS may have cut the 3-stage deal with the highest bidder, but UCI approved it on all counts.
      Just like the Turkmenistan affair.
      But what’s a governing body supposed to do? Itself politicize the governed sport by prohibiting it in certain parts of the world?

      Sheesh, now I wish that I heeded IR’s warning and hadn’t opened this thread.

  12. It doesn’t look good for cycling, premier league football and myriad other sports if the best fans can do is argue whose team has the least fascist owner/sponsor. Outside the author and readership of this blog the “pinching of noses” needs to be replaced by voting with eyes, feet and wallet averted. I’m not hopeful anything will change unfortunately.

    • I can’t disagree. But the saddest thing is the parochialism that means that any change in backing for rivals suddenly legitimatises the criminality of other owners. As if Liverpool, funded for decades by general betting (and occasional corruption) on English football, Manchester United, owned by a butcher notorious for selling bad meat to schoolchildren, or Real Madrid, tightly associated with Franco’s feeble fascism were any better morally. The only good owners in practice are those who win things or keep ticket prices down. Cycling has yet to cope with this dilemma.

  13. This post is another example of why inrng is by far the best cycling related blog out there. Often at a tangent but with great knowledge. And a great love of cycling and humanity.

    Long may it continue.

  14. Inrng,

    Thank you for taking the time to talk about Hungary, with unique insights.

    Also, special thoughts to calling out post-truth politics. In other circles, some have mentioned post-modernism as an approach to facts, but such a reference draws blank faces during cocktail discussions, or even less on twitter spaces or clubhouse.

  15. I like to look at Europe from a historical perspective, look at this map from 1900 –

    Several current states were very new in themselves, yet Eastern Europe looked very different.
    Only 6 or so generations ago, with numerous European theatre wars in that time.
    The most destructive of them all so far, WW2, has calmed very choppy waters – for a while.
    Our current thinking is of Europe as a calm oasis of democracy and peace but wind back a little time.
    There’s a likelihood we’d all be wearing military uniform at some point in our lives, and sport was never detached from this thinking.

    • You are quite right, but I especially recommend the works of the late Tony Judt, particularly’Post War’ ,and Timothy Snyder as the best explanation of the worst and best of European culture, and beyond.

  16. Good to read some background to this. I was also pleased to see Jacopo Guarnieri wearing his Trans ally wristband on the presentation podium.

  17. The problem with boycotting regimes over their backwards and/or fascist policies is that at this point in time you’d be left with very few countries…
    We’ll just have to hope that as long as “we” are there something rubs off.

  18. Some of the early TDF routes developed by Henri Degrange were specifically designed to go through regions of political importance (e.g. Strasbourg). So countries like Israel and Hungary bidding to be the grand depart and the design of the route races takes in these countries, has a long history of serving a political agenda. Not that this it is appropriate. Merely pointing out there is a long history in cycling.

    • Pretty sure there was a Giro which went to Trieste or somewhere in the Triestina before it was Italian.
      Then, of course, there’s Wilier.

  19. I’ve noticed on the TV they are now blanking out the flags in the captions next to any Russian riders.
    This hardly seems fair as it’s not the rider’s fault (mind you, it’s nothing compared to other sports where Russians have to denounce their government, at great risk to themselves and their families, to be allowed to compete).
    Seems to me that there are so many, many countries’ flags that could be similarly blanked out.
    Personally, I’d be happier to see no flags: for me, the country a rider is from is irrelevant. I always find the Flemish race captions particularly annoying because they show the flag of the rider while not telling you which team they’re on. In a large break, with relatively unknown riders, this can make it hard to work out who is who – information that is actually germane to the race.

    • I think the point of Russian sports people competing, like banning Russians from Wimbledon is not the individuals themselves but the fact that Putin’s propaganda machine will use their participation to tell the Russian population that the world doesn’t care about Ukraine because look, they are welcoming our athletes. And if Russians win a big international sporting event while this war is ongoing then they’ll use that win and twist it into glorifying Russia.

      • So, why not apply the same rules to Saudi sports people – over 377,000 killed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, thus far. Or Israel for its apartheid policies, murder of civilians, imprisonment of children, etc., etc., or the USA for being the only country to have been responsible for over a million deaths (in Iraq alone) this century, while bombing multiple countries via drones in an ongoing campaign? This list could go on and on…

        • The answer to this is that ‘we’ in the west (basically the US and it’s ‘subservients’) decide who are the ‘good guys’ and who are the ‘bad guys’. And those with power make that decision – and their media tell us what to think.
          We’re constantly told that you’re either on one side or the other. But that’s nonsense: I can be against the governments of UK, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Israel, Myanmar, USA, etc. and so on, all at the same time.
          There are no good and bad sides.

          • I’d add that more often than not I can feel deep sympathy for the people living there while being “against” their government, just as I can feel sorry for most people in both Ukraine and Russia – even, to some extent and only in some specific cases, for a part of the “mere” fighters on both sides.
            WWI especially should have been a big lesson.

            We’re being forced to trace conflict lines which aren’t really the most appropriate ones if you want to condemn violence and oppression “from” and “in” their original sources.

            Then, on a very separate level, there’s also a relevant number of considerations about geopolitics and the likes which are also well worth being delved into, just not in a cycling blog, I’d say.

        • Yes why not apply the same rules. But unfortunately I don’t make them. It’s surely not a case of either/or. Just be grateful that in this particular conflict sanctions and other steps are being taken against the aggressor.

    • I think you will find that blanked out nationality icons are due to the WADA sanctions which predate the Ukraine war.

      Other WADA sports have it too, e.g. ROC replacing RUS at this year’s Winter Olympics, plain lettering of RAF (Russian Automobile Federation) lettering next to Nikita Mazespin’s name in F1 last year.

      • The blank flags in cycling are a response to the invasion of Ukraine, but Russia had of course been sanctioned in sport before with the Olympics not allowing “Russia” but instead they had to rebrand “Russian Olympic Committee”, but this got binned for the winter paralympics.

    • “mind you, it’s nothing compared to other sports where Russians have to denounce their government, at great risk to themselves and their families, to be allowed to compete”

      I’m curious to learn of examples where Russian athletes were (1) required to denounce their government to compete, and (2) following that denouncement they or their families were subsequently threatened or harmed. Are there any actual examples of this?

      I am aware that everyone in Russian faces jail and worse if they express an opinion against the war in Ukraine, or even use the word “war”, or even hold up a blank sign in public. This doesn’t make me angry at journalists who ask Russian athletes about their opinion of the war, and it doesn’t make me angry at sports bodies who might want to express disgust at the atrocities happening in Ukraine by banning Russian athletes (who have been intimately tied to Soviet and Russian propaganda for over a century and often directly supported by the state). It certainly doesn’t make me angry that Russian cyclists are having their flags blanked out on TV graphics, which is beyond trivial.

      However, it does make me angry at Putin, and at the majority of Russians who seem perfectly happy to accept a diet of Russian exceptionalism propaganda that supports war crimes on a regular basis in Chechnya, Syria, Georgia, the Central African Republic, and Ukraine (just to take the last 20 years, but the examples going much further back are of a piece), as well as the regular assassinations of anyone who falls out of favor with their dear leader at home or abroad. Opinion polls seem to indicate that the majority of Russian citizens are perfectly fine with genocide in Ukraine (or they believe that Ukrainians are committing self-genocide to make Russia look bad).

      Oh, and I’ve seen a few cases of Russian athletes actively celebrating the war, including one punk on the medals podium in an event won by a Ukrainian, so it’s not like there aren’t Russian athletes who are eager to wave their flag at athletic events in support of mass war crimes.

      • Sanctions against Russian athletes are one thing, and we can argue about that, though I don’t think it makes much sense to punish riders for anything the government of a country they may hardly live in is doing on the war crime scene.

        What makes mo sense at all is to punish riders from Italy or Spain or anywhere else, whose only fault it was to let themselves been hired by a Russian based team like Gazprom. What the f* did these riders riders (and of course also staff) do wrong to be now unemployed since months? That does absolutely nothing to stop the war or help people in Ukraine to suffer less.

        • I agree with your general point, but if you sign with Gazprom or another moody Russian firm, you might want to query how good your agent really is. Then sack them

          • Sorry, for how much I’d like it to be a question of political moral on where you sing as a rider, but I think it’s not that easy to comment from our armchair position.
            Jobs in professional cycling are rare and a lot of people in the cycling world just have to choose between teams founded by dodgy regimes in the East or Middle East, environment polluting mining corporations or not very democratic media moguls in the West. Capitalism doesn’t always bring out the best companies as sponsors.
            Our host INRNG always does a good job explaining who are sponsors and what they do, still we don’t know very much and it’s possible that Intermarche workers are treated as bad as Amazon employees or construction workers on a Qatari football stadium.
            It’s has been and will be complicated for anyone in any sport at pro level, when it comes to how the money of sponsors is a made, and most athletes don’t have an influence at all on who’s gonna buy your team next season.

  20. Another great piece Inrng – working on something that has solid chunks of waiting time while data is being downloaded, so this was exactly what I was looking for this afternoon.

    Thanks for posting it. Very interesting read. Will be interesting to see how this plays out and if Orban keeps popping up in person.

  21. Thanks inrng for the info and the reasoned debate. I think, sadly, my Giro will start on Tuesday.
    Just a question: the first photo is a mock-up, isn’t it? Please tell me Carlson wasn’t analysing the TT profile!

  22. Let’s throw more serious beef in…: speaking of slaughterhouses, I’d strongly recommend everyone On Body and Soul by Hungarian great director and screenwriter Ildikó Enyedi. I also found very interesting albeit less accessible her movies from the 90s. Robust cinephiles will also appreciate The Turin Horse, The Man from London and Werckmeister Harmonies by the Ágnes Hranitzky and Béla Tarr marriage. László Nemes’ impressive debut feature, Son of Saul, should already be known by most, but I also suggest the effort to tackle his following movie, Sunset, which, albeit more chaotic, gives us several interesting hints about contemporary Europe (it’s set in 1913 ^___^).

  23. I’m touring Europe at the moment.

    In Slovenia at the moment. Amazing country btw, Tadej Pogačar is on supermarket boxes selling energy bars.

    Hungary was next , but Johnny Long’s article in CyclingTips made me realise I want nothing to do with Hungary. I’ll bypass Hungary now.

    Ironic Giro affect.

  24. I’ve got to say I have never seen such an understanding from all of you before… about any subject, ever :-)))
    Being arguably the best cycling blog around with amazing insides and diversity it’s remarkable how one sided the political aspect is :))

    Of course it is a complicated, sensitive subject.
    And in a few written words it is very difficult to debate.

    INRNG is asking for some local opinion, knowing though, as we talk about politics and such it is usually a tough thing to discuss.
    Produces even more heat then discussing cycling or … even doping in cycling for that matter 🙂
    I might try to go through all the mentioned themes but it is far too long and complex. But the reason behind all this is a bit more simple maybe.

    To start with I’m absolutely amazed that people compare Hungary to Israel, or Orbán to Putin etc. Wow, is that really a reasonable, unbiased comparison? They’ve been even comparing him to Hitler and calling him Dictator for God’s sake:)
    Fascist, anti-Semite, homophobe, xenophobe just to catch a few from this cycling forum only:)

    I mean you can not possibly go more extreme then this. Not even Osama, the Taliban or the Serbian war crime generals deserved such epithet! And I’m not exaggerating.
    Both national and international mainstream media have been doing this all along on any TV/internet chanel they posses for years. Just in case if you had doubt that that the media and the opinion is free in Hungary.

    Really, is he killing people, forcing his will upon other nations, or even telling you what you have to do and how you have to feel?
    So who is this Orbán anyways?
    What is he really saying and doing to deserve all this?
    By the way I’m wondering if you have ever heard him, or any of his main minister speak? (in english of course if you don’t speak Hungarian)
    Or a Facebook or twitter post? (by the way they are constantly censured by *independent* experts in the name of freedom and liberty:)))
    Or one just gets the filtered, emotionally motivated, exclusively negative feeds. You tell me.

    So how does he deserve all this?
    It seems to me that the whole trouble boils down to a few basic subjects, namely more or less:
    illegal immigration
    the centralization/federalization of EU (the United States of Europe, as they like to call it)
    the changing of concepts of family, father, mother etc
    Of course they are interconnected and part of a whole different discussion.

    If Orbán were mainstream with this subjects, you would hear and think the same thing about Hungary as about Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia or any other country in the neighborhood.
    You’d have no dictator, Hitler, rule of law, freedom of press, manipulated Covid stats or why the Giro starts there problem.

    Because all the rest is just an attacking surface you could find easily in any other EU country, or at least in some of them. Only nobody is shouting it at you in every medium possible when you zip your morning coffee.

    I would expand any of these themes (populism, immigration, media freedom etc) in another post if there is interest.

    They are not unlike the immigration: there is a border which you control for ages but one bright summer day in 2015 you let go all the existing laws and ever since let millions in without any control.

    There is a way the people looking at families, father, mother, gender for generations and then suddenly there is a global, non forgiving propaganda where you have to change your views, religion, customs completely, or else…

    Or there is a European Union, a union containing 27 members with clear rules what is under sovereign decision of each country and what is common policy. And that is changing drastically in the last years, speeding up towards centralization and taking away the always existing sovereign decisions.

    The sum is that there are long time customs, ways of living, religion, traditions which you have to change suddenly. I mean you have no choice, you cant even dare to ask: but is it good for us?
    Or you will be smashed by all the power of global forces (end their army of followers) which, by the way, nobody ever cares (or dares) to complain if it is supporting a party, or an opposition or a certain interest in any given country, because it must surely be independent.

    • Some interesting points, surely, but I’d dare to say that a big difference is that gender policies, for example, are related to the way *you* may treat others, but they don’t actually *force* you to change the way you personally are, unless *that special identity of you* included as a necessary feature a sum of privilege, violence and oppression… over the rest. Gender policies tend to *allow*, while Hungarian laws do actively limit people’s option over their own life and do that on the basis of very dubious assumptions.

      And as far as immigration is concerned, I may argue that a huge part of the problem is *how* you do things rather than what you are supposedly trying to do.
      Far from an Hungarian only issue. France, for example (but I could also name Spain, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland…), has often been nearly as inhuman as Hungary in recent years, and that’s what I tried to point out above highlighting that we should worry and care about what we’ve got in common with Orbán rather than singling out him or even worse his whole country.

      Yet, the normalisation and spread of fascist attitudes (identitary nationalism, dehumanisation of the other, legitimation of violence) across supposedly democratic States shouldn’t make it any more acceptable anywhere, regardless of what your neighbouring countries do. Which actually may come more or less close to what’s happening in Hungary but isn’t the same mix, of course, at least in Slovenia, as far as I’m being told by people living there (I really don’t know as much about Czech Republic and Slovakia, although, yes, I’ve heard worrying news from there, too).

      You might have named Poland, for example, and I surely would have agreed much more. It’s quite clear that Orbán is being attacked because he’s more akin to old-style fascism than neoliberal capitalism which on turn looks rampant in Poland… along with those same ultraconservative attitudes and dangerous constitutional shifts (it must be said that Poland was also starting to be perceived as a problem, although in a much softer way; with the war so close, I guess that we’ll just forget those little “mistakes”).
      Although Orbán is rightly attacked as a fascist (which, as I said above, doesn’t make of Hungary a fascist regime), it’s obvious that the main reasons behind those worries are probably the conflicting points with global capitalism (local capitalism vs. global capitalism).
      Even the government in Netherlands, not the Orbán style yet with a very worrying recent series of *problems*, could be questioned much more than it’s actually being done – don’t expect it to happen, it’s too corporation-friendly.

    • Just have a look at Kummer’s photo. Don’t you notice anything wrong there? (*besides* a certain prevalence of overweight, I mean, probably related to the following pic… yes, this is body shaming, I know, but since those people think it doesn’t exist or isn’t worth worrying, they won’t care much either ^__^).

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