Gergely Kovács never wanted to get involved in politics. “I prefer to mess around,” he told a news magazine in his native Hungary last year, “not stand up for something.” Since 2000, Kovács has been leader of a group of prankster artists now known as the Two-Tailed Dog party. One of the group’s stunts a few years ago involved spray-painting a wall with a graffiti image of someone writing – in graffiti – the longest Hungarian word (megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért) and running out of room after spelling just 32 of its 44 characters. Not long after, the group built a “spaceship station” on the banks of the Tisza river advertising daily departures to four destinations: Sirius, the moon, the Ganymede and Pluto.
But last summer, when the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s rightwing government introduced a series of xenophobic measures to repel the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees passing through Hungary on their way to Germany, Denmark and Sweden, Kovács and the Two-Tailed Dog got serious. “It really made us angry that the government uses the people’s money for a campaign that tells them who to hate,” Kovács fumed. “Here in Hungary we already hate each other enough.”
A quarter of a century ago, as an idealistic young politician, Orbán wanted to break down walls and open up possibilities. But lately, he has focused his energies on shutting down alternatives. Since winning the 2010 parliamentary election, his governing party, Fidesz, have carried out a well-orchestrated constitutional coup that has centralised political authority, tamed the judiciary and denied opposition parties control of state institutions. Orbán has even built new walls along Hungary’s borders, in order to keep migrants out.
In late April, Fidesz introduced a so-called national consultation on immigration and terrorism. Questionnaires were mailed to millions of Hungarians in May, accompanied by a letter in which the prime minister asserted that migrants crossing into Europe through Hungary claimed to be refugees, but their real aim was to siphon off welfare and jobs from Hungarians. The survey contained 12 leading questions, such as: “Do you agree with the Hungarian government that instead of immigrants, it is rather Hungarian families and soon-to-be-born children who need support?”
The Two-Tailed Dog parried with a mock questionnaire of its own. “I was sitting at home alone and it came to me,” Kovács recalled. He posted the survey – with a customary, if unintentional, sprinkling of typos – on the party’s Facebook page on the afternoon of 2 May, and it quickly went viral. Sample question: “There are those who blame the freemasons, others who blame the Jews or the space aliens. In your view who is responsible for the fact that the national debt remains high?” Possible answers: “The Jews”, “The space aliens”, “The fucking Jewish space aliens!”
The estimated cost of the government’s national consultation was 1bn forints (£2.4m), approximately double the amount the government had spent on processing refugees. (Most of the funding for refugees in Hungary came from the European Union.) Two days after Kovács posted his questionnaire, the bombastic president of the European Commission, Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker, greeted Orbán at an EU summit with a raised hand as “Dictator!” and slapped him playfully on the face.
The Orbán government’s next move was to plaster Hungarian cities and towns with hundreds of anti-immigrant billboards. “If you come to Hungary, you may not take jobs away from Hungarians,” one insisted. Another read, “If you come to Hungary, you must respect our culture.” Then came the announcement that, in order to deter migrants and refugees, the government would build a fence to seal off the border with Serbia, which is not a member of the EU.
Some of the government’s billboards were painted over in protest within hours. Soon, the Two-Tailed Dog and affiliated malcontents launched a two-pronged counterattack. The party lampooned Orbán’s plan for a border fence: “Of course, we Hungarians loved that Iron Curtain, we miss it very much, people have been expressing their strong demand for building a similar curtain for years now.” As opposed to the 175km-long, 4m-wide wall planned by the government, however, why not one 175km tall and 4m wide? “The tourists would love it!”
The party lampooned Orbán’s plan for a border fence: ‘Of course, we Hungarians loved that Iron Curtain’
At the same time, the Two-Tailed Dog, together with an alternative news blog called Vastagbőr (Thick Skin), launched a campaign to raise 3m forints (roughly £7,000) to buy space on 50 billboards for one month. The idea was to blanket the country with slogans satirising the government’s xenophobic billboards. “We know it’s a lot of money,” read the call for donations, but “the Fidesz hate campaign has become so degenerate that we must do something extraordinary to counter it.”
The campaign struck a chord, raising the 3m forints in seven hours. Two weeks later, the coalition had received more than 33m forints (£76,000) in donations. It was enough for 900 billboards – as many as the government had posted – with 1.5m forints (around £3,500) to spare. In a press statement, a pro-government NGO suggested that there was no way that a “pseudo-NGO” with “two tails” could legitimately take in so much money for its “pseudo-solidarity stunts”, and implied that the funds were “lackey money” from “foreign sources”. Kovács admits there is something to these allegations, given that, of the 7,000 people who sent donations for the campaign, “at least a thousand were sent from abroad”. However, he points out that these were from Hungarians abroad, “which is not that surprising given that half the country now lives in western Europe”.
The counter-billboards started to appear in July. “If you are Hungary’s prime minister, you have to obey our laws,” one declared, while another, erected in Orbán’s hometown of Felcsút, cited the Hungarian law that forbids hateful agitation against members of any “national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”. The campaign also played on the fact that it is not just “foreigners” who go abroad to work, but Hungarians as well. “Come to Hungary by all means,” one billboard read, “we’re already working in London!”
The Two-Tailed Dog party’s graffiti image of someone spray-painting the longest Hungarian word(megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért) and running out of space.
‘One of the group’s stunts involved spray-painting a wall with a graffiti image of someone writing the longest Hungarian word.’
“I hate spending other people’s money,” Kovács said in August, referring to the unexpected and overwhelming success of the fundraising campaign. “I have no trouble spending my own money, but this is different.” Along with the slew of donations, the party had been relying on the goodwill of hundreds of volunteers, young and old. “We have lots of people who want to do something. And we should figure out how they could help us and Hungary.”
The Two-Tailed Dog may not be a real political alternative to Fidesz, but by offering a view of the world that diverges sharply from the government’s, it has thrust a defiant paw in the closing door of possibility and dared the powers that be to kick it aside. So far the government’s strategy has broadly been to ignore the group. When asked in early September what he thought of the Two-Tailed Dog party, György Schöpflin, Fidesz’s representative in the EU parliament, hesitated before saying, “I never really looked at what they do or what they stand for. I don’t think it’s a serious political party.” He’s right. It isn’t. And that’s precisely the point.
The Two-Tailed Dog, says the Hungarian historian István Rév, “is a refreshing group in a rightly depressed country that has lost its sense of humour”. A well-placed observer of Hungarian politics who wishes to remain anonymous says that since 2010, protests against Orbán “have been either too small or too homogeneous. But a joke party could raise 33m forints for joke billboards. I have mixed emotions. I keep my fingers crossed for them. For us all.”
* * *
Late one night in mid-September, Kovács convened a brainstorming session at his sparsely furnished house in a leafy suburb of Budapest to discuss the Two-Tailed Dog’s next action. Kovács, who is 35, has an infectiously mischievous smile and dresses like a college student, in faded blue jeans, loose-fitting T-shirts, and scruffy white sneakers. He sat at a table on the terrace, which looked out onto the starlit city, and opened a beer. With him were three others: Ferenc Sebő, a creator of anarchist theatricals, and two longstanding associates from the party’s early days, Tibor Árki, a graphic designer, and Zsolt Victora, an art dealer.
The leading lights of the Two -Tailed Dog party, Ferenc Sebő, Gergely Kovács, Suzi Dada and Zsolt Victora
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The leading lights of the Two -Tailed Dog party, Ferenc Sebő, Gergely Kovács, Suzi Dada and Zsolt Victora. Composite: Simon Moricz-Sabjan/guardian
They were gathered around a copy of the Magyar Hírlap, or the Hungarian Gazette, a populist broadsheet owned by a conservative oligarch. The paper is one of two dailies close to the government: government offices subscribe to the paper, and it receives outsized advertising revenue from the state. Not surprisingly, the Magyar Hírlap faithfully backed Orbán’s vilification of refugees and migrants. Since last summer, it has offered a daily dose of siege mentality with headlines such as “The migrants have become more aggressive”, “All of Europe is threatened with an explosion”, and “The immigrants have initiated a coup against our homeland’s legal order”. “If you read the Magyar Hírlap,” explained Árki from beneath a Rasta-style knit cap pulled down over his ears, “you’ll see that good humour is gone, and what we have now is terror-media.”
Kovács and Sebő studied the broadsheet as Árki spoke and gazed into the night. Sebő jabbed at several pages with a pen, dissecting articles and bursting into belly laughs. Kovács sat with his legs crossed and listened intently, occasionally flashing a grin. After a while Sebő began taking photos of the front page with his phone and darted inside; a few minutes later he returned clutching a handful of printouts that he arranged on the table. He and Kovács began writing alternative headlines and illustrations on them. Árki peered from beneath his cap and floated wry advice from across the table. A plan was taking shape: to publish and distribute a fake edition of the Magyar Hírlap, one that would swap its vitriol for hilarity, and bad news for good.
In its tone and message, the Two-Tailed Dog trots along the path of great central European satirists such as the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek, author of the comic novel The Good Soldier Švejk (1923). In 1911, Hašek founded the PFGFIDSDG, The Party of Incremental Progress within the Limits of the Law, which promised to reintroduce slavery and the Inquisition. Will the Two-Tailed Dog prove to be more transformative than its absurdist predecessors? They clearly want to be, but a lot depends on whether levity can fuel meaningful action.
Kovács and his colleagues will have to overcome the sharp antagonisms between Hungarians that they see as Orbán’s handiwork. “Fidesz tries to gain popularity from low social solidarity,” Kovács says. The government’s anti-immigrant billboards were all in Hungarian, making it extremely unlikely that any migrant or asylum seeker could understand them, and suggesting that Orbán is more concerned with attacking his political opponents within Hungary than blocking a perceived threat from the outside. The problem of internal division cuts very close to home for the group’s members. Kovács’s father is a Fidesz supporter, so discussion of politics is off-limits at family gatherings. On Facebook, leaders of the Two-Tailed Dog have seen many acquaintances fall victim to the intensifying factionalisation. Sebő says that during the peak of the government’s national consultation and the migrant crisis last summer, “Everyone’s bundle of friends was reduced by half.”
The Two-Tailed Dog party’s ‘spaceship station’.
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‘The group built a ‘spaceship station’ on the banks of the Tisza river advertising daily departures to Sirius, the moon, the Ganymede galaxy and Pluto.’
The Two-Tailed Dog wants to offer an alternative to perpetual antagonism. For Sebő, the group is a gate through which anyone can enter. Suzi Dada, a longstanding member of the group, agrees, saying that the party’s message should be one of “neither hatred nor despair, towards which people are all too inclined here. Instead we should know how to laugh at something together. Then a solution becomes possible.”
As the conversation about the Magyar Hírlap wound down, Kovács returned to the kitchen for another round of beers. Victora walked to the garden, where dinner was cooking on a grill. He set down paper plates stacked high with meat on a table covered in plates of sliced tomatoes and onions, bread, and ashtrays overflowing with the butt-ends of hand-rolled cigarettes and spent ash from a marijuana bowl. Two dogs, one tail each, scrambled between the legs of the table and the party members.
As they ate, the group discussed tactics. They calculated that the owners of the Magyar Hírlap would waste no time in suing them, so they planned to set aside most of the remaining funds from the counter-billboard campaign for a lawsuit, leaving the rest for printing costs. With the finances settled, they began hashing out the paper’s editorial vision: Orbán had used attacks on migrants and refugees to orchestrate a clash with the European Union and Hungarians who rejected his illiberal politics. The Two-Tailed Dog’s edition of the Magyar Hírlap should not only make a mockery of its politics, Árki insisted, but also imagine a better world. “Wouldn’t it be great if things were this way. Why aren’t they?”
* * *
In another district not far from Kovács’s house is a student dormitory shaded by trees. Unlike at the headquarters of the Two-Tailed Dog, the bell on the gate works. The rooms and public areas are airy and bright. In one of them, a young Viktor Orbán, together with a roommate and a few other friends, founded a political party in 1988. They called themselves Fidesz – the Young Democrats – and they, too, were trying to imagine a better world. Back then Fidesz was broadly liberal, a fuzzy term in a country where the political spectrum was basically confined to a single socialist party. To be liberal in Hungary meant being against communism and in favour of democratic pluralism and the rule of law.
Though no one knew it at the time, the end of socialist Hungary was near. János Kádár, the leader of Hungary and its Communist party since 1956, was growing old, and the reputation of the man whose legacy Kádár had long sought to bury – Imre Nagy, the leader of the country’s short-lived 1956 revolution – was rising up again. On 16 June 1989, the 31st anniversary of Nagy’s execution by the Soviet Union, over 100,000 people attended the ceremonial reburial of his remains in Budapest. After some debate, a conciliatory socialist party seeking to distance itself from Kádár granted Fidesz a role in the ceremony.
Orbán, barely 26 at the time, was given the microphone. With his perpetual three-day beard, near-mullet, ramrod posture, and aura of seriousness, he cut a striking figure. He also came across as a natural leader. “If we believe in our own strength, then we are capable of bringing an end to the communist dictatorship,” he told the crowd, who were astonished to hear such blunt oppositional language uttered in public. Three weeks later, the foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary oversaw the dismantling of a section of the razor wire fence between the two states.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, greets Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán before a meeting in Brussels about the migration crisis.
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‘The bombastic president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, greeted Viktor Orbán with a raised hand as ‘Dictator!’.’ Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP
In the free elections of 1990, Fidesz won 9% of the vote and Orbán became an MP. Within a few years he was pulling the party harder to the centre-right, driving many early enthusiasts from its ranks. In March 1994, he told a Hungarian magazine, “I’d rather use ‘free-thinking’ in place of the word ‘liberal’, because in the countryside they don’t have a clue what I’m talking about if I say ‘liberal’.” After Fidesz lost ground to the socialists in that year’s parliamentary elections, Orbán was able to make the case that the party should lean still harder to the right. He thus became the sole face of Fidesz as the last of the party’s left-leaning membership quit its ranks.
The young leader bid them good riddance. In 1998, Orbán’s anger and resentment towards an out-of-touch political and social elite won Hungarians over at the polls. Fidesz formed a coalition with two small parties, and Orbán became prime minister. For the duration of his four-year term he used his position to strengthen the office of the prime minister and centralise the state apparatus. (He also promised that his government would “replace the separation of church and state with an emphasis on the cooperation of church and state”.)
But it was not until his second spell in office, in 2010, that Orbán managed to initiate the total transformation he had presaged more than two decades earlier. The 2008 financial crisis hit many Hungarians hard, leaving many struggling and disillusioned. Within a few years, thousands of young Hungarians were leaving the country to seek work and opportunities elsewhere. Meanwhile, the governing socialist party’s legitimacy sunk to an all-time low following a leaked recording of prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány recounting how the party had lied repeatedly about the country’s fiscal status and potential. His goal as prime minister, Gyurcsány continued, had been to give the left back its dignity, “so that it wouldn’t have to shit its pants at the sight of Viktor Orbán and the right wing.” After the leak the socialist party all but collapsed.
Running without any meaningful opposition from the left, Fidesz won an absolute majority in the 2010 elections and proceeded to rewrite the Hungarian constitution. The new document consolidated Orbán’s hold over the state, from the highest to the very lowest levels of its administration and courts. And many stood behind him. One of Orbán’s first acts as prime minister was to pass a law offering relief to Hungarians with bad mortgages held in Swiss francs; another was to stack the judiciary with Fidesz supporters and effectively block opposition to his party’s policies. His alteration of a labour law enabled the government to purge opposition supporters from the state sector. But he wasn’t finished. Orbán declared that Hungary would join China, India, Turkey and Russia in the “race to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful”. If European unification had made liberal democracy the expected norm, Hungary would enter a new realm of possibility by pioneering “illiberal democracy” as its creed and closing the door on alternatives.
* * *
As Orbán was serving his first term as prime minister, a small beast with two tails was born in a provincial university town in southern Hungary called Szeged. Around the turn of the millennium Szeged was a hub for students with edgy talents and aspirations – in extreme sports, graffiti, street art, skateboarding – who were looking for creative outlets. Among them was a young student who called herself Suzi Dada. It was at university in Szeged, she says, that she first met others who thought like her. “My family situation was something of a mess, so I couldn’t count on the support of my parents and had a lot of independence and responsibility,” she said.
Dada met Kovács “by chance” shortly after arriving in Szeged in 2001, when both were looking for flatmates. Their shared apartment became a gathering place for students planning street art interventions and other stunts. “Ideas came from all different directions, and we had such fun,” Dada recalled. Meanwhile she studied history, and Kovács started degree programmes in a variety of disciplines (mainly sociology and computer programming), never to complete any of them. There were brushes with the authorities, such as when the group created a series of mock ads for the Hungarian railways (“Our trains are deliberately delayed” and “We go out of our way not to clean the trains”) that failed to amuse their target. On another occasion, the police caught Kovács spray-painting “For Sale” on a public rubbish bin. The officers agreed not to report him so long as he allowed them to spray-paint “For Sale” on his stomach. “It seemed like a good deal to me,” Kovács said.
Two-tailed dog party election poster
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‘During the fateful 2010 elections, the Two-Tailed Dog logo appeared on a series of unconventional campaign posters.’ Photograph: Twitter
Like all scrappy mongrels, the Two-Tailed Dog has no verifiable birthdate and no precisely defined identity. One day an economics student in Kovács and Dada’s circle of friends drew a dog with two tails and that became the group’s logo. The “oldest” members who are still active in the group are Dada, Árki, Victora and Kovács. All have faded in and out of active participation over the years, but Kovács has always been the undisputed leader. Kovács will happily sound out the other members, but he has the last word on what goes public with the party’s logo. “There’s no democracy,” Dada laughed when asked about the group’s inner workings. “Without him there would be no Two-Tailed Dog.”
Initially, the true identity of the Two-Tailed Dog was shrouded in mystery. “After a while everyone started to ask around the university, ‘Who is the guy?’” recalled Csaba Tibor Tóth, a former student. When an undergraduate group at the university invited Kovács to speak in 2009, he agreed, but never showed up. Meanwhile, the city watched as words and images of distress and anomie began to adorn Szeged’s pavements, drainpipes, billboards, walls, house fronts and trees, courtesy of the Two-Tailed Dog: graffiti factories belching smoke; tear-off ads saying “I’ll be over at your place in a bit to hit you up for a cigarette”; a graffiti animal with a jackhammer chipping away at a building’s scarred façade; a sign for a lost dog in which the dog is seen from a great distance and identifiable only as a small black dot.
The group called itself a party long before it successfully registered as one. In 2006 it ran a slate of candidates, all two-tailed dogs wearing neckties and all bearing the name István Nagy (the Hungarian version of John Smith). The party programme promised eternal life, free beer, lower taxes and the construction of a mountain in pancake-flat Szeged. During the fateful 2010 elections, in which Orbán finally won his supermajority, the Two-Tailed Dog logo appeared with a necktie on a series of unconventional campaign posters: “We’ll introduce the Euro in 2005!” “More everything, less nothing!” “Are you tired of people? Give another species a chance. Vote for the Two-Tailed Dog.” In Budapest, the party promised to introduce new express metro lines “that don’t stop anywhere”.
Although the Two-Tailed Dog ridiculed Orbán’s government, the two parties converge on some issues. Like Orbán, the Two-Tailed Dog is critical of multinational corporations – Orbán because they aren’t Hungarian, the Two-Tailed Dog because they serve a culture of consumption. Like Orbán, the Two-Tailed Dog has drawn attention to the souring of the atmosphere of possibility that existed in the years just after the collapse of state socialism, and has disparaged Hungary’s inferiority complex towards western Europe and the creep of market ideology into every endeavour. An early billboard by the Two-Tailed Dog showed the prows of three sculls marked Oxford, Cambridge and, trailing noticeably behind, Hungarian Universities. “How can we catch up in higher education?” asked the billboard. Answer: “Oooh, let’s charge [higher] tuition!”
After initial rejection as ‘frivolous’, it was finally cleared for registration as an official Hungarian political party
The punchline’s air of cynical desperation was very much of its time. In the early 2000s, young Hungarians saw their prospects at home vanishing, and many – including Kovács and Dada – extended their university studies for up to a decade, while others sought opportunities elsewhere in Europe, a trend that has continued unabated. Now around 5% of Hungarian citizens live and work abroad. György Schöpflin, who has spent most of his life and career in Britain, recently described a “good Hungarian” as someone who stays in the country and works. (The government has turned this admonition into policy. Sebő’s girlfriend is a second-year student at university, and in order to receive tuition relief for her studies, she was recently required to sign a contract stipulating that she may not leave Hungary for a set number of years after she graduates.)
If a “good Hungarian” is someone who stays at home and works, then the leadership of the Two-Tailed Dog party is comprised of excellent Hungarians. Though most of them have left Szeged for Budapest, all of the core party members – plus Sebő, who is not a party member as he doesn’t join parties on principle, but is very active in the group’s activities – live and work in Hungary, even as many of their friends and siblings have moved to Austria, Germany and the UK. “I stayed because of my friends,” says Kovács. “I have 10 or 15 really good friends and that’s what I’d miss if I went abroad. I don’t necessarily like just anyone.”
* * *
Although the Two-Tailed Dog started life far from mainstream Hungarian politics, with the counter-billboard campaign the party became much more politically active. In July, after an initial rejection from a municipal court on the grounds that it was “frivolous”, the Two-Tailed Dog party was finally cleared for registration as an official Hungarian political party. “We joke around much more seriously now,” said Dada. Kovács concedes that the time has come to get serious, but not to become serious: “I am convinced that we are much more effective as pranksters.”
After the success of the counter-billboard campaign, the Two-Tailed Dog contemplated organising a “fence-tival” on either side of Orbán’s new border fence with Serbia. There would be a DJ, and volleyball matches using the fence as a net. An opposition party was on board, but Kovács grew skittish when the government created a 60m no-man’s-land on either side of the fence: “If the volleyball falls in that zone, we’ll never be able to get it out.” More important, having a party while thousands of migrants and refugees were scrambling for their lives across the border didn’t seem right: “I don’t want to joke about that,” said Kovács. “It’s dreadful.” The plan was cancelled. (The fence was completed in September, and a second fence on the Croatian border was finished in October.)
One evening in late October, the Two-Tailed Dog held a meeting in Budapest to enlist volunteer activists to help it organise a new “secret action”. The meeting took place on the third floor of a building on the Blaha Lujza square, historically a rough area of the city. The building was one of Budapest’s first department stores. Today its first and second floors are filled with dingy shops stocking poor-quality clothing and household goods. The third floor is “one of the last free spaces” in Hungary, according to Sebő. It is home to a bar and some open areas with tables and chairs.
About 50 people had gathered for the 7pm meeting. When Kovács arrived, about 10 minutes late, he announced that the proceedings would begin at 7.30pm since “no real follower of the Two-Tailed Dog would show up before then”. He then took up a seat off to one side. Sebő, Árki, Dada (with her hair done up in two tails) and other members of the party were in attendance, but scattered among the crowd. After a back-and-forth over whether people should introduce themselves, introductions began, but in a characteristically satirical vein: “I’m Lajos, and I came because I have time.” “I’m Géza, and I’m here because I don’t have time.”
Kovács explained that the “secret action” was the distribution of the spoof edition of the Magyar Hírlap, 10,000 copies of which were sitting in his house. Several months earlier, Orbán had insisted that Hungary should be a “country where not anything can happen”. Blending comedy and idealism, the spoof edition went in the opposite direction. The front-page headlines set the tone for the entire issue. One announced that the planned construction of a controversial nuclear plant had been halted and that “solar energy will be the new priority”; the accompanying article “cited” Orbán as saying, “Our children’s future is the most important thing.”
The paper divulged the winning lottery numbers for the following week, gave a weather forecast based on readers’ suggestions, and reported that the banks of the Danube would be converted back into a pedestrian zone and car traffic rerouted underground. A dispatch on the “refugee crisis” reported that Orbán had spent the night in a camp on the Croatian border along with his wife and three children. Quoting the prime minister: “It was an eye-opening night, and I was forced to acknowledge that these people are in no way different from us, except that they were forced to flee a country that had been torn apart by religious conflict and senseless terror.”
In regional coverage, readers learned that Turkey had agreed to pay reparations for its 150-year occupation of Hungary during the Ottoman era, that the European Union was financing the construction of a black hole in Orbán’s hometown of Felcsút, and that “more than four people” had repatriated their jobs from western Europe as part of the successful “Bring home your jobs!” campaign. On the world stage, anonymous donors had paid off Greece’s national debt and Mark Zuckerberg purchased Hungarian citizenship. A luxury watch ad on page 5 showed a horse wearing a gold watch on each leg: “Gold watches. For horses. From Belgium.”
The satirical version of Magyar Hírlap producved by the Two-Tailed Dog party.
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‘The Two-Tailed Dog’s edition of the Magyar Hírlap should not only make a mockery of its politics, Árki insisted, but also imagine a better world.’
On 30 October, the paper was distributed in Budapest, Szeged, and a few other cities where party activists live. Dada and Sebő were up at an uncharacteristically early hour. “It was supposed to be at 7am, but I was a little late,” said Sebő, “so it was more like 8am, but I was there.” The papers were handed out on the street and outside subway stops. One person approached Dada and said, “This is great! If only it were true …” Another man took a copy, went away and returned with a sparkle in his eyes. “He nearly threw himself around my neck for joy,” Dada said.
Gábor Széles, the owner of the genuine Magyar Hírlap, was less amused. Within hours of the appearance of the spoof edition the publisher of the paper vowed to take legal action against the Two-Tailed Dog. The publisher’s statement read: “It is the view of the Magyar Hírlap Publishers Inc that this behaviour is illegal, and damaging not only to the publisher and the editorial staff, but also to the trusting readers.” The statement then raised the spectre, quite common in Hungarian politics, of foreign financial support, suggesting that there was no way a tiny, recently founded party “with no real public support” could have the resources required to produce a paper of 10,000 copies. (When asked about the legal action, the publisher claimed it was the editor-in-chief’s responsibility, and the editor, Péter Petán, through his secretary passed us to the domestic news desk, which passed us back to the editor-in-chief, who would not speak to us. Our request to speak to Széles was denied.)
So far Kovács has not been contacted in connection with any legal action. Dada had her doubts about the publisher’s threat. She explained that in the past a car manufacturer had considered pressing charges against the party for satirising one of its adverts, but in the end thought better of it because the company’s prestige would be harmed if it attacked a tiny group of pranksters. “It’s like kicking a small, cute dog,” said Sebő. But the dog is bracing for a fight, if it comes to that. “We have good lawyers,” said Kovács.
Two days after the spoof of the Magyar Hírlap was circulated, a post on the Two-Tailed Dog’s “Government Organisation” Facebook page suggested the party had returned to politics as usual: “Finally we’re doing nothing again and can post senseless sillinesser [sic!] at night drunkenly.” Hungarian politics, too, continued as normal. In the wake of the 13 November terror attacks in Paris, the Magyar Hírlap took to gloating, and praised Orbán’s efforts to keep refugees out of Hungary. “A mandatory quota would merely spread terrorism,” screamed the front-page headline, quoting a remark the prime minister made on 17 November.
At a time when Hungarian anxieties about migration and Islam remain high, and other EU politicians have come around to Orbán’s views on migrants, the Two-Tailed Dog’s members are trying to survive without losing their levity, or their nerve. They’re planning to put out their own monthly newspaper soon. “We’ll have to start building up our regional bases in the larger cities if we want to win in 2018,” Kovács joked, referring to the next Hungarian parliamentary elections.
As for Sebő, following the successful execution of the “secret action”, he was staying up late, getting high and agonising over a musical he was working on with another playwright. Although the piece was not yet fully written, the rehearsals had already begun. “One shouldn’t work like this,” he said, leafing through the pages of dialogue. The play is about a man named Ignác, AKA “Uncle Nácy” (pronounced “Nazi”) who builds a submarine in order to plant a Hungarian flag on the north pole. Ignác has a little dog named Dolfi who is supposed to plant the flag.
Nácy the musical is scheduled to open on 8 January in Budapest. When we last spoke with Sebő, he and his co-author had not yet decided how the piece should end. “The details of the dog’s fate have yet to be determined,” Sebő confided nervously. They had a couple of ideas. One was that Dolfi is roasted and eaten by the crew, all of whom grow increasingly hungry as the journey becomes ever more desperate and conflict-ridden. Another ending is that the dog takes control of the ship. “It’s so hard to know what will happen,” said Sebő. “Right now anything is possible.”
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