He holds Orbán's secrets, but they're still not on first-name basis
January 24. 2023. – 09:10 AM
Although he's been working for Viktor Orbán for eighteen years, they are still not on a first-name basis. He is present at every cabinet meeting, he manages the Prime Minister's correspondence and calendar, and his office is separated from that of the Prime Minister by only one door. János Nagy is undeniably one of Orbán's closest confidants, yet we know very little about him. The State Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office has long avoided publicity, but earlier this year he launched his own Facebook page. Bertalan Havasi made a series of videos in which Nagy talks about his work, his relationship with Orbán and how he became the prime minister's right-hand man.
"János knows the biggest secrets: he knows Orbán's agenda to the minute, who he meets with, when he meets them, where he goes, he even manages his private correspondence" – this is how a government source described János Nagy in a 2012 Hvg.hu article.
According to the article, Nagy, who is the State Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office and Orbán's former personal secretary, attends and takes notes at almost all of the prime minister's meetings and small circle meetings. He is even present at meetings where the prime minister is accompanied only by the minister in charge of the matter or an influential business leader. "He allocates Orbán's time as well, the PM often finds out from him how much time he has left for his private life and his family," the source quoted by Hvg.hu said of the young state secretary.
János Nagy joined Orbán – who was in opposition at the time – in 2005, and stayed with him when he formed the new government. The State Secretary who heads up the Prime Minister's Office, is often seen in the Prime Minister's company at public appearances and on trips, yet barely anything is known about him.
He does not speak with the press, and usually does not even stop to answer journalists' questions at Fidesz' annual picnic in Kötcse. This is why it came as a huge surprise when Nagy held a public forum in Siklós last November, where he spoke about the EU sanctions, the Russian-Ukrainian war and even answered a few questions from Telex.
And then, in 2023, the PM’s right-hand man decided to take an even bigger step: he started a Facebook-page, which is quite an unusual move from someone in the background.
Just one door between him and Orbán’s office
"Christian, nationalist, Calvinist, husband, father, Secretary of State, hiker, fun-loving, Loki-fan, (Debrecen's soccer team -TN) from Báránd, Nagy, János", he writes on the site in the introduction, and in a short video he argues that politics is like Sunday soup. "It needs strength, a strong two-thirds," he says, lifting a bottle of chilli sauce.
More interesting, however, is the three-part video series about him made by Bertalan Havasi, the Prime Minister's press chief. In the material, which lasts just under a quarter of an hour in total, we not only get to know the major milestones of Nagy's life so far and the main traits of his character, but we also find out how his closest confidants relate to Orbán.
The setting is János Nagy's office on the upper floor of the former Carmelite monastery, which is right next to Orbán's office. He actually shows that there is only one door separating the two rooms, with the state secretary knocking on his boss's door for the sake of the video. Orbán is not there, but we get to see "the famous" desk from behind which the prime minister announces key government decisions on Facebook. Havasi says, almost enviously, that Nagy's office is strategically located, but the state secretary says it's just a "modest room with modest attributes" (...) "We are in a monastery after all."
Besides his notebook and official documents, on Nagy's desk there's a Bible, a copy of Viktor Orbán and Catholicism, and Márton Békés' recently published Tihanyi jobboldal (The Right of Tihany). "There are two things that always give me strength and faith. One is the Holy Scriptures, and the other is the Fundamental Law, (of Hungary) which is too big to fit here," Nagy says. He does not add that the Fundamental Law should be changed often anyway, having been amended twice by Parliament last year alone (11 times in total).
On the office wall, a map of Greater Hungary and three pictures of Orbán's post-2010 governments. "These three governments are the ones that I helped with all my strength and fervour," the state secretary tells Havas enthusiastically.
He is terse about his day-to-day work. His job is to ensure that the Prime Minister has the technical conditions to do his job professionally and at an international level. Nagy feels that he can follow Orbán's way of thinking well, "as he goes from point A to point B".
"At the same time, there is an unconditional loyalty, faithfulness and respect towards him."
- he says of the prime minister, with whom he is still not on a first-name basis after 18 years of service because Orbán has yet to offer switching to it.
“I have Navracsics to thank for my wife”
The 41-year-old Nagy was born in Báránd, Hajdú-Bihar county, where he says he learned "the values of the countryside, i.e. loyalty, respect and honor". He considers himself a true local patriot, and last year he was proud to receive the title of honorary citizen of the town. At the award ceremony, he said that it was in Báránd that he learned to walk, talk and think, where he learned the basics, "above all, that we Hungarians are a special nation".
He graduated from the Reformed College of Debrecen in 2000.
"It was there that I learned what community means, what relationships within a community mean and how relationships relate to each other."
- he says in one of the videos. He compares his years at the college to Hungarian writer Géza Ottlik's novel Iskola a határon (School at the Frontier). "Most of all, I learned that people who have been through certain things together are much more connected to each other, they are bound together by unbreakable threads." This can easily be translated to his relationship with the prime minister. Nagy stuck by his boss even when Orbán's authority in the party briefly wavered after Fidesz's defeat in 2006.
The first video also reveals that he owes his wife to Tibor Navracsics, the current Minister of Regional Development, who introduced him to the daughter of three-time Olympic champion Hungarian pentathlete András Balczó, Laura Balczó. They have two little girls, who are "just as cute as this little deer", he points to a drawing of a child addressed "to dad" on the wall of his cabinet.
Zoltán Balog recommended him to Orbán
He was already studying history at Károli University in Budapest when he cast a vote for the first time in 2002, at the age of 20. "A huge popular movement started" after the first round – he recalls Fidesz's cockade campaign. He was there at the College of Physical Education, where Viktor Orbán asked the participants to bring one more person for the second round.
"To this day, when I think about it, I get an incredible shiver down my spine."
- he says, recalling the students marching with cockades on their chests to the College of Physical Education through then Moscow Square (today's Széll Kálmán square – TN) "And I remember that at that time, there on that campus, I felt as if it was 1956." That was the moment when he felt he had arrived in his political community, Fidesz.
"János, what was it that brought you to this chair from Báránd in Bihar county?" – Bertalan Havasi, who seems to be enjoying his new role, asked. A year after the lost election, Zoltán Balog, later Minister of Human Resources who was head of the Alliance for a Civic Hungary Foundation at the time, approached Nagy. He was looking for university students, two Protestants and two Catholics from Károli University and Pázmány University to research the history of Fidesz.
He had been working at the party's foundation for two years when his phone rang one evening. Zoltán Balog called to say that Orbán was looking for a private secretary, and he had thought of him.
"Well, I was terribly frightened, because I felt such a distance between where I was as a student and where the prime minister was, who had actually been through all those experiences since '88, that it was very difficult for me to handle the situation," he said of their first meeting.
He started working with Orbán at the young age of 24 and has been supporting his work ever since. He followed the party leader's activities both in opposition and in government from the background. He is familiar with Orbán's program for each day, and he is the way to reaching the prime minister. He certainly knows a lot of secrets and information about Orbán that no one else does, but according to the Hvg.hu article, he did not want to be in government even after the change of government in 2010. Until now, he has also avoided publicity.
Havasi: I took part in this, because my friend, János had asked me to
"János, there are two things I never would have thought. One is that I would ever ask questions again, I seem to be out of practice. And the other is that I'll be on your Facebook page before I'm on mine," Bertalan Havasi concludes in the last video.
The role of Orbán's press secretary does seem unusual. In recent years, he has been known to the general public as the person who tries to keep journalists away from Orbán so that they cannot ask the prime minister questions. But he actually started as a journalist, working as a correspondent for Magyar Nemzet and Duna Televízió in Pécs in the late 1990s, and later as a presenter for Hír TV. He was appointed press chief of Fidesz in 2005, the same year Nagy became Orbán's personal secretary.
But that's not the only thing the two have in common: they are both long-time loyal confidants of Orbán. According to an earlier portrait in Hvg.hu, Havasi has held on to the Prime Minister's crumpled Coke can as a relic. "The prime minister drank from it at the opening of the Coca-Cola plant in Dunaharaszti," his press secretary says, adding that the prime minister "can always surprise me".
We asked Havasi if he had any desire to have his own Facebook page after this recent appearance. He wrote that he still had no plans to have a profile on any social networking site "because that's not my world".
"And as far as the personal side of it, I agreed to appear in János's Facebook videos because he is a friend and he asked me to."
We were also curious to find out why János Nagy, who has so far preferred to stay in the background, started a Facebook page, and whether he plans to take on any tasks or roles in government that might require him to communicate with the voters directly. We have also contacted the press department of the Prime Minister's Office and Bertalan Havasi with our questions, but have not received a reply. We would have liked to interview Nagy as well, but the Prime Minister's press officer has only promised to forward our request.
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