Central and Eastern Europe

Instructions for Corrupt Authoritarian Politicians with Fading Popularity

You are a politician and your popularity ratings are going down. What can you do to prevent this? Here are some useful tips from our Illiberal Leader Training (ILT) manual

If you are a politician, you know what it feels like when your popularity ratings are going down. You were working hard to manipulate your people, spent a lot of money on PR experts and made serious efforts to please your supporters with fat public contracts. And then there come some activists and/or investigative journalists and dig up some dirt you haven’t buried deep enough. And everything goes wrong and your grip on power is weakening. Every night, you wake up to the same nightmare: losing the next election and being imprisoned.

So what can you do to prevent this shit from happening again?

Some people would say: use terror and introduce open dictatorship. Don’t listen to them. I mean, come on, we are living in the 21st century. This is a new world with new challenges, and new opportunities to fight freedom and justice! You won’t need any old school methods such as tanks, torture chambers or guillotine to keep your power. Or at least not yet.

Here are some useful tips from our Illiberal Leader Training (ILT) manual, a unique opportunity to improve your ratings and silence your critics! And in the end, you can still call yourself a democrat – although an illiberal one. All these methods are successfully tested by our clients! (For references, consult with our Hungarian client, Viktor Orbán!)

First of all, these are the 3 principles that you should keep in mind while navigating the dangerous waters of illiberal power-making:

Principle 1: There is nothing too absurd that cannot be used by a politician to stay in power.

Principle 2: People will believe all lies if they are repeated often enough.

Principle 3: Hate is stronger than love. And fear is stronger than both.

Now, the tips:

1. People

You have to appropriate this term. Everything you say, everything you do should be presented as the expression of the popular will. You are nothing else than the brain, the mouth and the fist of the simple people. Of course, your concept of people should be exclusive enough. First, you can shut out the underclass, ethnic and religious minorities. It’s easy. Good old xenophobic and fundamentalist sentiments will be to your help. Second, you should present yourself as the hero of the simple people against the global liberal elites. Of course, you should not tell them that all your policies are benefiting the same elites. Don’t worry, simple people will not realize that you are lying to them. For God’s sake: that’s why they are called simple!  Your concept of the people should be based on the obedient, isolated, loyal subjects to the state. Be careful, not to mix it up with the other concept of people (communities of active citizens advocating for their rights). That can be lethal to you.

2. Enemy

We all know how useful enemies can be in politics. Especially those useless losers living on the margins of society who cannot hit back. But you have to think about the art of enemy-building in a new way: you will need something we call UPEN1 (Useful Public Enemy Number 1). There’s no one-size-fits-all approach in finding your UPEN1. He can be a Jewish businessman supporting civil society initiatives or a religious leader living in exile. What’s really important is to construct a comprehensive conspiracy theory, claiming that this person is scheming against your nation. But it’s not enough. You also have to convince people that this person supports the groups your people fear the most. For example, migrants. If you have created his image as the puppet master with endless resources and malevolence, you can use him as a weapon against everything and everybody who is dangerous to your power. Tens of thousands are protesting against a new law? They are paid by the UPEN1! A new investigative report about your luxury yachts has come out? This is the work of UPEN1! Are you afraid that your fellow citizens will reject your accusations as unfounded fabrications? Don’t worry! Remember principles 1 and 2!

3. Propaganda

You can be successful with your two previous endeavors only if you build your own HEPM (Highly Effective Propaganda Machine), as we call it at ILT. Forget the old ways — censorship, banning newspapers or imprisoning journalists…you won’t need any of these. All you need is money to create your own media that will build a parallel reality, spreading fake news and hate messages day and night. You can silence a violinist in two ways. One is that you take his violin and smash it. The other is to build loudspeakers that drown out its music with overwhelming noise. The second option is much better. So when the opposition media is coming up with a new investigative report, you can simply post a fake news story about migrants to change the topic. By learning to use our Post-Truth Relativizing Toolkit you won’t even need to prove that your opponent is wrong or that you are right – all you need to do is plant the doubt about the existence of truth.

4. System

After mastering the art of the People-Enemy-Propaganda method, you will not only be able to silence your critics but you will build a new political system. All institutions that limit your power should be depicted as the enemy of the people, or at least impotent bureaucracies blocking the execution of the will of the people. International institutions can be blamed for everything bad happening in your economy while you can use their money to promote your rule. If you are in the EU, don’t bother with an exit like the UK did: these useful idiots will pay your bills while you are accusing them of conspiring against your nation. Don’t worry about international sanctions! This world is based on the good old concept of national sovereignty since this is what best serves the interests of the real global elites. And those stupid idiots will believe that you are their champion against the elite – doesn’t it give you satisfaction when you are snorting cocaine in a jacuzzi on your private yacht? Hell yes, it does!


Peter Sarosi

| Executive Director of the Rights Reporter Foundation
Peter Sarosi is human rights activist and drug policy expert, the founder and editor of the Drugreporter website since 2004, the author of hundreds of articles, co-author of books and director of films about harm reduction and drug policy reform. In 2017 he received the International Rolleston Award for outstanding achievement in international harm reduction advocacy. He was the Director of the Drug Policy Program at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union between 2004 and 2015. He is experienced in working at international drug policy forums such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. He was elected to the Core Group of the EU Civil Society Forum on drugs two times. He is the co-chair of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. He has been representing the Hungarian Harm Reduction Network at the government’s drug advisory body in Hungary since 2007. Peter also contributed to building a network of advocacy NGOs in Europe: the European Drug Policy Initiative. He provided technical assistance to several NGOs, launched several campaigns on drug policy reform. As a member of the Drugreporter video advocacy team he produced videos about drug policy issues in several countries of the world. These videos are now part of a unique online drug policy video library.