The Hungarian government responded to a very tough letter from José Manuel Barroso by making a couple of new amendments to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The first states that the limitation on political advertisement on commercial electronic media will be restricted to national elections and will not apply to the European parliamentary elections. The second amendment prohibits the president of the National Judicial Office from moving cases from one court to another when the case raises an issue of European law.
According to legal experts, this was a shrewd move on the part of the Hungarian government. By removing amendments that would have been in direct violation of European laws, Hungary has made the European Union’s case against it much harder. Most non-legal types, of course, think that this move only highlights the Hungarian government’s cynical authoritarianism. The opposition will be unable to campaign effectively while the government, with its practically unlimited ways of advertising itself, will dominate campaign rhetoric. And sensitive (especially political) cases will still be referred to government-friendly judges.
But while the Orbán government put on its cooperative face (or mask) in order to avoid what seemed only a few days ago to be unavoidable armageddon in Brussels, it also launched an aggressive PR blitz. Just today three different Orbán interviews appeared: in the German Die Welt and Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Austrian Die Kurier. In all three he said that for the time being he has no interest in a dialogue with Brussels. “Once they read it … we can talk about the concrete issues.” For good measure he added that “we are democrats who believe in the force of reason.”
Die Welt entitled its interview “Orbán holzt gegen die EU” (Orbán plays rough against the EU). Orbán’s latest favorite expression is “We are not nice guys from the mainstream” (Wir sind keine netten Kerle vom Mainstream), something I don’t think he has to explain to the politicians of Western Europe. For good measure he added that he is a civilized man; after all, “he can eat with a knife and fork.”
So, it seems that Orbán is getting the idea that some of his colleagues abroad look down on him. It is these cultural differences that a Hungarian journalist explored when analyzing Barroso’s latest letter to Orbán. According to him, Barroso learned a lot in these last two years. He now knows that he cannot treat Orbán as he does the prime ministers of other European member countries. “It took the Roman emperor some time before he found out that the king of the Visigoths lies even when he poses a question and that it is much more effective to smash his head with an ax. But by then Roman civilization had had it.”
Orbán then began his usual tirade against the deficiencies of Europe. In our changed world the European model is no longer competitive. The current economic system that “allocates functions between market and state is simply false,” which is a roundabout way of saying that the solution to our current economic problems is greater state ownership. Later in the interview he was a bit more direct about the connection between market and state. “In the neo-liberalism of the past two decades the market had priority and the state was deprived of important areas.” Unfortunately, we can already see signs of his grandiose plans for nationalization in Hungary.
In the FAZ interview he talked at length about the importance and strength of the nation state. He went on and on about the European Union’s being too rigid and inflexible when it is perfectly clear that European politicians have no solution to Europe’s current problems. As for Die Kurier, he tooted his own horn as is his wont. He is a problem solver. Hungary is a success story. The trouble is that the figures don’t support his contention, but the spin sounds good and perhaps some people believe it. And that’s enough for him.
Orbán spent yesterday and this morning in Spain. Yesterday he delivered a lecture on Christian Europe and this morning he talked with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. From the descriptions of the meeting I gather that there was no joint press conference; it seems that Orbán talked only to Hungarian journalists after the meeting. He told them that he had made it clear to Rajoy that Hungary “insists on going on its own way as far as economic policy is concerned and as long as Hungary doesn’t belong to the eurozone.” In brief, the European Union should dole out the money and they should be able to do anything they want with it.
Finally, a few words about Orbán’s lecture at the conference on “Catholics in public life” held in Bilbaó. Orbán is not a Catholic; presumably he was baptized as a Calvinist. His wife is Catholic, but when they were married in the late 1980s they didn’t see the need to get married in a church. Moreover, their children were not baptized as infants. By now, however, he finds great support in the Hungarian Catholic Church and portrays himself as a religious man who wants to transform all those non-religious Hungarians into practicing Christians. Preferably Catholics, it seems. I suspect that his attachment to the Catholic Church is mere political calculation. After all, it is the largest religion in the country.
So, let’s see what he had to say about European society and religion in this lecture. Europe is the only continent in the world where a large part of the political elite thinks that they are able to organize their world without God and divine providence. “Today in Europe an aggressive secular political vision reigns” which is called progress, and in Brussels most of the politicians think that “this should be the future.” These people, wittingly or unwittingly, are building a society without God; they think that religion is only a supplement to individual lifestyle. “The European people can’t get rid of the Christianity in their heads and therefore there is no use forcing a new common European identity on them that doesn’t accept the fundamental fact that it is the Biblical story that is the moral foundation of European life.”
I could go on and on about Orbán’s vision for a Christian Europe, but most of it is not worth repeating. One sidenote, however. According to Orbán, “Europe needs a religious revival because otherwise it will not be able to be economically competitive again.” I wonder whether Orbán ever read Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. I doubt it, but if Weber’s theory has any foundation Orbán shouldn’t be looking for it in Catholic Spain.
One more interesting slip of the tongue by Orbán. He received a question about the new constitution. He admitted that the majority of the population didn’t want a Christian constitution, but eventually he was able to convince them to accept a constitution based on Christian values. He managed to achieve this through national consultations. In plain language, Hungarian society is secular and most Hungarians would have been quite happy with a secular constitution, but with its two-thirds majority Fidesz managed to push it through nonetheless. Well, yes. This is exactly what happened.