The pro-government Hungarian media triumphantly announced today that Martin Schulz, president of the European Union, who had been described earlier as the greatest enemy of Viktor Orbán, has finally come to the conclusion that the Hungarian prime minister represents the majority opinion within the European Union and therefore must be handled with kid gloves. At least this is what MTI reported from Passau, where Jens Stoltenberg, Donald Tusk, and Martin Schulz participated in a debate on “Menschen in Europa.”
One must understand that for years the right-wing media has been after Martin Schulz as well as, more generally, all those EU parliamentary caucuses on the left that are not exactly friends of Viktor Orbán’s illiberal democracy. One of the ugliest portraits of Schulz appeared in 888.hu, combining bits and pieces of half-truths about his career. And Pestisrácok.hu discovered at the end of September that a number of liberal and green delegates led by Barbara Spinelli of Italy on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group suggested a parliamentary discussion on the situation in Hungary regarding the anti-immigrant propaganda campaign. “The left wing of the European Parliament thirsts for revenge because of the forthcoming referendum,” pestisrácok.hu concluded.
The Hungarian government was undoubtedly irritated that Schulz refused to take the referendum seriously. He rightly considered it a domestic issue with little or no bearing on European affairs. He warned Budapest that “it should take seriously that it was not a majority” that voted at the referendum–that is, that the referendum was not valid. So it was with a certain amount of glee that MTI reported from Passau that Schulz had become a dove as far as his attitude toward Orbán is concerned.
The topic of the debate was the relationship between NATO and the European Union, specifically the defense of the borders. Donald Tusk also emphasized the necessity of defending “the last liberal democracy” that exists in Europe. But MTI, not surprisingly, concentrated on an answer Martin Schulz gave to a question from the floor: “When will the patience of Europe run out vis-à-vis Hungary, whose government in an indirect manner is responsible for the closing of the last opposition paper?” According to the MTI report, Schulz said that Viktor Orbán’s opinion that “the European Union wants to substitute a European cultural amalgam for national identities” is in his opinion wrong, but it must be taken seriously because by now it has become a majority opinion within Europe. One must find opportunities for a dialogue with the people whom Orbán represents instead of punishing them, which would only result in giving them an opportunity to feel that they are being victimized. He suggested “an open debate on the question of what kind of cultural identity nations possess within the united Europe.” The worst possible solution would be “to label all those who ask this question outcasts.”
This MTI report from Passau was greeted with jubilation in the pro-government press. Magyar Idők recalled Barbara Spinelli’s September 26 call for a debate on Hungary at the full session of the European Union, but after the referendum they scrapped the idea because “they didn’t want to give the Hungarian prime minister an opportunity to express his views on the subject.” But new winds are blowing now in Brussels. Schulz admitted that Viktor Orbán represents the opinion of the majority on the migrant issue. “If Schulz is not careful he will be considered a supporter of Orbán.” Magyar Idők is certain that the bureaucrats in Brussels “have recognized that when Viktor Orbán appears with the 3.3 million ‘no’ votes in his satchel a very unfavorable turn of events will take place from their point of view.” And “they dread the moment when the Hungarian prime minister says in the European Parliament what people think. Not only the Hungarians but—to quote Schulz—the majority of Europeans.” The title of the article is “They are afraid of him as the Devil is of incense.” So much for Schulz’s dialogue.
Today, Gergely Gulyás responded to Schulz’s soothing words, which he considered “an important step forward.” But he lamented the fact that the European Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, where the left and liberal members are “in a depressing majority,” still want compulsory quotas without any upper limit. The Hungarian government appreciates Schulz’s call for dialogue, but “we would find it helpful if the socialist president of the European Parliament would try to curb the political extremism espoused by the majority of representatives in his own delegation.”
Government critics are not at all pleased with Schulz’s statements, especially in light of recent developments at home. Most people on the democratic side are convinced that no dialogue can be conducted with a dictator, and they consider Viktor Orbán a man who by now for all practical purposes is an autocrat with unlimited power. Nothing can happen in the country without his approval, and if the courts find some of the acts of the government illegal, in no time the laws are changed. According to them, Hungary is no longer a democracy and the European Union should recognize this fact.
More and more people are coming to the conclusion that in the last six years Viktor Orbán has created a political system that cannot legally be replaced. No opposition, no matter how well prepared, intelligent, and diligent, can remove Viktor Orbán from power. He might remain in office for the next twenty years unless something drastic happens. Can the European Union allow such a rogue state to remain within its borders? What if other countries in the region with weak democratic traditions follow Orbán’s example? Should the leading politicians in the EU worry about Orbán’s sensitivities when at home he mercilessly crushes his opposition? I don’t think so.