Tag Archives: Fareed Zakaria

Hungarian Christian Democrats and freedom of the press

The Parisian terrorist attacks will have, I fear, a negative effect not only on Hungary’s immigration policy but also on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the country. At least this is the way things are looking at the moment.

In an earlier post I recalled Viktor Orbán’s long-standing belief that Europe as a whole and Hungary as part of the European Union should remain “European.” European in this case means ethnically and religiously pure. Until last week, however, we didn’t know that this sentiment was actually reflected in current government practice.

It was on Sunday afternoon, before Viktor Orbán’s by now infamous press conference railing against immigration to Europe, that I realized that strict anti-immigration policies have been in effect ever since 2010. They were introduced quietly, under cover so to speak. Antónia Mészáros, a reporter for ATV, had an interview with Zoltán Balog on Friday afternoon, which didn’t air until Sunday, in which he admitted that the Orbán government has been conducting an anti-immigration policy all along.

Now there is an opportunity to put this unspoken policy into law. On Monday morning Antal Rogán seconded Viktor Orbán’s position on the undesirability of immigration. The next day the “international spokesman” of the Orbán government, Zoltán Kovács, followed suit and explained the Hungarian position on CNN, not with the greatest success. Richard Quest, the reporter, worried that the kind of debate the Hungarians are promoting will become a witch hunt. He ended his program (and this is a rough transcript) by saying that

What’s worrying is when politicians start whipping up the rhetoric. `Hungary for Hungarians,’ – when it starts to become immigration must be stopped. Then you go into you’ve crossed the line. It’s no longer a debate about whether immigration is good or bad, it becomes one to whip up a ferment. History is replete with examples where this has happened, and anybody who tries to deny an innocent-sounding comment for what it could turn into in the future is simply misguided.

As it stands, four out of ten Hungarians share Viktor Orbán’s and his government’s point of view. Tárki, a Hungarian polling firm, has been keeping track of Hungarian xenophobia for some time. In the decade between 2002 and 2011, 24% to 33% of the population were anti-immigrant. After that date the anti-foreign sentiment shot up to 40%, which is not surprising given the rhetoric of Viktor Orbán and his government.

I talked earlier about some right-wing journalists who intimated that the staff at Charlie Hebdo were responsible for their own fate. They provoked the followers of Islam by drawing crude caricatures of their prophet. This argument is now being taken up by the Hungarian Christian Democrats who are, on the whole, even more radical than Fidesz when it comes to religiosity. Their party is often described as the “political arm of the Hungarian Catholic Church.” According to their whip, Péter Harrach, “neither freedom of the press nor freedom of speech can be extended to blasphemy.”

ShawFareed Zakaria, the American reporter who came up with the label “illiberal democracy” for countries like Turkey or Hungary, wrote an article in The Washington Post on the subject of blasphemy. In it he pointed out that the Koran “prescribes no punishment for blasphemy.” However, as we know, today many Muslim countries have harsh laws against blasphemy. It seems that Péter Harrach finds this practice attractive. But Harrach doesn’t have to look to current Muslim practice for a model. As Zakaria points out, only “one holy book is deeply concerned with blasphemy: the Bible.” The Old Testament is full of stories of blasphemers who receive harsh punishment for their sin. It seems that Harrach wants to lead Hungary all the way back to Old Testament times.

This morning representatives of five parties  (Fidesz, KDNP, Jobbik, MSZP, LMP, Együtt) got together to discuss the fight against terrorism. According to Antal Rogán, the parties agreed that “the European Union cannot defend its member states” and that therefore they must formulate and enforce their own strategies. “Political correctness by now is not enough.” Fidesz suggests that “certain public symbols and values should receive special protection.” Rogán made it clear that “religious symbols” would certainly be covered by the new law. I wouldn’t be surprised if among Hungarians’ “common values” we would also find national symbols. Or even political offices. Or high dignitaries of the land, like the president or the president of the house.

There are some analysts, for example, Gábor Török, who are convinced that the terrorist attack in Paris came at the right time for Orbán, whose party lost another 2% in support last month. According to Ipsos, some of the lost voters drifted over to Jobbik, and therefore the Fidesz top leadership decided to turn up the volume on far-right talk. With this strategy they are hoping to regain solid control of the right. Maybe, but I wouldn’t be so sure. According to some fairly reliable sources, Fidesz leaders are not panicking over their loss of popularity at the moment. In their opinion, the current level of support is still high enough for the party to bounce back. Demonstrations will end soon, and people will forget about their grievances over the introduction of toll roads and the Sunday store closings.

As opposed to Török, I don’t believe that Orbán’s outburst in Paris has anything to do with his party’s popularity. I think that he is convinced of the ill effects of immigration and is happy that he found an opportunity to take up arms against it, alone if necessary, quite independently of the European Union. He most likely explored how far he can go and came to the conclusion that he can introduce a law that would effectively stop immigration to Hungary and that he could also restrict freedom of the press as long as the law does not differentiate between religions. Therefore, I fear that Hungarian journalists can look forward to greater restrictions to their freedom.

Ferenc Gyurcsány: Angels or Demons

On August 27 Ferenc Gyurcsány published a lengthy article on Népszabadság‘s op/ed page that turned out to be a shortened version of the original, which was published the following day on Galamus.

The article, “Angels or Demons,” spawned the kind of upheaval that normally follows Gyurcsány’s writings or speeches. His political adversaries and antagonistic journalists in Index and HVG attacked the DK chairman as someone whose time has passed and who has no right to speak on behalf of the Hungarian left.

The most vehement criticism came from Viktor Szigetvári, once a close associate of Gyurcsány, who now as co-chairman of Együtt-PM sees Gyurcsány and his party as a threat to his own political aspirations. His feelings about his former boss became especially evident during an interview on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd. The reaction may have hurt Együtt-PM’s slim chances at the forthcoming municipal elections. After all, most anti-Fidesz voters would like to see a common front against the current regime and instead they see nothing but strife. 

The second criticism came from the old-time MSZP leadership, from Imre Szekeres, who made it clear that they do not need any advice from Ferenc Gyurcsány.

What was in Gyurcsány’s article that so upset the other two democratic parties? He declared that in the long run “the optimal goal is the creation of a unitary Democratic Party.” According to Szigetvári, what the opposition needs is not so much one large party as a “new kind of politics.” Szekeres answered that what Hungary needs today is a strong socialist party. If one can believe the latest public opinion poll, DK’s projected results in the elections (8%) are very close to those of MSZP (11%) while Együtt-PM is trailing with 4%. Szigetvári was especially upset about the timing of the article. There’s no question. Ferenc Gyurcsány was trying to bolster support for his own party, which couldn’t have pleased the other party leaders.

The English translation of this controversial article appeared in Free Hungary.

* * *

We politicians, just like most of our compatriots, are neither angels nor demons. Of course, there are some amongst us who are naive like angels, who are idealists and endlessly fair, just as some of us are clever as hell, and are flirting with sin – they are pure mercenaries.

The years of anxiety are coming. They are coming not because this is what we would like to happen, but because Hungary’s political community is split in two. Our motherland is virtually became separated into two countries when it comes to dreams, visions and the deepest-held beliefs. And there is nothing between those two countries. Or, if there is anything there, it is indecisiveness, indifference, apathy and resignation. The situation is indeed dramatic – many say it is hopeless. We have come to a crossroads now.

“Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is built upon the model of Vladimir Putin’s Russia” – Fareed Zakaria, a former editor of Newsweek and Time, and currently a columnist of the Washington Post and host on CNN has just written this in The Washington Post. In one of his essays dating to 1997, Zakaria indeed wrote about the threat of illiberal democracy, but he would have never thought that a leader of a European nation would ever use the word ‘illiberal’ as a decoration.

Orbán’s actions in the past years all show that the Hungarian Prime Minister introduced such a regime in Hungary which can be best be described as ‘Putinism’. The regime’s main elements are nationalism, religion, social conservatism, state capitalism and a firm hold over the media. Orbán is following into the footsteps of Putin in that he eliminates the independence of the judiciary, restricts the rights of individuals, talks about Hungary’s ethnic minorities in nationalist terms and muzzles the press – Zakaria notes, and then specifically highlights in his article the advertising tax aimed at making the private TV channel RTL Klub‘s functioning impossible.

“Zakaria believes Orbán is on the same path as France’s Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders or Britain’s Nigel Farage, who all are Putin’s admirers” – 444.hu claimed in its report on Fareed Zakaria’s article. Since then the author has also shared his conclusions with the viewers of CNN.

Our Hungary – which is also my Hungary – is completely different: It is a liberal democracy. I know that many are already fed up with it, but I repeat it once again: We believe that we Hungarian citizens – as free and independent citizens – are the basis of the state. The state is a product of us, and not the other way round. We are independent, but not isolated; by our very nature, we create smaller or bigger communities, we have families, we are surrounded by friends companionships, we live in cities and in villages, we are Hungarians and patriots. We adapt to the rules created by us in our communities, we also make sacrifices for them if needed; however, we stay with our conviction that the individual is above all else, and that he/she shall not be compelled to submit neither to his/her family, nor to his/her nation, but that he/she is rather the creator of those entities.

That is why we would like to create a state that lets us live free, a state that does not interfere with our religious, political, cultural or sexual preferences, and one that is actually not allowed to do so. We want the state’s power to be regulated and limited by the law. That is why we aim for a state under the rule of law, for a free press, for the free exercise of religion and for the separation of powers. We wish to have an independent judiciary and prosecutors who operate in accordance with the law. We stand up for the freedom and for the protection of property as well as for competition and a market economy. We do not believe in pure economic liberalism (we never had it before anyway), which only secures the power of the strong. We want a state that is efficient, that assumes social responsibility and one that can guarantee, regulate and monitor fair competition – so to say, what we want is a European-style republic. There are no compromises. It is either the one or the other. Either Orbán’s illiberal democracy or a European-style, civic liberal democracy. There is nothing in between.

We can see that most of our compatriots are not satisfied with their lives – they are fatigued and disappointed. The average Hungarian, if there is such, is tired of politics, has contempt for us politicians, and turns away from public affairs. The average Hungarian wants simple things: A safe, secure job, better pay, future for the children, free enterprise, a secure present and a predictable calculable future. And, of course, he/she would like to be part of a successful community, and that is why wants a strong Hungary, so that he/she could view him-/herself as a proud citizen and also his/her compatriots as proud citizens of such a country.

But we are far from that. And since many, in fact, a great many people became disillusioned by the new Hungary that was brought about by the regime change these people are now looking for new ways and new answers. Because the leading ideology of the regime change was liberal democracy, parliamentarianism and a state under the rule of law, and a market economy, and because until now we have been searching for the opportunities to improve living standards and ascend in conjunction with the European Union, now strikingly great numbers of people are turning their backs to all this in their state of disillusionment. They are already running counter to the past two and a half decades and would be willing to march on the side of Orbán in the opposite direction. We can see it, perceive it and we say it now: They are marching in a historical dead-end street.

I do not have any ideas capable of saving the world. In my Őszöd speech I promised “fucking good books” from the Left. Actually this is not what is going to happen now. I want to suggest very simple things only.

Please do not give in to the despotism, and do not make any explanations as to why Orbán is right! Orbán actually sees the majority of our problems; maybe he was even faster in spotting them than we were. In this regard, he is a capable politician indeed. Why should we deny it? His answers, however, stupefyingly derail our country from the path of success that we hope to achieve. One must simply realise that while our country is sinking deeper and deeper, Orbán and his subserviently obedient cronies are amassing never-before-seen fortunes, influence and power. A few are standing on the burden-laden shoulders of the many. That is the regime of Orbán like. Do not make any compromises! We must resist! Some must do it quietly, some loudly. Some with moderation, some with fury. Everyone in on the way he/she can. Just do not submit to it, do not accept it, and do not give it up. Because if we did that, it would mean giving up on ourselves and our homeland. Is this what you want to do?

Do not believe that the state is almighty! We the people are the solution and the secret. The fact that we want something new, that we want to have a better life, and that we are willing to work more and in a different way, and to pass many a night thinking, learning, and fighting against our own failings, fears, laziness and envy. Of course, do not yield to selfishness, to the circumvention of the law that applies to and obliges everyone. Dare to look ahead further than tomorrow, dare to search for everything that will also make also our children and grandchildren rise!

Because many are the tired, and indeed as it seems as though time is running out, there is great demand on both sides for politics’ magic wand, for revolutionary passion, for the “we will erase the past once and for all”-type radicalism, and for shock therapy. The polling booth revolution and the false system of national cooperation are also forms of shock therapy – a kind of a nationalist, despotic and anti-European shock therapy. Those on our side who demand liberal market reforms would also reposition Hungary by a big rush. But we simply would not survive another shock therapy. Do you see, now, that barely anyone believes by now that a weaker state, less social welfare and increased individual self-sufficiency could obtain a majority amongst voters? And not because all these would not be necessary, but simply because our spiritual power has vanished, because we had depleted our reserves, and because there are millions that are just vegetating and now they not only do not want to, but are actually no longer able to take on more responsibility for their lives. In this country, almost everybody is seeking for help. From the state, from local governments, parents, children, from anyone. Meanwhile – occupied with our own misery – we grow more selfish and more indifferent. The only way out is towards accepting and taking on greater social responsibility and towards a more responsible way of market-based competition. Yes, indeed, the ideal of a social Hungary and a social market economy must be resurrected. Well, I could also call it a European-style, democratic and social Hungary characterised by a market economy and the rule of law. Where people align and cooperate with each other, where the wealthy assume greater social responsibility, where jobs are safe for workers and employees, and where civic society is stronger. Let us create such a country!

Dare to respect the people, and do not think that we Hungarians are of a special mould, which would render us better than others! We are in fact not better than any other nation. We are different, but not better; however, we are not worse either. We are civic democrats. Everybody matters, regardless of which nation or ethnicity he/she belongs to. Of course, we protect our national heritage, our language, our history, and we do all this virtually across borders; however, Hungarian statehood – within the meaning of public law – solely extends to the dramatically decreased territory of post-Trianon Hungary. It is a painful fact, yet it is a fact. And rejecting this historical fact is not a patriotic act, but instead an act of adventurism.

Do not give in to clericalism! Belief in God is the essence and miracle of life for many people. Yet others believe in the People, and are doubtful of the existence of God or the Creator. Who knows who is right? It is not the state’s business to decide a polemic concerning the deepest sense of life, because it equally represents all those who believe in God, all those who are doubtful of God’s existence and all those who are atheists, i.e. all of its citizens. We demand a state and a government that considers as its mission – without intending to force any kind of religious belief upon us – the service of the universal good and the promotion of mutual understanding between citizens having various world views. Do not want to be missionaries, and especially not in the name of the state, as Pope Francis – a humanist currently sitting on the throne of Saint Peter – has so warned us!

Let our children be free! Let them see the thousands of colours and interpretations of this world, let them have their doubts and their – many times shaking – truths. Let them play and make mistakes, let them wander off, get lost and find their way home. Let them be doubtful, let them be pioneers, inventors, and discoverers of new ways. Dare to teach them about the past, and let them teach us about the future.

Do not fear the people that who are different, and do not fear strangers and foreigners! Show interest for their difference, look for the similarities with them, and be intrigued by their different way of thinking, culture and mentality, because those might make us better too. It is not enough to protect Hungarians, but they should also be improved, and oftentimes the greatest help may come right from non-Hungarians. Behold them, but do not bow before them just because they come from faraway lands!

Yes, be liberals! Or, if you like it that way, be humanists. Dare to behold the people who are just like us! They are fearful, they are glad, they are confident and they become disheartened. They are like us: They love, hate, hope and get helpless. They all are people. Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Serb, Šokci, Ruthenian, Russian, Austrian, French, German, English, American, but I do not wish to go on. Dare to be human in a universal sense and stay Hungarian with an open mind and with a readiness to understand!

And, as democrats, be capable of taking care of each other! Do not expect more from others than what you expect from yourselves! Demand as much change from others as you can change. More questions and less categorical statements. This is what might bring us closer to a better world, to a better Hungary. Is this too simple? Not at all. It is more difficult than you would think.

You might, of course, say that this is all fine, but how will this lead to a new, strong, and democratic Hungary? Now I have to give you a wake-up call: Slowly – and the road will be winding, with many errors, and in the beginning with only small – yet much hoped – successes. There is no magic pill.

The all-important question is whether we will be able to offer – in accordance with European and civic democratic values – a new political alternative in the coming years. The country is bleeding from a thousand cuts, so we will be confronted with a number of unresolved issues as regards health care, education and the pension system; there is really no way back to 2010 after the past four years. We have to say different things and in a different manner, and if we already learnt the word then also I dare to use it: From time to time and in some sectors we will need unorthodox solutions and political innovation. This, however, will not work in such a way that we sit down in a corner and someone will suddenly shout out loud “Eureka, I’ve found it”. No. We can only create the framework and the life of the new republic in free and open debates.

We, of course, respect our voters – they have the ultimate power. But if the majority of our democrat supporters just continue to be growl and grumble, saying that they cheer for us when they stop us on the street or in a Tesco store, adding that we should hold on, well, this way we will never make it. Even if it hurts many, I say it that if you do not organise, if you do not establish influential public forums and circles for your villages and towns, then we will simply never get ahead. Talking politics in coffee shops and quiet discontent will never get us anywhere. If you do not organise resistance and protests against the selfish mayors of the Orbánist right-wing regime, if there are no protests and petitions in the future either, then we will always stay the hopeful second. Do you want to fight or look for alibis? Make up your mind!

If we are right and Orbán’s regime is unsustainable, then the regime will sooner or later go away, and so will its leader. Whether it will be a noisy collapse or a slow downfall with a gradual retreat into minority status, I do not know. There is one thing, however, which would surely not serve our interests: Upheaval, rebellion, or any kind of violence. We must resist, fight and prepare for Orbán’s downfall. But, do you not also see that we are not yet ready to handle the post-Orbán situation? Our present weakness is Orbán’s single best trump card. Because back in spring, too, it was not him winning, but it was us losing. Because we are divided, old-fashioned, lacking in ideas and weak. Hungary deserves not only a better government, but a better opposition as well. We, too, need to become better. That is what I am working for.

The current election system forces a situation whereby the democratic parties must unite or face extinction. Either uniting or ‘political death’ – it is that simple. We will have to join forces for the 2018 general election, too, unless the election system changes – but since that would run counter to the interests of Fidesz, I would be surprised to see the pressure that was put on us (and that is binding us together) being loosened. The optimal ultimate goal is clear: Establishing a uniform Democratic Party. But in view of the stumbling preparatory negotiations for the local government elections, and the alarmingly low level of willingness to compromise, I think that we are still very far from this – which is really sad, but this is how it is. There are, of course, intermediate solutions as well. We could form a party union with a joint board while preserving the partial autonomy of the democratic parties, or we could set up even looser forms of cooperation with permanent inter-party consultations, and with forums and institutions to that end. In such a way and with such a speed as the political, personal and cultural conditions allow all or any of them.

Making alliances, resisting, developing programmes and primarily taking care of one another – that is the task. The Hungary of the future awaits us. We should tarry not!

The Hungarian news agency in the service of the state

A few weeks ago György Bolgár, who practically never writes on politics in the daily press, could no longer stand it. He wrote an article in Népszabadság about “the death of MTI,” the Hungarian news agency.

In 2010 several changes were made in MTI reflecting Viktor Orbán’s far-reaching plans for the agency. First and most critical, the government announced that from there on the services of MTI would be free. No longer would only the better-off newspapers and electronic outlets be able to afford articles written by the correspondents of MTI. Everybody, even the smallest provincial paper, would have free access to their archives. Well, one could say, isn’t that grand? How democratic. But naturally, this was not the real aim of the Orbán government. By making MTI’s news service free, they made sure that only MTI could stay afloat in the Hungarian media market. And indeed, since then the other news agency closed its doors.

Second, Viktor Orbán ensured that only loyal supporters would be in top management at the agency. Third, the scope of the agency was greatly restricted; MTI today is only a shadow of its former self. And fourth, its independence had to be abolished. Indeed, over the last four years MTI has become a state organ serving propaganda purposes.

The new logo of the Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI)

The new logo of the Magyar Távirati Iroda (MTI)

The journalists working there are worried about their jobs and therefore tread lightly. Their reports go through several hands as one can see by the number of initials: “kkz, kbt, kto, kvs.” Four men or women were responsible for the article about The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial on Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő. Indeed, that is a very sensitive topic and no “mistakes” would be tolerated.

As György Bolgár contended in his article, the situation is worse now than it was in the Kádár regime. Then at least the journalists were told by the party what they could and what could not write about. Now frightened journalists are measuring their words on every subject at the MTI headquarters in Budapest. And they have good reason to be frightened: back in 2011 a seasoned correspondent to Berlin was sacked because of “wrong wording” in a report on conductor Zoltán’s Kocsis’s interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

A couple of days ago Tamás Szele wrote an article, “English Lesson to MTI,”  in Gépnarancs.  In it he compared MTI’s reports on three important editorials from the United States about Viktor Orbán’s by now notorious speech on his vision of an “illiberal state.” The editorials appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. I decided to devote a post to the subject as well because non-Hungarian speakers should be aware of how the Orbán government controls the flow of information. This topic is especially timely since it was only yesterday that we could read Neelie Kroes’s words on the self-censorship that is prevalent nowadays in Orbán’s Hungary. Gergely Gulyás in his answer to Kroes hotly contested the existence of any kind of self-censorship by pointing out the prevalence of anti-government articles in the Hungarian press.

So, let’s see how much the Hungarian newspapers who use the MTI newsfeed reported about the three editorials, starting with the Wall Street Journal editorial entitled “The ‘ Illiberal Idea Rises: Hungary’s Leader Issues a Warning to a Complacent West.” Anyone who knows Hungarian and is interested in comparing the original and the Hungarian version can visit MTI’s website. By my best estimate, MTI translated less than half of the article, leaving out some of the sentences uttered by Viktor Orbán that were deemed to be “unrepeatable.” For example, “I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations.”  They also did not think it judicious to mention Russia, Turkey, and China “as successful models to emulate.” MTI generously left in the charge that “he has chipped away at the country’s constitutional checks and balances” but they omitted the next sentence: “He has packed courts and other independent institutions with loyalists from his ruling Fidesz party, politicized the central bank, nationalized private pensions, and barred the media from delivering ‘unbalanced news coverage.'”

MTI also didn’t include the Wall Street Journal‘s reference to “the rise of Jobbik” and its claim that “Fidesz has often abetted and amplified, rather than confronted, Jobbik’s ugly politics.” But at least we could read in the MTI report that “Mr. Orban looks with admiration to Vladimir Putin–and harbors Putin-like aspirations.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the WSJ‘s claim that “the goal of resurrecting a Greater Hungary stretching beyond the country’s post-World War borders is no fantasy for many nationalist elites” remained.

Now let’s move on to Fareed Zakaria’s “The Rise of Putinism” in The Washington PostThis article was so mutilated that practically nothing remained of it. MTI did include the beginning of the article: “When the Cold War ended, Hungary occupied a special place in the story of the revolutions of 1989. It was the first country in the Soviet orbit to abandon communism and embrace liberal democracy. Today it is again a trendsetter, becoming the first European country to denounce and distance itself from liberal democracy.” The next three paragraphs, however, were left out. In these paragraphs were several important sentences. For example, Zakaria mentions his 1997 essay about “illiberal democracies” and writes that “even I never imagined that a national leader–from Europe no less–would use the term as a badge of honor.” Well, you can imagine that that sentence could not be translated. MTI did, however, report the following sentence: “Orban has enacted and implemented in Hungary a version of what can best be described as ‘Putinism.'”

Zakaria’s article proceeds with a short synopsis of Putin’s career between 1998 and now and mentions that “he began creating a repressive system of political, economic and social control to maintain his power.” Obviously, comparing the current Hungarian regime to a repressive system of political, economic and social control to maintain power was too much for the sensitivities of MTI’s journalists. But they thought that the crucial elements of Putinism–“nationalism, religion, social conservatism, state capitalism, and government domination of the media”–did not need to be censored.

The next paragraph again led to forbidden territory and thus remained untranslated: “Orban has followed in Putin’s footsteps, eroding judicial independence, limiting individual rights, speaking in nationalist terms about ethnic Hungarians and muzzling the press. The methods of control are often more sophisticated than traditional censorship. Hungary recently announced a 40 percent tax on ad revenues that seems to particularly target the country’s only major independent television network, which could result in its bankruptcy.”

The last paragraph of the article about Putin’s gamble in Ukraine remained. If he triumphs in Ukraine, he can come out of the conflict as a winner but if Ukraine succeeds in resisting Russian encroachment “Putin might find himself presiding over a globally isolated Siberian petro-state.”

Finally, let’s see what happened to The New York Times’s “A Test for the European Union” written by the newspaper’s editorial board. This was a true hatchet job. The editorial consists of five paragraphs, but the first four were completely eliminated. I guess it was time for “the most unkindest cut of all” because this editorial was the most hard-hitting of the three and the one that showed the greatest knowledge of the Hungarian situation. “Orban’s government has taken steps to undermine the rule of law, gut press freedom, attack civil society groups and increase executive power.” The editors of The New York Times recall that when the Constitutional Court struck down some of the laws that the government introduced, “the government simply brought them back as constitutional amendments.” The editorial mentions advertisement revenues, the pressure on civil society groups, criminalization of the homeless, and stripping 300 religious groups of their official status.

The New York Times was also well-informed about the Venice Commission’s condemnation of the Orbán government’s actions. They knew about Neelie Kroes’s criticism of the advertising tax, calling it “a threat to a free press that is the foundation of a democratic society.” In the editorial they note that Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, said that the EU should consider the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights. Naturally, none of these things could ever reach the eyes or ears of ordinary Hungarian citizens.

MTI accurately translated only the last paragraph, which contains some suggestions for the European Commission. “The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, needs to respond with more than the usual admonitions and hand-wringing.” They suggest a decrease of the 21.91 billion euros the European Union has allocated to Hungary. They mention the suspension of Hungary’s voting rights as a possible step.

The aim of the massive cuts in this particular editorial is clear. Neglecting to mention the “sins” of the Orbán government and reporting on only the harsh treatment suggested by the paper, MTI is abetting the government’s efforts to portray the West as an antagonistic foe that wants to punish the Hungarian people for defending their independence and sovereignty. Poor innocent Hungary! I’ve already read comments from outraged Hungarian patriots who question the right of anyone to demand punitive action directed at their country and only a few hours ago Tamás Fricz, a propagandist masquerading as a political scientist wrote a vitriolic article in Magyar Nemzet, questioning the right of Americans to meddle in the affairs of the European Union.

Domestic reactions to Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy”

In the wake of Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad on July 26 politicians on the left have been united in their condemnation while journalists on the right have been scrambling to make the speech more palatable.

The reactions of MSZP, DK, and Együtt-PM to the horrendous political message about establishing an “illiberal democracy” were fairly similar. They all deplored the fact that the Hungarian prime minister seems to be following the example of Putin’s Russia.

József Tóbiás, the newly elected chairman of MSZP, was perhaps the least forceful  in his condemnation of Viktor Orbán’s political philosophy. Tóbiás pointed out that Orbán with this speech demonstrated that he has turned against all those who don’t share his vision: the socialists, the liberals, and even the conservatives. Because all of these ideologies try to find political solutions within the framework of liberal democracy.

Együtt-PM found the speech appalling: “The former vice-president of Liberal International today buried the liberal state. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán not only lay to rest liberal democracy but democracy itself.” Subsequently, the party decided to turn to Brussels, asking the European Commission to protect the independent NGOs.

Gábor Fodor in the name of the Hungarian Liberal Party recalled Viktor Orbán’s liberal past and declared that “democracy is dead in our country.” The prime minister “made it expressly clear that it’s either him or us, freedom loving people.”

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy in the name of the Democratic Coalition (DK) was the most explicit. He said what many people have been hinting at for a while: that “a fascist state” is in the making in Hungary. “Unfortunately,” he added, Orbán “is either insane or a traitor, or both.”

LMP’s András Schiffer, as usual, had a different take on the speech. According to him, Orbán’s critique of liberal democracy is on target. Only his conclusions are wrong. LMP, which likes to describe itself as a green party, is an enemy of capitalism and also, it seems, of liberal democracy.

Magyar Nemzet published an interesting editorial by Csaba Lukács. He fairly faithfully summarized the main points of  the speech with one notable omission. There was no mention of “illiberal democracy.” And no mention of “democracy” either. Instead, he went on for almost two paragraphs about the notion of a work-based state and expressed his astonishment that liberals are so much against work. “Perhaps they don’t like to work and that’s why they panic.” Lukács clumsily tried to lead the discussion astray. Surely, he himself must know that the liberals are not worried about work but about the “illiberal democracy” he refused to mention in his article.

Journalists who normally support the government and defend all its actions seem to be at a loss in dealing with Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy.” Deep down most likely they also know that this so-called “illiberal democracy” will not be democracy at all. So, they simply skirt the issue.

Válasz‘s editorial avoided the term as well, but at least István Dévényi wanted to know more about Viktor Orbán’s plans. After discussing the reactions of the opposition parties which talk about the end of democracy, he added: “I don’t think that for the time being there is reason to worry, but it would be good to know what exactly the prime minister has in mind when he talks about a nation-state, a work-based state that will follow the welfare state.”

A new English-language paper entitled Hungary Today managed to summarize the speech that lasted for 30 minutes in 212 words. Not surprisingly this Hungarian propaganda organ also kept the news of “illiberal democracy” a secret. Instead, the reader learns that “copying the west is provincialism, and we must leave it behind, as it could ‘kill us.'”

As for DK’s reference to Italian fascism, it is not a new claim. For a number of years here and there one could find references to the similarities between the ideas of Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös (1932-1936) and those of Benito Mussolini. As prime  minister of Hungary, Gömbös made great strides toward establishing a fascist state in Hungary. József Debreczeni, an astute critic of Viktor Orbán who uncannily predicted what will happen if and when Viktor Orbán becomes prime minister again, quipped at one point that comparing Orbán to Horthy is a mistake; the comparison with Gömbös is much more apt.

Népszava's headline: "He already speaks as a dictator / Getty Images

Népszava’s headline: “He already speaks like a dictator / Getty Images

Péter Új, editor-in-chief of 444.hu, rushed to the library to find a Hungarian-language collection of the Duce’s memorable speeches. I might add that the book was published in 1928 and that István Bethlen, who happened to be prime minister at the time, wrote the preface to Benito Mussolini gondolatai (The thoughts of Benito Mussolini). In this book Új found some real gems: “The century of democracy over.” Or, “Unlimited freedom … does not exist.” “Freedom is not a right but a duty.” “It would be suicidal to follow the ideology of liberalism … I declare myself to be anti-liberal.” “The nation of tomorrow will be the nation of workers.”

Others searched for additional sources of Orbán’s assorted thoughts and claims in the speech. I already mentioned Fareed Zakaria’s article on illiberal democracies. Gábor Filippov of Magyar Progressive Institute concentrated on Orbán’s assertion that a well-known American political scientist had described American liberalism as hotbed of corruption, sex, drugs, and crime. Filippov found an article by Joseph S. Nye, former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, in the June 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled “The Decline of America’s Soft Power.” (You may recall that Zakaria’s article also appeared in that periodical. It seems that one of Orbán’s speechwriters has a set of Foreign Affairs on hand!) But whoever wrote the speech badly misunderstood the text. The original English is as follows:

Autocratic regimes in the Middle East have eradicated their liberal opposition, and radical Islamists are in most cases the only dissenters left. They feed on anger toward corrupt regimes, opposition to U.S. policies, and popular fears of modernization. Liberal democracy, as they portray it, is full of corruption, sex, and violence—an impression reinforced by American movies and television and often exacerbated by the extreme statements of some especially virulent Christian preachers in the United States.

Radical Islamists are the ones who claim that liberal democracy is full of corruption, sex, and violence. Viktor Orbán is now joining their ranks. Putin, Mussolini, radical Islamists–these are Orbán’s ideological friends. And he has unfettered power to transform this frightening ideology into government policy.

Viktor Orbán’s Hungary: “An illiberal democracy”

Now at last we have the road map for Hungary under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. As László Szily of Cink wrote, the Transylvanian air has a strange effect on him because it is usually there at this time of the year that he delivers a visionary sermon about his plans for the future. The mostly middle-aged audience listens to him in awe, not realizing the true meaning of his words.

This time he was brutally honest. He is in the middle of introducing a different kind of political system: illiberal democracy. This simple message was couched in pseudo-scientific language, giving the false impression that he has both a wide and a deep knowledge of the world. This knowledge leads him to great discoveries, which sooner or later will bring spectacular results to the Hungarian nation. “Our time will come,” he added at the conclusion of his speech.

So, what is illiberal democracy? The concept became popular in political science circles in the late 1990s after Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-born American journalist and author, published an article in the November-December 1997 issue of Foreign Affairs. In it he argued that in the West “democracy meant liberal democracy–a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and property. This bundle of freedoms which might be termed constitutional liberalism is theoretically different and historically distinct from democracy.” In his scheme “democracy” is very narrowly defined. For him democracy simply means “free and fair elections.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton obviously agreed with Zakaria when she told the leaders of the Hungarian opposition in Budapest in June 2011 that as long as there are free and fair elections Hungary is a democratic country.

But in Zakaria’s view “constitutional liberalism” is what gives real meaning to Western democracy. He calls this liberalism constitutional because it rests on the rule of law that is a defense of the individual’s right to life, property, freedom of religion and speech. This is what Viktor Orbán wants to abolish in Hungary. There will be elections (more or less free though not fair), but the real backbone of our modern western political system, checks and balances, limits on the actions of the government, will be abolished if it depends on Viktor Orbán. And, unfortunately, at the moment it does depend on him.

Orbán was very careful to avoid defining liberalism as a political philosophy because if his audience had any knowledge of what liberals believe in, it should have been patently obvious to them that his plans involve depriving his fellow citizens of their individual rights. Instead, he invoked a popular saying about the extent of an individual’s liberty that in no way touches on the essence of liberalism: “one person’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.” The cliché apparently has its origin in Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s claim that “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

Explaining the inexpicable Viktor Orbán in Tusnád/Băile Tușnad

Explaining the inexplicable
Viktor Orbán in Tusnád/Băile Tușnad

From this saying Orbán derives far-reaching conclusions about the meaning of liberalism. In his view, in such a system the stronger always wins. In his world, the idea that “everything is allowed” cannot be an organizing principle of the state. Instead, he suggests another concept: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” In brief, the state should adopt as its organizing principle the Golden Rule or the ethic of reciprocity. (That would be a tall order for the current Hungarian government.)

According to Orbán, the time of liberal democracies has come to an end. Something else, something better will come that will ensure “competitiveness” in this global economy. Orbán mentioned a few countries worth imitating: Singapore, China, India, Turkey, and Russia. What a happy prospect in the center of Europe!

Surely, he himself must have wondered whether he will be able to dismantle the rule of law in Hungary given the country’s membership in the European Union, but he convinced himself that he will be able to do it since the EU grants broad powers to the governments of the member states. And, after all, so far his building of an illiberal democracy, which has been going on for the past four years, hasn’t had any serious consequences.

Index‘s report on the speech bears the title: “Orbán is building an illiberal state and he is proud of it.” Cink is convinced that “not even Putin is as much of a Putinist as Orbán.” Indeed, it is unlikely that Putin would openly admit that he is building, or has built, an illiberal state.

Close to the end of his speech Orbán listed a number of unexpected global occurrences. For example, no one would have ever imagined that Barack Obama could be sued by Congress for repeatedly encroaching on Congress’s power. He expressed his utter astonishment and continued: “What do you think, how long could I stay in office if parliament could sue me for overstepping our authority?” Viktor Orbán does not even pretend. He tells the whole world that he has unlimited power. He has no shame. In fact, he is proud of it.

Foreign journalists should no longer have to pretend either. They don’t have to use milquetoast adjectives like “conservative,” “right-of-center,” and “conservative-nationalist” anymore. Call it what it is. A one-man dictatorship with more or less free but unfair elections.