Tag Archives: liberalism

Viktor Orbán’s next target: Central European University in Budapest

One after the other, independent publications have been taken over by Fidesz loyalists. I covered the sad fate of Népszabadság and spent a considerable amount of time on the acquisition of regional papers, which are valuable additions to the growing network of the government propaganda machine.

One takeover I didn’t cover was the purchase of Figyelő (Observer), a highly respected financial weekly established 60 years ago. The new owner is Mária Schmidt, court historian of Viktor Orbán and director of the historically misleading House of Terror. Of course, Mária Schmidt is well known to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, but perhaps I didn’t report sufficiently on her wealth. She inherited a fortune when, in 2006, her husband died suddenly at the age of 53.

Figyelő had been ailing financially for over a year when Schmidt decided to “save” the paper in December 2016. She promised not to intervene in the day-to-day running of the paper or to interfere with its content. A month later, however, she appointed three prominent Fidesz ideologues to head the editorial board. Several journalists promptly resigned. That was at the end of January.

A few days later the new issue of Figyelő appeared with an article titled “Can the Soros-School stay?” Unfortunately, the article is not available online, but from the summaries by other publications we can reconstruct the gist of the story. According to Figyelő, in the summer of 2016 Viktor Orbán and George Soros had a discussion about Soros’s pride and joy, Central European University (CEU), which he established in Budapest. At that meeting the strong man of Hungary apparently reassured Soros that “he will not touch” CEU. But, continued Figyelő, “since last summer the international situation, with the election of Donald Trump as president, [has changed]. The Hungarian government might think that it can risk attacks against the university that it wouldn’t have tried earlier.” Figyelő claimed to know that one of Orbán’s ministers talked about CEU “as the main target in 2017.” He indicated that what they would really like is the departure of the whole institution from Budapest. The article was also full of untrue assertions about CEU, its students, and its faculty.

Michael Ignatieff, the new president of CEU, responded with a dignified open letter addressed to the “editor-in-chief” of Figyelő. He pointed out the benefits CEU has brought to Hungary in the last 25 years and the excellent relationships the university has with other academic institutions in Hungary and abroad. At the end of the letter he noted that the university is proud of George Soros, a Hungarian patriot, but the administration of the university is entirely free from outside pressure.

Anyone familiar with Mária Schmidt’s modus operandi should have known that President Ignatieff would get an answer. And that it would not be dignified as Ignatieff’s was. Instead, it would be a base attack on him, the university, and anything that has anything to do with liberalism.

Indeed, her response is a disgusting piece of prose, at the center of which is an attack on the speech Ignatieff gave at the launch of a project called Re-thinking Open Society. (A summary of the speech is available online.) In her rambling article, titled “An open society and a liberal revolution,” Schmidt talks about foundations financed by Soros as “military outposts of the U.S. State Department” and Ignatieff as “the Canadian liberal” whose “field of operation happens to be” in Hungary at the moment. He is “a passionate liberal.” That for Schmidt is the greatest sin anyone can commit.

Ignatieff is further accused of being soft on communism, which she says is especially disgraceful from someone whose ancestors were refugees from the Red Terror, “a fact that he doesn’t consider especially important.” (Ignatieff’s paternal grandfather was Count Pavel Ignatieff, the Russian minister of education during World War I, and his great-grandfather was Count Nikolay Ignatieff, a Russian statesman and diplomat.) How do we know that Ignatieff, who gives lectures on the subject, doesn’t know the first thing about the horrors of communism? Because “he always talks about communism in connection with Nazism and he always compares Hitler to Stalin.” Until now, Hungarian anti-Communists accused liberals of making excuses for communism and focusing only on Nazism, but if we can take Schmidt seriously they now consider communism even worse than Nazism and the horrors it brought to the world.

Ignatieff mentioned Václav Havel in his speech, who is not exactly Schmidt’s favorite. “Havel is significant for Ignatieff and the other liberals only because he published several articles in their most important publication, the New York Review of Books.” So much for Václav Havel.

Soros himself is accused of collaborating with the communists in the late 1980s and preferring left-wingers and liberals when it came to his grants. (Schmidt herself was a beneficiary of Soros’s generosity.) To quote her precisely: “Soros in Hungary as well as in other countries became the keeper of washed-out komcsik and libik. He is the embodiment of everything that deserves our contempt. Today Soros’s name means liberal and liberal means SZDSZ and SZDSZ means everything that is loathsome, unpatriotic, arrogant, and unacceptable.”

I guess these few lines will give the readers of Hungarian Spectrum a sense of Mária Schmidt’s latest masterpiece. I could go on and on about her defense of populism, Brexit, and Donald Trump, but that would take us too far from our topic: the fate of Central European University. The essence of the lengthy article comes at the very end: “CEU is George Soros’s outpost in Europe.” The implied verdict: Soros’s university has to go.

Schmidt’s attack opened a floodgate. A few days after her article appeared, Magyar Idők reported that CEU is letting 17 faculty members go because the university’s business school will merge with the department of economics. The pro-government mouthpiece claimed that all 17 professors were Hungarians and that they were extremely popular with the students. Magyar Idők also stated that the salaries of foreign faculty members are double those of Hungarians at CEU. A day later another article was published in the same paper, titled “They are cooking something in Soros’s witch’s kitchen.” The same unfounded and unverified accusation that Hungarian faculty members were fired solely because they were Hungarians was repeated. In vain did CEU try to explain that the faculty members of the Business School were not all Hungarians and that there are not different pay scales for foreign and native faculty members. Magyar Idők was not giving up. Today a new article was published in which they try to discredit CEU’s press release that pointed out the paper’s false statements. Magyar Idők claimed that CEU didn’t satisfactorily deny that only Hungarians were fired.

That’s where we are at the moment. What happens to CEU may depend, at least in part, on how successful Donald Trump is at implementing his plans at home and abroad. If he moves American democracy toward an illiberal state and if his followers keep bashing Soros, most likely Viktor Orbán will feel free to banish CEU from Hungary. But if he fails because of internal opposition and foreign resistance, perhaps these attacks will subside. Let’s hope so.

February 11, 2017


Yesterday, in the first of my two-part series on Viktor Orbán’s speech in Kötcse, where Fidesz bigwigs hold a so-called picnic, I concentrated on Viktor Orbán’s ideas about the origins of the refugee crisis. I think we can safely call these ideas fanciful and without foundation. Here I will analyze another theme: the crisis and possible death of liberalism.

A year ago at Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad, Viktor Orbán delivered a speech that caused worldwide consternation. In his speech he rejected democracy as we understand it and championed the cause of “illiberal democracy,” an autocratic form of government in which, although there are free elections, citizens lack civil liberties. The speech created quite a storm and Orbán’s men tried to explain his words away with little success. From there on, he was not too eager to talk about the end of liberal democracy. It seems, however, that his “successes” in his fight against the Islamic invasion have emboldened him and that he is now ready to return to his vision of the new world that will be created as a result of the migration crisis. Viktor Orbán now sees himself as the leader of a new Christian, national era that will follow “the age of liberal blah blah.”

In his view, with the refugee crisis came “the crisis of liberal identity.” What is the connection between the two? I will try to put it more elegantly than Viktor Orbán did. Liberal ideals, among them the right to freedom of movement and universal human rights, brought on this catastrophe, which proves that the continuation of these policies is no longer possible. Right now Europe is rich but weak, which is “the most dangerous combination that can exist.” Liberalism is responsible for Europe’s weakness. And soon enough its riches will be taken away by the less fortunate. If Europe wants to defend itself, it must get rid of its liberal political philosophy.

As things stand now, even conservative politicians are liberals because of the pressure of the media, which is in liberal hands. This liberal tyranny in Europe is so strong that even talking about a turn away from liberalism is dangerous. Only in Hungary can one speak honestly, “where we can sit here and talk about these questions.” Nowhere else in Europe could that happen. One couldn’t call together such a meeting in Germany “because there one cannot say such things.” Even in Poland it would be risky.

Liberalism has been undermining the very foundations of European security, and the refugee crisis made the bankruptcy of liberalism crystal clear. Orbán further elaborated on this theme today in his regular Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió. He called western liberalism “suicidal” and said it will lead to a decline in living standards. Thus, while a year ago he tried to hide his antagonism to liberalism, now Orbán has come out and openly attacked it as the cause of the “migrant invasion.” Obviously, he thinks that foreign public opinion will be more receptive to his anti-liberal talk given the pressures of the refugee crisis.

In the eyes of the United States and its supporters

there is righteousness and there is evil that should be conquered. But at the end, it always turns out that behind it all there is something else: money, oil, raw materials. When they bombed Iraq or for that matter Syria into smithereens their action was anything but beneficial. Yet they demand that the world acknowledge that they are benefactors who stand on the right side. This is the essence of liberal foreign policy.

Orbán is looking at the Euro-Atlantic alliance as an outsider even though Hungary is a member of NATO and therefore an ally of the United States. I really don’t understand how he can cooperate with an evil power like the United States and why he sent a contingent of Hungarian soldiers to Iraq only a couple of months ago. I also don’t understand why he allows American troops into the country because at this very moment there are joint military exercises taking place in Hungary. How long will he be able to play this game?

Orbán spent a considerable amount of time on his plans for Hungary’s future. He came up with four essential ingredients. The first is the necessity of defensible borders. As he put it, “a country that has no borders is not a country.” That means that Hungary will veto any attempt to strengthen geographical and political ties among member states.

The second is “the defense of ethnic and cultural composition,” not only of Hungary but also, he hopes, of Europe. Every nation has the right to decide whether they want to change or not. He seems to think that this is the most important component of his new Europe “because at the very end this is the battle that must be won.” This is a dangerous idea which could affect the free movement of citizens of the European Union’s member states. What if the United Kingdom decides that they want to defend the current ethnic composition of the country and no longer welcome Hungarian “economic immigrants”?

Third, Hungary must remain economically competitive because in these modern times even if you are right and “morally as close as possible to perfection, if you are not successful economically they will crush you.” Economic success, however, is not an end in and of itself. It is only a vehicle for the ultimate goal: national sovereignty.

And the last ingredient of illiberal Hungary is what he calls “everyday patriotism” (mindennapi patriótizmus), to which he immediately added: “Please, don’t misunderstand me.” What is the problem with everyday patriotism? After all, what he seems to mean by it is that Hungarians should give preference to Hungarian products and should discriminate in hiring practices in favor of Hungarians. Why apologize? Well, it is because most Hungarians remember the documentary film of Mikhail Romm called “Ordinary Fascism,” which for the most part took the form of annotated excerpts of archival material that show the rise and fall of fascism, especially in Nazi Germany. The film’s Hungarian title is “Hétköznapi fasizmus” (weekday fascism), in the sense of “ordinary.” Even he felt that the phrase needed some explanation. His everyday patriotism has nothing to do with Romm’s ordinary fascism.

Thousands marching toward Nagykanizsa, Zala County

Thousands marching toward Nagykanizsa, Zala County

Well, I’m afraid we’ll have to wait for the fulfillment of Viktor Orbán’s grand vision. At the moment, all hell has broken loose along the borders and Hungary has become completely isolated. Viktor, you’re doing a heck of a job! Unfortunately, unlike Michael Brown who resigned ten days after George W. Bush thus praised him for his utterly inadequate handling of the Katrina crisis, the Hungarian prime minister is seeing both his power and his domestic popularity increase.

Viktor Orbán: The Hungarian people are by nature politically incorrect

In the last few days I have been mulling over a lot of topics that I wanted to make available on Hungarian Spectrum, among them key elements of Viktor Orbán’s speech on the “state of the nation” that I did not cover earlier. Specifically, his opinions on multiculturalism, immigration, and political correctness. A young political commentator, Zoltán Ceglédi of the Republikon Institute, believes that Orbán’s claim that “Hungarian people are politically incorrect by nature” is about the most egregious sentence he has ever uttered. In Ceglédi’s opinion, it is worse than his reference to “illiberal democracy.”

Judging from foreign press coverage, “political incorrectness” didn’t set off the shock waves that “illiberal democracy” did last summer and has ever since. Yes, English-language sites quoted it, but it was only the Associated Press that considered it important enough to include in its coverage of the speech. It was also AP that emphasized Orbán’s denunciation of multiculturalism and immigrants. Thus, Orbán’s words on these subjects reached only those foreign newspapers that subscribe to AP’s news service.

Let me quote the appropriate passage. I’m using the Budapest Beacon‘s translation.

We shouldered unworthy attacks and accusations and abandoned the dogma of political correctness. As I see it, the Hungarian people are by nature politically incorrect, or have not yet lost their commonsense. Nobody is interested in talk but rather deeds, results rather than theories, they want work and cheap utility costs (rezsi). They do not swallow the jimson weed that unemployment is a natural part of modern economies. They want to free themselves from the modern age’s servitude of debt created by the foreign exchange loans. They do not want to see masses of people of a different culture in their country who are incapable of adapting, who represent a threat to public order and their jobs and their survival.

“Political correctness” is, according to one definition, “an attitude or policy of being careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who are believed to have a disadvantage.” Or, “politically correctness is concerned with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” If we can substitute “proper” in this context for “correct,” as I believe we can, then “incorrect”means “improper” or, more loosely, “inappropriate.” Is this what Viktor Orbán had in mind? Indeed, one ought to be careful with words.

Orbán assumes the worst of immigrants. They “will never be willing to accept, they originally came with the intention of destroying, European culture.” In his eyes, Europeans have already lost their “collective European home.” He also added that if the Hungarian government had not acted against the immigrants, Hungary would have been “turned into a refugee camp.”

On the question of “illiberal democracy” he retreated somewhat when he told his audience that liberal principles after 1990 “brought many good things to Hungary for which we ourselves struggled.” But the world has changed and liberalism is no longer relevant. However, he added, “there are things which are worth retaining from a previous period, such as democracy, the one without an adjective.” Actually, I find this off-the-cuff remark about democracy being “worth retaining” a telling clue to Viktor Orbán’s attitude toward democratic values.

I discovered only one internet site that applauded Orbán’s endorsement of political incorrectness and his denunciation of multiculturalism, immigrants, and liberalism. It is a neo-Nazi site called The Daily Stormer, according to which “Orban is by no means a great hero, but by Western political standards, he is definitely a pretty cool guy.” After quoting the appropriate passages from the Associated Press’s summary of the speech, the author adds: “All he is really saying is something incredibly basic, which is: ‘come on, this is stupid.’ The idea that more leaders are not coming out and stating the obvious fact that it makes exactly zero sense to allow unlimited number of entirely useless and dangerous subhumans to invade our countries demonstrated just how deeply sick the West is.” Approval from neo-Nazis! Does Viktor Orbán realize the kinds of circles in which his ideas are being embraced?

The author of of The Daily Stormer liked Viktor Orbán's attack on immigation, multiculturalism, and liberalism

The author of of The Daily Stormer liked Viktor Orbán’s attack on immigration, multiculturalism, and liberalism

I don’t know what his audience and his constituency thought of his references to multiculturalism, immigration, liberalism, and political incorrectness, but by now we have a fairly good idea of what Fidesz voters thought of the speech in general. They are deeply disappointed because they were waiting for an announcement of a radical change in political strategy after the serious setback Viktor Orbán and Fidesz suffered in Veszprém. Instead, he simply announced that the Fidesz candidate lost badly. It looks as if he is convinced that the only reason for the debacle was a lack of hard work on the part of the Fidesz team on the spot. They didn’t mobilize Fidesz voters. But a large number of his followers think that the fault lies with Viktor Orbán and his government: its pro-Russian and anti-European Union policies, corruption, lack of communication with the general public, ostentatious behavior of members of the government and the people around Orbán, the growing poverty, ineptitude on every level of government, one could list the problems endlessly. But Orbán said not a word about any of these issues. He is not a man who is quick to face reality after a setback.

Magyar Nemzet, which in the past two weeks has become much more critical of the government, also found the speech wanting. An editorial titled “Reveille” expressed its doubt that Orbán’s “Good morning, Hungary!” will be enough to recapture the trust of his followers. Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist and one of the fiercest defenders of Viktor Orbán, tried to hang on to a single sentence in Orbán’s 45-minute speech: “Probably there is a need for more discussion and consultation.” Yes, said Fricz, this is the essence of the whole speech. And yes, what Hungary needs is people who believe in equality, “who don’t worship even Viktor Orbán, who don’t believe in the superiority of politicians.” Society must talk about what went wrong in “the national, conservative camp.” After three great wins, it is safe “to conduct these natural and necessary debates, to express differences of opinions, and talk straight with one another as befits us.” Unfortunately, Viktor Orbán does everything in his power to steer clear of debate and to tamp down differences of opinion. And he seems positively allergic to straight talk. The national, conservative camp will have to talk among themselves, without their leader.

Lajos Bokros: Is he a liberal-conservative?

Since there seems to be total confusion over Lajos Bokros’s political and economic philosophy, I thought it might be useful to go back to an article he published on January 2, 2014 in Élet és Irodalom. On the one hand, it is a critique of the “lost decade” and, on the other, it is a program. What should a new government do to move Hungary forward in both political and economic terms? All this is enumerated in 140 points. Although Bokros keeps describing himself as a conservative or a liberal-conservative, a careful reading of this article reveals that his ideas are anything but conservative in the ordinary sense of the word. I will not try to cubbyhole him. Instead, I will summarize his ideas, which ought to spark some discussion among us.

Bokros spends 40 points on the “lost decade,” which for him means the period between 2001 and 2010. His critique of the Hungarian economy during this period is practically identical to what other “orthodox” economists say about the economic sins of the successive Hungarian governments. His critique of the second Orbán government is in no way different from what we call a “liberal” interpretation of the Orbán-Matolcsy duo’s economic and financial policies. There is nothing inherently conservative in these first 40 points.

After this section, he explains his ideas about the future. “What kind of Hungary would we like?” Here I will translate certain key passages. “We would like a Hungary where the constitution, inspired by European values, will defend the freedom of individuals, families, small communities, enterprises, churches, cultures, peoples and nations even against the state.  We want a state that guarantees the totality of rights of people and citizens.”

The modernization that began after the regime change, he argues, came to a halt in 2001. For a new government that modernization process must be restored.

What does Bokros understand by “modernization”?  After explaining that modernization is a concept that appeared during the transition period between feudalism and capitalism, he turns to the “societal foundation” of modernization which, in his opinion, is “the market economy’s independence. Its ideological base is the renaissance, the reformation and, above all, the enlightenment…. [From that time on] the economy, the law, culture and science were no longer subordinated to religion or some kind of ideology but followed their own inner logic and lived according to their own laws. In a wider sense modernization means the separateness of society’s activities from the state and becoming self-contained (although not independent).”

liberal conservative

“In a modern society the independent, free, and responsible person can blossom. Individualism is a modern phenomenon…. Individuals build and create society from the bottom up, not the state from the top down. If the key actor of a society is the respected and responsible individual, then these strong, self-respecting individuals are capable of creating a society that is separate from the state. A modern state is increasingly democratic…. A modern democracy is always free-thinking, meaning it is a liberal democracy. Illiberal democracy, meaning a democracy that limits the rights of the individual and minorities is no more than the unlimited rule of the majority, which cannot be the lasting foundation of a modern society.”

Finally, Bokros talks about another important ingredient of a modern society: the market economy. For him the market means freedom of choice. Without the existence of a market economy there can be no democracy or rule of law. Quoting Friedrich Hayek, he warns that the lack of a market leads to servitude. “In a modern economy and society the state is not the opposite of the market but rather is its framework. The state is clever and small, limited and supervised, and not stupid and weak.”

The rest of his treatise deals with some of the tasks a new government should immediately tackle as well as certain long overdue economic reforms that should be introduced. Liberals would agree with most of these recommendations, but there are a few that most likely would be controversial, which should not surprise anyone. Several of the recommendations would hurt certain interest groups, but if Bokros is right without these reforms the Hungarian economy will not be able to crawl out of the hole it found itself in over the last few years.

In any case, Bokros at the moment is running for mayor of Budapest, not to become the next prime minister of Hungary. As mayor he would presumably have to worry more about potholes than political and economic philosophy. Therefore his lengthy list of recommendations is not a campaign platform. I just chose the passages that explain what Bokros means by “modern Hungary” and by “liberal-conservative” so that we can better understand who he is.

Did Viktor Orbán backpedal in his address to Hungarian ambassadors?

The consensus seems to be that in his address to the Hungarian ambassadors Viktor Orbán retreated from his previously articulated doctrine of illiberalism. In so doing he followed the lead of several right-wing analysts and journalists who tried to downplay the significance of the radical speech he delivered in Tasnádürdő/Băile Tușnad. In fact, they went to great imaginative lengths to explain the “true” meaning of the word “illiberalism.”

A friend called my attention to an editorial by Matild Torkos of Magyar Nemzet who argued that Orbán’s criticism was not of liberalism per se. What he meant was the kind of liberalism that existed in Hungary before 2010 when the Hungarian state did not defend state assets, when it did not recognize Hungarians living in the neighboring countries as part of the Hungarian nation, and when it allowed the country to be indebted. Or, there was an editorial by Zsolt Bayer of Magyar Hírlap, according to whom Orbán was not talking about the elimination of liberal democratic rights but only about people who make their living by work and not by welfare payments.

Tamás Fricz admitted that the choice of the word “illiberal” was unfortunate because since 1997 it has been equated with autocracy and semi-democracies. He even had a suggestion about a better way to describe “the new state and social model.” It should perhaps be called “national democracy,” where the emphasis is on the community as opposed to the individual.

George Schöpflin, formerly Jean Monnet Professor of Politics at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, is Fidesz’s “political philosopher.” He gave some learned answers to questions posed to him by HVG. For Schöpflin “liberalism” is a dirty word because “it seeks to coercively impose its ideals on the whole world.” In his interpretation, “Orbán was referring to economic liberalism, to market fundamentalism and the damaging impact that this has had on the Hungarian economy.” Later in an interview which is still unavailable in its entirety online he argued that in the United States “illiberal” has a different meaning than it does in Great Britain and therefore “its use was unfortunate.”

Fidesz analysts came to the conclusion that the word “illiberal” should be avoided, and indeed Orbán used the word only once in his address–by now available online–to the ambassadors. Orbán talked about the necessity of raising the number of the actively employed. In this context he said: “Our labor policy cannot be considered liberal because it does not give primacy to the individual but wants to have an equilibrium between individual and community interests. In plain language that means that we will not be able to provide social assistance to someone who is able to work and is offered a job by the government but is unwilling to work . This is an illiberal point of view. György Schöpflin is right that this word should be avoided because the Americans’ understanding of the word is different from that of the Europeans.” Of course, what Schöpflin claims is nonsense. Americans and Europeans have the same negative understanding of the word “illiberal.”

Suggested reading on "illiberalism"

I think it’s fair to say that as far as “illiberalism” and the admiration for authoritarian states or outright dictatorships are concerned, Orbán backpedaled in his address to the ambassadors. In fact, he stressed that “his country is anchored firmly in Western culture and political institutions.” As Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság wrote today, Orbán must have listened to the critical voices coming from conservative circles and changed his tune. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he has given up on building an illiberal state, a project that has been going on for the past four and a half years. He has no intention of abandoning his goal. He just realized that it is not a good idea to talk openly about his plans.

The speech was crafted to avoid controversy. It was basically a pep talk to the ambassadors urging them to encourage foreign investment. There was relatively little about foreign policy, which in Orbán’s opinion has lost its importance.

When it came to the question and answer session, however, Orbán was less guarded. He addressed the subject of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in response to a question from the Hungarian ambassador to Bratislava. And he offered a view of immigration that will undoubtedly raise hackles in Brussels.

European and American politicians are accustomed to Viktor Orbán’s “peacock dance.” At home he is belligerent while in Brussels he rarely raises objections and votes dutifully with the majority. Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination was an exception and turned out to be a mistake. It is very possible that if it comes to further sanctions against Russia, Orbán will again support the majority. And the “peacock dance” continues.

Viktor Orbán’s speech at the XXV Bálványos Free Summer University and Youth Camp, July 26, 2014, Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő)

I’m grateful to the editors of  The Budapest Beacon, an English-language news portal, for allowing me to republish their translation of the by now infamous speech of Viktor Orbán. I summarized its main points earlier, but to have the complete text allows the readers to have a fuller understanding of the issues we have been discussing in the last four or five days. The original can be found hereHungarian Spectrum’s blogroll has a link to The Budapest Beacon.

   * * *

Good day to all of you! Respectful greetings to everybody!

When we saw each other here a year ago, I began my speech by saying that we are at the last Tusnádfürdő meeting before the upcoming Hungarian national elections. Now I can say we are on the first Tusnádfürdő meeting after the past Hungarian election, and I can announce the good news that we won the elections. Actually, we won twice. Because we did not only win the national elections, we also won the EP elections. Everybody here may know that the third elections will happen on 12th October this year; these are the municipal elections, which have weight and importance on Hungarian state life. Allow me to start my speech with citing an unworthily overlooked movement of the last national election. As a result of this election in Hungary the governing civic, Christian and national power, Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party gained a two-thirds majority – by only one mandate. I do remember – we chatted about it years ago – how beautiful would it be, how noble a form of revenge, if the political forces who voted against the re-engaging of the Hungarians living outside the borders of Hungary would be deservedly punished if a majority, or even a two-thirds majority, were gained by the votes of the Hungarians who live outside of the borders of Hungary. I announce that there is a strong suspicion that after all there is a moral balance in politics. We have good reason to doubt it.  However, sometimes this belief is affirmed. For example, now what happened is that the votes of those Hungarians who live abroad were needed to gain the two-thirds majority of the national forces in the Hungarian parliament. Thank you everybody, providence, the voters, the Hungarian lawmakers, and finally those as well who turned against us and provided the chance to win. Because if there is no bad, how could good get mastery over the bad?

Ladies and Gentlemen!

My speech today is not connected to the elections. Our acting president introduced us as regime changers, and did it by recalling the regime change. This represents well that for our generation the regime change is the generational experience to which we compare everything, against which we measure everything, from where we start to define everything that happens around us. It seems natural, although it is rather a disadvantage for us, not an advantage. The regime change as an experience is very valuable because politics – in spite of what people sometimes think – is not a speculative genre. It has to be built from experimental facts and experiences. And today the situation is that – acknowledging that experience is valuable – at the same time the same scale of change is happening in the world, as it was in the experience of the regime change. So the task in an intellectual sense waiting for us is that regime change is to be referred to as an experience but not a reference point in the debates on designing the future paths. We should much rather consider as a starting point the financial, global economic, global power and global military power shift that emerged in 2008. This is the task we should accomplish. We are helped by the fact there there are people who were born later than us. And for them it has long been a hardship to consider the regime change as a reference point, because, let’s say, those who were born in 1985 were five during the regime change in the ’90s, and this was not the same experience as it was for us. They frequently stay out of political discussions because they do not even understand the references in the interpretations of the present and the future from the older ones. I believe that it would have several advantages to consider the regime change a completed historical process, the factbook of experience, and not the starting point in case of thinking about the future. The starting point when we think of the future, because – if I get it right – our task every year is to try to somehow understand mutually what is happening around us, to grab its essential movements, and maybe see what is going to happen to us in the future. So if this is our task, I would suggest to shortly remind ourselves that in the 20th Century there have been three major world-regime changes. At the end of World War I, at the end of World War II, and in 1990. The common points in these were – I might have mentioned this here once – that when the changes manifested it was clear for all of us that we are going to live in a different world overnight. Let’s say it was very clear here after Trianon, just as it was in Budapest after World War II as well. If the people looked around and saw the invading Soviet troops they knew that a new world was about to begin. In ’90 when we succeeded in breaking and displacing the communists, it was clear after the first parliamentary elections that a new world had arrived for us: the wall in Berlin collapsed, elections were held and this is another future.

László Tőkés and Viktor Orbán in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad Source: aradihirek.ro

László Tőkés and Viktor Orbán in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad
Source: aradihirek.ro

The statement intended to be the basic point of my talk here is that the changes in the world nowadays have the similar value and weight. We can identify its manifestation – that point when it became clear – as the financial crisis of 2008 or rather the Western financial crisis. And the importance of this change is less obvious because people sense it in a different way as the previous three. It was unclear in 2008 during the huge Western financial collapse that we are going to live in a different world from now on. The shift is not that sharp as in the case of the three previous world regime changes and it somehow slowly resolved in our minds, as the fog sets on the land. If we look around and analyze the things happening around us, for six years this has been a different world from the one we lived in.  And if we project the processes for the future – which always has a risk – it is a reasonable intellectual exercise, and we see well that the changes will only have a bigger impact.

Well, Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, for the sake of illustrating the deepness of this change, without any particular order, I assembled a few sentences, ideas from the Western World, as well as one or two from the Eastern World, too, that are stunning. If we assessed them through the lens of the pre-2008  liberal worldview, we would be shocked. Yet if we do not view it that way but understand from these sentences how long a way we have gone in terms of public speech, topics and their articulations in these last six years, then these sentences to be quoted will help us understand how profound the change is that is taking place in the world today.

Very briefly: In America, the President of the US has made numerous and repeated statements regarding how America has been engulfed by cynicism, and the task for American society and the American government is to declare war on cynicism originating from the financial sector. Before 2008, such a statement would have resulted in exclusion from gentlemanlike international discourse, additionally because of the characteristics of the financial system, it would probably have even been tainted with as being sinister, making any utterance of such sentences extremely perilous. Contrary to this, these ideas constantly appear in the American press as of late. The US president says that if a hardworking American constantly has to choose between career and family, that America will lose its place in the world economy. Or the President openly speaks about economic patriotism. He says such sentences that would still earn beating and stoning in today’s provincial Hungarian public life. For example, he openly speaks about how companies employing foreigners should pay their fair share in taxes. Or he openly speaks about how companies employing Americans should be supported before anyone else. These are all voices, ideas and sentences that would have been unimaginable six or eight years earlier.

To proceed further, according to a well-recognized analyst, the strength of American “soft power” is deteriorating, because liberal values today incorporate corruption, sex and violence and with this liberal values discredit America and American modernization. Also, the Open Society Foundation published a study not long ago analyzing Western Europe. In this, we could read a sentence which says that Western Europe was so preoccupied with solving the situation of immigrants that it forgot about white working class. Or the British prime minister said that as a consequence of the changes happening in Europe, many became freeloaders on the back of the welfare systems. One of the richest Americans, who was one of the first investors in the company Amazon stated that we are living in a society that is less and less capitalist and more and more feudal, and if the economic system does not reform itself then middle class will disappear, and, as he puts it, “the rich will be attacked by pitchforks”. Therefore, he thinks a middle-up economic model is needed instead of a top-down model. It is not my intention to interpret these sentences, simply to cite them here in order to show the novelty of these ideas that were impossible to talk about only six years ago. Or, similarly from America, the number of unemployed youth has drastically risen, and in the case of the most promising career options, children from families with affluent families receive a far greater advantage – this is said in the homeland of social mobility. Or to cite something else: another respected analyst said that the internet, understood by the liberal world as the greatest symbol of freedom for many long years, is being colonized by big corporations. His statement suggests that the big question is whether great capitalist companies, meaning international corporations, would be successful in doing away with the neutrality of the internet. Going forward, to quote a development that is both dear and unexpected for us, the English prime minister, who awkwardly avoids his party being identified as Christian Democratic, stands up in before the public stating that Christianity is a core principle of British values, and despite multiculturalism, Great Britain is a Christian country in heart, and this is a fact to be proud of.

Honorable Ladies and Gentleman … and I could enumerate these for a long time, if you allow, me I will not waste more time with this.

The question is whether numerous changes surrounding us could be attributed for the sake of understanding to one explanation? Can one-two-three essential aspects be grasped of what is happening around us? Well, they can be grasped – many are thinking and even more are writing about this nowadays. Numerous books have been published on this topic. I would only like to recommend to you a single one of these world-interpreting ideas. In my opinion, the most provocative and exciting question surfacing in the Western world during the last year can be summarized as follows, applying necessary simplification: competition existing among nations in the world, competition existing among alliances, and forces of the world has been supplemented by a new element. Everyone was only talking about competition in the world economy. Globalization on the international scale made it necessary to do a lot of talking, writing and analysis about it, and this phenomenon is known in details. We can more or less know why a major economic interest group, for example the European Union, is competitive, or why it is losing its competitiveness. However, according to many, and I belong to them, today this is not the principal question. It remains an important question. As long as people live off money and economy, this will remain an important question. Yet there is an even more important race. I would articulate this as a race to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful. As the state is nothing else but a method of organizing a community, a community that in our case sometimes coincides with our country’s borders, sometimes not, but I will get back to that, the defining aspect of today’s world can be articulated as a race to figure out a way of organizing communities, a state that is most capable of making a nation competitive. This is why, Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen a trending topic in thinking is understanding systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies, and yet making nations successful. Today, the stars of international analyses are Singapore, China, India, Turkey, Russia. And I believe that our political community rightly anticipated this challenge, and if we think back on what we did in the last four years, and what we are going to do in the following four years, than it really can be interpreted from this angle. We are searching for and we are doing our best to find – parting ways with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them – the form of organizing a community, that is capable of making us competitive in this great world-race.

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen

In order to be able to do this in 2010, and especially these days, we needed to courageously state a sentence, a sentence that similarly to the ones enumerated here was considered to be a sacrilege in the liberal world order. We needed to state that a democracy is not necessarily liberal. Just because something is not liberal, it still can be a democracy. Moreover, it could be and needed to be expressed, that probably societies founded upon the principle of the liberal way to organize a state will not be able to sustain their world-competitiveness in the following years, and more likely they will suffer a setback, unless they will be able to substantially reform themselves.

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen

As the matter stands, if we look at the surrounding events from here, we can consider three ways to organize a state that we so far knew, as a starting point: the nation state, the liberal state and then the welfare state, and the question is, what is coming up next? The Hungarian answer is, that the era of a workfare state could be next, we want to organize a workfare state, that – as I previously mentioned – will undertake the odium of expressing, that in character it is not of liberal nature. What all this exactly means, Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, that we have to abandon liberal methods and principles of organizing a society, as well as the liberal way to look at the world. I will only mention two dimensions of this, I do not want to get into a longer lecture here, and I only want to touch on them, so that the importance of the matter could be sensed. In the aspects of relationship between two human beings, the fundamental view of the liberal way of organizing a society holds that we are free to do anything that does not violate an another person’s freedom. The twenty years of Hungarian environment preceding 2010 was founded on this theoretical, conceptual starting point. It accepted a principle that is otherwise a general principle in Western Europe. In Hungary however, it took us twenty years, until we can articulate the problem, that this idea, besides being very attractive on an intellectual level, yet it is not clear, who is going to tell, where the point is when my freedom is violated. And as this does not come without understanding, then it has to be set, decided by someone. And as nobody was appointed to decide this, therefore everday life experience suggested us that it was the stronger party decided this. We constantly felt that the weaker were stepped upon. It was not some kind of an abstract principle of fairness that decided upon conflicts originating from a recognition of mutual freedoms, but what happened is that the stronger party was always right: the stronger neighbor told you where is your car entrance, it was always the stronger party, the bank, that dictated how much interest do you pay with your mortgage, changing it over the course as they liked. I could enumerate the examples that was the continuous life experience of vulnerable, weak families that had smaller economic protection than others during the last twenty years. Our suggestion for that, and we will try to build the Hungarian state in this, that is should not be the organizing principle of Hungarian society, we can’t make a law on this, these are principles, that you are free to do anything that does not violate other’s freedom, instead the principle should be that do not do to others what you would not do to yourself. And we will attempt to found the world we can call the Hungarian society on this theoretical principle, in political thinking, education, in the way we ourselves behave, in our own examples.

If we put this idea in the dimension of the relationship of the individual and the community, so far we were talking about the relationship between two individuals, then we will see that in the past twenty years the established Hungarian liberal democracy could not achieve a number of objectives. I made a short list of what it was not capable of. Liberal democracy was not capable of openly declaring, or even obliging, governments with constitutional power to declare that they should serve national interests. Moreover, it even questioned the existence of national interests. I did not oblige subsequent governments to recognize that Hungarian diaspora around the world belongs to our nation and to try and make this sense of belonging stronger with their work. Liberal democracy, the liberal Hungarian state did not protect public wealth. Although now we are hearing about the opposite, as if some acquisitions – I will get back to that, as the Hungarian state recently even bought a bank – and the interpretation of such acquisitions is that the Hungarian state could acquire such pieces of wealth, that surpasses behavior accepted in Europe, whereas if we look at – for example the recent Financial Times list of how big the proportion of public property in individual countries is, then we can see that Hungary could be found at the very-very-very end of the list.  Every other country – no counting maybe two – has higher proportion of public property than Hungary has. So we can safely state that in Hungary liberal democracy was incapable of protecting public property that is essential in sustaining a nation, even compared to other countries. Then, the liberal Hungarian state did not protect the country from indebtedness. And – and here I mostly mean FX loans system– it failed to protect families from bonded labor. Consequently, the interpretation of 2010 election results, especially in the light of 2014 election success can acceptably be that in the great world race that is a race to come up with the most competitive way of organizing state and society, Hungarian voters expect from their leaders to figure out, forge and work out a new form of state-organization that will make the community of Hungarians competitive once again after the era of liberal state and liberal democracy, one that will of course still respect values of Christianity, freedom and human rights. Those duties and values that I enumerated should be fulfilled and be respected.

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen,

Consequently, what is happening today in Hungary can interpreted as an attempt of the respective political leadership to harmonize relationship between the interests and achievement of individuals – that needs to be acknowledged – with interests and achievements of the community, and the nation. Meaning, that Hungarian nation is not a simple sum of individuals, but a community that needs to be organized, strengthened and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state. It does not deny foundational values of liberalism, as freedom, etc.. But it does not make this ideology a central element of state organization but applies a specific, national, particular approach in its stead.

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen,

After all this, I have to talk about what obstacles we should get over to achieve these objectives. It can well be that what I am saying is self-evident for many here today.  We have to elevate this on the level of political work and program. I will address only some of these obstacles, more precisely two of them. These are not necessarily the most important but the most interesting: the relationship between professional politicians and civil organization members. The state needs to be organized by elected and professional statesmen and lawmakers, yet NGOs and civil organizations will always appear on the fringe of political life. Now, Hungarian NGO landscape shows a very particular image. Ideally a civil politician as opposed to professional, is an individual who is organizing bottom-up, financially independent and the nature of his work is voluntary. If we look at civil organizations in Hungary, the one that appears before public, now debates around the Norwegian Fund brought this on the surface, then what I will see is that we have to deal with paid political activists here. And these political activists are moreover political activists paid by foreigners. Activists paid by definite political circles of interest. It is hard to imagine that these circles have a social agenda.  It is more likely that they would like to exercise influence through this system of instruments on Hungarian public life. It is vital, therefore, that if we would like to reorganize our nation state instead of the liberal state, that we should make it clear, that these are not civilians coming against us, opposing us, but political activists attempting to promote foreign interests. Therefore it is very apt that a committee was being formed in the Hungarian parliament that deals with constant monitoring, recording and publishing foreign attempts to gain influence, so that all of us here, you as well will be aware of who are the characters behind the masks.

I will mention another example that is another obstacle of reorganizing the state. When I mention the European Union, I am not doing this because I think it is impossible to build an illiberal nation state within the EU. I think this is possible. Our EU membership does not rule out this option. It is true that many question formulate, and many conflicts develop, you could follow this in the past years, a lot of battles have to be fought. Now I do not mean this, but rather another phenomenon unfamiliar to you in this form. When the contract, fixing financial contacts between Hungary and the EU for four years expired this year, we are about to fix the contract for the next seven years just now, then a debate erupted. Then, I needed to look up a couple of facts to understand the nature of this debate. What did I see? I saw that that we are talking about hundreds of people here that deal with distributing resources of economic or social development from the EU that Hungary is entitled to (these resources do not come as a gift–as I said we are entitled to them) receive their salaries directly from the EU. Consequently, an extraterritoriality-situation came about in Hungary. Then it turned out from the numbers, that these salaries are 4-5, but often 8 times more than what employees in the Hungarian administration. This means that Hungary was living for 7 years, that such people decided on the majority of resources at the country disposal, who were paid by other people, and received a multiple of what Hungarian administration employees would receive for that job. Similarly, out of 100 forints going from there to the Hungarian economic life 35% could be invoiced as so-called “soft expense”. So for expenses that were not closely related to the objective of the grant, but only connected to it: preparation, analysis, planning, and all kinds of things, advising, for example. There is a debate going on between the EU and Hungary, because we changed this system, and the government decided, that whoever decides on these EU funds, in the new illiberal state conception has to be employed by the Hungarian state, and could not receive more than the Hungarian administrational employee of the same classification. And it is not possible any more to spend 35 forints of every 100 forints on “soft expenses”, because in the next seven years this shall not exceed 15 forints out of 100 forints. These are all decisions that appear to be political decisions in themselves, but in reality it is not the question of one or two political decisions. This is about the ongoing reorganization of Hungarian state. Contrary to the liberal state organization logic of the past twenty years, this is a state organization originating in national interests. Conflicts that erupt are therefore not coincidental, do not originate in ignorance, well maybe only sometimes, but these are debates that necessarily accompany the rebuilding and self-definition process of a new state.

Now, Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, in conclusion, I would like to tell you that if we are curious about the future  then I would like to tell you something that might seem insufficient from somebody in a high official position: The essence of the future is that anything could happen. “Anything” is hard enough to define. It can happen that a commercial plane is shot down in the airspace of a country neighboring Hungary. It can happen that several hundred die for no apparent reason as a consequence of an, let’s name it for what it was, an act of terrorism. It can easily happen that, I have seen it in the news yesterday, that in the United States, maybe it was the Senate or the Senate and the Congress together decided to sue the President for continuous encroachment of his power. And if I look at the background of this news, it turns out that the President is not only sued, he has actually been sentenced a couple of times for exceeding his power. Imagine this in Hungary, if Parliament sues the prime minister for encroaching on his power, and the court even sentences him! For how much time can I stay in power in a situation like this? I only bring up these examples for you so that you see that we are living in a world where anything could happen. It can even happen that after the judiciary processes end hundreds of thousands of Hungarians will receive money back from banks, money that should not have been taken from them, and even this can happen, honorable ladies and gentlemen.

With all this, I would like to point out that punctual or nearly punctual forecast of events to come is impossible. Just to cite another refreshing example as a conclusion, the government winning the Hungarian elections declares that at least 50%-of Hungarian banking system should be possessed by Hungarians, not by the state but by Hungarians. Three months pass after the elections and this is already a reality. It became a reality that the Hungarian state bought a bank back, a bank that should have never been sold to foreigners. With this acquisition the proportion of Hungarian national property exceeded 50% within Hungary. Now the only question that remains, honorable ladies and gentlemen, and it is a question that I am not entitled to answer, that in times like this, when anything could happen, should we be afraid, or should we instead be hopeful? Because the present order of the world is not exactly to our taste, that this future, although it is uncertain, it could even cause huge trouble, it also holds opportunities and developments for our Hungarian nation. So instead of seclusion, fear and withdrawal I recommend courage, prospective thinking, rational, but brave action to the Hungarian communities in the Carpathian basin but also throughout the world. As anything can happen, it can easily happen that our time will come. Thank you for your honorific attention.


Viktor Orbán showed his cards and thus his critics can do the same

It is positively liberating that we no longer have to be careful about what we call Viktor Orbán’s brave new world. Until now even the fiercest critics of Orbán’s regime were reluctant to describe the political system introduced in 2010 as non-democratic. They did not want to be seen as crying wolf, especially when foreign journalists and political analysts described Fidesz and the Orbán government as “conservative” or “right-of-center.” It is true that as the years have gone by it has become more and more obvious that the Hungarian political system introduced by Orbán is anything but conservative. So, then came a new turn of phrase: Viktor Orbán’s government was dubbed conservative-nationalist while at home the  adjective “autocratic” became fashionable. Autocratic as the Horthy regime was autocratic. But this description is also wrong. The politicians of the Horthy regime were true conservatives, and Viktor Orbán is anything but conservative. He is the same revolutionary he was in 1989, but then he wanted to transform Hungary from Soviet-dominated state socialism to a liberal democracy whereas in the last few years he has been busily working on turning a liberal democratic state into a one-man dictatorship. One no longer has to be careful about using such strong terms. He himself said that he wants to dispense with liberalism in favor of an illiberal state.

It seems that not only Hungarian commentators are liberated but foreign correspondents as well. Now he is called “Hungary’s Mussolini” by Newsweek, and Deutsche Wirtschafts compares Orbán’s Hungary to Putin’s Russia. After all, it was Viktor Orbán himself who announced his plans for the future. Let’s call Orbán’s Hungary what it is.

The idea occurred to some people years ago

The idea occurred to some people years ago

Some people might think that comparing him to Mussolini is an exaggeration and that if the opposition uses such language they make themselves less credible. However, there is no question in my mind that Orbán would be a second Duce and, like Mussolini, would use force if he had the opportunity to do so. But surely in today’s world he could not introduce a full-fledged fascist system based on the model of Mussolini’s Italy.

As Gábor Horváth of Népszabadság rightly pointed out, however, even a “softer” dictatorship is still dictatorship. The question is whether the European Union will meekly accept this “illiberal state” offered by Viktor Orbán, one that lacks the ingredients of what we call liberal democracy– individual rights, separation of powers, the rule of law, equal protection of human rights, civil liberties, and political freedom for all persons. For the time being there is no official reaction, but Jonathan Todd, the spokesman of the European Commission, tried to belittle the significance of the speech. After all, he declared, it was uttered at a summer camp. Surely, he continued, Hungary is not planning to violate the terms of the agreement with the European Union that Hungary signed. I personally beg to differ. He will violate it without any compunctions unless, of course, very strong action is taken. But even then he will do his best to circumvent all the restrictions imposed on him.

And finally, some of you watched the dramatic interview with G. M. Tamás a couple of days ago on the subject of Viktor Orbán’s speech. There was even a lively discussion of it to which Mr. Tamás himself contributed. Here is a short English synopsis of his thoughts on the subject that was originally published in Romanian in Criticatak.

  * * *

Mr Orbán’s régime is not fascist. Not yet.

Mr Orbán in his speech delivered in Romania – where he fancies himself to be a sort of co-ruler of Transylvania – has declared that

(1) his régime was building an illiberal state which will dispense henceforward with constitutionalism, the separation of powers and basic rights;

(2) that the idea of human rights is finished, it is obsolete as a basis for government and policy;

(3) that the welfare state is obsolete, too – in other words, he broke with (a) the rule of law, (b) with liberty and with (c) equality;

(4) that his political ideal was the present state order in Singapore, Turkey, Russia and China;

(5) that the West is dead;

(6) that the white working class in Europe should be defended against coloured immigration;

(7) that NGOs and human rights organisations are enemy agents paid by foreigners in order to subvert our national state;

(8) that the communitarian and ethnic Hungarian state is a work-based state, i. e., any social assistance would be offered only to those who are willing to work (there is already a labor service in the country replacing unemployment benefits, which means that many people work in their former workplaces for less than 20% of their former salaries, otherwise not being entitled to the dole);

(9) he wants autonomous, ethnic Hungarian enclaves in Transylvania (which has already provoked a storm of indignation and anti-Hungarian nationalist feeling in Rumania, congrats).

In short, Mr Orbán has decided that he and his government and his state which he rules single-handedly, are definitely of the extreme right, which is also shown by the rehabilitation of the pre-war authoritarian régime, elevation of anti-Semitic and otherwise racist public figures to high positions and a savage ethnicist discourse against (a) the West, (b) our neighbors, the ‘successor states’ and against (c) the Roma and the Jews.

Mr Orbán’s régime is not fascist. Not yet.