Tag Archives: nation states

Hungary is unique after all: Pew research on terrorism and refugees

A couple of days ago the Pew Research Center published a survey taken between February 16 and May 8 in 38 countries, asking about the respondents’ sense of threats to national security. People were supposed to rank eight things they consider to be truly threatening as far as their well-being is concerned. Heading the list were “Islamic militant group known as ISIS” (62%) and “global climate change” (61%). Cyber attacks (51%), condition of the global economy (51%), large number of refugees (39%), U.S. power and influence (35%), Russia’s power and influence (31%), and China’s power and influence (31%) followed in that order.

The 38 countries surveyed are widely scattered, and naturally their concerns vary according to their particular geographic and cultural settings. For example, South American countries found “global climate change” a greater problem than ISIS. In European countries the large number of refugees was obviously a greater concern than, let’s say, in Vietnam or Chile. But in all countries, including European ones, the fear of terrorism was greater than alarm over the refugees. There was one exception, not just among European countries but on all four continents: Hungary. Hungarians dread refugees (66%) more than they worry about terrorism (64%). To compare Hungary to some of its fellow EU members, here are some figures. In France, which had its share of terrorist attacks, people rightfully consider terrorism a very serious threat (88%), but only 39% think that the large number of refugees is something one has to seriously worry about. In Germany there is even less anxiety about the refugees despite their large influx (28%), while 79% believe ISIS to be a serious menace. Even in Poland, a country whose population receives similar messages from the government as do Hungarians, the fear of terrorism is slightly higher (66%) than concern about refugees (60%).

The only explanation I have for this phenomenon is the success of the massive brainwashing by the incessant government propaganda against the “migrants” that has been going on for more than two years. The official of the Hungarian Fencing Association who, while visiting Leipzig, saw marauding refugees all over the place was most likely under the influence of this propaganda campaign. All he heard about the German situation at home programmed him to see a country under siege by invading Africans and Middle Easterners.

His case calls to mind an article I read yesterday in The Guardian about the Norwegian anti-immigrant group Fedrelandet viktigst (Fatherland First), which mistook a photograph of six empty bus seats for a group of women wearing burqas. When the group posted the photo on Facebook, racist commenters went wild. One of the more telling comments was: “I thought it would be like this in the year 2050, but it is happening NOW.”

Those frightening burqas

Of course, the Hungarian anti-refugee propaganda is promulgated not only on huge billboards but also in the government media, which by now means almost all print newspapers, especially the regional papers. I think it is enough to point out, as an illustration of the seriousness of the situation, that Lőrinc Mészáros alone owns 200 regional papers, all of which spout the same pro-government propaganda. And these regional papers are still read by large numbers of people.

The flagship of the government media is Magyar Idők, in which I found a typical article by Gábor Czakó, a writer whom the Orbán government found worthy of the Kossuth Prize, the highest prize a Hungarian writer can receive, in 2011. I must admit that I have never read anything by this man, but his name sounded familiar. After a bit of research I found the occasion on which I encountered Czakó’s name. In 2012, in a television conversation, Czakó extolled the habit of men physically punishing their wives and children. He told a family story in which a fisherman, who came home only every two weeks, found that his wife in his absence didn’t do any housework. He finally became tired of the situation and beat her. The beating did miracles. She became, at least for the next two weeks, a perfect wife. As he put it, “she practically begged for the beating.” Czakó, the father of seven, also explained that his beating of his boys was always done with due preparation “because if you lose your head you will beat him until blood flows.”

So, now that you know something about the author, let’s see what wise thoughts he has on the present refugee crisis. According to Czakó, these refugees are part of an army of conquerors who came to wage war “against us and our civilization of thousands of years.” They are colonizers whose aim is to make slaves of the inhabitants of Europe. They came to destroy the nations of the continent. The liquidation of nations is a necessary element of the Islamic conquest, which rests on religious foundations. With the destruction of nations comes “the loss of love, culture, family, and the values of the common past.” Czakó’s projected new world will be devoid of friendship, loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and bravery. Truth will also disappear. The conspirators behind this invasion are “creating a babelic world without truth.” This image of the Armageddon that will be created by the refugees is meant to be terrify Hungarians, to poison their souls and stupefy their minds.

This is the kind of vision Hungarians have been confronted with day in and day out. And with time the claims of the mortal danger to European civilization become increasingly forceful and harrowing. It’s no wonder that in the Pew Research Institute’s study Hungary stands alone, with an obviously warped sense of reality.

August 3, 2017

A new year: roll back the clock

László Kövér, president of the Hungarian Parliament, has a unique ability. Even if he utters only a couple of sentences he manages to squeeze several outrageous comments into them. Can you imagine when he has a whole hour to share his complaints about the modern world, which is rotten to the core and will be even more awful with each passing day? Unfortunately, on January 1, he did just that on Echo TV, a far right channel. Kövér’s interlocutor was the like-thinking Zsolt Bayer, who sighed at frequent intervals whenever he thought that the weight of the issues was close to unbearable.

During this hour an awful lot of nonsense was uttered by these two men, but the overwhelming impression they left us with is that they are very unhappy because Hungary is no longer what it was when they were growing up. Kövér was born in 1959 and was 31 years old at the time of the regime change. Bayer was born in 1963 and so was 27 years old in 1990. Their formative years were spent in the consolidated Kádár regime. It was, they recall, a time of simple pleasures, close family ties, often two generations sharing the same apartment or house because of the lack of available housing. Interestingly, the ideal woman in this conversation was not the mother who most likely worked in some office or factory by then but the grandmother who looked after her grandchildren. This grandmother worked all day long without complaint. She wasn’t frustrated; she wasn’t bitter; she wasn’t depressed. She gladly sacrificed her life for her brood. Or at least this is how Zsolt Bayer envisaged the life of his grandmother. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this idyllic time could come back.

As for the future, it is bleak indeed. “Homo sapiens,” especially in the most developed parts of the world, seems to have lost its instinct for survival while in poorer regions, like Africa, more and more babies are being born. It looks as if “only the European white race is capable of committing suicide,” Kövér claimed. This downward spiral started with the introduction of old age benefits, which made children superfluous as providers in later life. This bemoaning of such intrinsic parts of the welfare state as old age benefits and perhaps even health insurance leads me to believe that these people feel utterly out of place in the 21st century. It is not a coincidence that the conversation about the past centered on Bayer’s grandmother who, judging from the time of her death, was born sometime around 1910. If it depended on these men, they would lead us back to the time of the Horthy regime, specifically into lower-middle class families in which the wife remained at home, looking after the children. These people would, if they could, simply get in a time machine and fly back a good hundred years, just as Bayer indicated, in one of his recent articles, he would gladly do.

In addition to this longing for an imagined past, they have a strong belief in Hungarian exceptionalism, which stems from the socialist era in which these two men grew up. Those fifty years, which Kövér simply calls Bolshevism, are the source of all of Hungary’s problems, which the last twenty some years of democracy couldn’t remedy. So, one would expect that he and Bayer would reject the whole period. But this is not the case. In their opinion, those years kept Hungarians as well as other countries of the Soviet bloc real Europeans. Old-fashioned Europeans who adhere to Christian, national values as opposed to the westerners who went astray: they became liberal, they are politically correct, they don’t believe in family values, they allow same-sex marriages, they don’t want to save Christianity from the Muslim migrants, and above all they are helping the United States and the multinational corporations destroy the nation states. Bayer goes so far as to claim that by now Hungary is the only truly European country. Kövér is a bit more generous: the Visegrád4 countries could be included in this small community of real Europeans.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs in Europe? The answer, in Kövér’s opinion, is simple: the multinational companies, whose interests dictate the destruction of families and nations. I would perhaps understand why multinational corporations would like to see fewer regulations that vary from state to state, but for the life of me I can’t fathom why they would want families to disappear. In any case, these multinationals want to weaken national governments because “they want to govern.” In this dirty work they receive help from “useful idiots and paid agents among the European political elite.” If you add to these two categories the “cowards,” they already hold a two-thirds majority in Brussels. These people are “the mercenaries of the United States; they are swindlers or at best unfit idiots who try to turn us out of office in the most dastardly, the most cunning, and the most boorish way.” Hungary is a besieged fortress attacked by the mercenaries of the United States. Or, less elegantly put by the boorish president of the Hungarian parliament, it is a country whose prime minister, like a pig on ice, must somehow stay on his feet while others try to trip him up.

If the Orbán regime shapes its domestic and foreign policies based on the muddled views expressed in this interview, they will be guaranteed failures. Time machines are figments of the imagination, and any attempt to turn back the wheel of time is a hopeless undertaking. The same failure is guaranteed if the Orbán regime bases its relations with the European Union on the mistaken notion that Western European political mercenaries in the service of the United States are intent on overthrowing the government in Budapest.

As for this relentless war against the multinationals, it will only result in decreasing foreign investment in the country. I know that this is no threat to Kövér, who has infinite trust in the ability of Hungarian entrepreneurs to replace the foreign companies currently in the country. But whether Kövér and Orbán like it or not, in today’s global economy they cannot be dispensed with, at least as long as Hungary is part of the European Union. To suggest otherwise is just idle talk.

Viktor Orbán’s latest foray against European values

Yesterday Fidesz held its twenty-sixth congress. Almost 2,000 delegates gathered, and they voted almost unanimously to reelect Viktor Orbán as chairman. They also elected four deputy chairmen: the 34-year-old Gergely Gulyás, whose career has been spectacular in the last five years; Gábor Kubatov, the campaign manager of the 2010 election; Szilárd Németh, the government spokesman for lower utility prices; and Mrs. Pelcz, née Ildikó Gáll, the token woman who has been safely tucked away in the European Parliament ever since 2010. All of them ran unopposed.

The speakers, headed by Viktor Orbán himself, found everything absolutely perfect in the country that they lead with great expertise and self-assurance. They are brave politicians who are able to achieve things other people would find impossible. In fact, according to Orbán, “bravery is the most important thing in life. It is said that a coward cannot be happy. So, in a way, freedom is really the right to be brave.” Don’t ask me to analyze the logic of these sentences.

Since by now Viktor Orbán cannot come out with too many fresh ideas and for the most part just rehashes his old pearls of wisdom about the bright future of his imaginary world, I will concentrate on only a few crucial passages.

A fair amount of time was devoted to the migrant crisis. He maintained that all western politicians are idiots and that he is the only man who had the guts to act, not asking anybody’s permission. The result is total victory. The rest of Europe is a “battlefield” while Hungary is the land of stability and peace. Yes, we’ve heard that before. What, on the other hand, was new was his analysis of the spirit that has taken over European thinking.

The European spirit and its people believe in superficial, secondary things, such as human rights, progress, openness, new kinds of families, and toleration…. These are nice and amiable things but really only secondary ones because they are only derivatives…. Europe doesn’t believe in Christianity, in common sense, in military virtues, and doesn’t believe in national pride.

Well, this is at least brutally honest talk. The politicians who consider all those “derivative” things to be the bedrock of the European Union should realize that none of the virtues they cherish means anything to Viktor Orbán, who dismisses them in favor of more “fundamental” principles, such as military virtues.

Another passage in Orbán’s speech also merits consideration. It is about the idea of a United States of Europe.

Europe is an old but fertile continent that survived many frightening ideas. Some of these caused great harm, in fact, tragedy…. When Europe turned out to be weak and couldn’t resist mad ideas. For example, it was unable to oppose the idea, which was planted into people’s heads, that mankind can be categorized by race. Thus Europe became the home of national socialism. It couldn’t resist the idea that people should be divided up by their social origin and that all people should be transformed into homo sovieticus. Thus, Europe became the home of the ideology of class warfare and communism. All this today seems absurd, but, my friends, in those days it didn’t seem absurd. Serious people with serious countenances, believing in their moral superiority, wrote a library full of books on these subjects. Today I again see a whole army of serious people with serious countenances who, convinced of their moral superiority, want to disparage the nation states of Europe and campaign for a United States of Europe. Trouble is waiting for us.

In brief, the dangers lurking behind a tighter constitutional arrangement for the member states of the European Union can be compared only to the disasters Hitler’s national socialism and the Soviet Union’s communist experiment brought to the world.

Some people on the internet already design the flag. Here is one of the many

Some people on the internet have already proposed designs for the flag of a United States of Europe. Here is one of the many.

I would like to quote one more sentence from this long speech that might be of some interest. “European liberal politics by today has turned against freedom and therefore has inevitably come up against the people and against democracy. What was formerly liberal democracy has become non-democratic liberalism.”

These are the ideas that are being transmitted, often in a simplified, even more incendiary form, via the Fidesz propaganda machine to the population. Magyar Idők, the government mouthpiece, specializes in the genre. I could easily find hundreds of examples but I picked an editorial by Dávid Megyeri titled “Tragicomedy: Migration game without borders,” which appeared in the Saturday issue of the paper. This article is an excellent example of where Viktor Orbán’s demagoguery leads: to gutter journalism.

The article is mostly about Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, who is described as an uneducated man who, despite many tries, couldn’t even matriculate from high school. Not only is he ignorant, he also shows signs of psychopathological disorders. What are the telltale signs of these disorders? Schulz considers the behavior of some of the member states, in the middle of a serious European crisis, injurious to the stability of Europe. Although for most of us Schulz’s observation is self-evident, for a devoted Viktor Orbán fan this is an unforgivable sin. And by the end of the article we learn that it is actually in Germany’s interest to eliminate nation states since it is Berlin that “considers the whole European Union its own nation state. Just as in the olden days when the great Russian Empire nicknamed the Soviet Union ruled over the forced marriage of [the Central European countries]. They are the models of Merkel.”

Here one finds bits and pieces of Viktor Orbán’s primitive ideas further simplified and distorted. Orbán’s attacks on Merkel and his equation of communism with the United States of Europe fuse into incomprehensible nonsense. Unfortunately, however primitive we find all this, it seems to work with an awful lot of people.

Viktor Orbán encounters Jürgen Habermas

Viktor Orbán is on his way to China from where no appreciable news has yet reached Budapest. Nonetheless, the prime minister’s name is prominent on practically all online news sites today on account of an interview he gave to politico.eu before his departure. Actually, what we can read there is not strictly speaking an interview but only an article based on a 90-minute interview that took place in Budapest. Therefore it is not always clear how faithfully those parts of the conversation have been transcribed that are not direct quotes. In any case, the interview highlights new aspects of Viktor Orbán’s thinking, and anyone who follows the maverick prime minister’s intellectual career should definitely read it. I should, however, warn readers ahead of time. Matthew Kaminski, the reporter, was overly impressed by Viktor Orbán, who most likely used all his considerable charm on the reporter. It is enough to remember former U.S. Ambassador Eleni Kounalakis’s memoirs in which she recounts that all American visitors who met Orbán fell under his spell.

Here I would like to focus on one little scene from the lengthy article.

Getting up from his seat around a large conference table, Orbán walks over to the books stacked on his desk and shelf. He picks up a tract on Europe he’s reading by Jürgen Habermas, the German philosopher and proponent of a closer, federal EU. “The most dangerous book,” he calls it.

Why is Habermas so dangerous? To find the answer we have to go back to the speech Orbán delivered upon the publication of the booklet “Signs of the Times” on October 30. In this speech he expressed his suspicion that the arrival of close to a million people in Europe is the result of a purposeful plan of left-liberal elements who want to transform Europe into a “cosmopolitan community of world citizens.” He added that “even Ferenc Kőszeg brought up the possibility of a politically constructed world community in one of the weeklies.” He added that he has been thinking about this theory and its political and cultural implications and that he “will have to polish up his thoughts” on the subject before the forthcoming Fidesz Congress.

After some research I found the article by Ferenc Kőszeg that Viktor Orbán was talking about. It appeared in HVG‘s print edition on October 18 and about a week later on the internet. The article’s title is “We need another Trianon.”

First, a few words about Ferenc Kőszeg. We haven’t heard much about him of late, but he was a prominent member of the democratic opposition in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period he was a regular contributor to the famed samizdat publication Beszélő. After the regime change he was a member of parliament (1990-1998) and in 1994 became one of the founders and eventually the director of the Hungarian Helsinki Commission. He is the author of several books.

So, what does the article have to say about a possible second Trianon? Kőszeg reminds his readers about how the Hungarian ruling political elite at the turn of the century managed to ruin the good name of the country within a relatively short time in Great Britain, where ever since the revolution of 1848-1849 the British public had followed the fortunes of Hungary with great sympathy. But then came the forceful Magyarization of Hungary’s minorities, and soon enough on the pages of The Spectator under the pseudonym of “Scotus Viator” (Scottish wanderer) articles appeared about the Hungarian situation that turned British public opinion against the country. Hungary, partly because of its deserved bad publicity, was probably treated more harshly than it would have been otherwise. And, says Kőszeg, at the moment Hungary’s reputation is as bad as it ever was because of Hungary’s harsh treatment of the refugees. He brings up the White Terror of Miklós Horthy’s detachments in 1919 and the execution of Imre Nagy in 1958. So, if Viktor Orbán is not careful, he might find his country outside of the European Union because of international public opinion condemning his behavior.

It was in this article that Kőszeg mentioned Jürgen Habermas’s name. The sentence in which his name appeared was this: “If the number and influence of euroskeptics keep growing, then Jürgen Habermas’s concept of a European constitution in which human rights occupy center stage might not be a utopia. Or much less of a utopia than the dreams of Orbán and his friends of illiberal nation states marching to the tune of Hungary.” This was the sentence that aroused terrible suspicions in Viktor Orbán’s mind.

world citizen

As I learned from Ferenc Kőszeg, he was quoting from Habermas’s Zur Verfassung Europas: Ein Essay (2011) which a year later appeared in Hungarian translation as Esszék Európa alkotmányáról. (In English the title is The Crisis of the European Union.) Most likely it was the Hungarian translation of this book that Orbán was studying to help him define his own position against the ideas outlined in this “most dangerous book.”

What does Viktor Orbán find so objectionable in Habermas’s ideas about the future of the European Union? Let me quote here a succinct summary of the main thrust of his position. According to Anson Rabinbach in the July 10, 2012 issue of The Nation,

Habermas argues that the ethical and political self-understanding of citizens in a democratic community needn’t be rooted in a historical or cultural essence. Simply put, citizens do not have to “feel” that they belong together culturally or ethnically to act in a democratic manner and experience solidarity with their neighbors, especially beyond their borders. It is enough that they share a common set of ethical and civic values and participate in a set of institutions that enable them to communicate and debate.

I might add to all this that, not surprisingly, Habermas, who gave a lecture to an overflowing audience in Budapest in May 2014, is no fan of Viktor Orbán. Before he began his lecture, Habermas talked at some length about the Hungarian political situation and Viktor Orbán’s role in the destruction of liberal democracy. He added that it would be “false politeness” not to talk about the populist nationalist voices coming from Hungary.

I am curiously awaiting the “philosophical treatise” that Viktor Orbán will present at Fidesz’s forthcoming congress. You may recall that the congress was supposed to be held during the weekend of the Paris tragedy but was postponed due to the official day of mourning Orbán declared. It will be held on December 13 instead. This will give Orbán a little more time to find answers to Habermas’s picture of the world sometime in the future in which nation states will have less and less of a hold on their citizens.