Tag Archives: quota system

Viktor Orbán’s democracy: Nationalism, pure and simple

We should have gotten accustomed to the fact that by now that news about Hungary and its prime minister is an everyday occurrence. Just today I encountered well over 100 articles about Viktor Orbán in newspapers as well as on internet news sites, from Azerbaijan to Sweden. Most of the articles I came across were from Germany where Viktor Orbán’s interview with Kai Diekmann, the publisher of Bild, created quite a stir.

Kai Diekmann and Viktor Orbán / Business Insider

Kai Diekmann and Viktor Orbán / Business Insider

From Orbán’s awkward and occasionally wrong word usage, I assume that the interview was conducted in English, with not the best results. For example, the sentence that is most often commented on in the German press is: “Today, the voices coming from Berlin are coarse, rough, and aggressive.”

Orbán has never been known for his diplomatic skills, and since he has achieved a certain, in my opinion dubious, fame in Europe he thinks he can say practically anything with impunity. For example, when Diekmann quoted Jean-Claude Juncker’s claim that “history will prove Ms. Merkel right,” Orbán’s answer was rude and demeaning. He said, “I think the course of history will not be bothered by Mr. Juncker…. Let us see how history one day will judge Chancellor Merkel without Mr. Juncker’s help.”

The German people will read with delight Viktor Orbán’s opinion that “we owe nothing to Germany, and the Germans owe nothing to us. Germany has supported us in becoming a member of the EU. We are grateful for that. But then Hungary has opened its market for all EU states. Everybody has profited from that. So we are square.” When asked about Hungary’s relations with “the controversial Polish government,” Orbán answered: “I can only say that the peoples of Central Europe and Hungary are a community in fate, to the death. Many of us would spill our blood for Poland any time. And vice versa: in an emergency, many Polish people would give his life to protect Hungarians. This has happened more than once over the course of history.”

Two days ago I brought up my puzzlement over a sentence that Viktor Orbán uttered at the quickly organized press conference at which he announced his decision to hold a referendum on the compulsory refugee quotas. He said at that time that voting against this question would be a proof of loyalty to the country. “Because how could someone be loyal as long as others decide the most important questions?” I added that it didn’t matter how hard I tried to follow Orbán’s logic, I couldn’t see the connection between loyalty and the matter on hand. This interview sheds some light on the subject. Orbán has a very strange definition of “the basic principle of democracy,” which “in the end is loyalty to the nation.” What an incredible, unfathomable statement. Democracy according to this confused man equals nationalism.

At this point I would like to interject a quotation I jotted down from Ian Kershaw’s masterful two-volume biography of Hitler, which I’m in the middle of reading. These lines are from the first volume, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris:

It was more than anything else the ways nationalism had developed in late nineteenth-century Germany that provided the set of ideas that, if often in distorted–even perverted–form, offered the potential for Nazism’s post-war appeal…. Crucial to the character of German nationalism was the pervasive sense … of incomplete unity, of persistent, even widening division and conflict within the nation. What, in the changed conditions after the war, Hitler was able most signally to exploit was the belief that pluralism was somehow unnatural and unhealthy in society, that it was a sign of weakness, and that internal division and disharmony could be suppressed and eliminated, to be replaced by the unity of a national community. (p. 136)

Compare that with Viktor Orbán’s speech at a Fidesz picnic in September 2009 in Kötcse:

Today it is realistically conceivable that in the coming fifteen-twenty years, Hungarian politics should be determined not by the dualistic field of force bringing with it never conclusive and divisive value debates, which quite unnecessarily generate social problems. Instead, a great governing party comes in place, a central field of force, which will be able to articulate the national issues and to stand for these policies as a natural course of things to be taken for granted without the constantly ongoing wrangling.

In brief, differences of opinion, any kind of political division, are signs of weakness in Orbán’s worldview just as the German variety of nationalism feared ethnic and religious differences. So, it is no wonder that Orbán called his regime the “System of National Cooperation.” If you don’t cooperate, you are not part of this nation. Fidesz and its supporters defend the national interest so if someone criticizes Orbán’s policies, this person is the enemy of the nation. As we know, this kind of striving for national unity usually ends in disaster.

By defending the nation Orbán claims to be defending democracy. When Diekmann pressed him on his policies, which may lead to the division of Europe, Orbán’s answer was that “the quota is reframing the ethnic, cultural and religious profile of Hungary and Europe. I have not decided this way against Europe, but for protecting European democracy.”

From these statements we learn that Orbán is defending not democracy but nationalism. At least this time he told the truth.

February 26, 2016

Viktor Orbán and the European Union: A forced change of strategy?

I sense a change in the Orbán government’s strategy as far as its attitude toward cooperation with the European Union is concerned. Although Orbán still talks about sticking to his government’s total rejection of a common EU policy, the ground is being prepared for a strategy shift. I suspect Viktor Orbán got the distinct impression in Brussels or perhaps even earlier that the strategy he had worked out hand in hand with his colleagues in Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic has either already been rejected or will be repudiated by a large majority of the member states. Therefore, they sent István Mikola, nowadays undersecretary in the ministry of foreign affairs and earlier Fidesz deputy-prime minister candidate, to give a long interview to Népszava, of all places. What Mikola had to say to Marianna Biró almost blew the reporter’s mind.

A telling picture of Orbán's mood at the closing ceremony of the summit

A telling picture of Orbán’s mood at the closing ceremony of the summit

What did we learn from this interview? Exactly the opposite of what we have heard until now about Hungary’s attitude toward a common EU policy concerning the refugee crisis. But let’s go step by step because there is a lot here to discuss.

First of all, Mikola made a liar out of Viktor Orbán when he said that “there was no secret pact” between Germany and Turkey. Not only was it not secret, but “the accord was between the European Union and Turkey,” not between Germany and Turkey.

Second, as far as the introduction of the quota system is concerned, the Hungarian attitude is no longer as belligerent as it was even a few weeks ago. Hungary now has only “misgivings” about it. It seems that if the European Court of Justice finds it legal, Hungary will oblige. Mind you, a verdict on the issue cannot be expected before the end of the year, and I doubt that the European Commission will let the policy remain in limbo for that long.

Third, we have heard over and over from Orbán and members of his government that the European Union is on its last legs. It will collapse under the weight of the refugee crisis. In this connection the reporter called Mikola’s attention to János Lázár’s assertion that the Hungarian government doesn’t want to have closer European integration. In response to this Mikola said:

Membership in the European Union is of great importance for us. The Hungarian people live in a diaspora and it is through the existence of the European Union that the borders have become virtual and permeable…. Because of our membership in the European Union the world has opened for us. We could break out from our isolation. Not only have Hungarians gotten closer to each other, but now everybody can learn foreign languages and can take jobs abroad…. For Hungarians being part of Europe is of inestimable value…. From the mixing of different people a variegated, vibrant Europe will emerge.  This is something unique that must be preserved. It is our task to make sure that it will be protected. That’s why I’m not pessimistic. I believe that we will suffer for a while with the migrant crisis but at the end Europe will survive.

As I said, I don’t know what happened in the last few days or so, but Mikola’s message indicates to me a staggering about-face. I wonder whether this is in any way linked to the findings of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the largest German non-profit foundation, which indicate that the overwhelming majority of people in the European Union want more integration and consider the quota system equitable and fair. Moreover, they want to punish those countries that refuse to abide by the common will. Until now we had no reliable data on public opinion across the continent concerning the refugees. On the right newspapers gleefully reported atrocities and anti-refugee demonstrations while the left sang the praises of the integration efforts of Germans, Swedes, and others.

I suspect that the findings of the Bertelsmann study have been known for some time by the EU decision makers, which must have given a boost to those politicians who share Angela Merkel’s vision for solving the crisis. The title of the 20-page study is “Border Protection and Freedom of Movement: What People Expect of European Asylum and Migration Policies.” I’m sure that you’ll be surprised, as I was, to read that

  • 79 percent of European citizens believe that the European Union should have a common European policy on migration. 52 percent believe that the EU should be primarily responsible for this issue. 27 percent say that the responsibility should be shared by the EU and the member states. 79 percent of Europeans also consider the freedom of movement to be of great importance, and believe that it should be defended at all costs.
  • 87 percent believe that the EU has a common duty to protect its external borders.
  • 79 percent of European interviewees believe that asylum-seekers should be distributed fairly among the member states of the European Union.
  • 69 percent of the interviewees believe that EU financial support should be reduced if member states refuse to accept their fair share of refugees.

A closer look at the data reveals a divide between public opinion in the old and the new member states (2004 Eastern Enlargement of the EU).

  • Only 54 percent of the citizens in the new member states think that asylum-seekers should be fairly distributed (versus 85 percent in the old member states).
  • And only 41 percent of the interviewees in the new member states think that countries which do not want to take in their fair share of asylum-seekers should have to pay a financial penalty (versus 77 percent in the old member states).

The study’s summary points out that “Europe’s politicians are once again confronted with political realities which they can no longer ignore…. Data shows that the electorate is a long way ahead of the politicians.”

Armed with that information, the European Union will feel free to take a more aggressive stance against the ideas of the eastern states that joined the Union twelve years ago. And this is not good news for Viktor Orbán and people like Fico.

Speaking of Fico. His popularity, just like Orbán’s, swelled as a result of his anti-refugee policies. A few months ago his party’s popularity reached 40%, and thus it could easily win the forthcoming elections with an absolute majority. However, since then fewer and fewer people have been concerned about the migrants. Instead, they are preoccupied with problems of education and healthcare at home. Does it sound familiar? Elections will be held on March 5 and Smer, Fico’s party, is losing voters. Fico is trying to keep the migrant issue in the forefront and now threatens to build a fence along the Slovak-Austrian-Hungarian border. Similarly, of course, Orbán is attempting to keep his people focused on the refugee issue instead of the troublesome topics of education and healthcare. I don’t know how often I read or heard that the Hungarian government is ready to build the fence at any time along the Romanian-Hungarian border. Yet no fence has emerged so far. A couple of days ago Sándor Pintér, minister of interior, announced an extension of the closed border between Croatia and Hungary. Surely, to emphasize the fear of migrants overrunning the country. Or, there is the heavy arming of the Hungarian National Bank, allegedly because of the threat of terrorism, which even Reuters called a paranoid measure. At the same time, Fidesz is collecting signatures protesting Hungary’s participation in a common solution to the fate of those refugees who either are already in western countries or are waiting in Greece to move on.

And while these measures are being undertaken domestically, Orbán is making preparations for an about-face. This will not be an easy sell, especially after the teachers’ revolt, which has already made the government retreat somewhat. However, the leaders of the movement are determined to dismantle the whole system and to restore their autonomy. Fidesz’s popularity, which stagnated between November and December, has now dropped a bit, and I suspect that polls taken after the teachers’ demonstration will show a further erosion of Fidesz’s popularity. And the realization that the “migrants” are coming will be a terrible blow to the party faithful.

February 21, 2016