Viktor Orbán

Viktor Orbán and the gathering storm clouds in the East

Meetings of the heads of EU member states usually last much longer than anticipated. At eight in the evening participants were still discussing who will replace Herman Van Rompuy as European Council president and Catherine Ashton as foreign policy chief.  They finally determined that the former post will be filled by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the latter by Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini.

It seems, however, that the decision on further sanctions against Russia will be postponed for at least a week, although a draft of such sanctions dated August 27 exists which says that the bloc “stands ready to consider further steps” against Russia due to the “reported participation of Russian armed forces in operations on Ukrainian soil.” Petro Poroshenko, who was present at the discussions about his country, indicated that further sanctions are likely. The EU only wants to wait on implementation to see how Russia reacts to his attempt to revive a “peace plan” next week.

If Vladimir Putin’s threatening remarks are any indication, further sanctions and an increased Western military presence in Eastern Europe are indeed likely. Putin told the press that “Russia’s partners … should understand it’s best not to mess with us,” adding: “I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.” Nuclear threat or not, the number of NATO troops in Poland and Romania has doubled already, and NATO is planning to send an additional 1,ooo troops to the region. And Britain and six other states are planning to create a new joint expeditionary force of at least 10,000 personnel to bolster NATO’s power.

map2

Meanwhile a rather frightening map was published by the Russian weekly Expert that showed the sphere of influence Russia is attempting to create. The green line indicates the reach of Soviet dominance, the red the current situation, and the orange Russian hopes for an expanded sphere of influence. That would include Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Observers of Russia and its plans might be also interested in reading a statement by Kazakhstan’s 74-year-old dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev. Let me quote it verbatim from Kazakhstan’s official English-language website Tengri News.

If the rules set forth in the agreement are not followed, Kazakhstan has a right to withdraw from the Eurasian Economic Union. I have said this before and I am saying this again. Kazakhstan will not be part of organizations that pose a threat to our independence. Our independence is our dearest treasure, which our grandfathers fought for. First of all, we will never surrender it to someone, and secondly, we will do our best to protect it.

Of course, he added that nothing of the sort can possibly happen because “there are three representatives from each country [Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan] and three Vice-Prime Ministers. They also make their decisions together.”

Putin’s response to Nazarbayev’s statement called Kazakhstan’s future independence into question. Yesterday he said that Kazakhstan, although large, is only one-tenth the size of Russia. He also explained that Nazarbayev “created a state on territory where no state had ever existed. The Kazakhs had never had statehood. Nazarbayev created it. In this sense, he is a unique person for the former Soviet space and for Kazakhstan too.” But, Putin continued, underscoring his expansionist intentions, Kazakhstan is better off in the “big Russian world.”

Meanwhile Viktor Orbán, as his wont, gave a press conference upon his arrival in Brussels. Interestingly enough, he is usually driven to these meetings in his own Volkswagen minibus, an odd choice for such occasions. According to normal protocol, the hosts provide vehicles for visiting dignitaries, but for one reason or another Orbán insists on his own bus. One must wonder how this vehicle gets to Brussels. Is it driven or transported there ahead of time? Or, perhaps he has several identical vehicles?

It is also hard to know whether only Hungarian reporters are interested in what the prime minister has to say or whether journalists from other countries are also present. I suspect that only Hungarian reporters attend these events. On one of the pictures taken at the press conference I could see the mikes of only MTV and HírTV.

In Orbán’s opinion, today’s meeting was organized only for “the review and correction of the current political situation.”  The discussion centers around whether “the sanctions have reached their desired goals” but for that “we should know what the desired goals are.” He is convinced that sanctions will not work. Sanctions until now have not been successful and it would be self-deception to think that more of the same would end the conflict.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the Conference of Western Balkan States that took place in Berlin on August 28, 2014. Participating were representatives of the European Union, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and the Republic of Macedonia. It was called together by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also chaired the meeting.

The idea for the conference came in response to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The intention was to show commitment to the process of future enlargement of the European Union as well as to shore up relations with Serbia as a strategic partner of the EU, especially in light of the problems in Ukraine.

Serbia has, since the second half of the nineteenth century, been a close friend and ally of Russia. Its negotiations with the European Union for membership have been going on for a long time, but Serbia’s chances have been strengthened by what is going on in Ukraine. Because, as Adelina Marini of euinside.eu points out, “if Serbia becomes part of the EU, Russia will lose its influence in the Balkans or, at least, it will be significantly limited.”

However, Serbia apparently wants to have its cake and eat it too. Although it desperately wants to join the European Union, it also wants to keep its special relationship with Russia. Brussels is unlikely to accept such a “special status” for Serbia. But if Russia becomes a real threat to Europe, Serbia’s membership in the EU might help block the spread of Russian influence.

Diplomacy in Europe and especially in Eastern Europe and the Balkans is a much more complicated enterprise than it was a few years back when these countries did not have to worry about the Russian bear. Orbán’s idea that diplomacy can be pretty much replaced by foreign trade is patently wrong. The current situation is complex, negotiations are difficult, and a bad outcome would be very dangerous for Europe. And even as storm clouds are gathering in the East, Hungarian diplomacy is being guided by Péter Szijjártó, who is totally unfit for the job.

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Charles Gati: “The Mask Is Off”

The following article appeared in the August 7 issue of  The American Interest and was summarized in Hungarian in Népszabadság. I should add that the Hungarian Telegraphic Agency (MTI), which in the past has always reported on Professor Gati’s analyses, ignored this article. In it Gati shares his thoughts on the possible steps U.S. policy makers could take in the wake of Viktor Orbán’s admission of his plans for an “illiberal democracy” in the center of Europe. The article has elicited a great deal of interest in Washington as well as in Budapest.

Today Professor Gati was interviewed on Klubrádió’s call-in program Megbeszéljük/Let’s Talk It Over. The approximately twenty-minute interview can be heard during the first and second segments of the program’s archives.

Charles Gati, Senior Research Professor, European and Eurasian Studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, is the author of Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt (2006) and editor of  Zbig: The Strategy and Statecraft of Zbigniew Brzezinski (2013).

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Orban and putin5

Soon after he became Hungary’s Prime Minister for the first time, in 1998, Viktor Orbán visited Washington. On October 7th, at a luncheon organized by Freedom House, Mark Palmer, a former ambassador to Hungary who knew the guest well, and I jointly welcomed Orbán to Washington, calling him a young, promising leader of democratic Hungary. According to notes taken by a member of the audience, Orbán responded by praising both Palmer and me for the role we had played in hastening the collapse of communism in the 1980s. Then he added that “whatever I know about contemporary politics and history I’ve learned from Professor Gati.”

I re-read these words with considerable embarrassment after I watched on YouTube and then read the full text of Orbán’s 35-minute speech of July 26, 2014 about the terminal decline of liberal democracies and the bright future of five countries he held up as examples for Hungary to emulate: Singapore, China, India, Turkey, and Russia. (Why he included India, a functioning democracy, is unclear.) In any case, the speech affirmed what many Hungary-watchers have known since 2000-2001, or at least since Orbán’s second term that started in 2010 and his third term that started this year: that he is no democrat and he is neither a good friend nor a good ally of the West, including the United States. His speech is a surprising admission from the leader of a country in Central Europe that is a member of both NATO and the European Union, and from a politician who in the 1990s was deputy head of that deeply pro-Western group of political parties known as the Liberal International.

Orbán has now dropped his democratic mask. His speech confirms what his domestic and foreign critics have said for years about his managed democracy and what until now his propagandists and loyal followers have heatedly denied. For he has now publicly, and proudly, declared his preference for an “illiberal state.” “Breaking away from dogmas and ideologies recognized in Western Europe,” Orbán said the ideal state should be based instead on something he called “national foundations.” He made no mention of the separation of powers or checks and balances or freedom of the press or minority rights. Quoting a supposedly highly regarded (but unnamed) American analyst, he noted that liberal democracies, as in the U.S., were marked by corruption, lawlessness, sex, and drugs.

The analysis Orbán used to reach these conclusions was quite poor and confused, to say the least. One part of the presentation did not lead to or follow another. Some of the information he cited was inaccurate. And it was not a question of the quality of translation; the original Hungarian text was as unstructured and as rambling as the English version. If an American undergraduate had submitted such a long-winded and pretentious paper for an introductory course on international relations, his grade would have been an “F.”

However, the speech as a political demagoguery worked. The underlying themes almost certainly fell on fertile soil, for Orbán successfully reassured his domestic supporters that he remained ready to “stand up” against Hungary’s enemies, such as the European Union and Western banks. It echoed the same nationalist message his audiences regularly hear on government-dominated radio and television about Western conspiracies against Hungary’s independent existence: That in the aftermath of World War I the victorious Western powers, led by President Woodrow Wilson, robbed Hungary of two-thirds of its territory. That after World War II, at Yalta, Hungary was sold out to the communists. That in 1956, the West did not assist the Hungarians against their Soviet overlords. And that since the collapse of communism, the European Union and Western-financed non-governmental organizations have sought to deprive Hungary of its sovereignty. Thus, in this speech, Orbán offered his audience a simple message as he also promised an end to Hungary’s humiliation and victimhood.

The main reason Orbán believes Hungary should seek a new system of governance has to do with his interpretation of the 2008 financial crisis. “If we look around carefully and analyze the things happening around us,” he said, “[we find] a different world from the one we used to live six years ago.” He blames the United States and liberal values for the uniqueness and global consequences of the crisis. He maintains that Americans, including the President of the U.S., were so frightened by 2008 that they resorted to “ideas that were impossible to talk about only six years ago.” Orbán does not specify what these ideas are or were, but he argues that the defining issue of our time is “to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful.” Then he adds: This is why Hungary needs to adopt political and economic systems “that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies, yet making nations successful.”

The speech includes an almost incoherent outpouring of primitive clichés about the United States. Americans, Orbán observes, live “in a society that is less and less capitalist and more and more feudal.” He asserts that, according to the U.S. president, “America has been engulfed by cynicism.” Alluding to the U.S. whose laws he does not seem to or want to understand, he mocks a “democratic” country where a president is impeached and yet he stays in power. Elsewhere in the speech he claims that the U.S. president “openly speaks about economic patriotism,” and he does so in a way that would have been “unimaginable six or eight years earlier.” Again, one wonders what Orbán had in mind. He makes no mention of America’s gradual if long and partial economic recovery, of unemployment dropping to the six percent level, of the unparalleled global reach of American technology, graduate education, culture, and so on. Unmentioned is that his friend and colleague who wrote Hungary’s new—very restricting and illiberal—basic law or constitution a few years ago did it on his iPad, a product of U.S. inventiveness.

Orbán did not couple his negative commentary about the West by even a single word of criticism of the Russian and Chinese dictatorships, or of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, or of Putin’s ongoing destabilization of Ukraine. His motive, it seems, was to depict the world’s leading liberal democracy as hopelessly deadlocked—not because President Obama or someone else was a poor leader (Obama’s name was not mentioned by Orbán) but because all liberal democracies suffer from such built-in, systemic problems as their emphasis on individuals rather than the collective. For Orbán, this is the principal justification for Hungary’s present practice of centralized, nationalist authoritarianism.

Looking ahead, Orbán’s speech could anticipate a long-term strategy to introduce even harsher, more dictatorial measures on the pattern of Turkey or possibly Russia. Given past behavior, it is clear that he is capable of radically changing his stances. After all, he was a strong advocate of European integration back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, while he is now an equally strong defender of the inviolability of sovereignty. He once made a name for himself as an anti-communist and even anti-Russian, while he now admires Putin’s “efficient” state. He used to favor capitalism while he is now a foe of banks, foreign and domestic, that are not under his government’s control. He was once an atheist; nowadays he mentions Christianity as his guiding light as often as possible.

If the speech was meant to prepare the ground for another new—and radical—departure, what could it be?

The fact that the speech was delivered to ethnic Hungarians in Romania suggests the possibility that Orbán, thinking of some four to five million ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, is fantasizing about a Greater Hungary. He looks at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and sees continuing civil strife and war in Ukraine where—at the Hungarian border—almost 200,000 ethnic Hungarians live. Western analysts tend to dismiss the idea that Orbán could be so delusional as to follow Putin’s example by casting his eyes on Ukraine’s westernmost sub-Carpathian region. They are probably right; it is a far-fetched idea. After all, Hungary does not even have a real military; its yearly defense expenditure is around 0.8 percent of its GDP, one of the lowest in NATO. And yet, if Ukraine is destabilized, it is not unimaginable that Orbán’s Hungary would attempt to fish in troubled waters. There is no better way for him to enter Hungarian history books than to begin the reconstruction of Historic or Greater Hungary.

Whether he does so depends on three factors:

First, Orbán must centralize even more power in his own hands. He would have to rewrite the constitution again so that Hungary is transformed into a presidential system after, or perhaps even before, his current term as prime minister ends. Following Putin’s example, Orbán would then promote himself into the Hungarian presidency.

Second, he would have to deepen his friendship with Russia, the country with demonstrated interest in a weak and divided Ukraine. As Hungary is already almost fully dependent on Russian energy for the next three decades, the best way left for Orbán to please Putin is to echo the latter’s anti-American harangues and weaken the European Union from within.

Third, the European Union and the United States would have to ignore what Hungary is doing or might be planning to do. That would encourage Orbán to pursue his historic mission.

If he is indeed on a historic mission to enlarge the “Hungarian space” in Central Europe, Orbán would also need to be contemplating to withdraw his country from the European Union. For basic economic reasons, he probably is not doing so right now. He needs the almost $30 billion the European Union has allocated to finance Hungarian infrastructure projects in the 2014-2020 period. Even if one discounts an estimated 10-15 percent pocketed by corrupt Hungarian officials and their loyal business associates, this is still a vast contribution to the Hungarian economy. Moreover, trade with such EU countries as Germany, Italy, Austria and others sustains the country’s foreign-trade-oriented economy. For these reasons and others, even the current Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament—Orbán’s political gateway to Jobbik, the country’s neo-Nazi far right party—has shied away earlier this year from explicitly endorsing Jobbik’s call for leaving the European Union.

On the other hand, there is still a chance, however slim, that punitive measures undertaken by the European Union could prompt Hungary to respond by trading its full EU membership for a limited partnership. Orbán would surely enjoy being the first European leader to “stand up” to Brussels this way.

Would the EU give him such a chance? Would the EU go beyond verbal or written reproaches? In the aftermath of Orbán’s July 26 speech, a Wall Street Journal editorial called on Brussels to take the Hungarian case seriously, stating that “Mr. Orbán’s illiberal candor is a warning that free markets and free societies need more forceful defending.” A New York Times editorial on August 2, 2014 urged the European Commission to treat Hungary “with more than the usual admonitions and hand-wringing.” It urged the Commission to reduce the above-mentioned $30 billion infrastructure support set aside for Hungary. “It should also,” said the editorial, “begin proceedings to invoke Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which allows the suspension of voting rights of a member state that is at serious risk of breaching the values listed in Article 2, including the rule of law, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.” In Europe, the Süddeutsche Zeitung voiced similar views.

While the EU, to repeat, is unlikely to implement such recommendations for the time being, its newly elected leaders could replace admonitions with sanctions in defense of “European values.” In the event, it is at least possible that—under such circumstances—Hungary would then “retaliate” in order to free itself from some or all of Brussel’s much-despised restraints. At that point, Orbán’s popularity would skyrocket. He would be widely admired for following in the footsteps of other legends in Hungary’s tumultuous history by pursuing a heroic and defiant act that may be briefly self-satisfying but ultimately self-defeating.

The issues that divide the U.S. and Hungary have little or nothing to do with security or economics. Hungary is not a particularly active member of NATO, though it sent troops to Afghanistan, and it has privately informed officials in Brussels about its willingness to increase its very modest defense budget every year for the next five years by 0.1 percent of its GDP. Unlike Poland, Romania, and the three Baltic states—and apparently the Czech Republic too—Hungary was initially reluctant to support sanctions against Russia, though once Germany changed its course so did the Hungarian government. (Typically, even the attentive Hungarian public is so engrossed in domestic politics that the government’s foreign policy gyrations are barely noticed.)

From Washington’s perspective, what matters most is the Hungarian government’s growing hostility to democratic values—freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom for civil groups to operate. Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. issued several protests, including a confidential demarche that was leaked to a still-independent newspaper. From Budapest’s perspective, American protests constituted interference in Hungary’s internal affairs. The government unleashed a never-ending series of vitriolic attacks in the government-controlled press on Mrs. Clinton and the United States. The attacks on the U.S. have continued since John Kerry took over the Department of State, but the Secretary—quiet on Hungarian issues—has not been subjected to the “Clinton treatment.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Orbán seems eager to alter his government’s image in the United States. With a $15 million budget, he established a lobbying group called the Hungarian Initiatives Foundation in order to bring young Hungarians to Washington where they serve as interns in congressional offices and elsewhere and—more importantly—to influence discussions about Hungary in the city’s think tanks by flying pro-Orbán officials and fellow travelers to the U.S. The group has made grants to several prominent think tanks and plays an active role in shaping the programs it supports.

It was also instrumental in arranging Orbán’s upcoming visit to the United States in mid-October. He is expected to visit New York and Los Angeles, reaching out to Hungarian-Americans and business leaders, but he will not stop in Washington. Apparently, he could not get an appropriate appointment at either the White House or the State Department, and Georgetown University, which invited him for a lecture, insisted on holding an open forum after the lecture.

Whether the Hungarian Initiatives Foundation will be able to continue its activities after Orbán’s July speech is uncertain. Some of its trustees—among them George Pataki, the former Governor of New York and Kurt Volker, the Hungarian-speaking head of the McCain Institute—ought to have a difficult time reconciling their support for Orbán’s Hungary with the prime minister’s anti-American harangue. So should Katrina Lantos—another trustee, head of the Lantos Foundation and daughter of the late Congressman Tom Lantos—who has so far shied away from speaking out in support of her father’s deeply-held democratic values.

What could official Washington do?

  • It could actively encourage the European Union—which still vividly remembers its failure to deny a place for Joerg Haider’s extremist right-wing party in the Austrian government in 2000—to put the question of Hungarian membership in the EU firmly on the agenda.
  • It could let the U.S. Senate know that there is no urgency in giving final approval to the ambassador designate, Colleen Bell—a capable but not necessarily knowledgable enough political appointee. If necessary, the Obama administration could send a Hungarian-speaking professional diplomat in her stead.
  • It could downgrade diplomatic relations by reducing the size of the unnecessarily large U.S. Embassy in Budapest and by assigning a relatively low-level American diplomat to conduct business with the Hungarian ambassador in Washington and his staff.
  • It could proudly but politely continue to engage in a cultural war against the anti-American thugs who write and pontificate in the country’s official media. In the process it could reach out, even more than now, to America’s friends among intellectuals and the political elite.

Except for what the EU could do, these are but small, symbolic steps. Soon enough, however, most Hungarians will appreciate that we kept hope alive.

Goodbye to democracy: An interview with Gáspár Miklós Tamás about Viktor Orbán’s speech

Since there is a debate going on about the art of the translator, I am happy to publish a translation by George Szirtes, Hungarian-born British poet, writer, and translator. He has translated many important Hungarian literary works into English, including such classics as the nineteenth-century verse play of Imre Madách, The Tragedy of Man, and novels of  Gyula Krúdy, Ferenc Karinthy, and Sándor Márai. His last translation, Satantango [Sátántangó in Hungarian] by László Krasznahorkai, received the Best Translated Book Award in 2013.

So, enjoy both the translation and the thoughts of Gáspár Miklós Tamás or, as he signs his publications in English, G. M. Tamás. The interview took place on Egyenes beszéd [Straight talk] on the television station ATV on July 28. The original interview in Hungarian can be seen here. This dramatic interview should help foreign observers realize the seriousness of the situation in Hungary.

Only today two important editorials were published. The New York Times calls on Jean-Claude Juncker to act more forcefully because otherwise “the commission would diminish its credibility.” The Wall Street Journal wrote that the “West’s victory in the Cold War led to a complacency that the liberal idea was triumphant–that it was ‘the end of history,’ in the fashionable phrase of the day…. Western Europe needs to set a better example of what freedom can achieve by reviving economic growth, and the American President who ostensibly still leads the free world ought to break his pattern and speak up on behalf of the liberal idea.” 

I’m grateful to George Szirtes for allowing me to publish his transcription and translation. The text originally appeared on his blog.

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GOODBYE TO DEMOCRACY

‘On Saturday Hungary officially, ceremonially, openly, publicly, said goodbye to democracy.’ 

[My transcript is very close but here and there I have cut a passage for brevity or shaped a phrase in what I believe is a faithful fashion.  In it TGM [TGM here since Hungarian puts the surname first] argues this is the beginning of a very dark chapter in Hungarian history.

I am somewhat amazed that the UK press hasn’t picked up more on the Orbán speech. It is, after all, quite something to declare the end of liberal democracy and to suggest that the prime minister should not be answerable to other state checks and balances. GSz]

one-to-one
Interviewer recounts views of other parties on Viktor Orbán’s speech then turns to Gáspár Tamás Miklós. She asks if there are any points in Orbán’s speech that the opposition and the press have left undiscussed.

TGM replies that this is a speech of extraordinary importance. He credits Orbán with being a highly  intelligent man, a significant historical figure and a charismatic politician, one whose place is assured in Hungarian history. This, he claims, is the proclamation of a new political system, the seeds of which had already been sown. The speech was clear and simple to summarise. 

TGM counts on his fingers and summarises.

TGM:
1. He is building an illiberal state. This is demonstrated by his rewriting of the constitution and by his ending of the separation of powers. He joked about this saying that if there were any attempt to impeach or obstruct him that would mean he wasn’t the leader of the country. In other words he knows what the game is, as do I.

2. His stated his doubts about democracy

3. He announced that the concept of human rights is out of date. That human rights are finished

4. He declared  the country must abandon any notion of social support (or welfare state)

5. He declared that his preferred state models were Singapore, Russia, Turkey and China.

6. He declared that all NGOs working in the cultural or social sphere were foreign agents, traitors paid by alien powers

Gáspár Miklós Tamás

Gáspár Miklós Tamás

Interviewer asks which of these six points was new.

TGM`: Every one of them.

Interviewer doubts that but TGM insists that they are completely new. Was it not just a matter of actually articulating them in a new way? asks the interviewer.  TGM repeats that it was utterly new, in every respect

TGM: Yes there was this kind breast-beating before but that’s not important.

He goes on to Orbán’s idea of the state founded on work, the ‘work state’, the ‘illiberal state’ the ‘populist state’ the ‘national state’ etc.

TGM: This is a complete break with the post-1945 consensus as espoused by what we call the free world, not only with 1945 but with the less-free post-1989 political, social and moral consensus. Its abandonment of social responsibility represents a break with the ideas of freedom, and equality. What does a ‘work-based state mean?  It means a non-social state, a non-welfare state, a state that offers no support or aid – it is a case of arbeit macht frei isn’t it? It means that work is what people do not because they want to but because they have to so that capitalists may prosper, the kind of work the unemployed would be forced to do against which, in a free country, there would be mass demonstrations….

Interviewer returns to her earlier question. ‘But what is new in all this?’ Again TGM replies: everything. The question is what is to come?

TGM: So what is to come? What is new is that this has become a political programme to be enacted by the state. On Saturday Hungary officially, ceremonially, openly, publicly, said goodbye to democracy. The prime minister, the autocratic leader of the country, has declared that he is opposed to civil society. Have you noticed we no longer have a governing party by the way? When was the last time we heard anything of Fidesz as a factor, a genuine player? – all we have recently been hearing is a state apparatus in which not a shred of democratic process remains and when we see the Secretary for Defence using a violent thug [a named army officer from Hungarian history] as a role model for new army recruits we may be certain what kind of violent, thuggish, and repressive state is being promised to us… a state that, since the prime minister’s speech was given in Romania, believes in provocation, [a speech] that did in fact elicit a storm of protest in the Romanian press and many declared that they had had quite enough of Hungary.

So here we have, in this truly terrifying speech, given to his friends and a highly enthusiastic audience, one of the darkest moments in Hungarian history, a moment of darkness provided by Viktor Orbán. Meanwhile everyone goes, ‘oh dear, there he goes again, isn’t that just the kind of thing he tends to say ‘ But that’s not what is happening here. It is time to take Viktor Orbán seriously so that we can take up arms against  him and save Hungary. I don’t despise him, I don’t look down to him. What we have here is an almost fully achieved dictatorship.

In any dictatorship the person of the dictator is important. Viktor Orbán is not going to let power slip from his hands now. All dictatorships depend on the dictator so now we have to concern ourselves with the kind of person Orbán is.

He told us that he will not be removed by elections. [That means] that those who are against him must be prepared for the grimmest struggle. Either that or he remains in office as long as his health permits, directing the affairs of the country by his own authority, while the country descends ever further into darkness in every possible respect in economic, political, cultural, social, or moral terms until we become a waste land, a wreck, a terrible place, a black hole in the map of Europe, a place more backward and more tyrannous than any of our Eastern European neighbours, and we will have to start envying the Bulgarians and Macedonians who will be in a far better condition, far freer, more cultured.

Interviewer asks what happens if Orbán refuses to be voted out through normal elections.

TGM: Blood and chaos. That’s the way it usually goes when elections don’t work. It’s what happens when people’s social plight becomes ever more desperate. Our social circumstances are bound to worsen and there will be people desperate and violent enough to bring down the country in the process.

We really can’t take this seriously enough. What was said in that speech is highly dangerous.

Interviewer asks whether people are in the mood to rise in defence of such high ideals.

TGM: Not at all, not at the moment. This is a browbeaten society that has utterly bought into [the Orbán persona?]. But it won’t always be so. Nothing lasts for ever. At the moment there is no ideology to confront this dark chauvinism, this cult of the state, this cult of force, full of anti-democratic sentiment.

Interviewer: Why isn’t there?

TGM: We are exhausted. We Hungarians are too tired to argue. You can’t expect people to sacrifice themselves without a hope of success. People are resigned. Like it or not, they accept they can’t change it.

Interviewer:  So what hope is there?

TGM: [Thinks] The one hope lies in continuing to uphold the ideals of freedom and equality as long as we can. The hope is that, despite everything, we don’t give up on the ideals of 1918, 1945 and 1989. Those  [ideals] belong to us. No one can take them from us. We might have to prepare for a long and very bad period. I myself might not live to see the end of it. Who knows? The fact remains that if we wish to live a moral life and to protect the culture of freedom we have to maintain a cool but obstinate resistance and to repeat our own commonplaces.

Interviewer: How can you maintain these high ideals when the prime minister offers hard facts? When he takes banks back into Hungarian control? When he forces banks to pay back what they owe. Has anyone ever made a bank pay us? So he doesn’t go on about ideals, about constitutional details.

TGM: I never said he was an unsuccessful politician. He is that, among other things. He is the only man who can give us hard facts because he is in charge of the government.

Interviewer: So there you are, hard facts. Isn’t it better to have hard facts than to be dreaming about ideals?

TGM: Are you talking about those four million people currently in desperate straits in this country? Do you think they like it? Do you think they don’t believe in ideals such as a better life? That too is an ideal: they believe their own children deserve as much as the better off, the middle class and the rich. That ideal is called equality.

It’s not the way they refer to it every day, of course. But that is the proper word for it. These things are connected. These ideals are not a matter for a few specialists divorced from reality. Equality means that the bottom four million have a right to food, electricity, to a heated home, to read, to enjoy their pleasures. That is an ideal but it’s not the reality.

This ideal concerns the poverty of four million people and the servitude of ten million,  and opposes the torrent of state funded lies with which Viktor Orbán and his underlings flood this small country. Yes, there are ideals in which people believe, that, for example, they should be able to live a decent honourable life. That ideal has roots in Christianity, in liberalism, and in socialism. That is not something they are obliged to know, but they know it. And Viktor Orbán is telling you directly, in your face while laughing at you that that is what you have to live without.

And if, dear fellow Hungarians, that is what you accept that is what you’ll get. There’s nothing anyone can do for now except to regard this terrible speech with hatred and contempt. Because society is weak but it is possible for it to know these things.

  * * *

[That is the end of the interview. It is a very dark vision of Hungary’s future and TGM is clearly angry.  It is fascinating – and liberating – to hear a man talk of socialism with such conviction. It is fascinating that he should include Christianity and liberalism in the struggle for freedom and equality.

What that shows is that TGM is not an old-system communist. He was part of the opposition to the pre-1989 order. He is part of the spectrum that any democratic society should be proud to represent. It is the spectrum Hungary is on the point of leaving. GSz]

 

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.

The reception of Viktor Orbán’s speech in the West and in Romania

The world is in such a turmoil that although Viktor Orbán’s open admission of his goal to eliminate the “liberal” component of western-type democracy might be considered a watershed both domestically and in Hungary’s relation with the European Union, it is receiving scant attention. After all, the armed conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East are serious current problems, while Viktor Orbán’s threat to Hungarian democracy and to the European Union would have  negative implications only in the future.

In English I managed to find only a couple of news items about Orbán’s speech. The Associated Press published a short summary which was then picked up by ABC. Zoltán Simon’s reporting from Budapest for Bloomberg was more detailed and to the point: “Orbán Says He Seeks to End Liberal Democracy in Hungary.”  This article must have had a large readership judging from the number of comments.

Vox.com quotes an important passage from the speech: “I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations.” Actually, I trust that this will be a sticking point soon enough. The author of the article also takes issue with Orbán’s contention that illiberal states are economic success stories; they are in fact doing a great deal worse than liberal states. Russia, Turkey, and China are all poorer than Croatia, Poland, or Hungary for that matter.

The German and Austrian papers that are usually full of news about Hungarian politics are silent. Perhaps everybody is on vacation. I found only one German article and even this one only through a Hungarian source. It appeared in the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung. The title of the piece is “Enough!,” a reference to the question of how long the European Union will tolerate Viktor Orbán’s anti-democratic policies that have already transformed Hungary into a non-democratic state. “One must urgently pose the question whether Hungary led by Viktor Orbán wants to remain part of the European Union or not.” And while he was at it, the journalist suggested that the European People’s Party should expel Hungary from its delegation.

On the other hand, interest in Orbán’s speech was great in Romania. After all, it was delivered there and its implications can already be felt. Romanian-Hungarian relations are at an all-time low.

Before I turn to the Romanian press I would like to talk about Viktor Orbán’s contradictory messages and how they affect the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries. Let’s start with Romania. The Hungarian minority in Romania is large: 1.2 million people or 6.4% of the population. Yet, according to the Romanian constitution, Romania is a “nation-state.” The Hungarian minority would like to have Romania be officially transformed into a multi-national state.

Orbán should know full well that the highly charged nationalism he is advocating is not in the interest of the Hungarians in the neighboring countries. Nationalism on one side of the border evokes nationalism on the other side. This is exactly what happened in Romania. Bogdan Diaconu, a nationalist politician and member of parliament, published an article in Adevarul, a leading Romanian newspaper, which was subsequently translated into Hungarian. The nationalistic hate speech of Diaconu there was countered with obscene, equally hateful comments by Hungarians.

nationalism

Surely, Orbán’s nationalism does not make the life of the Hungarian minority any easier in the neighboring countries. Just the opposite. Great suspicion follows every word Orbán utters in connection with his plans for the “nation.” And that is not all. Orbán’s attack on Hungarian NGOs that receive foreign money was also a double-edged sword. He argued that this money is being used to influence the Hungarian government, which cannot be tolerated. But the Hungarian government is financing Hungarian NGOs and parties in Romania and Slovakia. Thus, the Hungarian government is trying to influence the Slovak and Romanian governments on behalf of the Hungarian minority. What will happen if Romania or Slovakia follows Orbán’s example and refuses the receipt of any money from Budapest destined for the Hungarian NGOs? In fact, one of the Romanian articles that appeared in Romania Libera talked about the incongruity of Orbán’s stance on the issue. According to the journalist, if Orbán tries to silence the NGOs financed from abroad, “the bad example” might be imitated in other Eastern European countries where democracies are not yet sufficiently stable. We know which countries he has in mind.

In any case, although for the time being it is unlikely that either the Slovak or the Romanian government will try to imitate Viktor Orbán, Romanian commentators are worried that Hungarian bellicosity will have an adverse effect on the stability of the region. Romanian papers talk about an “illiberal” state’s possible revisionist tendencies which could upset the stability of the region given the presence of Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia.

All in all, Orbán with this speech declared war on several fronts. Against his own people, against the European Union, against Hungarian civil society, and last but not least by his overcharged nationalist rhetoric against the amity of nations in Eastern Europe.

——

I would like to call everyone’s attention to Hungarian Free Press, a new English-language news portal from Canada. Here are some introductory words from the editor-in-chief:

The Hungarian Free Press, an online newspaper published by Presszo Media Inc., a Canadian federally-registered company based in Ottawa, was launched this morning. The HFP aims to offer informed opinion on current events in Hungary and East/Central Europe, and to expose to a broader English-speaking audience the explicit move away from liberal parliamentary democracy, which now appears to be the overt policy direction of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.

While pro-government English-language publications, such as the newly launched Hungary Today site, as well as Mandiner’s English-language blog, The Hungarian Globe, aim to create the impression that Mr. Orbán’s government is really no different than any other right-centre or conservative administration and is simply “attacked” by the left for the same ideological reasons, this is not an accurate reflection of the situation. A good case-in-point is Hungary Today’s coverage of Mr. Orbán’s Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad) speech, where the prime minister formally declared that the days of Hungarian liberal democracy were over and that his preferred authoritarian political model was similar to that found in countries like China, Russia and Singapore. Hungary Today, in its coverage, made it appear that Mr. Orbán, like most right-centre politicians, was merely challenging the welfare state and was attacked for this reason by the left-centre opposition, thus making the speech and the reactions that followed seem like “business as usual” in the world of parliamentary politics.

In 1961, American President John F. Kennedy was among the most articulate in expressing the media’s role in the long-term survival of multiparty democracy. Kennedy, addressing the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27th, 1961 noted:

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

The HFP joins a very small handful of English publications in exposing the danger that Mr. Orbán and his avowedly illiberal, anti-democratic and openly authoritarian government represent in the heart of Europe.

Domestic reactions to Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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