As Hungary’s PM Orban basically rejected liberal democracy, what is his vision?

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Questions:

1. Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban basically rejected the liberal democracy in his speech. How much would you say this is his genuine vision and how much is it an effort to attract Jobbik’s voters and similar elements of Hungarian society?

2. Can Orban’s thinking find some support among European politicians, not only among various radicals, but also also among so called mainstream politicians,  is Orban’s vision a broader threat to democracy?

Answers:

Dániel Bartha, Central European Policy Institute (CEPI)

Traditionally Orban delivers every year a speech at the Bálványosi Szabadegyetem, a summer political- cultural festival of Fidesz supporters in Transylvania. The general crowd of the events are the more active Fidesz supporters, the younger generation of Fidesz and many Hungarian who lives in Romania. This crowd is usually demanding a bit more radical philosophical speech. The speech was much more indicating the following:

–  Don’t expect any consolidation in the second term, he is supporting and behind personally the recent attacks by different politicians from Fidesz and state authorities on the remaining elements of checks and balances (the bulk of them was destroyed during his first term). That includes the attack and crackdown on civil society and on media. He won’t change his mind on a value basis, and he won’t care Western criticism on democratic demands and requirements.

–  Don’t expect a more genuine EU or Transatlantic approach, any possible future criticism after this speech , now can be referred as an attack on the alternative Hungarian system by Western leftist-liberal lobby and not an issue based criticism. Actually he has strengthened the vision among his supporters , that any criticism on his regime is just a leftist-liberal attack to destroy the most successful conservative system in Europe.

–  Indeed he was feeding some far-right thought, by offering a competing vision, but I believe only a small minority of them can be approached through this way, along the lines of political visions. Indeed the same argument he has used was so far more widely used by Jobbik leadership.

2. Orban himself is a major threat to European democracies and market economy at all, by creating numerous examples, some of them already followed by other countries. His populist anti-banking and financial system approach, can be popular among larger crowds. The fact that EPP is covering him in Brussels, and EU couldn’t communicate why his approach so negative, or agree on any sanctions shows an example to every European politician. He himself is weakening the EU much more then Putin, by the simple fact that he has an influence to all institutions if the EU and creating internal tensions and not posing an external threat. In many sense he should be compared to Putin himself, as his personality , values and vision is much closer to him then to any European politician.

On the other hand Hungary become less and less attractive to investors, banks minimised their activities, the level of Hungarians leaving the country raised and generally Hungary’s political influence internationally minimised. Behind the scenes he become persona non grata for the whole EPP according to most of my sources in the party family. He is referred everywhere as a negative example, and the long-term effect of that will be visible only in a few years, by further stagnation and isolation of Hungary.

The question is if by then his system will be complete, by creating a Lukashenka like country.

Martin Brusis, Wissenschaftlicher Geschäftsführer des Kompetenznetzes „Institutionen und Institutionenwandel im Postsozialismus“, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

1. Orbán has combined the conservative critique of liberalism as moral relativism and permissiveness with a defamation of civil society organizations as “political activists paid by foreigners” that was first used by Vladimir Putin.  Thus, his political statements are an eclectic mix of ideas that draws on foreign and Hungarian sources, using the pejorative associations linked to the term “liberal” in most East-Central European countries today. He has made his recent speech in Tusnádfürdő  in the context of the electoral campaign preceding the forthcoming local elections in Hungary. The main aim of his speech seems to have been mobilising his electorate and assuring traditional conservative-minded voters of Orbán’s resoluteness and reliability, rather than drawing support from the Jobbik electorate of voters holding extremist views.

2. Orbán’s thinking echoes arguments and views expressed by other right-wing populist politicians in Europe, such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or FPÖ in Austria. His idea that democracy does not require liberalism is unlikely to find support among mainstream centre-right politicians in Europe. This idea constitutes a threat to democracy as it questions civil liberties and political freedoms that form indispensable building blocks of a meaningful democracy.

Erin Marie Saltman, Senior Researcher, Quilliam Foundation

1. Viktor Orban is a very skilled politician. As a conservative, right-wing party, Fidesz has been openly against ‘liberal democracy’ for a while. Using this rhetoric, ‘liberal’ politics are seen as coming from the Hungarian Socialist Party and other liberal and left wing political outlets which are seen to be catering to European and Western globalisation trends. Orban announcing the end of liberal politics in Hungary (and Europe) last week is a declaration meant to appeal to Eurosceptics, of which there are many in Hungary and in Europe. It appeals to some further right, Jobbik supporters as well, but mainly these sorts of comments by Orban are used to maintain his strong image in the media as the only politician openly making big changes to the Hungarian system. It is also important to note that Orban is careful to still say he is pro-democracy but that the current state of democracy is only catering to the rich. This populist and anti-elite rhetoric is highly appealing to many Hungarians.

2. Viktor Orban’s rhetoric will appeal to some mainstream Eurosceptic and conservative European parties. Parties which do not want to have the EU increase its supranational powers might also agree with Orban’s messaging. The term ‘liberal’ is being used as a negative connotation by Fidesz, and other Eurosceptic parties, to equate ‘liberalism’ with an attack on national sovereignty. This has the potential to threaten certain aspects of democracy in Hungary and across Europe. We have already seen controversial overhauls of state institutions in Hungary affecting media laws, judicial structures, education and the introduction of a new constitution. These changes have been met with a high level of scepticism and concern from international watchdogs and European institutions worried about freedom of expression and checks-and-balances in Hungary. Orban’s vision poses a threat more to the basic structure of the EU as Fidesz continues to move away from a united European vision for Hungary, preferring isolationist and nationalist initiatives. Fidesz is also working to strengthen ties with eastern powers, such as Russia. This has been most exemplified by Hungary’s recent 10 billion Euro deal with Russia to develop Hungary’s Paks nuclear plant. Orban is trying to redefine democracy in Hungary which is starting to go against how Europe has defined democratic practices. However, there is little in the way of stopping Fidesz initiatives in Hungary since the party continues to have a super-majority in parliament for the second term in a row.

Anton PelinkaProfessor of Nationalism Studies and Political Science, Central European University

1. I don’t think we can distinguish between Orban’s strategic outlook (concerning Jobbik) and his personal vision.

2. What Orban has said in his most recent speech is clearly unacceptable for the European People’s  Party FIDESZ is still a member of. The European People’s Party  – if not immediately but on the long run – has to rethink and redefine FIDESZ’ membership. Orban’s antiliberal ideas are not compatible with the basic values the EU and the EPP are standing for. I am just not sure whether Orban is risking a break with his European party family intentionally – or if he has crossed a line without realizing it.

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