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Apr 26, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

An Oxford University professor is worried about fascism in eastern Europe, really worried

Earlier this week, the NewStatesman published a profound, navel-gazer of an editorial by a professor emeritus at Oxford University who asks, “When should we start worrying about incipient fascism?”

His answer? Now’s the time to start worrying. Because populism equals fascism. Because Brexit. Because Hungary. Because Orbán.

Professor Simon Wren-Lewis gives us yet another rich illustration of the intolerance of today’s Left. Populism, which for Prime Minister Orbán means listening to the people, has become for the so-called progressives and liberal elite a code word for a threat to liberal democracy. For this Oxford Professor – I wonder when he last set foot in Hungary or in eastern Europe – today’s populism is the slippery slope to fascism.

Fascism was all about the centralization of the strong state. The irony here, of course, is that the Orbán Government plays a leading role in today’s EU in pushing back on the unaccountable centrism of Brussels – on immigration policy, of course, but also on other vital matters like fiscal policy and energy policy and the sovereignty of member states to decide on matters under their authority. European citizens, EU taxpayers, must not be left at the mercy of the dreamland policies of unelected and unaccountable Brussels bureaucrats – prepaid debit cards for illegal migrants and IS terrorists, anyone? Prime Minister Orbán insists that the voice of the citizens matter. Our government opposes precisely what fascism was all about: a strong, centralized, top-down EU state.

But we’ve come to expect this kind of treatment from the western elite because we offend their sacrosanct liberal dogma on issues like immigration and multiculturalism as a more enlightened alternative to affirming the Judeo-Christian cultural roots of Europe.

They have grown so intolerant that the editors at the NewStatesman denied me the right of reply. They have trouble accepting that Prime Minister Orbán’s “rule”, something the liberal elite prefers to call “authoritarian”, is actually the opposite: it is supported by an overwhelming democratic mandate. As long as Hungary regularly conducts the widest public consultation campaigns in Europe on tough questions like immigration and cultural identity, no Oxford professor should be worried about “incipient fascism” in “some Eastern European countries”.

But Wren-Lewis’ agony over emerging fascism on the eastern flank of the European Union doesn’t stop here. He goes on to paint a picture of a Hungary under despotic rule, where a “lethal combination of extreme nationalism, scaremongering”, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic techniques are exploited to keep Viktor Orbán in power. For anyone who has seen a fuller picture of today’s Hungary, none of this holds water.

Because what really keeps Prime Minister Orbán and this government popular, as the author rightly points out, are genuine, democratic elections where Hungary’s ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition has garnered a two-thirds supermajority in three, consecutive, parliamentary elections. Had the elections been unfair, had the contest been rigged, one would expect voter apathy. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, however, voter turnout reached 70.2 percent, the highest participation rate since 2002. At the same time, PM Orbán’s governing alliance received even more votes in 2018 than eight years prior, in the 2010 elections.

Some public bodies have been either “abolished” or limited in their independence, the Oxford professor claims, citing Hungary’s fiscal council, central bank and national elections commission as examples. He’s confused and ill-informed.

While Hungary’s fiscal council (a body that was set up to meet IMF conditions) has been restructured, it still very much exists. Under the leadership of Governor György Matolcsy, the National Bank of Hungary enjoys full independence and has played an important role in maintaining the forint’s stability while bringing down interest rates and making room for more affordable financing.

Don’t worry, professor, the National Elections Commission also remains safe and sound. So much so that last year it fined Prime Minister Orbán some 1,100 euros for a campaign infraction (it concerned the use of photos where Hungary’s strict rules on proper consent had not been fulfilled).

According to Wren-Lewis, PM Orbán’s government wields “almost total control of media and civil institutions”. But if one takes a closer look at Hungary’s online media landscape, for example, they’ll find that while online news outlets that could be considered sympathetic to the government garner approximately 1.7 million pageviews daily, left-liberal media pull in 3.5 million per day.

If an Oxford scholar claims that PM Orbán holds “almost total control” over the Hungarian media, it must be true.

And no anti-Orbán hatchet piece would be complete without the charge of – waitforit – anti-Semitism. Our Oxford academic regurgitates what he’s heard from other leftist critics but apparently does not know that the Orbán Governments adopted a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism, have made Hungary one of Israel’s staunchest supporters on the international scene and have done more than any previous government to address the issue of anti-Semitism, acknowledging Hungary’s “sin” – as PM Orbán described it – in failing to protect its Jewish citizens and supporting today’s Hungarian Jewish community.  All this while becoming one of the few European countries where anti-Semitism is, in fact, on a steady decline. (Read more about Hungary and the false claim of anti-Semitism here, here, here and here.)

Once upon a time in the craft of journalism, total ignorance of a topic was a disqualifying factor. Not so with today’s liberal, mainstream media. Not so with the NewStatesman.