Feb 01, 2018 - Mária Schmidt

How Fantastic

This newspaper, apparently the authoritative daily of the business world, set out to decipher Orbán’s secret with the intent of revealing to its readers Viktor Orbán’s real nature and his “illiberal democracy”.

The following is a guest post by Dr. Mária Schmidt, director general of the House of Terror Museum and the XXI Century Institute.

On January 25, the Financial Times published a long article entitled, “The rise and rise of Viktor Orbán,” by Neil Buckley and Andrew Byrne. How fantastic. On the very same day, the Hungarian prime minister was mentioned again – in Davos – where an elderly, financial speculator named George Soros was prattling about Trump’s intention to build a carbon copy of the mafia state that he says Orbán has set up, the difference between the two is that the former is not as successful in this endeavour as the latter. He did not of course refrain from stepping into the electoral contest in Hungary, but by now that doesn’t astonish anybody.

It becomes apparent in this long article, however, that Orbán hasn’t only caught the imagination of the “advanced”, but is producing, doing, saying, thinking something that gets stuck in their throats. It’s too much for them to swallow, and they can’t spit it out.

This newspaper, apparently the authoritative daily of the business world, set out to decipher Orbán’s secret with the intent of revealing to its readers Viktor Orbán’s real nature and his “illiberal democracy”. Their attempt failed because they had no real questions to ask and because they were not interested in the kind of answers that did not fit their prejudices and also because they relied on sources who told them what they wanted to hear. Hence, the article did not offer anything beyond the familiar old anti-Orbán mantras. I will take a closer look at a few of them below, but first I cannot resist the temptation to tackle the article’s main charge against Orbán because it is too absurd, even funny. The main problem the authors have with Orbán is in fact his “will to power”. Not only does he want power but also wants to keep it! Unheard of! They also quote Soros, according to whom Orbán’s “main motive is the pursuit of power and its trappings”. Soros was asked to express his views on this matter probably because he is well-known for having absolutely no will to power, on the contrary it repels him, and the only reason he interferes with politics in several parts of the world, including elections, for instance in Hungary, is out of humanitarian considerations. Unlike Orbán! Who wants power so much! As if anybody could become a party chairman or prime minister in a democracy without running for power at full speed. In order to grab power, in fact, one needs to make horrible sacrifices. Keeping power, on the other hand, is a value in itself, which requires excellent performance, indefatigable work, self-limitation and self-sacrifice. Anybody who doesn’t want power more than anything else will never get it and if it happens to fall into their lap, they will be unable to use it, won’t feel the responsibility it entails and will never meet the expectations that come with it. Is it possible perhaps that Merkel, Macron, May, Juncker, Tusk, Trudeau and Nobel prize-winning Obama did not want power? Doesn’t Mrs Merkel pursue it with all her talent after 12 years in government? Or to make it clear to FTs authors: do the CEOs of great corporations not want power? Or the chairmen of big banks? What kind of phony and hypocritical attitude is this that they represent? Or is it something is worthy of appreciation and deeply honoured in their world but bad when we find it east of the Elbe?

It’s great to know that Timothy Garton Ash has also offered his opinion from Oxford. It was with great relief that I learned that expertise has been heard at last. He says Hungary is “not in the strict sense a dictatorship. But it is certainly not a liberal democracy any more. It is some kind of hybrid regime, a semi-authoritarian regime. That poses fundamental questions about the nature of the EU — whether it is indeed a community of democracies.” Let’s put this straight, for the authors share Ash’s opinion to the extent that they declare in the subtitle of their article that Orbán “has turned Hungary into a semi-authoritarian regime.” Hungary is a constitutional democracy. Power rests with the National Assembly, which is elected through universal, secret and equal suffrage. The government and the president of the Republic are elected by Parliament just as are the members of the Constitutional Court, the chief prosecutor and the president of the Supreme Court. What is to be found authoritarian in a system based on popular representation? And what does “semi” mean? Which half does it indicate? Why does a democracy have to be liberal? What are the criteria of this kind of modern-day liberalism? Same-sex marriage? LBTQXYZ matters? Metoo? A guaranteed monopoly of neoliberal economic policies? Drug liberalisation? Public support for George Soros’s ideas?

Quoting Ash, the authors criticise Orbán for attempting to have constructive relations with Russia and China. “Even if Hungary is a small member state, Russia and China have a prospect of almost having a seat at the decision-making table in Brussels,” he says. I realise that Ash and the authors of this highly respected international newspaper are great experts and therefore they must know, like everyone else, that Germany’s most important trade partner is China and that in this very moment the Germans are building North Stream II along with the Russians, with the aim of delivering even more natural gas to Germany bypassing Ukraine. And then we haven’t even mentioned the highly intimate relationship between Juncker and Gazprom. This is one reason why the concern expressed by the highly authoritative authors is so ridiculous, albeit certainly flattering.

The rest of the article is what we grew accustomed to some time ago. Orbán, the young champion of democracy has become a nationalist-conservative populist, they declare in all sadness before defining that as “one of the most remarkable recent transformations in European politics”.

As for Orbán, he started out as a freedom fighter and that is what he has remained. (The same goes for Kaczyński.) As mentioned in the article, Viktor Orbán burst onto the stage of Hungarian and European politics June 16, 1989 during the reburial ceremony of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs when in a brave speech he was the first in our region to call on the Russians to withdraw their troops and not to prevent free elections. Let us not forget that the Chinese student movement had been crushed by communist rulers on Tiananmen Square in a wave of bloody repression that began June 4, just two weeks prior. This might have been one reason why Orbán was excoriated and even denigrated by the experts and the pundits of the time just as today – sometimes by the same people. With the same condescension and infallibility, of course. But just as then, Orbán is again the one who has understood his own era, and he is the one who has been vindicated by time. “Time is true and will decide what is not,” Sándor Petőfi, the great Hungarian poet, taught us. Orbán wanted a free and democratic Hungary in 1989 and this is precisely what he wants today, in 2018. A sovereign nation, a sovereign government, sovereign democracy. Because he is fully aware that we did not sit out Nazi and Soviet occupation, losing over a million countrymen, including the best of our people who gave their lives for freedom and independence in order to get out of the frying-pan only to find themselves in the fire. Nazi and Soviet invaders were brutal and cruel. The national resistance that rose up against them was clear and tenacious. We were united just like the rest of the nations that suffered under Soviet occupation. The very similar experience we gathered over almost 50 years binds us together. Just like the shared struggles, disillusionments and achievements of the almost three full decades since the end of Soviet occupation. The pressure on the region intended to curb our sovereignty and question our independence is much more manipulative and often more indirect than the kind we experienced under Soviet rule, but it is similarly of imperial inspiration and bureaucratic in its character. The language used against us is also ideological, just like the one we heard back then. We remember certain words and expressions, thinly veiled threats beyond which we were supposed to imagine the full strength of the Red Army and of the political police. Today, we something similar in the references in the FT article that hint at revoking cohesion funds, invoking article 7 and various other cuts in EU funds. The difference is that now we would be supposed to adapt ourselves unconditionally to the variant of liberal democracy legitimised by the leaders and the pundits of the Union, if we want to be considered worthy of what we are entitled to. Orbán, Morawiecki, Fico, Babiš and all the rest of them think about the European Union as a free association of free European nations. They stick to the idea that their countries should be free to shape their futures based on their own laws, ideas and values. If they don’t want muslim migrants, nobody should be entitled to force them to change their minds, for the sole reason that West Europeans have a bad conscience because of what they did at some time in the past against someone in the colonies. We haven’t colonised anyone and therefore have no bad conscience. By contrast, we Hungarians have suffered over a hundred and fifty years of Ottoman rule and that was enough. We don’t want any more of that; we checked its impact and its consequences and have no intention to fall into the same abyss once again out of our own free will. We have sufficient experience with foreign rule, have suffered several types of occupations, and cherish our success in preserving our culture, language and national traditions. We are proud of having remained what we are. We have no intention to give all that up in order to be patted on the shoulder by some transient politician or to have better press coverage in the West.

Thus, the problem that the “advanced” of the Union have with Orbán is that he has remained a freedom fighter and a democrat. Without any adjectives because we also learned under socialism that adjectives sometimes function like the suffix ’less’. It was by no coincidence that we had to live under a “people’s democracy,” about which everyone knew that the adjective “people” meant dictatorship. The adjective “liberal” plays the same role that “people’s” played in those years. Anybody hearing that word knows exactly what it is all about. If those who consider themselves “advanced Westerners” want to get along with us, they should stop calling us nationalists because rather than being a stigma or an offense, it is fundamental over here. We are all on the side of national independence, except for an illiberal and anti-nation state minority. The left-wingers in Hungary are communists and post-communists. They want to keep the old world alive. They have been joined by a handful of ‘68 liberals who haven’t had a new idea in 50 years. Populist in Hungarian means someone whose words are understood by the people and who will also understand what he is being told. This is not a disparaging adjective over here.

At the dawn of the regime change, we considered George Soros a Hungarian for whom Hungary and its freedom were important and who supported those acting for those causes because he could afford to do so. Today, we consider him as someone who poses a threat to our freedom and independence. He has become an enemy of our national statehood who has a lot of money and therefore believes that he can buy everything and everybody. He has lived abroad too long and therefore has forgotten that we are far too proud and independent-minded to sell our freedom. We don’t respect Soros anymore and don’t look up to him.

What Soros says in this article about Orbán having guaranteed a monopoly to his father in supplying material for roadbuilding is a blatant lie that the authors should have had the good education to rectify. It’s anybody’s guess why they didn’t. Soros claims that the increasing popularity of Orbán and nationalists like him “means open society is facing its biggest test since the second world war.” Thus, the Cold War Soviet threat, the more than 50 million dead from the walls and iron curtains that stood from 1945 to 1990 shrink beside the threat represented in Orbán’s nationalism.

At this point I felt relieved.