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Apr 11, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

Lost: the last, desperate gasps of a discredited, liberal elite

And how they’ve suckered the German press

Liberalism is lost. “This era,” said Prime Minister Orbán at a press conference in January, the era when the liberal perspective dominated public discourse, “is now at an end.” 

Issues have emerged, the prime minister continued, on which the majority disagree with liberalism. “They disagree with the values that [liberals] stand for, and the policies that flow from them,” he said, “therefore the distribution of power will shift.” Liberalism has wandered off into the realm of ideology, one that lost touch with the people. And its crusaders are having a terribly hard time coming to terms with that difficult demise.

That’s the unintended message that comes through the science fiction screed, “Hungary is lost,” an editorial published yesterday by Die Zeit and authored by someone writing under an alias, supposedly an academic formerly at the CEU in Budapest. These people have grown desperate and malicious. Their brand of liberalism is dying, rejected by voters in Hungary and across the West, and their elite is mad as hell.

Why would anyone, I asked myself, write a critique of today’s Hungary, hiding behind a penname, “Beda Magyar”?

The answer: Nobody would put his real name to such outlandish, incendiary claims as those of Beda Magyar. Even PM Orbán’s serious critics would find these laughable. For example:

The author does not rule out the possibility that in Hungary there may be “inexplicable deaths from time to time…an opposition candidate being hit by a car just the day before the elections, or a shady businessman in a police car,” or a mysterious “heart attack.”

That picture of Hungary is seductive to the German media establishment and broad swaths of Europe’s liberal chattering classes – so seductive that they accept it without question – but it just doesn’t square with reality. The author claims that Viktor Orbán “is destroying democracy” and has reduced the country to “a pile of rubble,” a country that “has committed suicide in plain sight,” but the picture he draws utterly fails to explain so many things happening here today.

The country is most certainly not committing suicide. Not only are the number of suicides dropping, but the birth rate is on the rise – recent statistics show it at 1.49, still low but up markedly from 1.25 in 2010 (when Prime Minister Orbán took office). How would the author explain the fact that between 2010 and 2017, the number of divorces fell from 24 thousand to 18 thousand, while the number of abortions dropped by more than a third? In the same period, marriages increased by a striking 42 percent in Hungary. Those are not signs of a suicidal nation. They are signs of optimism and confidence.

“The economy is in a dire state,” writes Beda Magyar, grabbing arguments from thin air, “sustained by the artificial life support of EU funds and four to five huge German companies.” In 2018, EU funds amounted to no more than 4 percent of Hungary’s GDP. Meanwhile, foreign direct investment set records in 2018: 98 large, foreign investments valued at approximately 4.3 billion euro, creating more than 17 thousand jobs. Of the 98, 28 came from German firms. Another 17 came from South Korea, India, Japan and China. And that’s only 2018, a year in which Hungary was ranked as the eighth most attractive place to invest in the world. The market votes with its feet.

But facts don’t matter if you’re a liberal academic, hiding behind a penname and taking shots at a popular, conservative leader you want to paint as a despot.

“Unemployment,” he claims, “is masked by community work programs.” In fact, Hungary’s labor market is hopping. The jobless rate now stands at 3.6 percent, approaching frictional unemployment, and real wages are on the rise. Don’t believe me? Ask any employer or jobseeker who has hired or looked for a job in the last year.

And then media freedom. Mr. Magyar complains of “propaganda” and a “brutalization” of press and society reminiscent of the “1930s”. A comparison – in a German newspaper – between today’s Hungary and the propaganda of the 1930s strikes me as, well, remarkable, to put it delicately.

Our academic critic claims that this “brutalization” of the media means “there is a façade of press freedom” but the state allows only “a few showcase media outlets with minimal reach to continue functioning.” Minimal reach? Seriously?

The biggest audience share on television by far belongs to RTL Klub – and 71 percent of Hungarians get their info from television. RTL Klub is clearly not government propaganda. Week after week, at least four out of the top five TV programs belong to RTL Klub.

Some 35 percent of Hungarians get their news and information from the Internet. Who has the biggest online audience? Index.hu, a news platform staunchly critical of the Orbán Government that is also the most popular Hungarian site on the Internet. Among the top 100 Hungarian websites, according to the DKT council that measures audience share, media that could be considered sympathetic to the government garner approximately 1.7 million pageviews daily. Online, liberal media critical of the government pull in 3.5 million per day – more than double.

But reading our clever Beda Magyar, you might get fooled into believing they have “minimal reach”.

In a country where elections are so unfair, one would expect voter apathy. In the parliamentary elections of 2018, however, voter turnout surged to 70.2 percent, the highest since 2002 and up from 64.4 percent in 2010. Viktor Orbán’s governing alliance, after eight years in power, garnered more votes in 2018 than in 2010 – quite unusual for incumbents.

Government propaganda about immigration, writes Mr. Magyar, describes Hungary “as the last fortress standing in the way of "invasion". In 2015, according to Frontex, the Western Balkans Migration Route became the most heavily trafficked route to Europe. That’s the one that marches right up through southeastern Europe to the southern border of Hungary, the external border of the EU’s Schengen Area. In 2015, one of the worst years of the migration crisis, more than 400 thousand crossed Hungary’s European border illegally.

Ivory tower academics may scoff at the prime minister calling it an invasion, but have a look at video of the “battle of Röszke” (available widely online), which shows a violent mob of mostly male migrants attacking the Hungarian (and EU) border in 2015, demanding to be allowed to cross illegally into the European Union, and then come up with a better word to describe it. 

Those illegal crossings on Hungary’s portion of the EU border have dropped to near zero because we built a fence to protect it. Millions of Austrians, Germans and other Europeans are grateful we did so.

If our dear Hungary were a “pile of rubble”, as he writes, then why are Hungarians coming back? Hungary, like many CEE countries saw significant emigration after the 2008 financial crisis nearly brought us to ruin and the EU labor markets opened up. But Hungarians have been coming home at growing rates. The number of people coming back grew by 29 percent in 2017, the most recent data available, and the number of citizens returning now far exceeds those leaving.

None of what we read in this depiction of Hungary presented by the brave “Beda Magyar” squares with the facts. And that’s precisely the problem with today’s liberalism and its fanatic proponents. Liberalism has become the be-all and end-all for how to organize society, veering recklessly toward end-of-history triumphalism and liberalism as a religion.

So much so that facts become secondary. This liberalism demands that you embrace globalism and multiculturalism, open borders and immigration, moral relativism, “tolerance” and political correctness and abandon all that stands in its way, like firm opposition to immigration and promotion of Europe’s Christian culture and our national identity.

“Liberalism today no longer stands up for freedom,” said Prime Minister Orbán in an interview in 2015, “but for political correctness – which is the opposite of freedom. This leads to a closed, elitist form of politics,” such that today “there is no intention to involve the people in the debate. Public opinion is simply disregarded.”

“That’s why we let go of neoliberal economic policy, let go of the misconception of multiculturalism,” the prime minister said, “let go of liberal social policy, which does not recognize the common good and rejects Christian culture, the natural, perhaps the only natural, foundation for European social organization.” 

As the prime minister has made clear, we won’t compromise on our opposition to immigration and our defense of Europe’s Christian culture and identity. Hungary is not lost. Liberalism is lost. And as long as we stand athwart liberalism’s religion, we can fully expect more of their fierce opposition even as that era comes to a desperate end.