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Sep 17, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

The Guardian correspondent compares PM Orbán to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Yes, you read that correctly.

Earlier today, The Guardian’s correspondent for central and eastern Europe drew a comparison between Prime Minister Orbán and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with a cute little Tweet cherry-picking two excerpts, one from a recent speech by the Hungarian PM about Christian democracy and a passage attributed to the Iranian leader about religious democracy in the Islamic Republic.

So what was the point? PM Orbán dares criticize the modern failures of liberal democracy in the West, so that makes him like the Supreme Leader of Iran? Promoting a new model of Christian democracy equals building an Islamic theocracy?

That’s as absurd as it is ignorant. Christianity has shaped the cultural foundations of Europe for thousands of years. It begins with the dignity of every human being, man and woman, who live in a free – and virtuous – society. The free and virtuous society of Christian democracy includes, among others, the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience including the freedom to convert. Suffice to say, not everyone in the world enjoys those freedoms…

When you have a lot of spare time on your hands, you can play fun games lifting quotes out of context, and the luminaries of the Twittersphere will reward you with many likes and retweets.

But if you want to contribute something meaningful to the discussion, there are plenty of other quotes from Prime Minister Orbán, and others, that you could engage.

Like this one from his speech in July at the 30th Bálvanyos Open University:

“[L]iberal democracy can only exist in a world in which Christian culture existed before it…Liberal democracy was viable up until the point when it departed from its Christian foundations.”

Or plenty of others from the recent speech to the 12th Congress of the Federation of Christian Intellectuals, the speech from which the tweet also quoted:

“Liberal democracy teaches that an individual should have the freedom to do anything that does not violate the freedom of another individual. Christian freedom teaches that you should not treat others in a way that you would not want others to treat you – and this can also be expressed as a positive, as well as a negative.”

Or when the PM talks about the first political transformation of eastern Europe, which was about “Soviets out, communists down, freedom up,” and how we needed a second transformation to complete the first:

“It would not be enough to merely say what we want to be free from. We would also have to answer the question of why we want to be free: how do we want to use our freedom? What kind of world do we want to build by using our political and constitutional freedom?”

This new model offered by Christian democrats stands by freedom. “The concept of Christian freedom,” said the PM, “holds that recognition is due to those individual achievements which also serve the common good: self-reliance and work; the ability to create and sustain a livelihood; learning; a healthy lifestyle; the payment of taxes; starting a family and raising children; the ability to orient oneself in the affairs and history of the nation; and participating in the nation’s self-reflection.”

Christianity remains inseparable from the cultural roots of Europe. That’s indisputable. “All the European countries are permeated by Christian civilization,” wrote Robert Schuman. “It is the soul of Europe which must be restored to it.” And cut loose from its moral foundation, the future of democratic Europe should worry us all. “As history demonstrates,” wrote Saint Pope John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical letter Centesimus annus, “a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.”

I know it’s fashionable in the editorial suites of papers like The Guardian to write snide things about Prime Minister Orbán. Keep serving up flimsy parallels on Twitter, suggesting that Christian democracy is somehow akin to an Islamic Republic, and one is sure to win more followers in the leftist fever swamps. But if someone wants to pretend to be a correspondent for central and eastern Europe, it would be better to get one’s head around these ideas because those of us who lived through the revolutions of 1989 and 1990 see things differently.

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