Hungary: Will the EU stand up for its values?
European lawmakers pulled no punches last week in their dressing-down of Hungary’s increasingly authoritarian leader, said Andrew Byrne in the Financial Times (U.K.). Prime Minister Viktor Orban went to the European Parliament in Brussels to defend Hungary’s draconian new education law, which would effectively shut down Budapest’s Central European University—the nation’s last bastion of academic freedom. CEU was founded by Hungarian-born U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros, whose promotion of open societies and civic activism make him Orban’s favorite enemy. Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian leader of the parliament’s liberal faction, accused Orban of acting like Stalin, asking “What’s next, book burning?” Socialist leader Gianni Pittella of Italy called Orban a liar bent on suppressing “science, research, schools, and culture,” claims Orban dismissed as “absurd.” Yet despite all the harsh rhetoric, “Orban emerged relatively unscathed.” The European Commission demanded changes to the education law, but it stopped short of triggering the EU’s “Article 7” mechanism— which would find Hungary in breach of the rule of law and suspend the country’s EU voting rights—because it knows Poland’s ruling conservative party “would veto the sanction.”
What a ridiculous spectacle, said Tamas Lanczi in Hungary’s Mozgasterblog.hu. The Brussels elite resorted to “highly distorted and extremely slanderous” statements to denounce Orban. They are using the CEU as an excuse to criticize the prime minister, when what they’re really angry about is his refusal to allow the mass resettlement of illegal Muslim migrants on Hungarian soil. Fortunately, Orban “remained steadfast, led astray neither by intimidations nor by blackmail.”
This whole flap is an election stunt staged by the prime minister, said Tamas Torba in Magyar Nemzet (Hungary). Orban is simply trying to make sure his Fidesz party doesn’t lose votes to the even-further-right-wing Jobbik party in the 2018 national election. His attempts to block the flood of migrants passing through Hungary with walls, detention centers, and nationalist rhetoric boosted his support among far-right voters. But now that the refugee influx has slowed to a trickle, the prime minister needs a new threat to Hungary and Christian Europe, so he’s settled on CEU and Soros. And by giving him an international stage on which to promote his nationalist agenda, the EU did exactly “as Orban wanted.”
Worse, they appeased a would-be dictator, said Rudolf Ungvary in Nepszava (Hungary). Just as Europeans in 1938 thought they could deal with Hitler “through democratic means,” so the EU has met Orban’s fascistic actions with nothing but the threat of legal action. Of course, this is “not a similar tragedy,” as the lives of millions of Jews are not at stake—just “the hopes of Hungarian democrats.” The EU is wrong to treat Hungary as just another democratic member state. Orban rode a wave of nationalism to power in 2010, and used his two-thirds legislative majority to rewrite the constitution, gutting judicial oversight and eviscerating the free press. We’ve had only “the appearance of democracy” for years. ■