Gwynne Dyer: Hungary’s Viktator says Europe needs Russia

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      When I first interviewed Viktor Orban 25 years ago, he was an anti-Communist student firebrand whose whole purpose in life was to free Hungary from Soviet rule. But you can travel a long way in 25 years.

      In 1991 Orban celebrated the collapse of the Soviet Union, but now he says: “We Europeans need Russia. We need sooner or later—rather sooner than later—a strategic alliance with Russia.” Prime Minister Viktor Orban has become the odd man out in the European Union, putting a close relationship with Russia well ahead of any concerns about what is happening to Ukraine.

      When Russia’s President Vladimir Putin came to Budapest last week to sign a new contract for supplying gas to Hungary, Orban said: “We are convinced that locking Russia out of Europe is not rational. Whoever thinks that Europe can be competitive...without economic cooperation with Russia...is chasing ghosts.” And Putin, standing next to Orban, said that the war in Ukraine was all the Ukrainian government's fault.

      But it’s not just a pragmatic decision by Orban to keep the country’s main energy supplier sweet. (Hungary has also ordered new nuclear reactors from Russia.) Other members of the European Union and NATO that also depend heavily on Russian gas have nevertheless condemned Putin’s actions in Ukraine. Viktor Orban has been on a philosophical journey, and it has delivered him to a strange place.

      In a speech last July, he declared the western democratic model dead and argued that authoritarian regimes like those in Russia, China, and Turkey pointed the way to the future. “We have to abandon liberal methods and principles of organizing a society,” he said. “The new state we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state, because liberal values (in the West) today incorporate corruption, sex, and violence.”

      Orban is not just talking. Since the 2010 election he has had a two-thirds “super-majority” in parliament that lets him amend the constitution as he likes. (Theoretically the supreme court might overrule him, but he has also chosen 11 of the 15 supreme court judges.) New media laws have turned public television into a government mouthpiece, and he has ruthlessly gerrymandered electoral boundaries to guarantee victory for his Fidesz Party.

      Other familiar elements of authoritarian nationalist regimes have also begun to appear in Hungary. Non-governmental organisations are under attack as foreign agents, and foreign-owned banks are to be partly nationalized. Land leased by foreigners any time in the past 20 years must be returned to its Hungarian owners. Every one of these arbitrary changes creates opportunities for corruption that rarely go unexploited by those close to the regime.

      The problem has grown so severe that last year the U.S. government, in an initiative unprecedented against an EU member country, blacklisted 10 Hungarian officials, banning them from entering the United States on the grounds of corruption. And President Barack Obama, discussing corrupt, authoritarian governments, bracketed Hungary with Azerbaijan, Russia, and Venezuela.

      Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European affairs, went further, asking Orban: “How can you sleep under your NATO blanket at night while pushing “illiberal democracy” by day, whipping up nationalism, restricting free press, or demonizing civil society?” But she asked him from a safe distance (Washington: about 7,000 kilometres), and he didn’t bother to reply. And the Hungarians went on voting for him.

      Yet in last April’s parliamentary election, Orban’s “big tent” Fidesz Party won two-thirds of the seats in parliament again (though only by one seat this time). In the European elections in June they won 12 of Hungary's 21 seats. And in local elections in October, they won 19 of Hungary's 21 larger towns and cities, including the capital, Budapest. Why do a majority of Hungary’s 10 million people go on voting for him?

      Well, actually, they don’t. In the April parliamentary elections, 2.8 million people voted for other parties, and only 2.3 million for Fidesz. But the opposition parties are weak and divided (except for the neo-fascist Jobbik movement, which has 14 percent popular support). Fidesz wins partly by gerrymandering, and partly by default—but that’s good enough for Orban, who enjoys his position as an illiberal yet democratically elected strongman.

      Orban is a skilled demagogue, and Hungarians are as susceptible to nationalist rabble-rousing as any other people. But he cannot be completely secure so long as the democratic electoral system survives: a big enough swing of public opinion against him would win even despite the gerrymandering.

      He has no immediate worries: the next parliamentary election is not due until 2018. But last Sunday Fidesz lost a single by-election, and suddenly its “super-majority” in parliament vanished. Viktor Orban said it didn’t matter, since he had already pushed through all the constitutional changes he wanted, and for the moment that’s probably true.

      However, if dissatisfaction with his rule continues to grow (he’s now being called the “Viktator”), he may one day wish he had it back. Just in case he needs to change the constitution again.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

      Comments

      11 Comments

      Sounds Familiar

      Feb 24, 2015 at 10:51am

      "New media laws have turned public television into a government mouthpiece, and he has ruthlessly gerrymandered electoral boundaries to guarantee victory for his Fidesz Party."

      Sounds exactly like what corporations have done in the West, the only difference being that there are now no parties other than the corporate party so outright gerrymandering is no longer required.

      "Well, actually, they don’t. In the April parliamentary elections, 2.8 million people voted for other parties, and only 2.3 million for Fidesz. But the opposition parties are weak and divided"

      Sounds familiar. Wait - just like Canada.

      P.Peto

      Feb 24, 2015 at 12:27pm

      Just in case you are not aware Europe is in crises, economies are faltering,unemployment is on the rise,the wealth gap is increasing,there is much social unrest and there is a civil war raging in the Ukraine. The European bureaucracy is extravagant, the European parliament is undemocratic and the bansters are pulling all the political strings to everybody elses detriment. In short the neoliberal experiment is failing the European people and the existing order needs to be reformed. In the meantime the American want to tighten their economic grip on Europe by means of a secretive Transatlantic Partnership "free trade" trade agreement ;while American dominated NATO is now pitting Europe against Russia. America does not want Europe to trade with Russia and see increased economic and political ties with the rest of Asia. So, poor little Hungary along with Greece, Slovakia, Austria wish to maintain economic ties with Russia and play a more independant role with resepect to the faltering European project. So there is no need to belittle Orban for trying to balance Hungary between East and West and take a middle "illiberal" road from American style neoliberalism. Of couse the Americans don't like dessenters or non team players so you can expect push back in the form of an American instigated "color Revolution" which we have already witnessed a number of times in Ukraine,Georgia,Kyrgyzstan and Yugoslavia. We should wish Orban and Hungary well; the path to freedom will be tracherous.

      Inocencio

      Feb 24, 2015 at 12:34pm

      Dictator? .. because he did not became of what was expected of him from the west?
      Myself, coming from Latino America, we know what dictator are like; usually strong military men, trained by the CIA that in the USA they call them Mr. President. (Pinochet, Videla, Strossner, Somosa, etc, etc. ) Well Gwynne, Mr Orban become to understand western "democracy" and decided it is not the path that he wants to follow, he thinks that there is a better democracy, the one that empowers the people. That's why they vote for him.

      doconnor

      Feb 24, 2015 at 2:05pm

      Exactly what steps has Mr. Orban taken that actually made Hungary more democratic? Reducing the number of representatives, and eliminating runoff votes hasn't.

      Mosby

      Feb 24, 2015 at 2:25pm

      I always laugh when the US accuses other countries of corruption.

      The financial meltdown of 2008 represents the biggest case of corruption in history, with US subprime mortgage fraud leading the way. No banker or CEO has gone to prison, no too-big-to-fail banks have been broken up, and nothing has been done to prevent similar fraud from happening again. In fact, corruption in the US is not just limited to individuals; it has now become the very basis of a "new normal" financial system in which the rule of law is ignored and fraud is Full Speed Ahead.

      The United States' dual corporate-political system of governance is by far the most corrupt in the world. William Black describes how pervasive and all-encompassing US corruption really is:
      http://billmoyers.com/2013/09/17/hundreds-of-wall-street-execs-went-to-p...

      I Chandler

      Feb 24, 2015 at 10:51pm

      DYER: "Why do a majority, go on voting for him? Well, actually, they don’t - only 2.3 million for Fidesz... wins partly by gerrymandering..."

      Hungry's first-past-the-post system allows him to win with a minority of votes:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-past-the-post_voting - The UK, US,Canada and India also use a FPTP system.

      DYER: "Orban argued that authoritarian regimes like those in Russia, China, and Turkey pointed the way to the future. ..he’s now being called the “Viktator”

      We need a catchy name for these Bad regimes - Axis of Evil? - Oh... that's already taken...

      DYER: " banks are to be partly nationalized."

      Nationalizaton is part of the Odious debt game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odious_debt).
      The public’ debt the EU/IMF demands to be repaid is often formerly private debts of banks and corporate liabilities that are nationalized and converted to government obligations . The Anglo Irish Bank is a wonderful example:

      The bank was nationalized and changed it's name because of the stench. Secret recordings of conversations the Anglo Irish bankers, laughing and joking about negotiations with the Central Bank (of Ireland) reveal how the bank's top executives, cost Ireland it's sovereignty:
      http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/inside-anglo-the-secret-recordi...
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BoYqWOsB1c

      DYER: "familiar elements of authoritarian regimes have begun to appear - NGOs are under attack as foreign agents"

      The CIA/NED fund NGOs and subvert democracy when they underwrite color revolutions.

      DYER: "Obama, discussing corrupt, authoritarian governments, bracketed Hungary with"

      When did corrupt, authoritarian governments become a problem? Why did Hungry get bracketed?
      Ukraine's new Finance Minister has American values, as she's an American - but the Ukraine government needs to stop killing it's own people if it wants to buy armed US drones:
      http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175960/tomgram%3A_alfred_w._mccoy%2C_the...

      Orban must have done something wrong:
      In 2010 Hungary (and Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, , Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and the Netherlands) wrote a joint paper requesting that individual countries should have the right to decide whether to cultivat

      doconnor

      Feb 25, 2015 at 8:06am

      "Hungry's first-past-the-post system "

      Actually it has a mixed member proportional system. Orban got 88% of the first-past-the-post seats with 44% of the votes. I'm still trying to figure out why they still have 66% of the seats after the list seats are added.

      IH

      Feb 25, 2015 at 10:41am

      "as susceptible to nationalist rabble-rousing as any other people"

      Is this really true. I think it's wise to default to this kind of thinking to counteract our natural xenophobia. It's a dangerous path to start down.

      OTOH, I think it's plain the demagoguery has more currency in some places than others. Hungary and all of the Ex Soviet countries arrived at liberal democracy by default. It's the system that won the cultural and economic wars of the 20th century. They didn't choose it and perhaps they are not taking to it.

      I think he's right about some things though. China has managed economic growth without political freedoms. That shows its possible, at least for poor countries (which Hungary is). Culturally, they are still far off their potential and I expect that will not change before the political system does. Russia isn't an example though. They benefited from a resource boom. The economy of making stuff is weak there.

      IH

      Feb 25, 2015 at 10:44am

      @ I Chandler, @Mosby

      Are you guys seriously arguing that Ireland, the US or other liberal democracies are more corrupt than China, Russia, etc.? I mean it's good to be critical and corruption is a major problem everywhere, but WTF.

      McRetso

      Feb 25, 2015 at 12:25pm

      @IH

      Chandler et al. are free to correct me here but I suspect what they are doing is mere deflection. If you're trying to defend a country with an indefensible record of corruption and human rights abuses, the easiest way is to immediately shift the focus of the discussion to the problems that exist in the US instead. And to be fair there are a lot of problems in the US, but not to the same extent as the Middle East or Post-Soviet space.

      I have a little formula. Let's call it McRetso's razor.

      If you accuse a country of something, lets say cracking down on the press or whatever, and the internet defenders of that country respond with something that sounds like "but but the US did bad stuff" (could also be the EU or NATO), the country is guilty as charged.