What does Orbán’s victory mean for Hungary and the West?

Hungaryorban_full_380Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was elected to a second consecutive term on Sunday, amid criticism from international observers that the ruling party “enjoyed an undue advantage” during the campaign, according to reports.

The early vote count showed that Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party and a small conservative ally would keep a two-thirds majority, with 133 seats in the country’s 199-member Parliament, The New York Times reports:

The vote, held Sunday, showed increasing support for the radical right Jobbik party, which won just more than 20 percent of the vote on national party lists, 4 percentage points higher than in 2010, and was expected to have 23 seats in Parliament. …..On Monday, a statement from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe echoed worries some observers had expressed about the election, saying that the new electoral rules gave Mr. Orban’s party an advantage and citing what it called “biased” media coverage and “the blurring of the separation between a ruling political party and the state.”….

Experts said the results showed the maturation of the radical-right Jobbik party, known for its paramilitary arm and openly anti-Semitic and anti-Roma views.

“Jobbik’s improved electoral turnout shows not only a strengthening of the party but also a mainstreaming of the party,” said Erin Saltman, an expert on Hungarian politics based in London. “More Hungarians are seeing Jobbik as a legitimate party option.”

Vladimir Putin will doubtless send congratulations as the weekend re-election of Orban’s Fidesz government assures the Russian president of a sympathetic voice in the councils of Europe, writes FT analyst Philp Stephens:

Orban has drawn closer to Moscow. Last week he accepted Mr Putin’s offer of a €10bn long-term credit to finance new Russian-built nuclear power capacity….

Once a ferocious critic of the Soviet Union and of post-communist Russia, Mr Orban now shares Mr Putin’s cultural conservatism and disdain for western “decadence”. Both leaders subscribe to a collectivist state capitalism that sets the state above private enterprise. As in Russia, foreigners who invest in Hungary cannot expect the protection of the rule of law. Once among the most promising former communist states, Hungary has become a backwater.

But the EU cannot continue to look the other way as a member undermines its democratic standards, Stephens contends, echoing fears that Hungary is becoming Putinism’s ideological outpost.

In the next four years, Orbán will try to consolidate his power by rooting out challenges and challengers to his authority, says Charles Gati, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins’s Foreign Policy Institute, and the editor of Zbig: The Strategy and Statecraft of Zbigniew Brzezinski:

Having lost faith in the value of Western-style democracy, he’ll deprive the country’s Constitutional Court of its residual authority and he’ll stamp out what remains of the small Budapest-based free press. Although he has so far accepted NATO’s security umbrella and the E.U.’s financial benefits, he’ll continue to ignore Western advice and warnings about his policies.

“Preoccupied with more pressing problems, Western governments don’t seem to see the need to revive and, indeed, deepen the post-World War II integrationist momentum that has brought peace, prosperity and democratic values to Europe, including Central Europe,” Gati writes for The Washington Post.

“Yet if they pay no attention to anti-Western trends in Hungary, Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere in Europe and its periphery — a trend some fear might soon spread to Poland — they, and the United States, will find themselves isolated from a growing number of their allies in an increasingly hostile world.” RTWT

Ukraine slams Russian attempt to ‘tear country apart’


Several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators who have seized government buildings in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, urged President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force, and they demanded a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, The New York Times reports:

The renewed unrest in eastern Ukraine, which flared on Sunday with coordinated demonstrations by thousands of pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, reignited fears in Kiev and the West about Russian military action

Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said he believed the protests represented “the second wave of Russia’s special operation against Ukraine, aimed at destabilization, toppling the current government, thwarting elections and tearing the country apart.”

“The enemies of Ukraine are trying to play the Crimean scenario, but we will not allow this,” Turchynov said….The FT reports

….warning that an operation had been launched to arrest perpetrators and the military presence along Ukraine’s borders had been beefed up. Mr Turchynov, also speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, said draft legislation banning parties that back separatism had been submitted for consideration.

“This is not politics. This is a serious crime. We will act swiftly against criminals,” he said.

There is evidence that pro-Russia demonstrators in Ukraine’s east are getting support from Russians inside Ukraine, USA Today reports:

Ukrainian authorities say Russia is working behind the scenes to inflame separatist tension and destabilize eastern Ukraine, where half of the population is Russian-speaking, to create a pretext for sending in Russia troops as was done in Crimea.

“They don’t make up a big share of the demonstrators, but there are up to a thousand Russian volunteers in Ukraine,” said analyst Sergei Markov, a backer of the Russian government who has advised the Kremlin on Ukraine.

Asked if those volunteers would be willing to take up arms if a conflict broke out, Markov said “of course.”

Defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper said there could be a full-fledged Russian military incursion into the three eastern Ukrainian cities, VOA’s Michael Eckels reports:

“The real factor is the battle readiness of the troops that are designated there. And battle readiness seems to be right now at its highest,” he said.

However, that battle readiness can’t be sustained indefinitely, Felgenhauer said, meaning that Russia has a window of opportunity to invade eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament will push through anti-separatist legislation.

“So it’s either now or never. Not maybe never, but at least the same level of battle readiness we have right now will be maybe again reached somewhere in August.”….

Mark Galeotti, a security expert and professor at New York University, said it is within Ukraine’s abilities to use force to remove the pro-Russia activists from the buildings they have seized.

“Kyiv needs to show that it has strength and determination. If it doesn’t, it will embolden the protesters all the more,” said Galeotti.

Only 14 percent of Ukrainians support federalization, according to a poll released Saturday by the International Republican Institute. Federalization was more popular in the south, 22 percent, and the east, 26 percent, The Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports.

The poll, which included Crimea, was carried out from March 14 to 26 as Crimea was being annexed by Russia. The results contradict the assertions Russia has made to justify its annexation of Crimea and its threats to intervene in eastern Ukraine, instead finding widespread opposition to Russian incursion and a growing preference for ties to Europe rather than Russia….

Russia has described what it calls “atrocities” against Russian-speakers, issuing warnings that suggest it is building a case to send troops into eastern Ukraine as it did in Crimea. The IRI poll released Saturday, however, found Ukraine’s Russian-speakers did not feel under threat. Even in the Russian-speaking east and south, including Crimea, 74 percent said they felt no threat.

“The issue of federalization is absolutely artificial,” said Yuriy Yakymenko, a political expert at the Razumkov think tank in Kiev. “It’s part of Russia’s plan to impose control over Ukraine and prevent it from integrating with Europe.”

IRI is one of the National Endowment for Democracy’s core institutes.


Iraq’s tipping point? Invasion prevented Syria-like civil war, says Blair

Iraq(2)Iraq would have been engulfed in a civil war like that in Syria if Britain had not invaded it, Tony Blair has claimed.

The Arab Spring – the wave of pro-democracy uprisings – would have spread to Iraq had Saddam Hussein not been toppled by force, triggering a conflict like that in Syria, the former Prime Minister said. ….Last year saw the highest levels of violence in the country since 2007, and around half a million people have died since the 2003 invasion due to war, according to an academic study published last year.

But Mr Blair said: “Supposing you had left Saddam in place, I think it is reasonably arguable, surely, that you would have had the so-called Arab Spring come to Iraq,” The Daily Telegraph reports.

“If it had come to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, it was going to come to Iraq and you would be facing what you’re facing in Syria now in Iraq.”

He added: “In the end what we know now, and we can see this very clearly by the way from Libya, is that when you remove the dictatorship, that is the beginning, not the end.”



Iraqis fully appreciate the consequence that April 30 holds this year. Elections are the only vestige of hope the Americans left behind in Iraq, says Dr. Saleh Mutlaq (left), the chairman of the Al Arabia Coalition and deputy prime minister of Iraq.

“Just as Russia today plays an enormous and frightening role in determining Ukraine’s future, so, too, do we increasingly feel the heavy breath of a powerful neighbor, Iran, in so many of the daily events of Iraq, he writes for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:

Since the American invasion, the international community has thought of Iraq in terms of three major groups: the Shiites, who share a sect of Islam with Iranians; the Kurds, who make no secret of their desire for greater autonomy; and the Sunnis, who are blamed by the current constitution for most of the sins of Iraq’s history over the past half-century. ….. This simplistic understanding of Iraq cedes too much power to the modern agents of sectarianism while giving short shrift to the idea of national unity, which the vast majority of Iraqis still share.

For more than a year, Iraqis have also been taking to the streets, compelled by the strong and growing belief that the sectarian policies of the current government have marginalized Sunnis to benefit the more extreme elements of Maliki’s electoral base. Government jobs are given disproportionately to Shiites, especially in the security services. Meanwhile, many Sunnis have been unjustly subjected to “de-Baathification” procedures, labeled as terrorists, and imprisoned without the due process of law. ….

I asked political leaders in Washington to consider attaching conditions on their sale of Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles to Maliki’s military. Many Iraqis are rightfully concerned that these weapons will used against Maliki’s perceived opponents and political rivals rather than al Qaeda. For this, Maliki’s channel accuses me of treason. …..

Portraying a group of citizens as terrorists is a sectarian policy, and Washington needs to be more careful than it has been in recent years about accepting such characterizations as fact. The unconditional transfer of weapons to Maliki’s security forces implies that the United States endorses his increasingly heavy-handed policies. But the most important message Washington can send (assuming, of course, that its powers-that-be care about the fate of Iraqi democracy), is that the outcome of this election is not pre-ordained. …..

April 30 could well be a tipping point for Iraq. If the will of the people is again denied — as it was four years ago at Iran’s insistence and without objection from the United States — I fear civil war in Iraq will be inevitable. If millions see their ballots fail, bullets may become the only remaining option for those frustrated by democracy’s failure.


Russia’s search for new ideology

RUSSIA NATIONALIST IDEOLOGYLiberal observers say that, by giving ample airtime to figures such as the rightwing propagandist Alexander Prokhanov and denouncing government critics with terms such as “fifth column” and “national traitors”, Russia’s official media has borrowed from the tactics of totalitarian regimes, Kathrin Hille writes for The Financial Times.

“It now resembles Goebbels; and even comrade Zhdanov would never have dreamt of this,” says Echo Moskvy’s Sergei Buntman, referring to the man in charge of cultural policy and censorship under Stalin.

A handful of young people are trying to counter that. Organised by Maxim Katz, a deputy in a Moscow district assembly for the liberal Yabloko party, they began analysing TV news programmes and rating them for propaganda three weeks ago. …

But while media veterans are encouraged by their efforts, they harbour little hope for change. Several opinion polls have shown that a majority of Russians believe the state has the right to censor the news and shape a national ideological narrative.

This situation, say analysts, is the result of a consistent push by Mr Putin to consolidate his control over the media, school curriculum and culture policy since taking power in early 2000.

“A monopoly on information has been established,” says Igor Yakovenko, former head of Russia’s Journalists’ Association. “It was not absolute, and is not absolute now, but over all the 14 years of Putin’s regime, he has strengthened the information vertical, step by step.”

Russia’s official ideology prior to 1917 was Pravoslavie, Samoderzhavie, Narodnost, which has been translated as Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality, notes Walter Laqueur, formerly the head of the International Research Council of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the author of, among many other works, The Dream That Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union.

“It was therefore no surprise that with the fall of the Soviet Union some of the old pre-1917 ideas resurfaced and should undergo something like a renaissance,” he writes for World Affairs. “In his first major speech during his second term as president, Vladimir Putin declared that Russia should look to its history and traditional values to determine its post-Soviet development, not imitate Western political models.”

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has searched fruitlessly for a new grand strategy — something to define who Russians are and where they are going, analysts Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn write for Foreign Affairs:

“In Russian history during the 20th century, there have been various periods — monarchism, totalitarianism, perestroika, and finally, a democratic path of development,” Russian President Boris Yeltsin said a couple of years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “Each stage has its own ideology,” he continued, but now “we have none.”

To fill that hole, in 1996 Yeltsin designated a team of scholars to work together to find what Russians call the Russkaya ideya (“Russian idea”), but they came up empty-handed. Around the same time, various other groups also took up the task, including a collection of conservative Russian politicians and thinkers who called themselves Soglasiye vo imya Rossiya (“Accord in the Name of Russia”).

Putin, to whom many of the Soglasiye still have ties, happened to agree with their ideals and overall goals, Barbashin and Thorburn note:

By the late 2000s, he had breathing room to return to the question of the Russian idea. Russia, he began to argue, was a unique civilization of its own. It could not be made to fit comfortably into European or Asian boxes and had to live by its own uniquely Russian rules and morals. And so, with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin began a battle against the liberal (Western) traits that some segments of Russian society had started to adopt. Moves of his that earned condemnation in the West — such as the criminalization of “homosexual propaganda” and the sentencing of members of Pussy Riot, a feminist punk-rock collective, to two years in prison for hooliganism — were popular in Russia.

In terms of players today, the Russian right wing is by and large home to the groups most intensely preoccupied with the creation of a “Russian” ideology, Laqueur writes:

To the degree that any of them are in opposition to the ruling elite, it is certainly as a loyal opposition. Some of the more serious figures and groups of “the Russian party” have been absorbed by the ruling stratum—this goes for instance for Dmitri Rogozin, who for several years became Russia’s representative at NATO. It does not apply to certain neo-Nazi fringe groups that are not players in the political game. From time to time they appear in the news as instigators of riots, but their prospects for attaining real power remain minimal.

russia duginAfter the collapse of the Soviet Union, ultranationalist ideologies were decidedly out of vogue, Barbashin and Thorburn suggest. Still, a few hard-core patriotic elements remained that opposed de-Sovietization and believed — as Putin does today — that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century, including the ideologist Alexander Dugin (left):

His earliest claim to fame was a 1991 pamphlet, “The War of the Continents,” in which he described an ongoing geopolitical struggle between the two types of global powers: land powers, or “Eternal Rome,” which are based on the principles of statehood, communality, idealism, and the superiority of the common good, and civilizations of the sea, or “Eternal Carthage,” which are based on individualism, trade, and materialism. In Dugin’s understanding, “Eternal Carthage,” was historically embodied by Athenian democracy and the Dutch and British Empires. Now, it is represented by the United States. “Eternal Rome” is embodied by Russia. For Dugin, the conflict between the two will last until one is destroyed completely — no type of political regime and no amount of trade can stop that. In order for the “good” (Russia) to eventually defeat the “bad” (United States), he wrote, a conservative revolution must take place

Dugin is the preeminent political theorist of the nationalist camp, although his ideological peregrinations have been so rapid and radical that he has had little opportunity to take a seat in the front row of Russian politics, Laqueur writes for World Affairs:

He began his career as a follower of the rabidly anti-Semitic movement Pamyat in the 1980s, but soon left because it was “too primitive and simplistic.” Dugin drew his inspiration from a multitude of sources, very often obscure and obscurantist. He discovered extreme right-wing and neo-fascist thinkers little known in the West, such as Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist, the protagonists of the French, Italian, Belgian, and German extreme right, and also, in a seeming paradox, national Bolshevism….Over the years, Dugin has moved away from neo-fascist and neo-communist fringe groups to more respectable sources. This journey was rewarded by a professorship at Moscow State University, access to the Kremlin, and appointment as an adviser to various committees of the Russian Duma. He may well be the world’s leading expert on (and believer in) conspiracy theories. His message at present can be summarized as follows: Russia’s main enemy is (democratic) liberalism, and its geopolitical and ideological future lies with Asia, not the West.

In the nineteenth century, anti-Westernism was mainly cultural in character. Under Communism it was part of an ideological war to the death, Laqueur writes:

But today? It seems to be the product of a certain intellectual lethargy on the part of President Putin and his generation, who are stranded between two justifications for the state which they now control. The one, what they see sentimentally as the ordered society and global power of communism at its height, is dead. The other, an updated version of the older ideas of the Russian Orthodox Church, Authority, and Nationalism, is still struggling to be born. At present, statism—the belief in the necessity of a central authority and a strong state, coupled with anti-Westernism—is almost all there is. And this will probably not be enough in the longer run.

Defending Hong Kong democracy in ‘global war of ideology’

MARTIN LEETwo of the most stalwart fighters for democracy in the global war of ideology were in Washington last week, hoping for moral support, The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt reports:

They made for an odd couple, though each has spent more than 40 years in the struggle: one is a consummate insider and the other has always battled from the outside.

The latter, lawyer Martin Lee (left) fought the British for more autonomy when they ruled Hong Kong. Since the British left in 1997, he has pressed Beijing to keep its word to allow Hong Kong to preserve its separate system of governance within China — the formula known as “one country, two systems.” …Anson Chan (right), by contrast, rose AnsonchanHKthrough the prestigious Hong Kong civil service to the top appointed position of chief secretary, resigning in 2001 when she felt the chief executive was allowing Beijing to chip away at Hong Kong’s core values: rule of law, a level playing field and freedom of press, speech and association.

With the 2017 and 2020 elections on the horizon, Chinese leaders are making increasingly clear they intend to install politicians they can control, an ominous sign for Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms—not to mention the economy, which relies on transparency and the rule of law, the two veteran leaders told a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy

U.S. President Barack Obama recently told an audience in Brussels that, though the future belongs to those who support freedom and democracy, “those rules are not self-executing” and “the contest of ideas continues for your generation,” Hiatt observes, yet he also insisted that there is no new Cold War. “After all,” he said, “unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”

It’s true that “anti-freedom” doesn’t sound like an ideology to most Americans…But the dictators of Russia and China today are making a bid for legitimacy as well as survival, he writes:

They present themselves as guarantors of stability, warding off the confusion and insecurity that follow democratic uprisings. They boast of investing in the future — in highways and fast trains — in ways that pandering elected officials in India or the United States cannot manage. They put their systems forward as an antidote to the empty materialism of capitalist democracies — the pornography, the hedonism, the lack of respect for elders and religious leaders. They claim to stand for community, spirituality and tradition.

…But whether the leaders believe in their stew of xenophobia, phony egalitarianism and traditional (Russian Orthodox or Confucian) values hardly matters. They are fighting a new Cold War against democracy, and the other side is only intermittently on the field.