A Hungarian opposition party is urging the EU to step up its monitoring of democracy in the country after prime minister Viktor Orban said he wanted to ditch “liberal” democracy in favour of building an “illiberal state,” the FT’s Kester Eddy reports from Budapest:
The move comes after Mr Orban said in a speech at the weekend that the financial crisis had shown liberal democracies could not remain “globally competitive” and praised models such as Russia, Turkey and China. Together-PM, a small, centrist opposition alliance, is writing to the European Commission in response, asking it to take a stronger stance on issues such as media freedom, civil society and government reforms of the constitution in Hungary.
Addressing an annual gathering of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, Mr Orban denounced a decadent and “money-based” west and outlined a future Hungarian state which would shun western European values to “create a successful nation”.
“The hottest intellectual topic of today is understanding systems which are non-western, non-liberal, which are not liberal democracies, perhaps which are not even democracies, and they still make some nations successful,” Mr Orban said. He added that Singapore, China, India, Russia and Turkey were “stars” in this respect.
“The prime minister has launched an attack against democracy as we understand it in Europe,” Viktor Szigetvari, the Together-PM co-chairman, told the Financial Times. “We want the incoming European Commission to consider that if we were not already a member of the European Union, then Hungary as presented by the prime minister would not be ready to become a member.”
‘Our time will come’
Orban, whose Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament, said the global financial crisis had shown that liberal democracies were no longer competitive. “Today, the world tries to understand systems which are not Western, not liberal, maybe not even democracies yet they are successful,” he said, according to EUobserver.
The prime minister, who has been the target of frequent criticism by nongovernmental groups, implied that civil society was an obstacle to establishing an illiberal state.
“The point of the future is that anything can happen,” Orban said. “That means it could easily be that our time will come.”
The Hungarian prime minister is distancing himself from values shared by most EU nations even as his government relies on funds from the bloc for almost all infrastructure-development financing, Bloomberg’s Zoltan Simon reports:
Orban said civil society organizations receiving funding from abroad need to be monitored as he considers those to be agents of foreign powers.
“We’re not dealing with civil society members but paid political activists who are trying to help foreign interests here,” Orban said. “It’s good that a parliamentary committee has been set up to monitor the influence of foreign monitors.”
“We are making ourselves independent of and free from western European dogma and ideology,” Orban said. “We are trying to create . . . a new Hungarian state, globally competitive . . . We want to create a work-based society which is admittedly of a non-liberal nature.” he said.
Orban began his political life as a self-declared liberal, anti-communist student dissident in the 1980s, the FT adds:
But he warned on Saturday that non-governmental organisations in Hungary were employing subversive political activists paid for by foreigners – a reference to an ongoing dispute over civic groups financed primarily by Norwegian state funds…Although the prime minister declared that the new model state would not deny liberal values such as freedom, the address provoked a general outcry from Hungarian opposition parties.
“Hungary is tending towards becoming a country ruled by a despot seeking to go back to before the peaceful regime change [from communism in 1989],” said Jozsef Tobias, chairman of the opposition socialists. “By abandoning liberal democracy Orban is breaking with the basic values of all democratic groupings – socialists, liberals and conservatives as well.”
Mr Orban has also caused alarm among ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries.
“[Mr Orban’s] vision is in sharp contradiction to everything that we have been trying to accomplish for the past 25 years in Romania . . . a strong, centralised state, which is not in the interests of any single minority group,” Bela Marko, an ethnic Hungarian leader in Romania, told a Budapest radio station on Tuesday.
Yet apart from the planned EU appeal, Hungary’s weak and divided opposition parties have mustered little concrete action, and Mr Orban’s speech has so far prompted little outcry from the public.
Orban said he wants to abandon liberal democracy in favor of an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as examples. The global financial crisis in 2008 showed that “liberal democratic states can’t remain globally competitive,” he said.
“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” Orban said, according to the video of his speech on the government’s website. He listed Russia, Turkey and China as examples of “successful” nations, “none of which is liberal and some of which aren’t even democracies.”
“Orban’s comments are very controversial and closer to what we’re used to hearing from President Putin of Russia than from a leader of a European democracy,” said Paul Ivan, an analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre. “It’s also an extremely bad moment to cite Russia and Turkey as examples, with Russia becoming much more imperialistic and nationalistic and with serious attacks on the freedom of speech in Turkey.”
“I must admit Fidesz is still popular,” said Mr Szigetvari. “[But] long term, this policy cannot be successful. What Orban said against civil organisations and democracy, it’s unacceptable. People did not vote for that: even Fidesz voters want to live in a western-style country.”