Throughout their convoluted and bloody history, Hungarians never marshaled the courage to look reality in the eye and graduate from their kindergarten-mentality to adulthood. Devoid of the ability to think historically, national leaders always elected to reject the promise of the future for the sake of the tried certainty of the past. Thus Hungary was always a country in transition between regressive authoritarianism and an even more dangerous form of bureaucratic dehumanization built on the emotions of greed, class hatred and abject immorality.
Real democracy never existed in Hungary. It remained a poor feudal society until the union with Austria in 1867. Yet, even after 1867, a miniscule number of noblemen managed to sabotage progress and thus prevented the emergence of a sizeable middle class. The reign of Miklos Horthy between the two World Wars was characterized by chaos and confusion. Politically, its condition was totally unhealthy. It neither possessed the imprimatur of free elections, nor the support of historic precedent. The result was a situation bearing the worst characteristics of Hungarian history. Oscillating between the glorification of victimhood and revanchist impulses, the country became an easy prey to the nefarious objectives of Hitler’s Germany. The Soviet occupation with its one-party rule only reinforced these trends and the alienation of the people from the state.
Thus, the overwhelming majority of Hungarians rejoiced when in 1990 their country regained its sovereignty. They welcomed their chance of freedom and the prospect of progress toward democracy. But Hungary has remained a politically insecure, economically poverty-stricken, socially utterly confused country, seething with hate against each other and the outside world. Consecutive governments of the 1990s and the first decade of the second millennia provided neither substantial reform nor established the stabilizing institutional framework for real democracy. Today, Hungary is perilously close to becoming a failed state. How and why this former “happiest barrack in the Soviet camp” and the fantasyland of self-delusional Western intellectuals has gotten to this point is altogether too obvious.
Once in power, it has been the tragic fate of many anti-communist opposition movements in Central and Eastern Europe to outdo their authoritarian predecessors in political arrogance, ideological cynicism and incompetent governance. Having delivered a highly emotional, anti-communist and anti-Soviet funeral oratory at the reburial of the murdered symbol of the 1956 revolution Imre Nagy on June 16, 1989, Viktor Orban and his small circle of like-minded university graduates seemed to represent the bright future of a new, democratic Hungary.
Yet, after losing two consecutive elections rather overwhelmingly with a left-leaning liberal campaign rhetoric, Viktor Orban underwent a miraculous political epiphany. Overnight, he converted his small party, dubbed the Alliance of Young Democrats, into a self-described conservative movement. His so-called conservatism, however, manifested itself in a peculiar mixture of hard-core Stalinism, neo- National Socialism and ethnically based racism. On the one hand, this racism uncritically romanticized, and thus revoltingly falsified Hungarian history. On the other, it dangerously politicized the morality of hatred that resulted in both domestic and international divisiveness and intolerance. Stalinism and National Socialism, in turn, lent political justification to this form of racism by equating the highest degree of ethnic hatred with the noblest form of devoted patriotism.
After the 1998 elections, Viktor Orban became the Prime Minister of a multi-party coalition government. Faced with the choice between democracy and authoritarianism, he chose the latter. Dictatorial governance coupled with heavy taxes on individuals and business entities alike upheld his government’s unfettered control over privatization and redistribution of revenues. Total lack of accountability invited mindless spending, brazen graft and unprecedented corruption. At the end of its four-year term, Viktor Orban’s cabinet resembled more a criminal enterprise than a democratically elected government. Duly defeated in 2002, he left Hungary flirting with political and economic collapse.
In opposition that lasted two election cycles, Viktor Orban managed to combine the rhetoric of Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler into a single incoherent and emotionally charged populist message. He denounced the legitimately elected government, democracy, capitalism, Jews, the Roma minority, the United States, the neighboring countries with Hungarian minorities, the European Union, and repeatedly called upon his followers to take to the streets and grab power by violent means.
In the spring elections of 2010, in which Viktor Orban’s party ruthlessly employed fraud and intimidation, the combined list of the Alliance of Young Democrats and the Christian Democratic People’s Party garnered almost 53% of the popular votes. Aided by the vagaries of the Hungarian electoral system, this victory gave Viktor Orban a greater than two-thirds majority in the unicameral Parliament. Singing the praises of the “glorious new social contract” that allegedly was approved by the “successful revolution in the voting booths” and pledging to implement “resolutely and without compromise a new system which is national unity”, he has set out to recreate the myth of “one nation, one party, one Fuhrer.”
Accordingly, using his absolute majority in the legislature, he has embarked on a relentless renationalization drive. His aggressive centralization of national resources has been reminiscent of the Communists’s punitive requisition and redistribution strategy in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. In addition, Viktor Orban also has revised the rules for the nomination of justices to the Constitutional Court, nationalized the hitherto private pension system, changed the supervisory regime of the national bank, forced-retired and indiscriminately fired countless government employees, and launched baseless criminal investigations against his political opponents.
In all, the Parliament produced more than three hundred sixty laws within a two-year period. The objective of this feverish legislative activity was to achieve the Gleichschaltung of the separate branches of government by eliminating the democratic principle of checks and balances, to cement his authoritarian rule indefinitely, and to construct a regime of absolute and incontrollable personal power.
Yet, the most insidious achievements of Viktor Orban are the new Constitution and its accompanying thirty cardinal laws, and the law on media services and mass communication. His claim that those legislative acts are designed to strengthen democracy and enhance the rights of minorities is absolutely false. In reality, in defiance of every democratic principle, Viktor Orban has made a mockery of democracy and has usurped the mandate of the Hungarian electorate. For this reason, his government has clearly become illegitimate. The mere existence of such a zombie democracy within NATO and the European Union presents a fundamental political risk for both organizations. Such a government is also dangerous, because it is capable to jeopardize the entire edifice of the free world.
The fate of democracy’s viability and expansion depends largely on the United States of America. Over the last seventy years it has spent tremendous resources to push the rest of the world toward more political and economic openness. Now a relatively obscure European country threatens that effort. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the United States of America and the European Union to show leadership and eliminate this burgeoning threat to the progress of democracy.
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Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi is the Senior Vice President at Frontiers of Freedom.