Since his return to power as Prime Minister in 2010, Viktor Orban has posed the greatest threat to the fledgling Hungarian democracy as well as to the gradual political integration of the European Union. Having been voted out of office unceremoniously after just a single four year term in 2002, he and his party, the Alliance of Young Democrats (Hungarian acronyms: FIDESZ), worked hard in opposition for eight long years to undermine successive Hungarian governments by developing and refining his all consuming ideological and institutional hatred for democracy. Domestically, his message centered around the extreme politicization of the historical miseries of the Hungarian people, and the emotional weaponization of the notion of being surrounded by a sea of hostile Slavic nations. This shameless and even unconscionable exploitation of Hungary’s turbulent history and lack of proper political culture, has resulted in an intellectual vacuum in politics that has prevented the country of leaving the past behind and to embark unequivocally on a pro-Western course. To add insult to injury, his relentless anti-Brussels’ rhetoric has cemented the centuries’ old Hungarian resentment vis-a-vis the leading powers of the European continent. However, these prior aberrations from core European values have not been taken into consideration as a wide assortment of European and American politicians mindlessly courted Viktor Orban, while in opposition, as the face of the “new Europe.”
In reality, Viktor Orban has never stopped being an authoritarian wolf in sheep’s clothing. Since 2010, he has wielded absolute power in Hungary. Thus, Hungary has reverted back to the status quo ante of being a one-party state. Therefore, knowing what motivates him means understanding the root causes of Hungarian domestic and foreign policies. Because he has worked very hard to create this situation, Viktor Orban has been determined not to give up even an iota of his powers. Voluntarily or constitutionally, he will never share it with anybody inside of Hungary or outside of it with the European Union’s institutions in Brussels and elsewhere.
His so-called “illiberal democracy”, which is in itself a contradictio in terminis, is decidedly anti-democratic as well as anti-capitalist. According to his primitiv and incoherent reasoning, the new era for Hungary has started not with the liberation of Hungary in June 1991, but with the financial crisis of 2008. Defining it as “a huge Western financial collapse” that changed the world forever, he states that the pre-2008 liberal world order is over, being replaced by the “illiberal democracies” of Asia, such as China, Singapore, India, and even the geographically hybrid Russia and Turkey. In his now infamous speech, delivered on July 26, 2014, in Baile Tusnad (in Hungarian: Tusnadfurdo), Romania, he spoke about his vision for the future of Hungary. Invoking former President Barack Obama, he claimed that the former “made numerous and repeated statements regarding how American society and the American government is to declare war on cynicism originating from the financial sector.” To underscore his thesis of America’s moral decline, Viktor Orban elaborated thus: “The US president says that if a hardworking American constantly has to choose between career and family, America will lose its place in the world economy.” To wit, without naming “a well recognized analyst”, Viktor Orban directly warned the United States of America that “the strength of American “soft power” is deteriorating , because liberal values today incorporate corruption, sex and violence, and these liberal values discredit America and American modernization.” Unsatisfied with calling the United States of America ubiquitously immoral, Viktor Orban turned on Western Europe thus: “Also, the Open Society Foundation published a study not long ago analyzing Western Europe. In this, we can read a sentence that says that Western Europe was so preoccupied with solving the situation of immigrants that it forgot about the working class.” Then, to up his anti-democratic and anti-capitalist rhetoric, he continued: “One of the richest Americans, who was one of the first investors in the company Amazon, stated that we are living in a society that is less and less capitalist and more and more feudal, and if the economic system does not reform itself then the middle class will disappear, and as he puts it, “the rich will be attacked with pitchforks.”
Following this idiotic and garbled reasoning, Viktor Orban came to the self-serving conclusion that there is a race in the world “to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful.” His solution is a system “that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracy, maybe not even democracy, and yet making nations (still) successful.” Designating China, Russia, India, Singapore, and Turkey “the stars of the world”, he found them all worthy of emulation. Again, reverting back to his fascination with authoritarianism and dictatorship, he stated: “Just because something is not liberal, it still can be a democracy.” How this feat could be accomplished is, according to this newly minted fake political philosopher, very simple. The world must abandon liberal democracy altogether and join the forces of authoritarianism and dictatorships, in order to establish divine justice, equality, prosperity; in other words, heaven on earth. What Viktor Orban failed to utter openly is that, according to him, universal peace and prosperity could only reign on earth when the almighty state, headed by people like him, would rule exclusively over everybody and everything.
The triumphant march of authoritarianism has started immediately after the 2010 elections in Hungary. Having secured a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament called Orszaggyules (the State Assembly) with a simple majority of the popular votes, Viktor Orban and his party decided to give the country a new constitution. The April 25, 2011, constitution that entered into force in 2012, and amended until now seven times to serve the increasingly authoritarian whim of the Prime Minister, starts with the first sentence of the Hungarian national anthem and continues with a preamble full of lies and historical distortions. Giving short shift and even denying the real history of the country between March 19, 1944, the occupation of Hungary by the Wehrmacht, and the withdrawal of the Soviet Red Army from Hungary in June 1991, Viktor Orban intended to hide that political developments in Hungary have failed to establish a solid foundation for democracy.
The main body of the constitution is laced with meaningless platitudes and political slogans, intended to conceal the intentional ambiguities of the legal guarantees of individual rights, the lack of separation of powers, the mocking of the rule of law, and the lost principle of checks and balances. Subsequent legislative acts resulted in total control by FIDESZ of the judiciary through the National Office of the Judiciary, the local governments, the media, academia, and the financial institutions by the long term appointments of loyal political soldiers of his party. In reality, the new legal system created by FIDESZ have destroyed the very principles of democracy by their actual application. Thus, Viktor Orban established a legal system that does not apply to him, his family, and his crownies. Clearly, such a dual implementation of the law makes the entire legal system a hoax. This hoax, in turn, cannot guarantee peace, freedom, and order in society. Today’s Hungary is an inverted democracy. Viktor Orban’s government is an instrument of legally sanctioned coercion.
Yet, along with this inverted and distorted democracy, Viktor Orban lives in permanent fear of the Hungarian people. For the majority of Hungarians, residing within the internationally recognized borders of Hungary, reject their growing tyrannization by the FIDESZ government. In 2014 and 2018 respectively, FIDESZ was only able to capture around 44% of the votes, while still maintaining its slim two-thirds majority in Parliament. Accordingly, the new citizenship and electoral laws have extended citizenship and granted voting rights to all ethnic Hungarians in the neighboring countries. These ethnic Hungarians are allowed to vote by mail, while Hungarian citizens residing within Hungary, but working abroad, have to go to one of the country’s diplomatic residences to cast their ballots. In this manner, general and local elections in Hungary have been tainted with serious irregularities, and even fraudulent schemes. Therefore, the Law CCIII of 2011 as amended, on the elections of members of Parliament, has been subjected to limitless criticism domestically by all the opposition parties as well as by the European Commission For Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission). To add political insult to legal injury, FIDESZ members in the National Election Committee also enjoy absolute majority. This construct, namely government within the government, could perpetuate Viktor Orban’s authoritarianism for decades to come.
The Orban administration’s rationale is obvious. Ethnic Hungarians resent to be a minority in states that the Hungarian kingdom controlled for centuries. For this reason, they are more inclined to vote for FIDESZ that they consider to protect them internationally. Hungarians who leave the country mostly to Western Europe, Canada, and the United States of America are less likely to prefer the current government. In this regard, reports of long lines in front of Hungarian embassies and consulates and the resulting chaos underscores the ulterior motives of Viktor Orban and his administration. In addition, votes submitted by mail cannot be monitored and verified as easily as ballots cast in person. Such vote rigging and ubiquitous electoral fraud, in order to maintain FIDESZ’s narrow supermajority in Parliament, has been well documented in numerous investigating journalistic reports in Hungarian social media and the international press.
The politically motivated overthrow of the pre-2010 legal system, accompanied by the aggressive dismantling of the democratic institutions and the persecution of private organizations representing core European values, finally has drawn the attention of the European Union to the Hungarian situation. Accordingly, on May 17, 2017, the European Parliament adopted by a vote of 393 in favor to 221 against with 64 abstentions a resolution to trigger the warning mechanism of Article 7, Section 1, of the Treaty of the European Union against Hungary. This resolution called upon the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs to produce a report on “the political situation in Hungary.” Invoking Article 7, Section 1, of the Treaty of the European Union was without a precedent before. Subsequently, the aforementioned Committee appointed Judith Sargentini of the Netherlands, as the rapporteur responsible for writing a report on the political situation in Hungary.
On June 25, 2018, the Committee adopted the Sargentini Report by a vote of 37 for and 19 against. On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament voted on the Sargentini Report, condemning with a four-fifths majority the anti-democratic turn of Hungary, and initiating the procedure related to Article 7, Section 1 of the Treaty of the European Union by requesting the Council of the European Union “to determine, pursuant to article 7, Section 1, of the Treaty of the European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded.”
Here, it is noteworthy to state that in the entire history of the European Parliament such an overwhelming consensus concerning a member state had never been recorded before. Up until that date, Viktor Orban’s political acrobatics, namely, his attempt to ride simultaneously two horses, the European and the Hungarian, with two inherently irreconcilable rhetorics, have not been challenged in a serious way. Yet, FIDESZ’s campaign against Brussels under the banner of “Let’s Stop Brussels”, and the subsequent “Stop Soros” movement with its anti-Semitic overtones, finally opened the eyes of the European Union to the blatantly anti-EU policies of and to the destruction of democracy by the Orban administration, which taken together have posed a mortal danger to the entire Union.
Citing Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union that makes it the precondition of joining the organization the respect and the promotion of European values, the Sargentini Report enumerates the Orban administration’s transgressions in twelve points. For starters, the number twelve has its special significance for every Hungarian. When the Hungarians rose in 1848 against the Habsburg tyranny, young Hungarians condensed their demands for national independence and democracy in exactly twelve points. The public reading of the Twelve Points on March 15, 1848, signaled the beginning of the long and bloody Battle for Freedom (in Hungarian: Szabadsagharc) that was crushed in 1849 by the joint forces of the Habsburg Emperor and Nicholas I of Russia.
Generally speaking, the Sargentini Report raises three major issues: democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Primarily, it voices alarm over the functioning of the constitutional and electoral systems. In its second point, it deals with the independence of the judiciary and of other institutions, and the rights of judges. Next, it examines the topics of corruption and conflict of interest. In point four, it analyses the issues of privacy and data protection. This follows by taking under the microscope the subject of freedom of expression. Points six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve examine the state of academic freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of association, the right to equal treatment, the rights of minorities and their protection against hateful statements, the fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, and the state of economic and social rights.
More specifically, the Sargentini Report criticizes the endangerment of the separation of powers and the weakening of the national system of checks and balances; the restrictions on the authority of the Constitutional Court and the recent changes to the procedure of selecting judges; the excessive powers of the president of the National Judicial Office; the “serious irregularities” and “conflicts of interest” with regard to EU-financed public-procurement tenders; insufficient legal guarantees against unlawful surveillance for national security purposes; inadequate guarantees of freedom of expression; the procedures regarding the election of the Media Council; the legal provision granting exclusive rights to the Hungarian News Agency (Hungarian acronyms: MTI) to provide news for public television and radio; the singling out of about two thousand Hungarians by name through the press, who allegedly working to “topple” the Orban government; constraint on academic freedom by then Law on National Higher Education; the war on NGOs; incitement against foreigners; discrimination against women; rising sentiments of racism and intolerance against the Roma minority; and the politicization of anti-Semitism.
As a response, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a resolution by a vote of 129 in favor to 26 votes against, with 18 abstentions, on October 16, 2018, condemning the Sargentini Report. The resolution reads in its main part as follows:
“The Sargentini Report attacked the decisions, Fundamental Law, legislation and personal decisions that the democratically elected Hungarian Parliament ratified within its own sphere of authority. With this, it (the Sargentini Report) transcended its sphere of authority and violated Hungary’s sovereignty….. We reject the slander contained in the mendacious pro-immigration indictment called the Sargentini Report. We reject this report which attacks Hungary because it did not admit immigrants, rejected the quota, built a legal border barrier and made the organization of illegal immigration punishable….. We call upon the government of Hungary not to submit to blackmail: reject the false accusations against Hungary and take legal measures against the fraudulently adopted report slandering Hungary.”
In the spirit of this resolution, the Hungarian government recently submitted a 131 page Information Note to the General Affairs Council of the European Union. In it, Hungary attacks the decisions by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on procedural as well as material grounds. Procedurally, Hungary objected to the method of vote counting. Because of the procedural irregularities, Hungary considers all the votes in this matter “null and void.” In its substance, Hungary judges the Report as being “politically motivated” and not being based on “facts, precise legal provisions and objective analysis.” The main body of the Note attempts to refute the Report point by point. However, the Hungarian government’s arguments are woefully one sided and selective. Contrary to its assertions, the NOTE is politically motivated and subjective in the extreme. Clearly, Viktor Orban is absolutely determined to prevent the Euopean Union from interfering with his authoritarian rule and his all pervasive criminal corruption schemes in Hungary.
Most recently, at the 28th Congress of FIDESZ, on September 28, 2019, Viktor Orban was reelected chairman of his party. His closing speech reinforced the message in the Hungarian government’s Information Note. To begin with, it was highly arrogant in its tone and extremely appalling in its content. Calling his fellow party members comrades, he credited their unquestionable loyalty to him as the most important political attribute of FIDESZ against his opponents. Defining the essence of membership as “of the same blood”, he thanked everybody for having shown understanding and forgiveness toward his weaknesses. Equating this with President Reagan’s eleventh commandment, he stated that in his party, members are mere workers and he alone is the boss. Rejecting 1991 as the initial date of regime change, he stated that the real political changes started to develop in 2010, from his second ascension to power. Repeating again his disdain for democracy, he termed the 2011 constitution the foundation of Christian freedom as opposed to liberal freedom. Without explaining what he meant by that distinction, he launched into an incoherent attack against “internationalism” and praised Hungarian patriotism. Displaying his total misunderstanding of the American and European democracies, he went after the liberal elites whose rule he termed “very dangerous.” Labeling his opposition “traitors of the nation”, he declared that the unity of FIDESZ and the Hungarian people is indivisible. Praising his like minded Polish colleagues and criticizing the new Italian government, and Prime Minister Conte personally, offering him sarcastically Hungary’s assistance in border protection, he again repeated his resolve not to cooperate with Brussels on immigration. In closing, referring to the Hungarian nation as “our race” (in Hungarian: a mi fajtank), he exhorted his comrades to persevere against those who try to harm Hungary. In his last sentence, he rejoiced over the “great powers that have moved around Europe and Hungary”, and assured his “comrades” that, for this reason, they are not animals but living souls, who understand that Hungary exists “over everything”, and that “the good Lord is present above everybody.” Finally, being the avid soccer fan he is, he yelled: “Go for it Hungarians! Go for it Hungary!” The message is: “My way United States of America and European Union or the highway.”
Two days later, on September 30, 2019, at a joint press conference with Finland’s Prime Minister Antti Rinne, Viktor Orban lashed out at everybody who, according to him, dares to question that Hungary is a nation of laws, and who dares to state that the rule of law does not fully exist in Hungary. “Anybody who questions that Hungary is a state of the rule of law threads on our honor, and I recommend everybody to contemplate such a statement very carefully.” In addition, he stated that international relations must be based on mutual respect and not on countries snubbing each other.
Realistically, the European Union is powerless to act effectively against the challenges to its authority by Viktor Orban. It can strip Hungary of voting rights and representation, but powerless of removing the latter from the organization. Thus, the wholesale destruction of democracy and the free economy will continue in Hungary unabated. Along with Hungary’s “illiberal democracy”, the number of like minded governments and counterfeit republics would most probably multiply. These governments will surely remain unstable and weak. The peoples that they supposedly represent, will be denied their basic rights and, with time, will decide to revolt. From these dangers the European Union must be saved. Clearly, only a great reconstruction of the Union will save all of Europe.
The United States of America would be well advised to assist in saving the continent again. In this context, Viktor Orban is a highly destructive force and a great political liability that Washington cannot afford. His goal is to weaken and ultimately destroy the European Union, in order to save his corrupt, criminal, and authoritarian regime. Surely, he must be stopped. The United States of America must rise above Viktor Orban’s false narrative about being the European Trump because of his anti-migrant policy. Clearly, he is not President Donald J. Trump. More importantly, Washington must understand that a strong and more unified European Union is a strategic ally whom the United States of America cannot weaken by supporting those who strive to destroy it. For, if the European Union fails, democracy and capitalism will be endangered, and the United States of America will be at a strategic disadvantage vis-a-vis Russia and China.
More globally, the world cannot stand idly by, witness the current corruption, and the ultimate destruction of the most successful civilization in human history. The choice between the future of the European Union and Viktor Orban is a no brainer. If he does not comprehend what is at stake, Viktor Orban must be relegated to the ash heap of history.