Eurocracy, Budget-cracy, or Democracy? On Viktor Orbán’s dictatorship and EU hypocrisy.
On March 30th, Viktor Orbán obtained the indefinite recognition of special powers from 2/3 of his parliament. Meanwhile, the European Union seems guilty of inertia in the face of this coup de main. The state of exception of the ‘coronavirus’ does not hide the authoritarianism of Viktor Orbán’s centralizing maneuver. We called this a “Pan-demia” precisely because, across the planet, it has already affected 209 countries; including all European countries. The Hungarian “emergency” is no different to that of other states.
Throughout history, maneuvers such as that of Orbán have been done precisely when the public is not attentive.
The measures Orbán has been implementing do not concern the health of the populace. One of his first decrees concerns the ‘unblocking of construction sites’, and forces the opening of three construction sites that was previously put to a halt by the mayor of Budapest. Citizens had already opposed these constructions, as they wanted to prevent the changes in the public city park, and demanded greater protection of the environment.
These emergency powers now allow Orbán to legislate by decree, without any intervention from his citizens or political cabinet.
In our history, governments that have consisted of a single ruler, with the power to legislate and dictate their thoughts, have been referred to as dictatorships (and sometimes also tyrannies). In fact, the term emerged in ancient Rome in reference to periods of state emergency or crisis under which one leader was appointed with absolute power for a temporary period. The excuse of a ‘marked majority’ in the Hungarian legislative and constitutive structure cannot defend Orbán’s coup de main.
Hitler and Mussolini also began with decrees similar to that of Viktor Orbán.
Mussolini consolidated his power through a series of laws. He transformed the nation into a one-party dictatorship using legal means, too. Hitler also came to power legally: he established his dictatorship by implementing a decree on ‘special powers’, similarly to Orbán. In their early stages, both social-fascism and national-socialism rose to power legally and in seeming ‘respect’ of its existing constitutions. Otherwise, we would speak of a “military coup”.
In 2020, the true democrats in Europe, are stunned and dumbfounded in front of a European legislation which assigns absolute power to a ruler within the European Union. The specific formula of ‘Suspension of Parliament, without time limits’ is chilling — it is not a temporary measure at all. Even the United Kingdom’s Telegraph, they write: “the European Union has its first dictatorship”. With this provision, the Magyar president will be able to suspend any existing regulation, govern by decree and postpone the elections.
The Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25) is at the forefront of this battle to protect democracy.
In the our post ‘Hungary becomes the first dictatorship in the European Union’ we declared that:
“The European Union in its majority parties for years has ignored the authoritarian involution of the Orbán government. (…) By continuing to admit Fidesz (his party) to the ranks of the European People’s Party. Ignoring any preconditions for reaffirming Hungary’s rights and democracy. Once again, the EU demonstrates a double standard: on the one hand, intransigence in respect of austerity policies, on the other, lack of interest in the rights and freedoms of its citizens.”
But let’s find out the background.
DiEM25 is a transnational movement with members in many states, such as the United Kingdom, Turkey, Portugal and Hungary and there is also a local collective in Budapest. Our members from Hungary, and with hungarian expertise speak directly below.
It is usually difficult to start a political conversation with Hungarian friends. In recent decades the nation has been burned by the corruption of governments of all kinds — even progressive candidates of the previous decade. For many decades, and before the border opening of 1989, public speaking about politics was forbidden. As a result, people have become disaffected with politics and are uncomfortable talking about it. Notoriously, in the city crossed by the Danube, there is no public talk about money or politics.
As writer Stefano Bottoni writes, Hungarian culture emphasizes that they are ‘folks who follow the leader’ with a high respect for those in positions of responsibility. Even in the capital city, it is difficult to find someone who speaks for or against Viktor Orbán. In these hours, working and teaching often, with my courses and classes in Budapest, I have been able to contact my collaborators in Hungary for their comments on these news.
The secrets of Orbán’s propaganda
Viktor Orbán: a sovereign and therefore anti-pro-European, a xenophobic and therefore racist, a right-wing and therefore authoritarian, has been in power since 2010 — a decade now.
His narrative is that of a surrounded people; he depicts Hungary as a nation that must be protected from ‘external dangers’. He is against migrants, against refugees, against foreign countries. In his words: “Africa wants to kick down our door, and Brussels is not defending us. Europe is under invasion already. The countries that don’t stop immigration will be lost.”
It is a narrative as effective as that of Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist zionism. The narrative of a country ‘under invasion’. In Hungary, this leverages many centuries of struggle against outer military powers.
From ‘500 to 1956, many war defeats have been written in local history. We must also add to these a long list of recent attempted revolutions (1703, 1735, 1848, 1918, 1956), all lost with defeats. And so is the list of enemies from the ‘surrounding world’: Holy Roman Empire, Republic of Venice, Mongols, Ottoman Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, Great Britain, Napoleon’s Kingdom of France, Russian Empire, Austrian Empire, Prussia, Romania, the winning Allied Powers of both the World War I and World War II, plus the recent Soviet Union.
The consequence is that in 10 years the only moment when his right-wing party Fidesz lost the elections was at the municipal offices of last year. In 2019, in 10 of the country’s 23 most important cities, the opposition, united in a single group to oppose Orbán’s tyrannical tendencies, won. The recent blow to Orbán’s authoritarianism was the loss of the capital of the ‘kingdom’. Budapest, the monopolistic center of culture, politics and (above all) the economy of the whole nation, has wounded the control of Orbán’s party, electing the candidate of the union of the oppositions, an environmentalist, democratic and progressive (Gergely Karacsony).
Similarly to Donald Trump’s performance in New York and Los Angeles, and Boris Johnson’s performance in London, Viktor Orbán failed to conquer the majority of the population in Budapest. However, his ascendance remains, and in Budapest at least 2 out of 5 people who have voted for him. This defeat in the capital only motivated the authoritarian ruling party to increase its dose of institutional aggression.
The counter-move was similar to that of Erdogan in Turkey with the victory of the opposition in Istanbul. Orbán reacted by increasing the attempts to impose tyrannical authoritarianism. His party Fidesz wins thanks to votes taken in the province, in smaller cities and in the poorest countryside.
The hypocrisy of ‘anti-Europeanism’ but with the economy of Europe
Viktor Orbán’s advantage, at home and in Germany, is his own hypocrisy concerning his ‘anti-European’ stance.
It is easy for him to compare the European Union to the Soviet Union, accusing it of being just as liberticidal. However, not only does he not want to leave Europe, but he is also careful not to start a real discussion about a “Hungh-exit”. On the other hand, he makes full use of the Community’s financial channels to fully disburse European funds in the Magyar country and integrate it industrially with the German locomotive. In fact, the double-strand bond of Hungary as a natural inclusion in the automotive supply chain of Germany is strong.
As Alessandro Grimaldi, another great connoisseur of Hungary and author of the blog ‘Live in Budapest’, stated to me in an interview:
“5% of the Hungarian GDP comes from the German manufacturing industry. In Hungary there are 3 of the largest Audi and Mercedes-Benz factories for components thanks to two large multipliers: the low labor cost, a ‘Thatcherian’ economy and a local conservative right-wing labor code.”
In fact, the Hungarian labor code — especially if compared to the Italian Workers’ Statute of 1970 — is so conservative and right-wing that it would make Elsa Fornero, the previous Italian labor minister, happy. She was the one who reduced the ‘acquired rights’ of the Workers’ Statute in order to make individual layoffs for economic reasons during the crisis of 2012.
By virtue of this, the numbers are now in Orbán’s favor, with: “A GDP that registers a + 5%. An Eastern European economy that aims at an advantageous devalued Forint, compared to the Euro.”
The European Union has been guilty of silence and inertia in the face of every coup de main by Viktor Orbán
The European Union has been:
Silent, on the unification of research institutes and historical archives of the country in order to create the notorious “Veritas”. This body, under the direct control of the government, now promotes the rewriting of history in favor of the ideas of the right-wing party Fidesz.
Quiet, except for empty sanctions, on the discrimination of Roma, Gypsy and migrant communities, pushed to the margins of the country and to the margins of the schools, with reserved classes for their children and the inability to access extracurricular activities such as swimming pool and trips, (guaranteed to “residing” Hungarians).
Silent, on the movement of the statue of Imre Nagy, the 1956 revolution patriot, as part of the new narrative of a victim Hungary, defended by the Orbán patriot alone.
Silent, on the forcing of the Central European University to leave Hungary to move to Vienna.
Silent, on the maneuver of fake rationalization of the communication system which led to the complete allocation by the right-wing parties of the Hungarian newspapers and televisions.
Silent, on the centralization of the schools that (once municipal) have been gradually nationalized.
Silent, on the transfer of ownership of 495 news channels, passed under the control of a publisher loyal to the Fidesz party.
Silent, on the progressive impoverishment of the school, with a drastic lowering of the compulsory schooling and increasing its costs, as in the Anglo-Saxon style and the class-conscious drift.
Silent, on the liberticidal laws against journalists and citizens who publish what for the government are ‘fake news’, would face five years in prison.
The European Union’s stance on these issues calls into question its proclaimed humanitarian values. In practice, with the rule on ‘fake news’, or even proven truths, any statement that portrays the government in a negative light could be sanctioned with 5 years in prison. How could a humanitarian post-war Europe turn a blind eye to laws that the government can so easily interpret against personal freedoms?
On the European continent, this is a serious contradiction. This Europe calls itself ‘positive and benevolent’, but cultivates within its members a disrespect for the standards of liberal democracies. The European Commission and European Parliament’s immobility and hypocrisy have been highlighted for the umpteenth time.
The random order of national interests and policies
Of the 27 EU countries, only 14 have opposed Orbán’s initiative: Italy, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal and Sweden.The outrage of European progressives has been limited to intellectual groups and associations, which have not resulted in any actions taken by the European Union.
The current European Parliament seems to have become a consortium of national interests rather than a parliament through which its mission of “supporting the fight for democracy, freedom of speech and fair elections across the globe” is achieved. It is made up of governments that sell weapons to third world factions, and extract gas and oil through fracking. In it, corrupt nations abide by the hand of Erdogan and various other dictators. Moreover, the European Union has done its worst in the past month in terms of national selfishness.
There has been a shameful denial of the tragedies taking place in countries such as Italy and Spain, which have declared the most deaths from COVID-19. The mutual accusations between countries, the closures of the borders, and the absolute discordance in the European anti-virus provisions, are not a coincidence. Each country has been left to its own provisions despite statements calling for ‘solidarity’. The lack of a European health service makes itself real. At the same time, there is a lack of a single European foreign policy and of a real, truly, European foreign ministry. The EU does not have common taxation, a common income, a common defense service, a common health care, nor a common pension provision. What can be expected from what is in practice only a budgetary union?
Is budget-cractic eurocracy really based on democracy?
The speed and aggressiveness with which Germany, Holland and Belgium attack anyone who only dares to verbally propose to question the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is high.
Do we remember what happened in 2015 with Greece?
The EU apparatus seems to only be interested in respecting monetary austerity. The commission seems to not care about democracy and the living conditions of the citizens of those states of Europe considered ‘minor’ and ‘peripheral’. Uncomfortable testimony to this ‘budgetary authoritarianism’ is DiEM25’s recent disclosure of the Euroleaks recordings. The recordings of the Eurogroup meetings showcase dialogues on the verge of blackmail and extortion against the Greek democratic referendum of 2015. They are evidence of a blind Eurogroup, a harmful European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and an obtuse Troika.
Rather than protect citizens from powers that undermine democracy and the rights of European citizens, the European Union has resorted to immobile laxity, shyness and superficial declarations. The comparison between the treatment of the Greece government in 2015, and the treatment of the Hungary government in 2020 makes us angry.
Let’s also remember Brexit.
This summer, the EU media reacted with outrage to the temporary — one month — suspension of the English parliament signed by Queen Elizabeth. In that case, billions of euros from Great Britain were at stake in the EU budget. Towards Orbán, the same media didn’t react with such sensationalism and acrimony. These comparisons showcase the EU’s hypocritical stance concerning its support of democracy and humanitarian values. .
The EU is not a people’s government (demo-cracy), but a budgetary government (budget-cracy)
DiEM25 has long denounced the need to reform the European Commission to make it a ‘demo-cratic’ institution rather than a ‘€uro-cratic’ one.
As the journalist Corrado Formigli denounces: “Orbán’s Hungary must leave the European Union if this question is not immediately resolved.” If the European Union does not immediately react to this dictator, the European Parliament will be exposed in its uselessness. Dictatorships are a clear existential threat to the European Union and its people. If the mission of the European Parliament is to protect democracy, fair elections, and free speech and human rights, then it must take a stance now.
The EU must act decisively, firmly and immediately against Orbán’s dictatorship.
Ivan Alberto Larosi is a member of the National Collective in Italy and Spain.
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