Monday, 9 April 2012
Abby Innes on Hungary: Viktor Orbán goes for broke (3)
The third part of Dr Abby Innes's blog, cross posted from the LSE with her permission.
In his speech to large crowds attending national day celebrations last week Orban vilified the EU as no better than Hungary’s old Soviet oppressor: ‘We will not be a colony’ he declared and not for the first time he drew direct analogies between Moscow and Brussels, rejecting the ‘unsolicited comradely assistance’ of the EU – a fabulously disingenuous reference to the Union’s attempts to get Hungary to honour its voluntary commitments. The EU’s finance ministers have duly resolved to withhold half a billion Euros in cohesion funding. All of which leaves the regime with increasingly polarised choices. Though playing for time in EU/IMF negotiations, in public Orban continues to spoil for a rhetorical fight as one of the few remaining proofs of government virility. As such he is dragging Hungary into a diplomatic game of chicken, and so long as Orban doesn’t blink he offers himself as the hero of a projected national martyrdom. As such he is offering the fellowship of misfortune to that sizeable population that feels marginalised by the rapid liberalisation of the economy; that is overcome with anxiety about the future and resentful of the entanglement of figures, information and exhortations to ‘discipline’ coming from the wealthier countries to the west. If Orban backtracks now he is ‘selling Hungary out’, but as things stand, with his persecution manias, his resurrection of communism’s ‘combat tasks’ in nationalist form, with his purging of the non-faithful from the public sector, the judiciary, the media, culture and education, allusions to Greater Hungary and promises of ‘economic autonomy’, Orban is selling his people a catastrophic lie. The lie is that Hungary can flourish as a paranoid, racist, xenophobic one-party state with a patronage-based economy: with a reversion to those calls for self-determination that require enemies abroad and racial inferiors at home. Orban’s ministers are too afraid to calm the hubris which is increasing evident in Orban’s actions and this can only end badly: the political economic contradictions will mount and ordinary Hungarians are already paying the price with a deepening of the stresses that brought Orban to power in the first place. For a democracy scarcely twenty years old this is a tragedy which should give all Europeans pause. In particular the EU’s economists need to think hard on the politics of austerity, because Hungary is not the only member state with an illiberal tradition on which its more ambitious politicians may call, when cornered. [Ends]
Some key phrases:
'...the most almighty recasting of the rules of the Hungarian political game: what has ensued is a bacchanalia of populist-nationalist elite self-indulgence and hatred-mongering that has taken Hungary’s international reputation from a regional reform leader to pariah status in two years, and its political economy deeper into the mire...'
'...Orban’s solution was to insist that the emerging market dilemmas that are structural to a population with European expectations of social cohesion are solely the product of ‘communist’ corruption and networking. This accusation duly proved more electorally successful than promises of further belt-tightening...'
'...Orban is selling his people a catastrophic lie. The lie is that Hungary can flourish as a paranoid, racist, xenophobic one-party state with a patronage-based economy: with a reversion to those calls for self-determination that require enemies abroad and racial inferiors at home...'
In the meantime Jobbik has reverted to the old anti-semitic blood-libel. If Fidesz wants to retain any shred of respectability it has to put a pretty decisive stretch of clear blue water between itself and what sometimes seems like its pet pitbull opposition, Jobbik, as does the right wing Fidesz-supporting Hungarian press, of course.