To write an opinion piece about an opinion piece is not the coolest form of journalism but I’ll endeavour to do it anyway. All the more for the fact that it may not prove to be entirely useless before the (foreseeably mendacious and undignified) national holiday of March 15th. Not useless in general, and emphatically useful in particular.
I am speaking about the opinion piece of the New York Times which contrasts Orbán’s mistreatment of refugees, his watchwords such as “charming human rights nonsense” and politics echoing the xenophobia of Donald Trump and his constant mocking of EU values with his drawing maximum benefits from the European funds. Mr Orbán does not seem to mind the whiff of the EU’s money at all.
In short: Orbán thinks the EU is easy meat and the European bloc shocked by Brexit deals far too gently with the defiant nationalists of Eastern Europe who in turn slowly render the existence of the whole EU pointless. The question is: will there be enough courage to take action against the likes of him, against Orbán in particular and when will this happen, if it happens at all?
My second reaction is totally different from my first which was what I initially thought about this question. Though a large number of things have contributed to or aided the uninterrupted seven-year rampage of Orbán, opinions like this have managed to play a major part among them. I do not enjoy writing this down, but I am afraid I am not wrong. We would be hard pressed to find a more destructive, simplifying, incorrect and one-sided approach to this issue of Orbán’s morbid and at the same time all too strategic opposition to Europe than the one expressed in the opinion piece above.
On the one hand, it seems to be cool that Europe’s predicament can be seen from as far as New York. This mirror, on the other hand though, reflects distorted images. Now, I do not want to regurgitate the government’s nonsense about the US and its role in the aggravation of the refugee crisis and how it is not fair to criticise Orbán regarding this question. It is quite true that everything done by the Hungarian regime since the beginning of the refugee crisis almost two years ago is nothing more than hard-core internal propaganda. Its goal is to whip up the darkest of emotions and maintain the war psychosis, to shatter the fragile European solidarity and not at all (or only partially) to solve an existing problem. This doesn’t diminish the fact that the new legislation passed exactly a week ago about the confinement of asylum seekers to so-called transit zones runs counter to international law and as a result the Hungarian state taxpayers can look forward to some hefty fines.
Regardless of all these I consider it counterproductive to attack Orbán because of his most powerful weapon (all that sodding, militant migrant-this and migrant-that), while with no refugees and crisis in sight (that is to say for countries other than Greece and Italy who tried to fight the wave alone when Europe was just beginning to wake up) Orbán had already been playing the EU for a patsy just as he does today, in 2017.
The stinking truth is that if the American or the European establishment had really been hurt by this shameless two faced game Orbán is playing, there would not have been a day without them broaching his ambitions for demolishing democracy and the rule of law (even if this seems incomprehensible from the democratic viewpoint of the EU). I find this brouhaha hypocritical and lacking in credibility, allowing of course that it would be nothing short of awful if someone else than the Hungarian people tried to put a stop to this all-encompassing power consolidation that scorches everything in its wake. Let us face it: the EU thinks if Hungarians like this, let them have it.
I believe the whole approach to the problem is wrong and it misses the most crucial aspect: this is not the story of a warm-hearted, unselfish victim and a bad boy or an innocent milking cow being exploited by a vicious villain.
Time to face the facts: the EU and the European party family of Fidesz have believed that the past seven years have sucked only for the Hungarians; that Orbán has only been digging the grave of a wretched Eastern European small-state when he used his so called national oligarchs to steal the greater part of the EU development funds. That he bulldozes the free press, that he governs by obscure mafia manners, that he made corruption a law, that he uses bald bullies to protect his power from the people, that he closes the door upon any democratic discussion, that he pesters non-government organisations which could mean any kind of control over his power and he tries to hide all this with messages to Brussels, agitating against the leaders of the EU and hand-feeding the European far-right lunatics. And this is not a cause, this is a consequence. Not exclusively Hungarian, but a European consequence. And unfortunately for us all, bad example is just like good example only it is even better sermon. Orbán’s standpoint regarding the refugee crisis is only the tip of the iceberg, the shit floating on the surface of seven years’ destruction, a road now enviously followed by his Polish friends, too. The stinking truth is that all of this happened in front of the EU’s and the US’s paralysed eyes and with their tacit understanding whilst there were a million reasons to haul him over the coals every day. This is a belated and false concern that shines a clear light at the near-blackmailable impotence of an EU in dire need of reforms but still being unable to carry out these reforms.
You can only turn someone into easy meat if that someone has certain interests in being easy meat, and I have a feeling that the EU lacks not the courage to box the prodigal son on the ear but the interest. If the EU really has values for Orbán to deny, then we should approach these values from the side of the EU’s citizens, rather than that of the refugees. Even if it is clear that Orbán uses a very complex and too real problem for instigation and incitement to hatred, which in itself is unacceptable. Europe has not been able to come up with a good solution for this problem yet and our populistic, split personality of a moral monstrosity plays on this fact greatly. Even so it is a sin to conflate the rotten standpoint of the Hungarian government regarding the refugees with the funds of the EU.
If there is to be totally just criticism of Orbán and his doings, it must move away from the simplified approach of the refugee crisis tantrum because there are a thousand and one reasons that trump this card. Not least because this narrative is ruled by Orbán and not the European mainstream. Not because he is right of course, but because it has always been a working strategy to play on the darkest instincts of people to obtain political gain.
As long as the news is not about the corrupt villain building a dictatorship kicking his citizens into the ditch, using the EU funds in bad faith, stealing from the citizens of the EU while being at Putin’s beck and call and using Putin’s methods to subvert the same EU, as long as there is no united resolution of the EU against all of these, opinion pieces like that of the New York Times will be less than useful.
As long as the European People’s Party can be blackmailed by Fidesz votes, as long as the EU’s interest is not in a competitive Hungary but a wretched assembly plant crammed with cheap manpower, as long as the EU does not obstruct the building of a feudal, antidemocratic bog but looks on quietly, as long as they shake hands with a suspected criminal as if nothing has happened in the past seven years, let us hang all the whining about the fundamental values of the European Union. Really.
Written by: Bálint Molnár, 14/03/2017
Translated by: Eszter Somogyi
Edited by: Réka Eszter Szabó