Even when we debate issues in Europe, we do so starting from common ground. There may be several intricate issues, but they can’t be allowed to blot out the fundamental ones: freedom, rule of law and human rights. These are set out in article two of the EU Constitution, and are legally binding for all member states. This is the very essence of Europe; it makes Europe what it appears in the eyes of the world, envied by so many. When we speak up for human rights and the rule of law, we can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that these values are being disregarded inside Europe. Europe can’t stay silent when civil societies or the spirit of scientific inquiry are being suffocated, as they are in the Central European University in Budapest.
- This truly heart-wrenching statement was voiced by Frank-Walter Steinmeier , the president of Germany, on Tuesday as part of his speech in the European Parliament, which took place concurrently to the unspeakably vile Hungarian parliamentary exchange about the piece of proposed legislation being rushed through the urgent and especially expedited procedure, as instructed by Zsolt Semjén (who didn’t seem to be present himself).
From Mónika Noname Dunai to István Hollik, from Rózsika Hoffmann to Zoltán Balog, they all pitched in, but I reckon I’d feel sick if I had to quote the reams and reams of cowardly lies trotted out to the beaming Viktor Orban’s great delight. Yes, it got passed.
It’s been reported and documented with a photo on the scene that Steinmeier’s speech promoting European unity, rule of law and shared responsibility was greeted with a standing ovation by most European representatives, while József Szájer, head of the EP’s Fidesz faction remained seated. Then let me put in my two pennies worth here, far from Europe, not for the first time, but at least in line with all I’ve ever been trying to explain with less rather than more success thus far.
I am blown away by this rhythmic applause, by men and women on their feet (though I haven’t heard it, I can imagine the sound); if they’d been stomping their feet, it might have been even more credible, but it’s alright as it is too. I’m almost beginning to worry that there is a frowning, shrill-voiced announcement in the offing at the end too (as I said, back in the Hungarian Parliament, the law aimed to destroy CEU had already been passed, although a mere week before no-one had any idea it existed at all).
I don’t mean to be a bother and meddle in your earnest hand-wringing, ladies and gentlemen, but all that’s been happening in Hungary since 2010 – and that wasn’t exactly yesterday – all but have gone against the noble ideals and values named by the German president, while Europe, bar the odd bout of feigned moral outrage here and there, remained silent.
This story, whose latest, and and no doubt noteworthy chapter entails the destruction of the CEU, constitutes the nth, present-day dose of a destructive process that Europe has been watching, willingly or cringingly (depending on the player) while generously funding the spectacle. The standing ovation – which was otherwise an energetic expression of high-minded idealism – shows perfectly how little Europe understands what the issue is. Or, if it does, and carries on making such elevated pronouncements anyway, all the grimmer.
Before anyone gets it wrong: I do not aim to shift the blame for this illiberal morass that is belching the fumes of a dead democracy that the government is foisting on us the eighth year running onto Europe or the German president. It wasn’t Europe, the German president or the European Parliament who have voted this illiberal ring of criminals in twice. But then Europe ought not be proselytising about shared European values that are so very important to all, when they’ve been – gawpingly, bashfully, or while exhorting each other to keep calm – watching traumatised little Victor for seven years take a dump on the dinner table, make a joke of solidarity, sign things he rails against five minutes later, and continually keep up a rhetoric of hatred in between signing things before ingratiating himself in kitschy schmoozing- and brown nosing sessions.
While forests of billboards have screamed the governmental message of hatred against Europe for almost two years, no day passes without us hearing what a crap place the EU is, and that it should rot in hell, a few days ago Angela Merkel German Chancellor (as the president of Germany is concerned already anyway, I thought this is worth a mention too) declined the suggestion that member states who refuse to carry out jointly made decisions or fail to respect due process be punished with economic sanctions in the form of EU funding cuts. Because Germany doesn’t like the idea of converting untoward happenings into cash, or that of using threats. However, the situation is that this person and his numerous entourage do not heed kind words, civility, politeness, and half-hearted, muted criticism. Of course, it’s outside the European Parliament’s jurisdiction to get the Hungarian, or Polish, governments back in line, but the destruction of our democracy did not reach a critical stage yesterday, and the CEU-case is not the first – and if all carries on in this vein – nor the last kick in the teeth of European values. It’s not threats we need, but to take those steps which get the message through to even a megalomaniacal tyrant. While he is able to blackmail the European People’s Party with Fidesz votes, while German-owned factories don’t give a hoot when he might throw a wobbler, we can worry all we like, but it’s not going to make any difference.
The truth of the matter is that we do not have a common basis to negotiate from. Or any negotiations at all. In the best case scenario, our bases have ceased to overlap; in the worst, they never have. For Hungary, it’s curtains, even if Brussels, Berlin, or Strasbourg suddenly realised sometime soon that if they don’t knock some sense into the wayward, rebellious Eastern European chavs, then it’s curtains for the whole of Europe too, and it won’t have anything left to be envied for.
The European elite have been blankly and helplessly observing the destruction of democracy and the flagrant disregard of European values in Hungary; the list stretches on and on. It’s been going on for exactly as long as necessary to make the process practically irreversible. This conniving silence and helplessness poisons not only Hungarians but the whole of Europe. That’s a fact.
Now you may talk of the prospect of France, Germany, and the other 21 member states present Hungary and Poland with an ultimatum that spells out the deal: they either accept their fair share of resettling migrants, or leave the EU. We can wake up and see that we cannot blackmail the EU, and that unity carries a price; mere months before the Hungarian general elections, I fear this is but grist to Orban’s mill. Because they focus our attention on the resettlement of migrants all over again, when the smell we need to wake up to is that of the decomposing carcass of the rule of law that’s surrounded us for years. Here, inside Europe.
Translated by: Judit Gábris
Edited by: Réka Eszter Szabó