Hungary: Let us deal with Orbán
3 January 2012
Protests against the Hungarian prime minister, accused of a drift towards authoritarianism, are growing in Budapest. But while the international community is also starting to respond, the protests must avoid relying on foreign intervention, argues philosopher Gáspár Miklós Tamás. Excerpts.
There is little doubt that the European Commission and the IMF have deliberately imposed conditions that are impossible for the Hungarian government to meet, the likely purpose of which is to pressure Viktor Orban to resign. That probably explains why the EU-IMF delegation broke off negotiations.
At the same time, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Melia has restated his concerns about the regression of the “citizens’ democracy” in Hungary towards an authoritarian, dictatorial state; Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Human Rights within the EU, has strongly criticised the Hungarian government's continued violations of the principles of a free and constitutional democracy; these remarks follow strong criticism from the European Parliament, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission (and even the Secretary General of the UN).
The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, recently wrote a letter to Hungarian Prime Minister politely inviting him not to submit certain bills to a Parliamentary vote. The most prestigious news media of western and eastern Europe and North America, and their journalists, protest, get outraged, and constantly and relentlessly mock us.One cannot imagine a more intense and a more severe pressure. Only direct sanctions can follow.
As one of the parliamentary opposition parties, the PML (Lehet màs a politika – ‘For another politics’; centre-left, ecological slant) has stated that the democratic opposition in its hitherto peaceful and parliamentary form is now impossible and will take to the streets, two promising new movements, Szolidaritàs and 4K!, are demonstrating (and promising even greater protests), the unions are getting ready, and the new movements arising out of civil society are expressing their desire to continue their series of actions.
What should be the reponse to foreign pressure?
The question is: what is the position (or not) of those opposition forces on the left and/or the liberals vis-à-vis the pressures from abroad (the West and major powers)? The answer is not straightforward.In one sense, the destruction of democratic institutions (a nearly accomplished fact) could justify, given the overwhelming power of the anti-democratic right, Western intervention in favour of democracy.
However, in addition to desiring to maintain a representative and constitutional regime and a separation of powers, the Western states, primarily the European Commission, wish Hungary to adopt an economic policy that is not necessarily (to use a euphemism) in the interests of the Hungarian people. The Hungarian people, so often disappointed, may see in the "democratic cause" nothing more than a decorative icing on the increasingly harsh austerity measures pushed by Western powers worried about financial stability.
If the protection of democratic institutions necessarily goes hand in hand with a continual impoverishment of the Hungarian people, we must not be amazed that Hungarian citizens show little enthusiasm for restoring liberal democracy if that means their own destitution. Most of the Western criticisms of the government are fair, but they are scarcely to be heard from the Hungarian electorate. Hungarian citizens have not mandated and cannot mandate the Western powers to change the policies of their own country.
To compel democracy by undemocratic means from outside the country is not justified, and experience shows that it doesn’t work. Such compulsion makes the position of the Hungarian democratic opposition extremely perilous. On the one hand, the opposition supports an economic and social policy that it would fight if it were pushed through by the Hungarian government. On the other hand, it would be showing solidarity with anti-democratic processes – so at odds with its own principles – not to mention the fact that it would be accused, with some malice, of treason.
Independance, the ultimate protection
The Hungarian Prime Minister sees the situation as follows: "During the past decade, Western countries have taken refuge in using debt, at the cost of lessening tax revenues from employment, to support consumption. This form of debt has become unmanageable, particularly as the state has used that debt to finance its welfare system." This is a harmful half-truth and, moreover, a speech inspired by a neoconservative tendency, a tendency that the Hungarian government is supposed to overcome.
In the same way, the Prime Minister obsessively attacks unearned income, continually insists on dismantling the welfare system, and carries on with his dark demagoguery against subsidisation – because it is he who has stripped away unemployment benefits, attacked pensions, destroyed the health system and stealthily reinstated the system of supplementary private health care in a more radical way than his neo-liberal predecessors [the leftist government of Ferenc Gyurcsány] who dreamed only of that, but whose projects were brought down by the unions – supported by Viktor Orbàn. There is no divergence, therefore, between the government of Viktor Orban and the EU/IMF.
More generally, the dilemma within the dilemma is: should we defend national independence when the sovereignty of the people lies in ruins and when the fundamental rights of freedom have been relativised? A prerequisite for the restoration of national independence continues to be the restoration of democracy. The reconstruction and renewal of democracy, which I believe can come only from new political forces from within civil society, should not be jeopardised in advance by temporary tactical considerations. So long as there is no federal European democracy, independence will be our ultimate protection.
This is a framework that, under present conditions, will allow us to restore and, what is more, reinvent the sovereignty of the people. This is in the interest of the Hungarian people. The fact that the Hungarian people have no strong ally, either inside or outside the country, is worrisome. That makes it all the more necessary that the friends of the Hungarian people be faithful and consistent.