Orbán adopts Putinism: The West finally wakes up

Never in over four years of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s  rise to power with a supermajority have major western journals and commentators sounded the alarm bells quite so loud. In just the last 24 hours, two major outlets have written about the demise of parliamentary democracy in Hungary, in a manner that has never before been seen, not even when Hungary’s media laws, electoral changes or the unilateral adoption of a new constitution ruffled feathers and caused consternation in the European Union. Those worries have now made their way across the Atlantic and are being expressed not only by a small group of erudite policymakers, but by some of the most prominent columnists.

Viktor Orbán. Photo: Facebook.

Viktor Orbán. Photo: Facebook.

Let’s start with Fareed Zakaria, writing for The Washington Post. Mr.  Zakaria believes that Mr. Orbán’s most recent speech in Tusnádfürdő, and his declaration that liberal democracy in Hungary is dead, signals the rise of Putinism in the heart of Europe.

“Hungary is again a trendsetter, becoming the first European country to denounce and distance itself from liberal democracy. It is adopting a new system and set of values that are best exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia but are finding echoes in other countries as well. (…) Orban’s actions over the past few years demonstrate that his own role model has been Russia under Putin. Orban has enacted and implemented in Hungary a version of what can best be described as ‘Putinism’,” writes Mr. Zakaria.

The Washington Post columnist defines Putinism as:

  1. A repressive system of social, economic and political control.
  2. The ideology of power
  3. Social conservatism mixed with a type of faux religiosity
  4. The eroding of judicial independence and the curbing of international rights
  5. Hindering press freedom through intimidation
  6. The adoption of an anti-western attitude, with the west being perceived as decadent and cosmopolitan. The latter term serves, in the minds of Putinists, as a pejorative.

Mr. Zakaria mentions the introduction of a new 40% media tax, which aims to weaken and potentially bankrupt the country’s most popular, German-owned television station, RTL Klub, is the newest clamp-down of what little is left of the country’s independent media.

The columnist concludes that whether Putinism succeeds and whether it really does spread will depend on the outcome of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, where the Russian president could either arise out of that strengthened, or could leave him badly isolated and bruised.

The Wall Street Journal also wrote an uncharacteristically hard-hitting editorial on Mr. Orbán’s vision of terminating liberal democracy in Hungary. “Hungary’s slow-motion transformation into a soft-authoritarian state may appear to Washington and Brussels as a provincial concern on Europe’s periphery. Yet Mr. Orban looks with admiration to Vladimir Putin —and harbors Putin-like aspirations. (…) More broadly, Mr. Orban’s illiberal candor is a warning that free markets and free societies need more forceful defending. The West’s victory in the Cold War led to a complacency that the liberal idea was triumphant—that it was “the end of history,” in the fashionable phrase of the day. But authoritarians are always lurking to seize on democratic weakness,”–writes the WSJ.

Mr. Orbán has been lurking in the dark for four and a half years. In Tusnádfürdő, he finally stepped out into the daylight with his vision of dictatorship in Hungary. And finally, the West is waking up to this troubling reality.

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