Obama lumps Hungary in with anti-western, authoritarian regimes

Last week, former U.S. President Bill Clinton commented on the Daily Show, that with his brand of authoritarian capitalism, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wants little more than to stay in power indefinitely and become wealthy through dubious means. (“Usually these guys just want to stay forever and make a lot of money,”–said Mr. Clinton.) The collective heart of the Orbán regime probably sunk a little, when they got word of what the current president – Barack Obama – had to say about the state of civil society in Hungary. “From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society,”–Mr. Obama remarked in New York City, at a conference hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative. “From Russia to China to Venezuela, you are seeing relentless crackdowns, vilifying legitimate dissent as subversive. In places like Azerbaijan, laws make it incredibly difficult for NGOs even to operate,”–added the U.S. president.

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

Hungary was the only European Union member state to be lumped in with the hardly illustrious crowd, made up of countries like Venezuela, China, Azebaijan or Russia. What remains of Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (after 200 career diplomats were ousted in April and another 30 employees sacked earlier this month) issued a vague, polemical rebuttal to Mr. Obama. Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s newly-minted minister of foreign affairs–who is perhaps anything but a policy wonk and simply an ultra-loyal mouthpiece of Prime Minister Orbán–had the following response to Mr. Obama during his first day on the job.

“Our starting point is that Hungary and the Untied States of America are allies. At the same time, the U.S. President’s remarks on the restriction of Hungary’s civil society by the government lack a factual basis. The Hungarian people are freedom-loving people therefore they would not tolerate any kind of restriction of their freedom,” noted the rump Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Lajos Kósa, a prominent Fidesz politcian and mayor of Debrecen was less diplomatic: he suggested that Mr. Orbana needn’t be taken seriously, since he U.S. president can’t even name Hungary’s third largest city. As it turns out, Mr. Kósa isn’t entirely clear on this issue either.

Meanwhile, the liberal 444.hu news site published a lengthy piece today on how Hungary is rapidly becoming a Latin American-style dictatorship. The paper illustrated the story by turning the Crown of St. Stephen into a sombrero. The paper highlights the key aspects of what make for Latin American dictatorship, showing in each case how Hungary also meets these “standards.”

  • With careful doses of populism and partisan legislative transformation, Mr. Orbán and/or his regime can stay in power for decades.
  • Political debates and conflicts will occur within the ruling party, rather than between those in power and those in opposition.
  • Political dynasties will begin to appear in Hungary.
  • One of the more likely answers to Mr. Orbán’s aggressive politics of power can be the politics of conciliation and sensitivity, and within a conservative society such as Hungary, women may be better suited to play this role.
  • It can be remarkably difficult to break out from the cycle of populism.
  • The dismal state of Hungarian public education and the lack of effective foreign language instruction will make future generations even more vulneable and dependent on the regime.
  • The rapid decline of the middle class will likely speed up in Hungary.
  • Those who live in poverty will be pushed to the margins, in an effort to make them invisible to society.
  • Violent crime will likely increase dramatically in this brave new world.

There is an increasingly widespread feeling that the process outlined above is unstoppable. It looks like Washington is waking up to this reality. Perhaps one day Ottawa will do the same.

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