Viktor Orbán defends his regime in the European Parliament

“This situation is like when someone is accused of murder, he is convicted, yet the murder victim is alive and is pointing his finger at the accused all along,” said a belligerent Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during the European Parliament’s special session on Hungary. Mr. Orbán was referring to what the Hungarian leader claims are false accusations leveled against his regime about his desire to shut down Central European University. “My argument is with you and with an international financial speculator,” added Mr. Orbán, in reference to George Soros, the founder of CEU.

“As Hungary’s prime minister, it is my responsibility to ensure that European and Hungarian universities are not at a disadvantage compared to universities from outside of Europe, no matter how wealthy their owner may be,” quipped Mr. Orbán, again referring to Mr. Soros.

CEU was not the only contentious topic for discussion on the European Parliament’s special session on Hungary. The other such issue was the regime’s ever louder anti-EU talk, and in particular its polemical “national consultation,” which it advertises on thousands of billboards that read: “Let’s stop Brussels!” Mr. Orbán pointed out that more than 70% of Hungarians support the European Union, but will “only continue to do so if the EU is built on fair and open debate, and if it recognizes that it must be reformed from time to time.” There is something distinctly dark about the Hungarian prime minister calling for “fair and open debate,” which he and his party colleagues have done everything to eliminate in Hungary.

The third contentious issue in the European Parliament had to do with Hungary’s proposed law against NGOs. The legislation aims to smear and stifle, through a huge amount of bureaucratic red tape and the charge of being a “foreign agent,” any NGO that receives more than around around $30,000 in funding per year from abroad. Meanwhile, in a display of remarkable audacity, the pseudo-NGO “Forum for Civic Cooperation,” intrinsically affiliated with the ruling party, is not held accountable on any level for having completely blurred the line between the party, the state and itself.

Viktor Orbán speaking in the European Parliament. Photo: MTI.

EU reactions to Viktor Orbán’s speech

The most passionate reaction and rebuttal to Mr. Orbán’s attempt at apologetics in the European Parliament came from Italian Socialist MEP Gianni Pittella. Mr. Pittella noted that it often appears as though Hungary were not even a member of the European Union and the country’s government does not show solidarity when it comes to the migrant and refugee situation. “Stop saying that we are the evildoers, that we are the nasty ones, the bad ones! It is not we who want to shut down the university and marginalize the media. Speak the truth to your people!”–retorted the Italian politician.

Guy Verhofstadt a liberal MEP who was once allied with Mr. Orbán some thirty years, when the Hungarian politician was also a proud liberal, called Mr. Orbán a turncoat and someone who is completely unprincipled.

Green MEP Gabi Zimmer began her words by confirming that she is “not a friend of George Soros,” and then added: “I am surprised that you, as a former Soros scholarship recipient would represent a law such as this.” She also demanded that Hungary start respecting international agreements pertaining to refugees.

Green party MEP Jean Lambert reminded Mr. Orbán that if Brussels were just like Moscow (referring to Fidesz claims that the EU is just like the former USSR), then we would see European tanks in the streets of London. “What are you scared of, Mr. Prime Minister?”–asked Ms. Lambert, adding that the prime minister has won three elections, twice with a two thirds majority. So why is it necessary to attack the media, civil society and universities?

In contrast, Nigel Farage, Britain’s eurosceptic UKIP MEP, asked Mr. Orbán: “How many times are you going to show up here just to bump your head?” He suggested that Hungary should join the United Kingdom in leaving the EU.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the conservative European People’s Party of which Fidesz is still a member, noted that he did not understand why the attack against CEU was necessary. “For 25 years it was good practice that CEU awarded Hungarian and European diplomas. We do not understand why this had to be changed. Academic freedom is a fundamental pillar of the EU,” noted Mr. Weber. He then went on to express his appreciation to Mr. Orbán for being willing to answer questions in Parliament, noting that Romania’s Socialist prime minister failed to show up, when the EP was investigating Romanian corruption.

Although the EPP is highly unlikely to eject Fidesz from its ranks, some conservative MEPs expressed reservations about the Budapest regime. “I feel pain in my heart, because I recall the other Fidesz, which wanted to be part of a united Europe. It is not the first time that it appears that developments in Hungary are going against European values,” remarked Esther de Lange. “Are you really the type of man who must paint an inaccurate and exaggerated picture of ‘Brussels’ as an enemy, in order to appear stronger at home?”–asked the Dutch conservative politician.

That last remark was the most devastating of all criticisms leveled against Mr. Orbán in the European Parliament, and not only because it came from within his own conservative faction. Mr. Orbán has repeatedly questioned the manliness and masculinity of his opponents, perhaps most notably Gábor Vona of Jobbik. Now a conservative woman is painting a picture of Mr. Orbán as an insecure bully, who says absurd things about the EU, in order to make himself feel like a man at home.

The EP will vote on May 1st about a joint position on the situation in Hungary.

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