In the British press today there are a couple of interesting columns that provide a wonderful portrait of exactly whats happening in everyone’s new favourite European disaster: Hungary.Over at the Telegraph, Tibor Fischer, a British novelist of Hungarian descent, writes an essay defending the much criticised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Orbán is no fascist, Fischer argues, noting the groups ideological distance from the true far Right in Hungarian politics, the Jobbik party. Most of the “far-right” mud-slinging comes from his old enemies, the Communists (and former Communists) who are jealous of Orbán’s popularity — he’s clearly the most popular politician in the country, Fischer writes.
Of course, there’s a lot of truth to what Orbán writes. Orbán is probably not going to turn into a 20th-century style dictator, and he is incredibly popular with vast swathes of the country.
However, here’s where the second column, from Philip Stephens at the FT comes in:
Paradoxically for a politician so visceral in his hostility to post-Soviet Russia, Mr Orban’s version of democracy is one that would surely win plaudits from Vladimir Putin. Much as in Mr Putin’s Russia, the rule of law is subordinated to the entrenchment of one-party rule. As in Russia, Hungarians can still vote; citizens can protest and privately owned media can criticise Mr Orban. But this is faux democracy. State institutions, the courts and the national broadcaster are firmly in Fidesz hands.
No, Orbán is not building a dictatorship. Aside from Belarus, a relic of another era, modern Europe doesn’t have dictatorships.
But what it does have is neutered, corrupt democracies — countries where the media and judiciary are neutered, political opponents hopeless against official popularity, influence and wealth, and voters cosigned to apathy.
We see it in Putin’s Russia, we saw it in Berlusconi’s Italy, and the fear is that we watching it begin in Orbán’s Hungary.
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