The Orbán model under scrutiny

Europe's press is still preoccupied with the landslide victory of the right-wing national Fidesz party in Hungary. Were intellectuals simply too complacent to intervene? Is Europe's liberal left neglecting the important issues? And what is the outlook for Hungary's economy?

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Contributors (RO) /

The high price of political complacency

It's the passivity of civil society that paved the way for Orbán's renewed victory, Romanian political analyst Valentin Naumescu writes on blog platform Contributors:

“Unfortunately over the last decade Hungarian intellectuals, academics and civil society have resigned themselves to the political mediocrity in Budapest. ... If there is something we can learn from Orbán's continuing success it's the dire consequences of the failure to build up a strong opposition; the dreadful price a society of politically inactive people pays when those who could do something stay on the sidelines and wait for others to take action or turn up their noses at the attempts of well-meaning people to establish an alternative.”

Financial Times (GB) /

New Kulturkampf menaces EU unity

Left liberals have failed to respond to the concerns of large sections of the population and made the grave mistake of leaving the topic of national identity to politicians like Orbán, the Financial Times criticises:

“Hungary's liberals, like their western European counterparts, have failed to invent their own modern patriotism, ignoring concerns about preserving national identity in a hyper-globalised world and even questioning the need for secure borders in an age of international terrorism. Here in Budapest, this has abandoned a huge swath of public discourse to populists. ... Beyond Brexit and migration, the new Kulturkampf over national identity may be the biggest threat to the EU's future unity and stability.”

Világgazdaság (HU) /

Invest more in education and health

Upon close scrutiny the state budget arouses serious concerns about Hungary's competitiveness, Péter Àkos Bod, former president of the Hungarian national bank, notes in Világgazdaság:

“How government spending is structured is a purely political matter. We know where too much is being spent when we compare the sums with the spending of countries that are at a similar stage of development as Hungary, but more competitive. For example, the budgets for the state apparatus, for the economic activities of the state and for sport are too high. By contrast too little money is flowing into the healthcare system, defence and education. The priorities are being dictated by the balance of power. We can only hope that competitiveness will not fall by the wayside.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Situation in Hungary more worrying than in Poland

Brussels should finally acknowledge that the developments in Budapest are far more worrying than those in Warsaw, writes The Irish Times:

“The EU has reacted - indeed, over-reacted - to developments in Poland by threatening to declare Warsaw in breach of EU values. Yet it has remained bafflingly quiescent when confronted by Orbán's undermining of Hungary's democratic transition. ... Brussels needs to be more clear-eyed about what are passing political phases and what are threats to the fundamental stability of a particular country. Poland's judicial reforms may be reversed by the next government. In Hungary, Orbán was returned for third term with a large majority in Sunday's general election.”

Badische Zeitung (DE) /

East Europeans rebel against Western dominance

An arrogant stance towards Eastern Europe would be a mistake, the Badische Zeitung warns:

“The fact is that many people in the young EU member states of Eastern Europe feel very uneasy about the idea of giving up their national sovereignty and cultural peculiarities for a West-dominated Europe. And let's not fool ourselves: the EU is dominated by the West. The French and Germans call the shots, and sometimes the Luxembourgians too, but not the Poles, the Hungarians or the Czechs. Against this backdrop the East-West dispute over refugee policy is nothing more than a symptom of a far more fundamental conflict. ... It is important to frankly acknowledge this because many politicians and also citizens in the western half of the continent still look down on the east - and voice surprise about 'wrong' election results.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

What can Orbán be blamed for?

Orbán's election victory is unpleasant for the Western European elite because it shows that his model works, Ria Novosti explains:

“Contrary to traditional liberal dogmas Hungary's economy is developing at a breakneck pace and no one is emigrating to work in the West. But the most disgusting thing about it is that you can't really accuse the Hungarian leadership of anything: not loving Soros is hardly a crime. Nor is the refusal to block Russian gas pipelines. ... Compared with the number two party Jobbik, Orbán's Fidesz looks like a pack of human rights activists, lefties and feminists. And what's more, Hungary fulfils all the official obligations of a 'member of the Western bloc'.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Orbán model won't work outside Hungary

Orbán's way of doing things can't be exported to other EU countries, Tages-Anzeiger is convinced:

“With its national pride and collective sense of being different and misunderstood by the world, Hungary is and remains a special case. And Orbán is a virtuoso at playing on these emotions. ... Europe's traditional parties are congratulating him on his victory, but there's little chance that they'll follow in his footsteps. They have neither the necessary majorities nor party structures based on blind obedience. What's more, Orbán's 'success model' is financed from abroad. Without loans from Russia and China and billions of euros in EU subsidies his illiberal democracy would soon collapse.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Orbán digging the EU's grave

The Orbán model will become a problem for all Europe, Die Welt predicts:

“His election victory has given him the boost he needs to export the Hungarian authoritarian leadership model across Europe. And he has students who are eager to learn, as we see in Poland and other Visegrád states. Warsaw is already taking the Hungarian path. ... With an Eastern bloc strengthened by the victory in Hungary, the EU faces the same fate as the United Nations. When too many states come together and can't reach a consensus on their values, cooperation becomes nothing but a toothless debating club. One could go as far as to say that Viktor Orbán is getting ready to bury the EU. Poor Hungary, poor Europe! Its faint-heartedness is bringing about its downfall.”

Die Presse (AT) /

The man isn't that important

The EU needs to focus on more pressing issues than the alleged "Orbánisation" phenomenon, the daily Die Presse complains:

“True, he has filled a certain void in Europe's social democratic Christian democracy, listened to the people and proven for the third time in a row that his nationalist, illiberal approach can win a majority. But to elevate the question of how to deal with Orbán to the status of a major European issue is to give him too much honour. The man isn't that important. The fixation on Orbán just shows how empty the debate about a direction in Europe's ideological one-way street has become. Objectively speaking, outside Hungary's borders his national conservative model of a closed-off democracy with authoritarian traits hasn't been copied successfully anywhere yet.” (PL) /

Liberals despise democracy

Once again we see that liberal elites accept democracy only as long as they like the results, the pro-government web portal notes:

“It doesn't matter that Hungary has elected the Fidesz party three times in a row and given Viktor Orbán's party a majority that allows it to change the constitution. They made the wrong choice. They didn't vote the way they should have done. They aren't mature enough for democracy. The liberals no longer bother to conceal their contempt for the erring masses. For two years now we have been hearing exactly the same about the more than five million Poles who gave the PiS the opportunity to 'destroy democracy'. ... That is true contempt for democracy.”

Index (HU) /

Media misled the voters

It's not the Hungarians' fault that they were so receptive to a populist campaign, journalist András Földes argues on the web platform Index:

“The responsibility lies not with the masses who voted for hate, but also with those who turned the public broadcasters and a number of supporting media into shabby mouthpieces for the government. For the sake of money and following base plans, they were willing to deliberately deceive the people and foment hatred among them with lies. The betrayed people had hardly any choice in the matter. Everyone around them was saying the same. So it didn't even occur to most of them that the information that was bombarded at them by television, radio, posters and at town meetings may not be true.”

hvg (HU) /

Prime minister pulls all the strings

Orbán has never had as much power as he has now, including in his own party, writes Máron Gergely, former editor-in-chief of the daily Népszabadság, in hvg:

“During his years in power Viktor Orbán has become increasingly lonely at the top. This trend has reached its peak in 2018. This time even his own party was more of a hindrance to him than a help. He pulls all the strings of his power apparatus. From now on he can expect - and demand - unconditional loyalty, even from those who until now had retained a vestige of individual personality. Sooner or later he will move to Castle Hill [a historical district in Budapest's Buda district] and prestigious buildings will be erected for his regime as monuments to its two-thirds majority.”

De Morgen (BE) /

EPP must take a clear stance

The EPP, to which Orbán's Fidesz party belongs, must stop backing the Hungarian leader, De Morgen cautions:

“It's time Juncker and his party friends in the European People's Party called a halt to the way in which their 'party friend' Orbán is undermining European values under the banner of the EU and the EPP. It is their duty to warn Orbán that he won't be able to implement his xenophobic and anti-Semitic election programme without serious consequences. ... If the Hungarian economy is growing, it's mainly thanks to the very EU against which he declared battle in his election campaign. The Commission, Council and Parliament would do well to remind Orbán today of the precondition for his lucrative Union membership: absolute respect for the freedoms and the rule of law that typify the EU.”

Diário de Notícias (PT) /

Worrying solidarity with Orbán

Political scientist Bernardo Pires de Lima lambastes the EPP for supporting Orbán in Diário de Notícias:

“The Barroso Commission [2004-2014] was already mild enough to be an embarrassment for anyone who endorsed the rule of law and liberal democracy. But the EPP has now gone from deafening silence to scandalous and shameless conduct: the president of the EPP, Joseph Daul, not only publicly supported Orbán before the election, he also described him as a guarantee for 'stability and prosperity'. In doing so he gave his seal of approval for Orbán's shameless campaign. ... The leader of the EPP group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, is also a confessed fan of Orbán. He likes to share pictures of himself shaking hands with Orbán and of the latter's cynical remarks about Europe's identity on the social networks.”

Kurier (AT) /

Debate about values overdue

The EU must now face the discussion over European values demanded by Orbán, the daily Kurier urges:

“For a Europe that sees these values as its basic framework and not just a facade, taking up this challenge is long overdue. But that also means not summarily dismissing Orbán's ideas as undemocratic or anti-European but giving them serious consideration. Europe, whose credibility is already faltering, needs this debate about values. Perhaps on some issues - for instance immigration - it will have to reassess its position. Either that or Europe has re-examined its basic principles in this debate and thus strengthened them.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Fight racism at the grassroots level

It's naive to believe that the EU can counteract the resurgence of nationalism on its own, The Guardian argues:

“It is not easy for EU institutions to reassert that moral purpose when doing so looks like a repudiation of the democratic verdicts in member states. The nationalists' idea of Europe is dangerous, and liberal politicians have been too complacent in thinking the Brussels-based institutional idea is a compelling alternative. The EU, as an idea and a set of rules, is indispensable as a bulwark against nationalism but not sufficient. Racist politics has taken hold at the grassroots level and that is where it must be defeated.”

Novi list (HR) /

Fidesz is the lesser evil

Orbán's election victory may not be such bad news for the EU, Novi list surmises:

“Orbán is cleverly using his position in relation to the far-right Jobbik party (although it in turn has considerably toned down its positions): because not only is he protecting Hungary from Brussels, he's also defending Europe and its Catholic identity against the 'hordes of eastern refugees'. In other words, it seems as if Orbán were saying to Brussels: it's either me or Jobbik.”