2 – Who is Mr. Orban?!
BSSB.BE politico.eu 09.12.2015
“If I … disagree with them, they say, ‘You are not a democrat, you are not a good man, you belong to the bad guys’,” he says. Any time he breaks with the “very arrogant and aggressive” Western European “mainstream” on migration or another issue, he says, “we are morally labeled as xenophobic, Putin-type, whatever.”
Liberalism in Europe now concentrates not on freedom but on political correctness. It became a sclerotic ideology. Dogmatic, may I say.
The censures come not just from Brussels and Berlin but Hungary’s ally across the Atlantic. In unusually blunt terms, the U.S. ambassador to Hungary last month criticized the Orbán government’s crackdowns on NGOs, limits on media freedoms, the packing of the courts with allies, the redrawing of electoral districts in ways that favor the ruling coalition and corruption.
Speaking at Corvinus University, Ambassador Colleen Bell noted America’s “concerns about the state of checks and balances and democratic institutions,” the “centralization of power” and “opaque” decision-making.
The ‘illiberal democrat’
There is an oft-noted irony that this pro-democracy dissident of the late 1980s, who co-founded the Fidesz student-led movement and helped bring down communism, is seen in the second half of his nearly three-decade run in Hungarian politics as a threat to its democracy.
Addressing doubts about his democratic bona fides, Orbán says he has been in parliamentary opposition longer — a dozen years — than in power, and expects to “lose again” in future elections. “You can’t avoid to lose because that’s part of the job,” he says.
Yet in this run as prime minister, Orbán has made his name abroad as a prominent critic of “liberal democracy,” someone who pushes an alternative political model for Europe. In a widely circulated speech to ethnic Hungarians in Romania last year, he announced his desire to build “an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” and argued that “liberal democracy can’t stay competitive.”
It was the moment that Orbán most vocally broke with the liberalism that defined his early years in politics with Fidesz and a leadership role in the Liberal International throughout the 1990s.
Orbán admits his thinking and behavior have changed over 25 years — “it would be irresponsible not to change” — but also says that liberalism itself, both in Hungary and globally, isn’t what it once was.
“Liberalism in Europe now concentrates not on freedom but on political correctness. It became a sclerotic ideology. Dogmatic, may I say. The liberals are enemies of freedom” who, he says, want to limit Hungary’s freedom to make its choices as a nation-state.
“Liberalism became a mainstream politics. They fight against everybody who does not belong to the mainstream. But not to belong to the mainstream does not mean that you are not in favor of freedom. Just the opposite now.”
Me and Putin
Orbán’s political journey took its first sharp turn after Fidesz lost seats in a 1994 elections. When another party picked up the urban, youth electorate that Fidesz had courted, he went to find votes on the traditional right and outside Budapest, in religious, rural areas. His former liberal friends call the shifting shapes of Orbán opportunistic and cynical. He says he’s right where he belongs, with the “national-Christian-civic political family.”
“You know, I’m a village boy,” says Orbán, who grew up in Székesfehérvár, a town of 100,000 southwest of Budapest.
People call him a populist.
“Because I am,” he retorts. “The problem is nobody knows what [that] means. It does not sound bad in Hungarian ears. Being a populist means that you try to serve the people. It’s positive.”
Support for his Fidesz party has grown from 40 percent last December to almost 50 percent today, according to polls.
The other notable irony of the modern Orbán is his relationship with Putin. He fought to bring down the Soviet empire and remove Russian troops from Hungarian soil. Putin, a KGB officer who was a cog in the Soviet system that Orbán battled, is now seeking to restore Russian power.
These days, Orbán opposes EU sanctions on Russia over its incursions into Ukraine, though Hungary has signed off on them since last year. He nurtures close business ties with Moscow, particularly in energy. Despite the Russian occupation of Crimea and military presence in eastern Ukraine, Orbán is among the more vocal EU leaders calling for the West to come to terms with the Kremlin.
Given his staunchly anti-Soviet past, does his friendly relationship with Putin give him any discomfort?
“It’s strange, but politics is full of strange things, so it’s not uncomfortable,” Orbán says. “That’s part of the job. And you know politics is basically not a personal issue, and what I represent is not my opinion but the interests of the Hungarian nation. And the point is very clear, without the Russians it’s impossible to manage rightly the future of the Hungarians. So we have to have a good balanced relationship with the Russians.”
He says he has no personal warm feelings for the Russian leader — adding that he would not deny it if he did like Putin, just to please Western opinion, which “you know, does not matter for us.”
“Putin is someone you can cooperate with. He’s not an easy man. He has no personal feelings [for] you…. He is not a man who has a known personality, so don’t imagine him as you like to imagine Western leaders.”
With Russia, Orbán continues, any country can have only a “power policy based on reality,” adding that “if you would like to have a relationship with the Russians based on principles, it will never work.” European and Russian principles are “impossible to harmonize. So put aside principles, ideologies and look at the interest, and find the common sense realpolitik agreements. That’s the Hungarian approach.”
When the EU soon considers whether to extend sanctions on Russia, at least until June, Orbán says he will voice his opposition but won’t use his veto power to stop the extension — “a veto is a nuclear bomb, it’s good to have but don’t use it.”
He says the final decision on sanctions ultimately rests with the Germans.
While Orbán notes that Hungary’s closest ally in Europe, Poland, backs sanctions, he says he finds more than a little hypocrisy coming from Berlin. Germans “like to appear as opposing” him on sanctions on Russia, he says, “but in fact they are doing even more than we are” to work with Russia. Orbán points to Berlin’s support for a second gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic, which will deprive Ukraine of billions in yearly transit fees.
Balancing the Germans
“Hungarians are easygoing guys in the European Union,” Orbán says, laughing. “What we are doing, we are saying — and what we are doing is exactly what we are thinking. So it’s not complicated.”
Orbán says the Russia relationship helps him balance a testy one with Berlin: “We would not like to depend on the Germans.”
Angela Merkel is no fan of his, and the feeling seems mutual. Still, Orbán says it’s easier to work with the German chancellor than with Putin: “With Merkel we have a principle-based policy. So if you agree on certain principles, it’s easy to manage the reality. Just the opposite with Putin: We can manage some reality, but never agree on principle. As we Hungarians like to say, it’s a different coffee house.”