Guest Notes

Euro notes

8 May 2020

11:00 PM

8 May 2020

11:00 PM

Europe’s bogus bogeyman

The coronavirus pandemic is proving a tough time for the Left. The all-consuming focus on a real threat to our lives and way of life has suddenly reduced the world’s patience with woke causes. Greta Thunberg’s calls for continued climate change school strikes – now largely of children being home-schooled – are met with a groan. As the peerless Twitter phenomenon Titania McGrath laments, ‘my greatest concern about the coronavirus is that it is a distraction from the far more serious problem of people being misgendered’. Still, heroic efforts to link the pandemic to ‘progressive’ causes continue. Western racism is alleged to be behind disproportionate numbers of non-white victims and any linkage of the coronavirus to China. But one of the best opportunities the virus has provided for the Left has been one of its pet hate-figures, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, securing an emergency law allowing his government to rule by decree because of the crisis. Soft-left EU cheerleaders and regular Orbán critics Timothy Garton-Ash and Anne Applebaum claim this means Hungary is now a dictatorship. Much of the media echo the absurd claim.

Hungary’s emergency law was passed by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. The factor that’s used as justification for the ‘dictatorship’ charge is that the emergency law doesn’t have an end date – unlike for example the equivalent British measures which expire after a year.  The Orbán critics go on to claim that the ‘rubber-stamp’ parliament will let the prime minister rule by decree indefinitely. The claims are preposterous. The idea that Orbán, who began his political career as a pro-Western dissident passionately opposed to dictatorship, would overturn the multiparty democracy he played a central role in creating is to misunderstand him profoundly. In any case, his party, Fidesz, enjoys a strong parliamentary majority and backs his agenda of strong borders, conservative social policies and the continued successful management of one of Europe’s most dynamic economies. Given that the emergency law was brought in to deal with the pandemic, it’s inconceivable it won’t be rescinded like elsewhere when the crisis ends. The associate editor of The Spectator Douglas Murray, Anglo-Hungarian academic Frank Furedi and Boris Kalnoky, Budapest’s most respected foreign corespondent, have all offered bets to anyone who believes that won’t happen.

But Orbán’s Western critics would prefer to keep making baseless allegations. Many haven’t bothered to understand the details of the emergency law. Applebaum incorrectly claimed that elections were to be cancelled and that parliament had been suspended, an allegation which CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour ineptly tried to use as a gotcha moment in what turned out to be a trainwreck interview for her with Hungary’s impressive Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó. He politely made it clear she was totally wrong and had made a complete fool of herself.


What motivates these flimsy but hysterical attacks on Orbán?  Without doubt they go back to Orbán’s temerity in trampling on the pieties of Europe’s liberal establishment by criticising Angela Merkel’s essentially unilateral decision to admit over a million migrants to the EU in 2015. Christopher Caldwell, author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, the brilliant first detailed account of Europe’s mass immigration of recent decades, argues that Orbán’s speech at the village of Kötcse in the late summer of 2015, as hundreds of thousands of mostly young Muslim men were marching into Europe, ‘is probably the most important by a Western statesman this century’. Orbán said: ‘Hungary has the right—and every nation has the right—to say that it does not want to change.’ France, Britain and Germany were perfectly entitled to admit millions of immigrants from the Third World. But ‘we have a duty to look at where this has taken them.’ And he did not care to repeat the experiment.

Orbán also angered Europe’s establishment by describng himself as a supporter of ‘illiberal democracy’, by which he meant he supports ‘conservative’ or ‘Christian’ democracy, i.e. the rejection of multiculturalism, gay marriage and transgender rights while initiating the Western world’s most energetic effort to reverse demographic decline – which shows promising signs of being successful.

The Left’s latest accusations against Orbán follow years of charges that he has moved the country in an authoritarian direction, has muzzled the media and is an anti-Semite. Orbán’s government has not been without fault – corruption is an issue – but these charges are baseless. Hungary is a lively democracy, shown by the opposition’s victory in Budapest in last October’s local elections. The media is diverse, with many anti-Orbán voices, especially online. Anti-government demonstrations are a regular part of life. Regarding anti-semitism, Orbán has been a vocal critic of American financier and philanthopist George Soros – because of his open borders activism, not because he’s Jewish. Orbán has initiated a wide range of measures to increase Holocaust awareness and there is no stronger European supporter of Israel. And Hungary’s Jews are much safer than further west. In 2017, its 100,000 Jewish community didn’t report one physical attack; Britain’s 250,000 reported 145.

The case of Victor Orbán highlights the Left’s preparedness to hurl irrational abuse at conservatives.  We’ve already seen this with its deployment of the term ‘far right’, once reserved for anti-democratic, violent fringe groups, but in recent times used against any politicians who believe in secure borders. Now those they disapprove of can also be denounced as dictators, however groundless the charge.

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Mark Higgie is The Spectator Australia’s Europe Correspondent

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