Leaving the periphery – Orban and the Zeitgeist

Festival-goers and politicians of the 29th Balvanyos Summer Open University and Student Camp (also known as Tusvanyos) listened to a very confident Viktor Orban on Saturday. Hungary’s prime minister has launched a counter-attack against his opponents and made it clear that he wants Hungary to be in the power center of the European Union.

According to Orban’s speech, both his government and Central Europe has the legitimacy to make brave decisions. First, he reminded that in the April general election it received a two-thirds majority and with it “authorisation to build a new era” – not just a new political system. He described Central Europe as an “alliance of free nations”, whose impressive economic growth and ability to establish a migration policy which now serves as a model creates a legitimacy to have a louder voice in the EU.

Even though the word “illiberalism” has been mentioned in connection with Orban in almost every foreign article about him, the prime minister hasn’t used this word since he did at this camp in 2014. This time he came back to this expression by the end of his speech, declaring that Christian democracy does indeed have some important illiberal/non-liberal principles.

At the Q and A, Orban said loyalty was important and Fidesz wanted to contest the European parliamentary elections as part of the European People’s Party. He noted, however, that the EPP contained parties with views that were far apart and bridging them would be “extremely hard” to do. Political forces and NGOs critical of Fidesz has been demanding the EPP to expel Fidesz for years. As polls predict a weaker EPP group after the elections in 2019, the ruling Hungarian party’s positions have become significantly stronger. Orban has a good reason to think that today he is strong enough to influence the EPP instead of giving in to its small but loud liberal wing.

In his speech, the prime minister provided a rather thorough assessment of the global situation. He pointed out that China’s march hasn’t stopped, Donald Trump is rewriting the rules of international trade and Russia is also doing everything to protect its interests. Orban’s approach to Hungary’s position in the international status quo is based on pragmatism. Focusing on the interest of Hungary and the region, he complained that the EU is pursuing a crude policy on Russia, which should be replaced with “an articulate Russia policy”. He added that the security of Hungary, of the whole of the Carpathian Basin and of Europe depends on whether Turkey, Israel and Egypt are stable enough to halt the Muslim influx. Orban was the only incumbent EU head of government who attended Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inauguration, and he didn’t slam his widely criticised ally in this speech either. According to Orban, one can like or dislike Erdogan, but Europe needs a stable Turkey. Another pragmatic opinion which receives much criticism both internationally and in Hungary.

The main idea behind Orban’s confidence is not only his party’s majority and Central Europe’s economic success. The prime minister believes that the Zeitgeist is on his side. He blasted the European Commission as the symbol of the EU’s failure and declared that the time of liberal democracy and the elite of ’68 is over.

The inability of the EU elites to handle the migration crisis and protect Europeans was indeed a sign that once the people of the EU have the opportunity to vote about their “leaders” in Brussels, the status quo will significantly change.

Photo: Facebook/Orbán Viktor

Mariann Őry, head of the foreign desk at Hungarian conservative daily Magyar Hírlap

Hungary Journal plans to publish articles by several Hungarian journalists in the future. By the works of our guest authors, we wish to contribute even more to the English-language understanding of Hungarian, or Hungary-related politics, foreign policy.

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