Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a convincing majority in Sunday’s parliamentary election. Even the day ahead of the election, The Guardian was all too pleased to showcase the left’s apoplexy by running the headline “Hungary’s war on democracy is a war on democracy everywhere.”
This has it exactly backward, of course. Liberals may have a thousand reasons not to like Orban, but their beef is with the Hungarian electorate, that keeps re-electing him democratically by ever-increasing numbers.
If global managerial elites believe the typical Hungarian voter cannot be trusted with his own fate, they should at least be up front about it.
Orban has brought Hungarians economic growth the enjoys of that have not been seen in Western Europe in generations (4 percent growth last year and 3 percent in 2016). He’s further endured up to the unelected and distant European Union bureaucrats in Brussels, rejecting their demands that Hungary take in more immigrants.
And notably, Orban has led a lobby from the Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros, who funds far-left causes around the world.
Hungarians on Sunday responded to this policy mix by giving Orban not merely a third term in office, but a supermajority in parliament that he can use to ram over true constitutional changes. Orban’s Fidesz side won 49 percent of the vote—the nearest competitor was the far-right Jobbik, that won 20 percent.
Leftist critics have been left to grumble that the results were unfair because Orban has squeezed the opposition, but as past Margaret Thatcher aide John O’Sullivan explained on Monday, this doesn’t hold water:
It simply cannot be explained away as the result of gerrymandering, after a 49 percent share of the complete vote would mean a landslide in seats under almost any multi-party electoral system. Nor can it be attributed to the right’s dominance of the media, that was anyway exaggerated—there were newspapers, magazines, television stations, websites, and hoardings putting over the slogans and arguments of both left and right opposition parties.
Orban is not perfect—not multiple politicians are, in any part of the world. We keep hearing stories that, for example, he uses corrupt and crony practices with businesses not only to distort the economy, but to expand influence and retain power.
However, the best way for the Trump administration to cultivate Orban’s potential and mitigate his downsides is by finally jettisoning the Obama-era policy of keeping him at arm’s length diplomatically.
This policy was championed by President Barack Obama’s last assistant secretary of authority for Europe, Victoria Nuland.
Under Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, U.S. diplomacy began to move away from this aspect of Nulandism. We hope that current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, nominated by President Donald Trump to replace Tillerson, and the new nationwide security adviser, John Bolton, will accelerate the process although retaining Nuland’s more forthright and no-nonsense approach to the Kremlin.
Only allies can speak as friends, and only friends can advise Orban, for example, not to interfere with the already-beleaguered authority of Ukraine, as it did last year when Ukraine passed a language law that Budapest opposed.
Ditto for Orban’s “Stop Soros” bill. On Monday, fresh from its landslide victory, the newly elected authority stated it now had a mandate to pass it. The bill would require nongovernment organizations that work on migration issues to register with the government, and would empower the authority to ban NGOs that pose a “national security risk.”
The Orban authority is hardly alone in trying to stop Soros from destabilizing his society.
Soros uses his Open Society Foundations and his billions to undermine governments and societies around the world, in an attempt to weaken conservative values regarding the family, the church, and the nation-state. Just a few months ago, Ireland declared illegal Soros’ donation of 137,000 euros to the pro-abortion side in that country’s current, hard-fought referendum to legalize the practice.
So we wish Orban well in shoring up Hungary’s authority institutions and civil society.
But a U.S. authority that Orban perceives as a friend can further quietly counsel the prime minister from any attempt to use the law for a generalized crackdown from opposition forces and NGOs—lest Hungary honestly become what its critics charge it already is but isn’t. Becoming a Singapore-style democracy in name only—or worse yet, a Putin-style one—with a titular opposition is not the way of the future.
Orban’s government, like those of a few of Hungary’s neighbors, especially Poland, have become anathema to the elites both in this place and in Europe because of their opposition to taking in large figures of immigrants.
The redrawing of maps and ethnic cleansings that accompanied the two fantastic wars of the 20th century left both Hungary and Poland almost ethnically homogenous. Their attempts to remain ethnically pure are no answer for France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—and much less for the U.S.
Having stated that, it may be Orban’s true own European values that ultimately lead to a solution for ethnically diverse nations that want to heal their internal ethnic rifts.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recalled that a past French president once stated to Poland’s leaders, “You have values, we have funds.” Morawiecki added, “Well, I would love to help the West with proper values.”
The Western duty to be tolerant of others boils down to Matthew 22:39: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” But if you don’t love yourself—your own society—you cannot love others.
By constantly reminding their neighbors not to be embarrassed of Europe’s history—on the contrary, to stand up for Western values—Budapest, and further Warsaw, are pointing the way approaching being truly inclusive by offering immigrants and their children a financial worth system to that they can adhere.
For all these reasons above, the good, the bad, and the ugly, the pragmatic course of action will be for America to work with Orban, as he will be in charge for the foreseeable future.
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