Hungary's "illiberal democracy" run by "debauched, corrupt crowd of looters"

January 30, 2017

“The believers in illiberal democracy do not like it when others represent and support those for whom the government has no inclination to devote time or money, or if they repeatedly hold a mirror to them and in the mirror they see only a debauched, corrupt crowd of looters. They would rather smash the mirror.”

Translation of Eszter Herskovits’ op-ed piece entitled “Against an illiberal headwind” of January 20th, 2017 appearing in print weekly 168óra.

Fidesz’s distant namesake, the 1992 version of the Alliance of Young Democrats, watched with dismay as “in recent days both the Soros Foundation and George Soros personally were subjected to ignoble attacks”. This was revealed by a statement of theirs that resurfaced recently. At that time, they still appreciated Soros’s selfless support because – as they wrote – he thereby contributed to “the development of a freer and more open intellectual atmosphere in Hungary”. In 1992, the young democrats protested “against the involvement in political struggles” of the Soros Foundation.

There had already been sharp paradigm shifts with Orbán’s people, but this was still a level of self-contradiction worthy of attention. Szilárd Németh (pictured) now wants to clean away non-governmental organizations because – and he really said this – “these NGOs belong to Soros only in terms of their creation and their directors; when these NGOs are set up, they are well aware that they are not setting up NGOs”. This none-too-smooth thought process eventually led to this: according to the Cleaner, the NGOs want to influence the politics of a given country, even though they do not participate in the elections. It is not worth commenting on this; the points on which the assertion is wrong are too many and too obvious.

At the end of last year (they have always been at the forefront of cynicism) the state secretary responsible for church, nationality and civil society issues still played the democrat for the duration of a press conference – although he was not entirely convincing in the role. He announced that state support for NGOs would be increased, proudly adding that, lo and behold!, the Hungarian government is indeed a friend of civil society, whatever “George Soros and his friends” might say. But he generously overlooked one small detail: how impartial can the distribution of funds really be when president of the body responsible for judging applications, the National Cooperation Fund [Nemzeti Együttműködési Alap], is the self same László Csizmadia who set up the CÖF [Civil Union Forum]? Nor, unsurprisingly, was there any word about the fact that one of the NGOs to be “cleaned up” had been raided shortly before the announcement was made – Energiaklub, on this occasion.

As for the CÖF: it is known that the body is supported by companies and private individuals, in addition to the Fidesz party foundations. We just don’t know exactly who – the companies requested anonymity, and they got it.

In their case one does not expect transparency, since this is a selective labor of love for the prime minister. And it is not by chance that organizations funded from abroad were unsuccessful in the harassment they call monitoring. If the government worked with even half as much transparency and monitoring as the NGO sector, many years of routine would not be enough to scale the mountain of corruption.

In the wake of the October referendum the anti-refugee propaganda turned even rougher; yet the numbers still showed that the people had fallen out of love with migrant-bashing. Then came the Soros-bashing, the powers-behind-the-scenes (the finely honed forms of Jew-bashing), and, slowly, enough material was gathered to set up a new scapegoat. The NGOs, many times already. They cannot mobilize large crowds against them, but the campaign is also well fitted for the further erosion of social solidarity, and to clearing away the remains of democratic consciousness. By cleaning up of the non-governmental organizations, the remains of democracy are eliminated. The believers in illiberal democracy do not like it when others represent and support those for whom the government has no inclination to devote time or money, or if they repeatedly hold a mirror to them and in the mirror they see only a debauched, corrupt crowd of looters. They would rather smash the mirror.

The only good news is that NGOs had already been working against a headwind, since here with us that is, sadly, the natural milieu. Admittedly, it is more difficult to make progress against a hurricane – but they will find a way.