Viktor Orban at Baile Tusnad: “Anything can happen”

July 29, 2014


Hungarians woke up to a brave new world on Monday, after Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s weekend speech in which he declared the failure of liberal democracy and cited China and Russia as “successful, undemocratic” countries. “There is such a thing as illiberal democracy, and we are going to create it,” Orbán told party loyalists at the annual festival in Baile Tusnad (Tusnádfürdő), Romania, on Saturday.

Together-Dialogue for Hungary leaders Gergely Karácsony and Viktor Szigetvári said the Hungarian premier had finally vocalised what many have strongly suspected for years: that “he intends to abolish Hungarian democracy and replace it with a state-organised oligarchy based on Putin’s Russia”.

They will now turn to the European Commission. “We will not let Orbán turn Hungary into Putin’s puppet state,” the opposition MPs underlined. They would work to oust him and “restore the rule of law in Hungary”.

Karácsony wrote: “Something has broken with the prime minister’s latest speech. This was the first time the premier openly spoke about destroying Hungarian democracy and installing an oligarchic system in its stead. The Hungarian state is not every Hungarian’s state any more: it excludes those who still believe in democracy. Furthermore it excludes those NGO workers who are trying to protect the remnants of democracy in this country from Viktor Orbán.”

Orbán, who was vice-chairman of the Liberal International from 1992-2000, has recently been shielded from the frontline of politics, an increasingly remote figure. Widespread press rumours suggest he is planning to take up a beefed-up presidential role in 2017, clearing the way for Prime Minister’s Office chief János Lázár to play Medvedev to his Putin.  But the Balvanyos summer university and youth camp, now in its 25th year, is traditionally a keynote speech in his calendar. And the several thousand deeply loyal party faithful in attendance, many of them ethnic Hungarians, tend to get a less embroidered version of Orbán’s plans than those at home.

He said the liberal, welfare-based systems in the West had had their day and a new labour-based “non-liberal” model was needed. The Hungarian nation is “not just a mere mass of individuals”; it is a community, which needs to be organised, strengthened and developed, Orban said, adding that “in that sense the new state built in Hungary will not be a liberal one”.

Opposition party Politics Can Be Different (LMP) co-president András Schiffer, who himself participated in a panel discussion in Tusnádfürdő, commented that although he “more or less agrees” with what Orbán had to say about the unsustainability of liberal democracies, he condemns the cynical tone Orbán used during his speech and categorically opposes the conclusions drawn by Hungary’s prime minister. According to Schiffer, there is “only one real alternative of liberal democracy, and it is not some sort of ‘public work-based society or slavery’ but participatory democracy”.

Schiffer said  Orbán’s Fidesz party had supported the privatisation of state assets and he lambasted the government for its economic policies, which in the past four years were “not a bit different” from the policies of the previous 20 years. Schiffer told ATV that he agrees with the views that most of Orbán’s Tusnádfürdő conclusions could be “likened to certain ideas from the Europe of the 1920s and 1930s”.

Board member of the leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) Szabolcs Kerek-Barczy said that in his address the prime minister had in fact called for “a fascist state and dismantling freedom”. “All democrats in Hungary should be on the lookout and prepare for civil resistance… Orbán is ready to set fire not only to Hungary but Central Europe and the whole of the democratic West,” Kerek-Barczy said.

The  Socialist Party (MSZP) said Orbán has “left behind the values of European and Hungarian democracies”. MSZP leader József Tobias called for a country in which “freedom is a realistic experience”, whether it is the freedom of civil movements or the individual’s freedom of choosing between jobs. The far-right Jobbik said it agrees that a work-based society should be encouraged.

While most right-wing news outlets and commentators declined invitations to comment on Orbán’s speech, it was widely reported in left-wing Hungarian media. wrote that Orbán “did not mean his words seriously,” dismissing the speech as just another twist in his “style to entertain the masses”. Liberal columnist Árpád W. Tóta wrote that the speech signified a departure from seemingly accepted values to date. Parodying Orbán’s style, he wrote that “an illiberal state is needed because I cannot steal everything in a liberal state”.

News portal Véleményvezér took a more serious stand, saying “Orbán said farewell to his upper middle class base”. The prime minister “openly admitted to abusing his power and restricting human rights, as well as the rights of foreigners in Hungary. […] We think that doing away with such taboos as respect for liberal democracy’s core values is a definite point of departure for Orbán’s so-far silently loyal upper-middle class supporters.”

The most surprising reaction came from Magyar Nemzet, a pro-Fidesz daily, which published a critical piece about the prime minister’s appearance at the Carpathian spa town. The conservative writer seemed less concerned with Orbán’s denouncement of liberal democracy and more about the manners of his entourage. “There is a rapid increase of very servile yet, to the rest of the world, dumb and aggressive people in the prime minister’s inner circle. A good example of this type is the press officer of the prime minister [Bertalan Havasi] who physically insulted our colleague, whereas his duty would exactly be to help the work of journalists working on site. We would just like to point out here that brutishness and panting servility are certainly not Christian, Conservative and civic virtues.”

Orbán’s speech prompted to list Hungary among the “illiberal democracies” of the world.

Liberal democracies Illiberal democracies
– The 28 member states of the European Union, USA, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, South-Africa, South-Korea, India, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Switzerland, Taiwan, New Zealand- Democracy by representation: the citizens participate in the decision making by the chosen representatives- Protects human, civil and political rights- The branches of power are separated to: legislative, executive and judicatory branches- Free elections in which independent parties contest- The state is responsive and tolerant- Political mechanisms are transparent and flexible – Russia and 14 ex-Soviet Union member countries, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Botswana, Burundi, North-Korea, Kenya, China, Congo, Cuba, Hungary, Nigeria, Somalia, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, etc.- Power is practiced through dynasties or gained by military coup. Public affairs are decided by tossing a coin- Does not care about human, civil and political rights- The branches of power are not separated, the government does whatever it wants- One party exists- The state is deaf and impatient- Political mechanisms are not transparent and unchangeable

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