These are long versions of the answers that experts gave us for the Lead Article “Democracy on Life Support” which deals with the rollback of democracy in some Eastern European countries. The article is focusing on the situation in Hungary. Below you find the answers from our three interviewees to the following question…
Do you think policies such as those of Fidesz/Orbán are viable in the twenty-first century? Do you think they are appropriate to prepare Hungary as an EU member state in the next 5-10 years?
Citizen X: Some of the most important values of the last 100 years are national self-determination, sovereignty and the freedom of identity. These values are unquestionable in the 21 century. The second Orbán government recognizes these values, and builds its politics on the fact that the member states of the EU have different linguistic, cultural, geographic and economic features, therefore a full economic and political integration among them is not possible. It would moreover lead to a dead end.
Zoltán Latinovits, famous Hungarian actor, claimed in another historical period that „without a nation, there is no internationalism.” The full economic and political integration of Europe is not possible, because there is another layer beyond economics and politics: the layer of language, identity, way of thinking (not to mention economic or political capabilities), that is very different all around Europe. We can integrate each other in the same extent as we understand and accept each other’s language and culture. With China and Russia it is not a problem – or let’s say it is another kind of problem. With its cultural, linguistic and identical features, the EU-integration has a natural limit, and the full monetary and political union is definitely beyond this limit. In the next 5-10 years, the EU has to face and take seriously the question of identities and related values, therefore the debates boosted by the Orbán-government can only help the renewal of the EU.
Hartmann: The approach the Orbán government takes towards democratic processes and political culture constitutes a regression in comparison to the democratic values of the European Union. Fidesz and their rightist partners argue that they have a clear mandate by the majority of the population to fundamentally change the political texture of the country. Radical reform without consensus-building is therefore not only legitimate, but an obligation to the majority of the voters. Minority positions are not considered to be an important element of the political discourse, providing food for thought as an uncomfortable yet welcome antidote to the self-satisfaction of those in power or an intellectual enrichment of the debate, but a disturbance of the reform drive which ought to be disregarded or curtailed. This ideology, ironically shared by some Islamist parties in the Arab world, is called “majoritarianism” and tends to contribute to a further polarization of the political discourse in Hungary. If there is not an active search for a middle ground or compromise, democratic quality and minority protection as understood by the EU suffer. In that sense, the majoritarianism of Fidesz and Orbán certainly are not appropriate to further Hungary’s integration into the EU (a goal decidedly not strived for by the rightist government, after all). If recent BTI results constitute a trend and not just a snapshot after the global economic and financial crisis, a nationalistic, xenophobic and majoritarian style of populist governance may well remain influential or even gain in importance. This, however, does not make it any more viable. In a globalized framework, isolationist postures and recourses to nationalist ideologies might in the short run feel good, but will in the long run weaken not only the political but also the economic standing of a country.
Szálkai: I do not think that looking inwards and turning away from the institutions of the international community can be a viable direction in the twenty-first century. In my opinion, a small, poor and crisis-ridden country in the heart of Europe, like Hungary, cannot and should not stand up against the mainstream integrational processes of nowadays, and can only have a future as a cooperating part of them. I think that the Fidesz government is aware of this fact, and is trying to balance between pleasing the leaders of the EU and satisfying its Hungarian voters as well. However, if and when the question of democratic and European values becomes part of this balancing act, the stable future of Hungary as an accepted and supported EU member state becomes endangered.