Thursday, 19 January 2012

Democracy falters, in a country near you

All of us sometimes have mixed feelings about the EU but, in one area, even its harshest critics would have to reluctantly agree that it has succeeded. In its expansion eastwards it has helped consolidate democratic rule where there previously was none, aligned militarily and politically towards the West and away from an increasingly less democratic, and periodically sabre-rattling, Russia.

In a moving passage from his autobiography Denis Healey describes how, in 1956, as the news came over on his car radio that the uprising against the Communists had failed, he pulled over to the side of the road and tears of frustration rolled down his cheeks. Britain, on one of the Tories’ most incompetent watches, had abandoned its Hungarian neighbours to their fate in favour of a hubristic, end-of-empire and ultimately doomed intervention in Suez.

Now a long-liberated country within our cosy European democratic club, and a mere two-and-a-half hour flight away, Hungary’s current troubles are nothing like as dramatic as 1956. But they are nevertheless extremely worrying. For a start, the current governing party, Fidesz are a populist party of the far-right who are against more or less everything which the Labour Party stands for. They are anti-immigrants, they are fiercely nationalist, and would be best described as of the hard right. Now, all that is defensible up to a point: we may not like the parties people vote for, but at least they can vote, which is a big advance over the Hungary of twenty-odd years ago. And if they choose to vote for unpleasant parties, well, that’s democracy.

But it’s not quite that simple, because there’s a special trick: sometimes you can vote away democracy without really knowing it. What is truly worrying about Fidesz is that, despite having been voted in democratically, now in they have decided to move the constitutional goalposts, as the Economist reports.
“Hungarian democracy lacks checks and balances, say European and American diplomats. Fidesz has changed the electoral boundaries in its own favour. Its allies have been appointed to almost every independent institution…The government has reduced the jurisdiction of the constitutional court and sacked scores of judges. Officials say that the new appointees will exercise their mandates independently. But they cannot explain why it is only friends of Fidesz who can be safely entrusted with such responsibilities.”
And this change is entirely legitimate, because they have a two-thirds majority. This does not mean, of course, an immediate return to authoritarian rule, but neither does it mean, ultimately, the preservation of true democracy.

In the absence of a coup which destroys it by force at a stroke, democracy essentially depends for its survival on one thing: that anti-democrats do not get elected and then use constitutional means to unpick democracy peacefully, piece by piece. Which is, ufortunately, precisely what has started to happen here. Because once you start unpicking it, you’ll find that it unravels more and more quickly as you go on until it disintegrates entirely. And, like cuckoos, once anti-democrats are in your nest, you’d better find a way of getting them out, sharpish.

In short, it rather means a move towards the kind of pseudo-democracy we highlighted here a few months back. It has gradually happened inRussia under Putin. It is what is currently well underway inVenezuela, under the odious Chávez. And if you want a look at how the endgame of all this looks, well, Zimbabwe is a good place to start.

Now, this does not happen overnight, and the clock can still be turned back. But it requires a huge effort on the part of a people hit by an economic crisis, and for whom the last twenty years have often been more painful slog than glorious, democratic Brave New World. Talk to a young Hungarian and you’ll find that people are very worried. Many are leaving. And as for those who are not: if you’ve never known democracy apart from this, as only a few Hungarian pensioners have, you might wonder what all the fuss was about. And you might wonder whether it was really worth fighting for.

Message to young Hungarians: it is. And as the Economist also points out, the EU and Europe’s right-wing leaders could do much more to stop what’s happening, starting with throwing Fidesz out of their EU grouping of the right, the European People’s Party. They need to, if they are not to end up feeling  like Britain did after Suez.

Or even, one day, sick to its stomach, like Europe did after it looked the other way in Bosnia.

6 comments:

  1. Do you only define a 'democracy' as being a 'democracy' if the people in a particular nation-state vote the way that you think they should? Do you not recognise that to be true to the word, a democracy must express the will of the people, in this case, the Hungarian people? The term 'nation-state' after all consists of two parts: nation and state; the state as the apparatus of a clearly defined people, not a random assemblage of individuals - as in England today - who happen to have been given a UK passport, irrespective of their lack of organic and cultural ties to each other and to their country of residence. European countries for Europeans. African countries for Africans. Asian countries for Asians. What is wrong with that? What is extreme about such a position? What is 'anti-democratic' about it? Nothing.

    What is wrong with a people wishing to preserve and bolster social cohesion through promoting organic social solidarity? Why are you so intent on wishing to destroy European nations and peoples? What is wrong with Hungarians wishing to create a future for their own people? Do I then take it that you wish to see Pakistan colonised by Congolese and Brazilians to make it more 'diverse'? Do you wish to see China populated by Arabs, North Americans and South Africans to make it more 'diverse'? Do you wish to see Japanese culture and society destroyed for the sake of a mass influx of Somalis and Bangladeshis? Would you like to see South Africa colonised afresh by the English and the Dutch? Why do you and your party hate the English and other European peoples? What is the point of the Labour Party? Cui bono?

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  3. What a load of Orban-apologist tripe. This country will not be anything resembling a democracy in 20 years if it carries on in the same vein, and trying to "purify" countries as you suggest is, I'm afraid, rather repugnant.

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  4. Where did I make any reference to 'purification'? Moreover, why have you failed to answer any of my questions and instead resorted to insult? This suggests that you possess no rational reply. A true democracy allows freedom of opinion and expression characterised by debate based upon reason, not upon character assassination and insinuation. I don't find your views 'repugnant', just different to mine. Let's be civil about this. I ask you once more: have you any rational answer to my questions? If so, why do you not answer them?

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  5. Because I don't think they require any answer.

    I shall let the readers of this blog judge for themselves whether it is a good idea to have ethnically homogeneous states. I do remember it has been tried before, and it didn't turn out very well, as I remember.

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