Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Coronavirus in Hungary: the perfect distraction for an anti-democrat to make his move

Viktor Orban says he may resume media attacks on EU institutions ...For nearly a decade, the Centre Left has been writing periodically about the unpleasant regime of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and how it would likely end up as the first dictatorship inside the EU: starting with a ropey media law his government enacted in that year, passing through a blind eye to anti-Semitsim and a suspiciously over-generous nuclear deal with Russia, and ending with open-ended rule by decree yesterday, a mere nine years later.

He has not disappointed: indeed, if there is a difference between this and the dictatorship declared yesterday, it is starting to be a fairly fine one.

He is not the only one, of course: China has been transparently fiddling its virus figures so as not to cataclysmically lose face, blaming foreigners and hoarding supplies; Putin’s Russia has not just been in denial about the virus but sees it as a golden opportunity to challenge sanctions from the West.

But Orbán is somehow worse: we do not expect repressive China or pseudo-democratic Russia to behave themselves.

Orbán, on the other hand, has successfully “boiled the frog” with a people not that used to democracy anyway – you would have to be in your 70s to even remember pre-Communist Hungary. I remember exchanges with people living there about five years ago, people I worked with three years ago and visiting two years ago. On all these occasions, people told me I was worrying too much.

Well, we now have the path to Orbáns putative dictatorship clearly visible. The only faint ray of hope which could now stop it, it would seem, would be a truly tough EU, willing to face him down and threaten him with ejection, should he continue to curb the media and human rights. But one would imagine that is unlikely to happen while the otherwise admirable, but Putin-nervous, Angela Merkel remains as German Chancellor.

Therefore make your contingency plans, good Hungarian comrades, because the time may soon come when you will need them.

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