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Chancellor Merkel and PM Orbán on the international front pages

December 14th, 2015

As Angela Merkel is named person of the year by Time magazine, and the Economist features PM Orbán alongside Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, commentators ruminate on the growing rift between liberal elites and their opponents.

In its front page weekend editorial, Népszabadság celebrates Time magazine’s decision to name Angela Merkel person of the year, arguing that she wants to build bridges and act in line with humanitarian principles. The left-wing daily thinks that Merkel’s courage and moral vision is extremely important as anti-immigrant sentiments grow both in Europe and the US.

In Népszava, Róbert Friss contrasts Time magazine’s Merkel cover photo with the Economist’s cover page depicting Donald Trump alongside Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orbán. Friss interprets the two cover shots as an illustration of the growing rift between Merkel’s willingness to help refugees and efforts by what he calls the ‘populist right’ to incite fear in order to build illiberal states. While Merkel and some other politicians want to strengthen solidarity in Europe, the populist right wants to restore national sovereignty which, Friss fears, could lead to the dissolution of the EU.

Magyar Nemzet’s Gábor Stier thinks that Merkel’s unconditional, liberal support of open borders is just as unfeasible and undesirable as the idea of sealed borders. The conservative columnist thinks that the future of Europe may depend on Chancellor Merkel’s ability to manage the migration crisis, but if she wants to succeed, she needs to be more cautious in supporting migration. The German chancellor appears to have back-pedalled on her earlier unconditional support of migrants, he suggests. She still has a chance to secure victory in the 2017 election and counter populist challengers, who threaten not only Germany but the whole European integration project as well, he concludes.

It is liberal elites rather than the ‘populist right’ who incite fear, Róbert Baranya claims in Magyar Hírlap. The pro-government commentator believes that the cover page photo of the Economist illustrates what he calls the ‘growing panic of pro-globalization liberal elites’. In order to defend open borders and uncontrolled global markets, liberal elites want to morally defeat their opponents by depicting them as dangerous populists – or outright anti-democrats, extremists or Nazis. But as ordinary citizens in many countries realise that global capitalism leads to exploitation, waves of refugees and an increased threat of terrorism, the claims of liberal elites are becoming less and less important for the people, Baranya concludes.

Writing in his blog, conservative philosopher Ervin Nagy cautions liberals against becoming over enthusiastic and triumphant about Time magazine’s decision to name Angela Merkel as person of the year.  Nagy recalls that the same magazine in 1938 named Adolf Hitler as person of the year while Stalin was named twice in 1939 and 1942. Featuring the German Chancellor as the person of the year is only an acknowledgement of the influence that one has – for better or for worse, Nagy suggests.

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