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Weeklies on Hungary’s international standing

May 8th, 2023

Opposition-leaning commentators believe that Hungary is fatally isolated, whereas pro-government columnists are confident that the Hungarian government has allies among conservatives in the West.

In a long interview with Jelen, Zsuzsa Szelényi, who started out in politics 35 years ago as a Fidesz member and is now director of the Democracy Institute within Central European University, believes that Hungary is ruled by an autocracy. Illustrating the central thesis of her freshly published book on ‘how Viktor Orbán dismantled democracy’, she says the Turkish regime is ‘much more brutal’, yet the opposition may win the next elections because its parties are robust. In Hungary, however, creating a political alternative to the government is a serious intellectual and political challenge. She dismisses allegations that the government wants to take Hungary out of the European Union or NATO and believes Prime Minister Orbán doesn’t want to sever those ties. He just wants the West to accept Hungary in the form that he has shaped it.

In Magyar Narancs Péter Heil, an adviser to the Democratic Coalition on European affairs, suspects that the government is even ready to give up on at least part of the European funds the country is entitled to – rather than fully implementing the changes to its rule of law set up expected by the European Commission. The reforms already passed by Parliament in the structure of the judiciary could only release a third of those funds, he writes. These represent just 4 of the 27 requirements set by the Commission last year – and the clock is ticking, he adds. Heil remarks that Hungary is the only EU member country which has still not seen a single eurocent of the transfers it is due to receive under the seven-year EU budget starting from 2021.

In Élet és Irodalom, Zoltán Kovács thinks that the government wants to put into practice as few of the reforms required by the European Union as possible. He recalls that in August last year, when the government sent a list of planned reforms to Brussels, Tibor Navracsics the minister in charge of those negotiations expressed confidence that all the concerns of the Commission would soon be dispelled. Now, over seven months later, most of those concerns are still in place as the government tries to get away with only partial reforms or merely formal changes that leave its regime unaltered, Kovács writes. He accuses the government of ‘political conmanship’.

In his Mandiner editorial, Mátyás Kohán dismisses accusations that the government is acting like a ferry between East and West. In reality, he argues, there is a 30 year consensus in Hungary that ‘we are a Western nation‘. Prime Minister Orbán, he continues, is wrongly accused of being an outlier in the European Union, and in fact, the CPAC meeting in Budapest last week (see BudaPost, May 6) was attended by the former premiers of the Czech Republic and Slovenia, and furthermore, many EU governments share the Hungarian position on several issues, including those of Poland and Italy. Likewise, Kohán claims, opposition parties in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia are perhaps even more committed to western Christianity, law and order and security as well as European civilisation than the forces leading the West today. He admits nonetheless that Hungary often does stand alone in its foreign policy, pursuing it against ‘an unprecedentedly unfriendly headwind’.

In an interview with Demokrata, Miklós Szántó, the chief organiser of last week’s CPAC meeting, says Hungary is far from alone in the world and is, in fact, working on implementing what he calls the nightmare of the liberals – an international block of nation-centred forces. In this process, he explains, Hungary is the engine moving conservative groups in various countries towards that unity. Despite a ‘fake news’ campaign, ‘Hungary’s past 13 years are a right-wing success story as more and more people have begun to realise’, Szántó asserts.

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