-OpEd-

Viktor Orban was beaming on the evening of his victory this past weekend, which brought him his fourth term as Prime Minister. The Hungarian loves the taste of success. But what he loves, even more, is to triumph over those whom he believes feel superior to him. This says much about a Hungarian inferiority complex that doesn’t just affect the Prime Minister. Hungary’s history is filled with decades and centuries under foreign rule. For centuries, the land of the Hungarian people was a battlefield between the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires.

Without going so far back in history, there were also Germans who overran Hungary during the Third Reich and found compliant collaborators in the regime of Miklos Horthy. Then came the Soviets and Communism. Hungarians put up a courageous resistance and, in 1989, the fall of the Iron Curtain came in part thanks to them. It is an essential part of Hungary's national psyche to feel subjugated and therefore feel the need to assert oneself.

This is where Viktor Orban comes in. The Prime Minister and leader of the Fidesz party has mastered the art of appealing to this national feeling of inferiority: Against the Brussels occupiers! Against Arab migrants who threaten Christianity! Against the German Chancellor, who opened the borders and invited half the world into Europe. Orban deliberately leaves aside the fact that the Russians didn't always have kind intentions with Hungary. The Hungarian Prime Minister courts Russian President Vladimir Putin whenever he can — without being bothering by how this affects his official allies in the European Union and NATO.

If you make politics by stirring up public opinion, as Orban does so masterfully, then facts matter little. The fact that Hungary would soon be broke without EU subsidies, for example, the fact that hardly any Muslim refugee wants to stay in Hungary or the fact that Angela Merkel took the migrants who were staying in Hungary — none of that has any relevance whatsoever in the national debate.

Hungary will finally sink into a political coma.

There no longer is any real political debate in Hungary anyway. Orban has imposed his reign over his country and transformed it into a "leader democracy," as Hungarian political scientist András Körösényi describes it, after eight years under the Fidesz party’s rule. Orban has done a great job: First he intimidated the media, then he hollowed out the Constitutional Court, and finally, he brought the political institutions into line with hundreds of executive laws and installed his minions in all the strategic positions.

The defeated opposition parties have once again shown in this election campaign that they are no match for Orban: too busy quarreling, incapable and unimaginative, they clearly failed to convince voters in the ballot box. Indeed, that nationalist party Jobbik has once again come in second place behind Fidesz perfectly describes the Hungarian dilemma: those with the best chance of replacing the right-wing populists are the right-wing radicals.

After this election, Hungary will finally sink into a political coma, because even before the election, hardly anyone dared to stand up publicly against Orban. The tragic part about this is that a democratic transfer of power has now become even less likely.

Photo: Federico Gambarini/ZUMA

But this is not only alarming for Hungary itself. The Orban model is a problem for all Europeans. His election victory gives him the impetus to export Hungarian “leader democracy” throughout Europe. And the examples of Poland and the other countries of the Visegrad group show that his students are quick to learn. Warsaw is already following in his tracks, as Poland's right-wing conservative government is in a heated dispute with the European Commission. At the heart of the matter lies the fact that Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, wants to rebuild the state according to his own ideas, trying to get rid of certain bothersome democratic elements. It's déjà vu for Brussels since Orban has done it all before.

An EU doomed to become a toothless debating club.

The Orbanization of Eastern Europe will continue to put pressure on an EU whose complicated voting rules are already making it unmanageable. How are unanimous decisions supposed to be reached in the future, when Putin next gives in to his appetite for an ex-Soviet republic and Europeans discuss new sanctions? A self-confident Hungary will use its veto even more frequently, together with the Poles and other Eurosceptics, not least when one of the Eastern European sinners of democracy itself is pilloried. Or when it comes to setting up a new European asylum system.

With an Eastern bloc reinforced by Orban’s victory in Hungary, the future of the Union is under threat. If too many states are no longer bound by a consensus of values, then the EU will no longer be a place of cooperation and is doomed to become a toothless debating club. One could go as far as to say that Viktor Orban may go down in history as the man who dug the grave on the very idea of a united Europe.


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