Viktor Orban: Europe's Flame Thrower

Viktor Orban: Europe's Flame Thrower
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In a January 8th interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban, said “we don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as invaders.” Multi-culturalism, he said, is an illusion. Muslim culture, he continued, is so different from Europe’s that parallel societies are being created.

Orban’s anti-migrant campaign is resonating beyond central Europe into Austria, Italy and even Germany. Earlier this month he was welcomed at a conference of Bavaria’s Christian Socialists, whose leader Horst Seehofer is critical of chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies. In 2015 over 1 million mostly Muslim refugees were resettled in Germany. About 150,000 of those refugees transited Hungary. Few wanted to stay in Hungary.

Orban has made common cause with neighboring Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic where public opinion opposes refugee resettlement. Hungary and Poland are being targeted by the European Union Commission for refusing a quota of 10,000 refugees under a burden sharing measure agreed to three years ago. The case is before the European Court of Justice. Since the 2015 migration crisis Poland has accepted no refugees while Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria have each taken fewer than twenty.

The Fidesz Party that Orban founded holds a two-thirds majority in parliament and is favored to win new elections set for April 8th. Orban has ruled Hungary with an increasingly authoritarian hand since 2010.

On March 4th, right-wing sentiment will be tested in Italy’s parliamentary election. Last October anti-migrant sentiment propelled conservatives to victory in Austria’s elections.

Orban has restricted judicial and media freedom, rewritten Hungary’s constitution and centralized power. His assertive nationalism and challenge to European Union mandates has boosted his popularity. He claims that Christian Hungary has never had much immigration and wishes to preserve its ethnic identity. While raging against Brussels he has flirted with Russia and despite being a member of Nato says Moscow poses no threat to Europe.

Orban’s relaxed stance towards Russia would seem to put him at odds with Poland’s similarly authoritarian but strongly anti-Russian government. But earlier this month Poland’s new prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki from the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party chose Budapest for his first foreign visit. The bi-lateral meetings were harmonious and both leaders pledged to cooperate to expand central European influence inside the EU.

Orban calls 2018 the year of restoring the will of the people, specifically on migration. Europeans, he says, “don’t want to live under terrorist threats. They want security and their borders protected.” The EU, he says, doesn’t control its border and its migration policy has failed.

But this strong rhetoric in no way suggests that Hungarians wish to leave the union. They want to stay in the EU because of the benefits they receive, most notably aid and labor mobility.

Hungarians on a per capita basis are the largest beneficiaries of EU structural and convergence funds, money that has built bridges, roads, train stations. While Poland is the largest recipients of EU largesse Hungary is not far behind.

During a visit to Budapest in November I was startled to see posters bearing the image of billionaire Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist George Soros all over the city. Paid for by Fidesz, these ubiquitous posters tell Hungarians not to let Soros have the last laugh. Soros is the favorite target of Orban, representing everything he opposes—multiculturalism, diversity, globalization, and tolerance. Soros is accused of wanting to Muslimize Europe. Some Jewish groups see the campaign as anti-Semitic, others do not.

Ironically Orban himself has benefited from Soros’s beneficence as his foundation paid for Orban’s study at Oxford University. Orban has put the Soros financed and highly respected Central European University in Budapest in his crosshairs for being funded from outside the country. Restrictions have been placed on non-government organizations funded from abroad.

Here’s a link to my video from CEU in Budapest:

Back in the 1960s the esteemed British historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote that “again and again Hungary set the patterns for others.” Hungary, he wrote, led the attack on the 1919 peace settlement (that robbed Hungary of much of its territory), it was an early breeding ground for fascism, and in 1956 led the resistance to Soviet domination.

In a curious way Hungary is now punching above its weight and Orban is putting the country on the map, but not for reasons most Europeans would like.

Author and journalist Barry D. Wood was in Hungary updating his book, Exploring New Europe.

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