BY MADELINE FITZGERALD ’21
Too often, the most noble of institutions and the most admirable of ideas are the ones which, when instituted, quickly become the most disappointing and meaningless. Today, the EU clearly illustrates this phenomenon. Their website states that the EU aims to “combat social exclusion and discrimination” and claims that values such as equality and respect for human dignity “are common to the member countries in a society in which inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination prevail.” These goals, however, belie a major issue. Hungary is a member country. Hungary, where a quasi-state-owned media promotes bigotry. Hungary, where the prime minister brags about his “illiberal democracy.” Hungary, where the government erodes liberty, in all its forms. If the EU truly stands for its claimed values, it cannot continue to stand with Hungary.
Viktor Orban, a far-right authoritarian, is now beginning his third term as Hungary’s prime minister. His party, Fidesz, campaigns on hardline anti-refugee policies. In recent attack ads, the Fidesz photoshopped the image of George Soros, a billionaire, left-wing donor, to give him a longer nose — an anti-Semitic tactic. Soros’ spokeswoman described this as “right out of the Goebbels playbook,” according to the New York Times.
In the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fidesz was a liberal party and Orban was a young student leader who promoted tolerance and equality. The party’s current far-right affiliation is the result of calculated efforts over several years to gain control of Hungary. In the most recent elections, Orban’s victory was practically guaranteed. He faced a fragmented opposition which had no chance controlling of Hungary’s parliament. Compounding the issue, Orban’s allies quashed the free press. Pro-government elites now own the majority of the Hungarian press. Hungarian journalist, Paul Lendvai, said, “There is no New York Times or CNN. There are no free newspapers or television. They eliminated them.” In addition to consolidating the media, Orban forced out dozens of judges and altered election laws to make conditions more favorable for Fidesz.
After devastating electoral defeats in the early 2000s, Fidesz was able to regain control of Hungary by espousing an anti-migrant platform. Since gaining power, the party continues to promote bigotry. In 2015, months before Donald Trump’s infamous border wall was first proposed, Orban erected a wire fence around Hungary to keep out refugees. Last month, Orban’s Chief of Staff, Janos Lazar, posted on Facebook that allowing Muslims in Hungarian cities would bring “crime, impoverishment, dirt, filth and impossible urban conditions,” according to ABC News. The U.N. Human Rights chief publicly described Lazar as a racist. Yet the EU remains largely silent on Hungary’s leadership.
Certainly, individual European leaders have condemned Orban. Notably, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, and Jean-Claud Juncker, president of the European commission, have criticized his policies and character. The European Commission sued Hungary to correct its discrepancies with EU law. It cannot be ignored, however, that Hungary remains an EU member state and has received 34 billion euro from Brussels. For eight years the EU has attempted to change Hungary. The situation has not improved; in fact, it’s now worse.
The EU must take punitive actions. Using Article Seven of the EU charter, they can suspend Hungary’s voting powers. Following that, Brussels should sharply reduce funding. These actions may seem harsh and could further alienate Hungarian affection from the EU; Hungarians, however, need the EU. It will be virtually impossible for the nation to function in a modern Europe without the financial or political backing of the union.
The EU is an important superpower which risks losing all meaning and credibility by continuing to support Hungary.
In an era when the far right has gained renewed relevance and power, such a message of tacit approval for authoritarianism is dangerous.
Not long ago, Hungary had aspirational liberal ideals. Orban lost his position as prime minister in 2000. Four years later, Hungary entered the EU. The Hungarian people once desired the EU. In its absence, they could desire it again. Even if they do not, why should a union based on ideals of human rights and dignity confer any of its benefits to a racist authoritarian state?