Europe’s other threat to democracy

“Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won reelection for the fourth time — emerging with control of over two-thirds of the country’s parliamentary seats in defiance of close pre-election polls. This fourth consecutive victory means he will remain the third-longest-serving current leader in Europe at nearly 16 years in power, behind only Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko (28 years as president) and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (23 years as president or prime minister).

That Orbán’s peers in longevity are outright dictators is appropriate, as Sunday’s election was anything but free and fair. For the past 12 years, Orbán has systematically worked to turn Hungarian democracy into a sham: one where elections seem fair, but take place on uneven playing ground. Through tactics ranging from extreme gerrymandering to media control to unfair campaign finance rules, he has made it unthinkably difficult for the opposition to defeat his Fidesz party at the ballot box.”

Viktor Orbán’s Reelection Shows Mere Democracy Is Not Enough

“the Hungarian people voted in a landslide to give Prime Minister Viktor Orbán his fourth term since 2010. Current tabulations give parties allied with the incumbent leader a vote share above 53 percent, an outright majority.

Orbán is a self-proclaimed proponent of “illiberal democracy,” which distinguishes, in Amnesty International’s summation, “a fully democratic ‘Western’ system based on liberal values and accountability from what he calls an ‘Eastern’ approach based on a strong state, a weak opposition, and emaciated checks and balances.” Orbán has spent more than a decade engaging in aggressive gerrymandering, court packing, use of state power to drive out or co-opt dissenting media, and more. Corruption is rampant. The Constitution has been rewritten and ever more power concentrated at the top.”

“The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which took the rare step of sending a full election-monitoring mission to Hungary, has raised questions about the vote. So arguably the country should not be thought of as particularly democratic or particularly liberal right now.”

“Orbán’s sweeping victory suggests that many millions of Hungarians, well aware of his record, are on board with his vision for their country. This raises the specter of a true illiberal democracy—it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a country with genuinely fair and open elections but also majority support for authoritarian leaders and policies that deny equal rights to all.

The point of contemplating such a scenario is to recognize that “assaults on democracy” are not the only threat we face. A society in which 51 percent of a population votes to oppress the other 49 percent can claim the mantle of democracy. The problem is that it is illiberal, not undemocratic.

Democratic institutions, important as they are, only get us so far. We must insist on liberalism as well: free speech, private property protections, religious liberty, freedom of movement, constitutional constraints and separations of power and rule of law and all the rest. We can’t know which side of the 50 percent mark we’ll fall on; the less of our lives we allow to be put to a vote in the first place, the better off we’ll be.”

Why Tucker Carlson’s special on Hungary and Soros matters

“The film opens with soaring music, footage of white children laughing and playing, beautiful vistas of classical European architecture. Fifteen seconds in, the music turns dark. We see images of dark-skinned youth, chaos, and blood. Then there’s a foreboding black-and-white shot of a man in profile, hunched at a desk, the curvature of his nose prominent in silhouette.

He’s the one responsible for all of this, the brown assault on white tranquility. Europe, we are told, is this predator’s “main hunting area.”

This is the beginning of Tucker Carlson’s new “documentary” for Fox Nation, the right-wing media giant’s streaming service. It is titled Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization, and it purports to tell the story of how a plucky little democracy in Central Europe has carved out a conservative model in the face of a relentless assault by the forces of global liberalism personified by George Soros, the Hungarian-American financier.

The story is a lie. Hungary is nominally a democracy but it has made a turn toward authoritarianism in the last decade; Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has painted Soros as a scapegoat whose allegedly nefarious influence justifies Orbán’s anti-democratic moves. The documentary amplifies this propaganda, treating the Jewish philanthropist as the spider at the center of a global web of conspiracy.”

How hatred of gay people became a key plank in Hungary’s authoritarian turn

“The new Hungarian regulations on LGBTQ expression are broad. Among other things, they prohibit sex educators from instructing students about LGBTQ sexuality and ban television stations from airing content “popularizing” LGBTQ identity outside the hours of 10 pm to 5 am. The regulations also prohibit films or advertisements from representing same-sex physical acts or gender-affirmation surgery in materials targeted at individuals under 18.

But what counts as “popularizing” LGBTQ identity, and what sorts of art count as being targeted at kids? According to local media and human rights groups, the bill isn’t especially clear on these points — raising fears about censorship. RTL Klub, the country’s largest television channel, warned that “series like Modern Family would be banned, as would some episodes of Friends.”

No less troubling: By declaring LGBTQ programming harmful for children, the law dehumanizes queer couples and individuals, legally codifying the notion that their very existence threatens Hungarian society.”

“This bill is not a one-off. Since coming to power in 2010, Orbán has systematically undermined LGBTQ rights in Hungary. The most significant early move was a constitutional provision banning same-sex marriage enacted in 2012.”

“In December 2020, the government approved a constitutional reform package that strengthened the anti-LGBTQ constitutional provisions: It stated that the family is defined as being “based on marriage and the parent-child relation. The mother is a woman, the father a man.” The December legislative package also banned adoption by same-sex couples and abolished the Equal Treatment Authority, Hungary’s most important nondiscrimination agency covering LGBTQ rights.”

The American right’s favorite strongman

“After winning Hungary’s 2010 election, the prime minister systematically dismantled the country’s democracy — undermining the basic fairness of elections, packing the courts with cronies, and taking control of more than 90 percent of the country’s media outlets. He has openly described his form of government as “illiberal democracy,” half of which is accurate.

Since the coronavirus, Orbán’s authoritarian tendencies have only grown more pronounced. His allies in parliament passed a new law giving him the power to rule by decree and creating a new crime, “spreading a falsehood,” punishable by up to five years in prison. The Hungarian government recently seized public funding that opposing political parties depend on; through an ally, they took financial control of one of the few remaining anti-Orbán media outlets. In May, the pro-democracy group Freedom House officially announced that it no longer considered Hungary a democracy.”

“Religious conservatives find Orbán’s social policies to be a breath of fresh air. Orbán has given significant state support to Hungary’s churches, officially labeling his government a “Christian democracy.” He provided generous subsidies to families in an effort to get Hungarian women to stay at home and have more babies. He launched a legal assault on progressive social ideals, prohibiting the teaching of gender studies in Hungarian universities and banning transgender people from legally identifying as anything other than their biological sex at birth.

Conservative nationalists focus on the Hungarian approach to immigration and the European Union. During the 2015 migrant crisis, Orbán was the most prominent opponent of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open borders approach; he built a wall on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia to keep refugees from entering. He has repeatedly denounced the influence the EU has on its member states, describing one of his governing aims as preserving Hungary’s national character in the face of a globalist onslaught led by Brussels and philanthropist George Soros.

For Western conservatives of a religious and/or nationalist bent, Orbán is the leader they wish Donald Trump could be — smart, politically savvy, and genuinely devoted to their ideals. Hungary is, for them, the equivalent of what Nordic countries are for the American left: proof of concept that their ideas could make the United States a better place.

Yet while the Nordic countries are among the world’s freest democracies, Hungary has fallen into a form of autocracy.”

“Orbán and much of his inner circle are lawyers by training; they have used this expertise to set up a political system that looks very much like a democracy, with elections and a theoretically free press, but isn’t one. This gives intellectually sympathetic Westerners some room for self-delusion. They can examine Hungary, a country whose cultural politics they admire, and see a place that looks on the surface like a functioning democracy.”

“If these thinkers continue to insist that Hungary is just another democracy — despite copious evidence to the contrary — how can we expect them to call out the same, more embryonic process of authoritarianism happening at home? If American conservatives won’t turn on a foreign country’s leadership after it crosses the line, what reason would we have to believe that they’d be capable of doing the same thing when the stakes for them are higher and the enemies more deeply hated?”