The shame of Viktor Orban

Friday 26/06/2015

When it comes to double standards and blatant hypocrisy, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wins the gold medal every time.
Orban has never behaved more outrageously. He is building a 4-metre-high barrier to keep immigrants from Eastern Europe out of Hungary. The fence is primarily directed against Serbia. He has defied the European Union’s cherished Dublin III regulation to allow the free movement of migrants within EU territory.
Orban’s political calculation is as clear as it is cynical and contempt­ible. The European Union has its hands full with the eurozone crisis. It is dealing with a far-left Syriza party government in Greece, which is threatening to pull that little country out of the eurozone. Orban knows major European leaders fear that if Greece exits, Spain and Italy could be tempted to follow.
What better time, therefore, could Orban choose to treat Arabs like dirt and stab suffering refugees from across Orthodox Christian Eastern Europe in the back. He is an equal-opportunity insulter.
The closing of Hungary’s border is particularly cynical. Orban would like to claim that he is standing for European civilisation, but the only thing he stands for is his own greed, hypocrisy, double standards and selfishness. Any pretension to defending Christian Europe is turned into a mockery by his treatment of Serbs, Russians and Ukrainians displaced by previous upheavals and by the civil war in Ukraine.
Orban, it must be remembered, started his political career in Hungary’s Communist Party and then threw that over when he saw communism was collapsing in 1989. Over the next decade and more, he wooed the United States and the EU. During his first term as prime minister Hungary joined the EU and NATO. He has never revealed the slightest interest in carrying out EU and NATO obligations, only in grabbing their many benefits.
US conservatives and neocons fell for Orban hook, line and sinker. The New Atlantic Initiative and the American Enterprise Institute in Washington both showered on him their highest awards. He flourished from presenting Hungary as a model democracy.
The truth was far different. He has been a nationalist demagogue at home and has revived the worst traditions of Hungarian racism not just towards Arabs but also the many Orthodox Christian nation­alities of Eastern Europe that the Hungarians notoriously treated like dirt when they ruled over them in the period of the Dual Monarchy of the Habsburg Empire from 1867 to 1918. Apart from his neocon buddies, he doesn’t seem to like Jews much either.
Orban has jumped on to every liberal, democratic, American, European and even neocon bandwagon only to cynically throw them over whenever they have served their purpose.
And it works. Orban now leads his third government. He has been Hungary’s longest-serving prime minister since it became a full democracy after the collapse of communism. His blend of pop­ulism at home and xenophobic stunts abroad has played well with the Hungarian people, even though it makes a mockery of the cosmo­politan tolerance their diplomats and PR hacks try to project in Washington and Brussels.
Orban’s latest stunt is particu­larly obnoxious. He has defied the wobbly European Union on its cherished policy of spreading immigrants across its 27 member states. Hungary has benefited enor­mously from its membership in the European Union, something Orban himself achieved during his premiership at the end of the 20th century. Hungary has flourished precisely from the freedom the EU rules gave its people to work throughout the union, especially in its wealthy Western nations. The European Union’s integrated market and economy have allowed investment to flow into Hungary, too.
Thanks to the European Union, the Hungarian people forgave Orban the demagoguery and excesses for which they voted him out in 2002. Like Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel, he has been a Comeback Kid.
Orban has been especially shameless in riding a wave of cheap anti-Arab populism. He attended the mass demonstration on January 11th in Paris defending free speech after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But he tried to use the occasion to make offensive remarks about Arabs. Yet he kowtows to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, seeking opportunities for Hungarian business.
It’s time for Arab and Western leaders alike to wake up to this long-time favourite of the neocons who is as shameless and socio­pathic as they are.