Wed, Apr 04, 2018 - Page 9 News List

In Hungary, the exploitation of a mythical enemy is toxic to politics

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s almost certain re-election relies on an anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim manifesto

By Nick Cohen  /  The Observer

You might think Hungary is a faraway country. Small and landlocked, it has a baffling Finno-Ugric language few outsiders master. What do its corruptions and conspiracy theories have to do with the UK?

When I was in Budapest in August last year, I met Marta Pardavi. I worried about her and her friends in the Hungarian human rights movement, but I did not think I needed to transfer my fears back to the UK.

To understand her predicament, you must know that the ruling party, Fidesz, and its president, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, rigs the constitution, the electoral system, most of the media, the judiciary and Hungary’s cultural institutions.

The handmaiden of autocracy is corruption. If Hungarians want to see a doctor or win a government contract, they have learned to reach into their pockets. Budapest is not a European capital now: It is Moscow on the Danube.

Because any sane electorate would throw him out, Orban needs an enemy to scare Hungarians into voting for him on Sunday. He has come up with a novel combination of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim bigotry. A classic dish with a modern twist, you might say: Two “others” for the price of one.

The Hungarian state has saturated the country with propaganda portraying the liberal Hungarian-Jewish financier George Soros as a menace to the nation. The rootless cosmopolitan is planning “to resettle at least 1 million immigrants annually” in the EU in general and Hungary in particular, Fidesz said.

As Soros does not command a government, Fidesz would have struggled to explain how he could flood Europe with Muslims. It is as if British ministers were pretending the choice before the electorate was between the Conservative party and Human Rights Watch.

However, Orban rarely has to explain. Most TV stations and newspapers obey the government and their hack propagandists have worked to turn the marginal non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Soros funds, with no power beyond the ability to seek judicial review of the treatment of refugees, into agents of a supernaturally powerful Jew.

When I met Pardavi, the state-sponsored attacks on her Hungarian Helsinki Committee were so extreme they appeared to me to be an incitement to violence.

She shrugged and said that was the price of working in Hungary.

The climate has turned colder since the summer. If Fidesz wins re-election, it has promised laws that would treat NGOs as threats to national security.

Meanwhile, someone is running black ops against the Helsinki Committee and the Civil Liberties Union for Europe.

Imposters posing as sympathizers have tried to trap human rights workers into making off-the-cuff remarks Orban can twist and use against them.

You might think Hungary is a faraway country, but former US White House chief strategist Steve Bannon does not think so.

He praised Orban as “the most significant guy on the scene right now.”

Orban showed how German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow columns of refugees to march across Europe could create huge opportunities for the far right. And not only in Hungary and Poland, whose government is imitating Orban’s tactics with dog-like devotion.

Although no one could be further from a demagogue than British Prime Minister Theresa May, it remains a matter of record that the Brexit campaign won with the help of the fake claim that Turkey was about to join the EU — two years on and it is still outside — and with posters depicting the coming Muslim invasion.

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