Hungary Facing Trump

Hungary Facing Trump


Hungary Facing Trump

Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister welcomed the victory of Donald Trump to become the 45th president of the United States with joy and enthusiasm. „What a great news”, he, or his man (or woman) wrote on Facebook with poor English immediately after the election game was over. The surprising success of the Republican candidate strengthened Orbán’s belief that like-minded politicians would break-through all over the world closing the era of “liberal non-democracy”. This is a new formula for Orbán’s previous “illiberal democracy” phrase: this time his critical tone sounds even harder against the status quo and the political order maintained by traditional democratic political elites. 

Orbán is self-confident that the forthcoming Trump era will open a wide window of opportunity to leave behind his relative international isolation. The two politicians talked on the phone two weeks after the US presidential elections. “I told him that I have not been there [in Washington] for a long time as I was regarded as a ‘black sheep’,” Orbán said according to a pro-governmental Hungarian newspaper, Világgazdaság, and quoted by the British Independent. His government never had problems with the United States, Orbán argued; conflicts emerged only with the ruling Democratic Party. Since the new president has no ideological constraints and admires Hungary, the political change is good for us, he added.

For the Hungarian democratic and liberal parties, circles and individuals, the first reaction to the outcome of the elections was a deep shock. From the very perspective of those, who have criticised the Orbán-regime and have resisted the populist, nationalist and anti-European rhetoric of the Hungarian government, Trump’s march to power means the loss of the most powerful critical external ally. Even if the voice of the United States under the Obama administration was sometimes hesitant and permissive towards the NATO member Hungary, the concerns and remarks expressed by Washington were quite often clear and definite during the six years of Fidesz rule. Now, a broadly shared hope that Hillary Clinton would be even tougher when confronting the ongoing deconstruction of constitutional checks and balances as well as the systemic breach of the rule of law, media freedom and religious liberty, has evaporated. 

The long term consequences of the arrival of the Trump express are also gloomy for liberal minded Hungarian observers and citizens. Brexit seems to be a fact, in spite of the mess following the unexpected result in Britain. Who knows whether Marine Le Pen can jump on the train next year? Even if a victorious Populist International will not emerge inside the European Union as a blow to the dominant mainstream pro-EU political forces, the problems of Orbánism and its spreading as a thin ideology/strategy/discourse/style in the European public sphere and as an existing practice especially in the Eastern part of the union will be hard to block in the shadow of the new American experiment. At the moment, the recognition of a lost opportunity to stop the Hungarian illiberal construction by the European institutions and the member states just in time before the Polish negative political change in 2015, has become more than evident. Moreover, a potential opening towards Russia by a Trumpist reset policy would give a bigger room of manoeuvre for Orbán to dance between Brussels and Moscow.

The reasons of Trump’s triumph will be discussed and analysed everywhere. From Orbán’s perspective the unforeseeable fiasco of the liberal world view and narrative in the United States equals the general defeat of political correctness. For the Hungarian democratic opposition and civil society, the political consequences will be similar to the US’ or any other EU country’s anti-illiberal formations the day after the lethargic symptoms of the shock are over. Namely, facing the populist challenge and threat, the renewal of political and economic liberalism and progressive ideas has become inevitable. In Hungary, the debate has not even started, yet. 

Presentation by Erik Uszkiewicz at the conference “Illiberal democracies – what can the European Union do in case a member state regularly and systematically breaches European values and regulations?” on 24 April 2015.