By György Schöpflin
The European Parliament has decided, Hungary has been referred to Council under Article 7 of the TEU and the left is celebrating. We can leave to one side the questions over the voting procedure, given that politically the weight of the voting is what counts.
The joy unconfined on the left is understandable. After all, the left has long regarded Hungary as the seat of everything that it detests – it has devised a narrative that includes no rule of law, no judicial independence, no free media, no free anything really and presumably a nation of sheep who will vote for Fidesz because they are sheep. Quite some narrative. And those who contest it are automatically disregarded.
Pay no attention to the proposition that the evidence that Hungary has gone over to dark side is weak, indeed all too often absent. Ignore the fact, for fact it is, that the sources of the Western left’s concerns frequently haven’t a leg to stand on.
They’ve been constructed by journalists who do not know enough Hungarian to buy a bar of soap, who seek out leftwing Hungarian sources – and only those – which are sincerely committed to blackening the government’s name, not to mention the distinctive Hungarian habit of heaping exaggeration on hyperbole.
This is served up to Western readers in undiluted form because it makes great copy, except of course the Western readers can’t know about the distorting mirror, about the tainted reporting, so they accept it as the unvarnished truth.
So forget about the Hungarian realities that are ignored by the media, like the hapless, fragmented political opposition which has still to work out what being leftwing means, apart from detesting Orbán.
It was just a few years ago, that a senior adviser to the pre-2010 leftwing government was quoted to the effect that “the worst non-Orbán government is better than the best Orbán government”. Not a lot of nuance there.
In the same way, ignore any evidence that is positive as far as the Fidesz government is concerned. The EU Commission’s Justice Scoreboard is one of these, Hungary comes out not too badly at all, mostly in the top third of the 28.
Some of what the Venice Commission has said about Hungary has been critical, but far from all, some of their findings has been supportive. Much the same can be said of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency.
Well, of course, these must be ignored, because they get in the way of the narrative on the basis of which the 448 voted for the Sargentini report.
What we have, then, is a well-established European value propagated by the left – a Manichean view in which the left attributes all virtue to itself and all vice to Fidesz, or to any other political movement that questions the bearers of light to the left.
If you add all these together, then the Sargentini report is a dystopic fabrication. Dystopic because it looked only for the worst (and found it) and fabrication because it ignored all the contrary evidence. Something wrong with the application of European values here, no?
But what if?
What if there is more to the picture than what has been sketched so far? Above all, what if the liberal wave – no more than two-three decades old – has peaked? What if the Third Way of the 1990s is coming to its end (nothing lasts for ever) and Europe is entering a new era in which left-liberalism will be just one way of doing politics among many?
What if the accession process has not really delivered on its promises, that of unifying Europe, bringing the West and the East together on fully equal terms?
For the moment, the left-liberal approach is enjoying its hegemony (yes, Gramsci’s word), but there is mounting evidence that for growing swathes of opinion the liberal hegemony is no longer exemplary, let alone binding. If we look at the evidence, the real stuff, we get a different picture, at the heart of which the triumph of liberalism is contested – contested with increasing force.
All those dismissed as “populists” are saying no, we want something different, above all, we want a political order in which our voice is heard on equal terms with that of the hegemony which calmly accepts the mounting inequalities that contaminate democracy in Europe.
This “populism” business is quite odd, if you think about it. Here are people who are regarded as perfectly respectable citizens, upright members of society, but then, when they exercise their democratic right to vote as they choose, they are dissed as “populists” or – to quote the immortal saying by Hillary – they are “deplorables”. All it needs is the flick of a switch and out you go, off to the dark side.
It’s always difficult to see tectonic change that one is in the midst of, but the shifting plates of the European order ever harder to deny. But this is where Fidesz comes in. The liberal hegemony was always weaker in Central Europe, supported by maybe 10 percent of the voters (on a good day), so that’s where the challenge to the hegemony emerged and the alternative was formulated, not least by Fidesz.
As Milan Kundera once wrote, one of the functions of Central Europe is to serve as an early warning system for Europe as a whole. This is what Fidesz has got right and that’s why it’s so widely detested. Nobody likes a successful prophet, after all.
György Schöpflin is MEP for Hungary (Fidesz)
Opinions expressed in View articles are those of the author. The author asked Euronews not to make any revisions to his text.