Hungary: Western Europe’s whipping boy

Those lecturing its government over emergency powers don’t really care about democracy.

Frank Furedi

One of the disturbing consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the declaration of states of emergency by governments throughout the world. From Britain to Spain to Hungary to the United States and all the way to India, governments have assumed special emergency powers to deal with the pandemic. In numerous countries, such as Britain and Canada, parliament has been suspended in order to deal with the emergency.

Anyone who is committed to a democratic public life should be concerned when they see emergency measures like these come in. Parliaments are precious institutions that serve and give voice to the aspirations of the demos. It is entirely legitimate to raise questions and concerns about the suspension of such vital institutions. But instead of having a serious discussion about the long-term implications of suspending parliaments and executive power being exercised through decrees, sections of the Western political elite and media have decided to focus their energies only on condemning the Hungarian government for its supposed ambition to turn itself into a dictatorship.

If one was to rely on the Western media for information, it would be easy to get the impression that the actions of the Hungarian government, and of prime minister Viktor Orbán, are analogous to Hitler grabbing power in March 1933, after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act of 1933. ‘The brazenness of Orban’s power grab is without any parallel in recent European history’, writes a columnist in the Washington Post.

Some outlets insist that, as a result of the decision of the democratically elected Hungarian parliament to adopt emergency powers, the rise of a dictatorship has become an accomplished fact. ‘Hungary’s Orbán government seizes on coronavirus pandemic to establish dictatorship’, warns a headline on the modestly titled World Socialist Website. The Guardian’s Owen Jones, who called for a complete shutdown in the UK, casually tweeted: ‘No big deal, a full blown not-even-pretending-anymore dictatorship has been established in a European member state.’

Most media attacks on Hungary don’t go so far as to claim that a dictatorship now runs Hungary. Instead, they see the Orbán government’s action as a ‘potential pathway to dictatorship’ – arguing that the newly adopted emergency powers have the potential to lead to a dictatorship.

The Hungarian government is certainly not composed of angels. And like any government facing an unprecedented global emergency, it is quite possible that it will make errors of judgement in its handling of the crisis. But to accuse the Hungarian government of executing a power grab sui genesis is to indulge in tendentious and mean-spirited polemics. Even a Hungarian schoolchild can do the parliamentary maths and figure out that the government does not need special decrees to ‘grab power’. The last election gave the Hungarian government a large majority in parliament. It already has the two-thirds majority it needs to pass all the measures that can be decreed under emergency powers.

As Hungarian political scientist Gábor Török has pointed out, if Orbán wanted to introduce a dictatorship, he could do so with parliament meeting regularly, without special authorisation through decrees. The hysterical denunciations directed at the Hungarian government conveniently overlook the inconvenient fact that, in any case, Orbán possesses a unique democratic mandate to deal with the current emergency.

Anyone observing the media campaign against Hungary and its government would imagine that it is motivated by a genuine concern to uphold the values of democracy. Anti-Hungarian crusaders continually go on about the importance of protecting the values of Europe. Recently, the former Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, tweeted that Hungary should be driven out of the European Union because it threatens this institution’s democratic values.

In every respect, Renzi personifies anti-Hungarian bigotry. It is worth recalling that, unlike Viktor Orbán, who became prime minister through running in a General Election, Renzi gained power through what could be called a coup d’état. Renzi would not know what democracy is if he bumped into it. He never ran in a national election nor had he been elected to either Italy’s lower or upper houses of parliament before he became PM. In 2014, he was simply named as Italy’s leader by the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, a former leading member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). In effect, Renzi replaced the previous prime minister, Enrico Letta, through the kind of intra-elite political manoeuvring that used to characterise the final years of the Weimar Republic.

In passing, it is also worth noting that Napolitano actively supported his party’s denunciation of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, when the PCI’s newspaper referred to the revolutionaries as ‘thugs’ and ‘despicable agent provocateurs’. So being lectured on the need to be wary of dictatorship in democratic Hungary by the Renzi-Napolitano school of realpolitik is like hearing a serial killer praise the value of life.

The reality is that the animosity directed at Hungary by its Western detractors is not motivated by a genuine concern about the fate of freedom and democracy. Their dislike of Hungary is fuelled by their hatred for the cultural values that the Hungarian government stands for. In particular, they fear that its celebration of national sovereignty will inspire others to embrace this outlook.

There is nothing wrong with having an open debate on matters of cultural values. What is despicable, however, is using a global health crisis as an excuse to settle scores with a political opponent.

Frank Furedi is a sociologist and commentator. His book What’s Happened To The University?: A Sociological Exploration of its Infantilisation, is published by Routledge. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

Picture by: Getty.

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Peter Baker

1st April 2020 at 4:54 pm

All he has done is what they have done here and our parliament didn’t even vote on the issue. What happened here is disgraceful and just gives cover for other countries to do the same. Pretty soon the whole of Europe will be one giant police state, us included. That is why we left the EU but unfortunately we didn’t leave soon enough or impose the very tight controls on our borders that the majority of people wanted – soon enough.

Not relying on cheap imported foreign labour might cut into big business profits, but it would push up wages for ordinary workers and the cost of free movement of people due to globalisation which has caused the Coronavirus pandemic is now going to cost all of us 100’s of Billions. And it will be ordinary people who will pay – not banks or big business.


1st April 2020 at 6:54 pm

Orban’s emergency powers have no built-in time limit. That is pure dictatorship.

Janos Hideg

2nd April 2020 at 9:11 am

Budapest’s (Liberal) mayor took over running Budapest about two weeks ago in the very same fashion (by decrees and without time limit), which seems to be of little concern for “democrats” – I fail to understand why. Furthermore, the Hungarian parliament has the right to lift the state of emergency any time, and conversely, they could vote on renewal every single week, it would make absolutely no difference, since Orban has a 2/3 majority, and the next elections in Hungary are not due before 2022. So, what would be the point of renewing fortnightly or weekly the state of emergency apart from wasting time, and risking MPs getting infected unnecessarily?

Janos Hideg

1st April 2020 at 4:42 pm

Orban seems to manage this crisis well so far, none of his measures seem to be inadequate or even harsh under the circumstances and compared to the measures of “more democratic” EU countries. In fact, in some resapect Hungarians enjoy more slightly liberties of movement than in some EU states, while Orban appeals more on the self-discipline and common sense of Hungarians rather than on police and other authorities. As he has a good record in crisis management (Hungary’s bankruptcy in of 2009, flood, red-sludge disaster, etc) and governance he simply he enjoys the trust of his county.
Deal with it.

alan smithee

1st April 2020 at 8:52 am

The hypocrisy of Spiked is incredible, moaning about civil liberties (obviously not bothered about thousands dying) but not having a problem with Orban ruling by decree.


1st April 2020 at 11:58 am

Couldn’t agree more. Orban really is exercising arbitrary, despotic power in Hungary.

Neil McCaughan

1st April 2020 at 3:39 pm

It looks like Xenobia has a fellow zombie.


1st April 2020 at 3:43 pm

NEIL MCCAUGHAN — By ‘zombie’ you just mean anybody who dares challenge your views. How dare they!


31st March 2020 at 9:43 pm

‘What is despicable, however, is using a global health crisis as an excuse to settle scores with a political opponent.’ —

No, Fur ed i. What is de spicable is your support for a man who has just succeeded in introducing draconian emergency powers that may easily lead to permanent dicta tor s hip in Hungary. Your dislike of UK identity politics has led you into support for aut ocra cy. Have you even grasped the fundamentals of democracy on which the EU is based, Fu re d i ?

alan smithee

1st April 2020 at 8:50 am

Spot on Zenobia! The hypocrisy of Spiked is incredible, moaning about civil liberties but not having a problem with Orban ruling by decree.

bf bf

1st April 2020 at 9:30 am

You really are a “male chicken” head contrarian TROLL, who habitually pollutes these comments threads with your male bovine excrement drivel. Please Foxtrot Oscar and leave this place for the grown ups .


1st April 2020 at 11:57 am

Your comment is a stupid ad hominem and has no intellectual substance. If you can’t deal with the fact that people disagree with you then get an education and grow up.

Neil McCaughan

1st April 2020 at 3:37 pm

The EU isn’t based on democracy, poppet. Quite the opposite.


1st April 2020 at 3:44 pm

Get rid of your Privy Council, Lord Chancellor, House of Frauds and unelected House of Windsor and THEN criticise the EU for being ‘undemocratic’.


31st March 2020 at 9:39 pm

Furedi should hang his head in shame for this article. The time has come to expel the Hungarian dictatorship from the EU and NATO.:

I would have expected this kind of contrarian lunacy from BON, but not Furedi.

Geoff W

1st April 2020 at 4:23 am

On the contrary, Furedi is right about the the hostility to Orban being motivated by his defence of Hungarian interests not high minded ideals and concerns for democracy.

Where Furedi’s explanation is insufficient is in ascribing this purely to his defence of Hungarian nationalism. That charge could equally be levelled at any French politician and many others within Europe. Orban’s real crime in the eyes of his critics is wanting to stop mass Islamic immigration into Europe.


1st April 2020 at 11:56 am

I also support the termination of Islamic mass immigration to Europe through the reestablishment of the antemurale christianitatis. I would go further: Islam should be a banned religion in Europe. However, Orban’s emergency powers are not time limited and that is dictatorship. Orban is using the coronavirus as an excuse for the installation of fas cist or quasi-f as cist powers.


31st March 2020 at 9:30 pm

Stop kidding yourselves about Orban. Anybody who doubts that Orban is a fully-fledged fascist should read this from the Daily Telegraph (paywall):


31st March 2020 at 9:27 pm

If you S p ike d fools can’t see Orban for the mini-Mussol ini that he is, then shame on you. This from today’s DT (hardly one of your right-on cultural Marxist publications):

‘The new measures include the imposition of a state of emergency on Hungary with no time limits, the suspension of parliament, no elections while the legislation remains in place, individuals who publicise what the government views as ‘fake news’ face up to five years in prison and anyone violating quarantine faces up to eight years.’

If that isn’t dictatorship, I don’t know what is. You bourgeois reactionaries mock the EU but provide no alternatives. The founding principles of the EU are diametrically opposed to this. Your mad rage against the ‘Left’ leads you to support rabble-rousers and dictators… What next — BON declaring his undying love for Lukashenko?


31st March 2020 at 8:25 pm

The Hungarians make wonderful goulash.


31st March 2020 at 6:35 pm

It is interesting that a certain Hungarian person is seeing most of his dreams come true without him having to lift a finger


31st March 2020 at 8:24 pm

H itler was Austrian, not Hungarian.


31st March 2020 at 9:28 pm

Oh, you mean Orban…

Fraser Bailey

31st March 2020 at 5:11 pm

A very welcome article. Thank you.

Pauline May

31st March 2020 at 4:47 pm

Well said, Mr Furedi. When Owen Jones says something, you can almost always guarantee that the opposite is true. Interesting article.


31st March 2020 at 8:26 pm

Owen Jones thinks the world is sort of sphere-shaped.

Ellen Whitaker

31st March 2020 at 4:03 pm

Viktor Orban’s great crime was to build a wall, and to vigorously defend his country’s borders. His actions implicitly posed the question “What is the European Union, and who is it for?” For this, the EU will never forgive him. Their own approach to border control has been cowardly, hypocritical, and downright venal.


31st March 2020 at 9:28 pm

So that makes his declaration of dictatorship under so-called ’emergency powers’ lawful? In your blind rage against the EU you have radically underestimated the nascent fascism of Orban.

alan smithee

1st April 2020 at 8:51 am

I agree again!

Geoff W

1st April 2020 at 4:26 am

Well said.

Guy Green

31st March 2020 at 3:49 pm

I might not go along with the Hungarian Governments actions, and maybe neither would you. it is surely beyonfd doubt that a democratically elected Hungarian Government can lawfully operate as it wishes inside it’s own borders, so long as it retains public support. That these values may or may not be in tune with mine or yours is of no importance. For democracy to mean anything it is the Hungarian people who must decide. Instead of acting as a critical friend, some nations and the EU seem to be standing on the sidelines screaming abuse, an action that serves only to exemplify their own lack of democratic credentials, a major driver for Brexit and much other dissatisfaction amongst the populace. Hungary is right to ignore them.

Neil McCaughan

31st March 2020 at 3:44 pm

Australian researchers found that dead bodies would move about for up to a year after death. So it is with the EU and its adherents.

Dominic Straiton

31st March 2020 at 3:33 pm

Hungary doesnt have a problem with muslim Jihadi terrorism because they have a long knowledge of what the Ottoman Empire did to them over centuries. They understand perfectly the danger of an ideology built on conquest. They will never go along with Western Europe’s suicide.

L Strange

31st March 2020 at 4:06 pm

Quite so. It’s also why they’re not so keen on the pseudo-socialism/communism of so-called ‘progressivism’. They know full well what it’s like to try and actually live under these ideologies.

Mor Vir

31st March 2020 at 4:23 pm

Hungary does not have much of a problem with Jihadism. Nor does Hungary have a problem with immigration. It is not a particularly attractive country to migrants and very few people choose to settle there. It has a foreign born population of 180,000 and 2/3 of them are Europeans. Chinese and Vietnamese make up the largest Asian populations. The main demographic issue in Hungary is the collapsed fertility rate at 1.5 per woman, and it remains to be seen whether Orban can reverse that. Roma have a much higher fertility rate and around 20% of Hungarian kids are now of Roma origin. Without them, the Hungarian fertility rate would be even lower.

T Zazoo

31st March 2020 at 10:12 pm

Well, you know what they say. When in Rome do as the Roma.

Geoff W

1st April 2020 at 4:29 am

Exactly the point. Orban’s real crime in the eyes of most of his critics is understanding what dhimmitude really means.

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