Spanish – A crowd marched last week in Budapest, mostly in silence, carrying torches, to express their disagreement with a series of government measures that threaten academic freedom.
How to implement an “i-liberal” democracy
The president of Hungary, Viktor Orban, has never hidden his goals. Moreover, he explained years ago without the slightest hesitation that he planned to transform the country into what he calls “an i-liberal democracy. He said so in July 2014:
“The Hungarian nation is not a simple sum of individuals, but a community that needs to be organized, strengthened, and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.”
He added: “Hungarian voters expect from their leaders to figure out, forge and work out a new form of state-organization … after the era of the liberal state and liberal democracy, one that will, of course, still respect values of Christianity…”
The logical consequence of this discourse is jumping on the offensive against academic freedom through substantial modifications in the official educational program to align it with this nationalist and Christian vision.
Academic freedom under fire
The new curricula should promote and foster national pride, thus eliminating references to war defeats from textbooks and replacing them with victorious battles. Miklós Horthy, a collaborator of the Third Reich, should also be positively portrayed in history books.
In the plan for literature, the only Hungarian Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Imre Kertész is suppressed to make way for József Nyírő, a member of the fascist Arrow Cross party and an admirer of Joseph Goebbels.
According to interviews recorded during the demonstration, citizens are aware that their claims will surely be ignored. But in any case, and as Deutsche Welle stresses, the call has had a high symbolic value, especially as it coincides with the anniversary of the anti-Soviet uprising of 1956.
Multiple categorical reports
As expressed in the executive summary of Freedom House, under the signature of Gábor Filippov, “the right-wing alliance of Fidesz and Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), which won a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010, 2014, and 2018, has gradually undermined the rule of law in Hungary and established tight control over the country’s independent institutions. After adopting a new constitution, the ruling coalition fundamentally changed the electoral laws… it has also taken control over large segments of private media.” Consequently, the country no longer qualifies as a proper democracy but rather as a “hybrid regime,” a “gray zone” between democracy and autocracy.
And it is not just Freedom House that is issuing such a statement. Human Rights Watch has produced a similar report that also alludes to the xenophobic rhetoric in government discourse.
Finally, the European Commission’s latest rule of law report on Hungary incorporates significant concerns about the independence of the judiciary and the proliferation of corrupt practices. In fact, according to the report of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), Hungary has the highest percentage of irregularities in the handling of funds received from the European Union.
Rethinking the concept of democracy
As an article published on Kafkadesk reads: “there is a misunderstanding about the very meaning of democracy. The Anglo-Saxon conception of democracy is less about majority rule and more about minority protection. It’s less about what the state should do than it is about what it cannot do. The American constitution is essentially one giant document that limits the powers of government. The Hungarian conception of democracy, on the other hand, is intimately linked to national independence and majority rule. For many Hungarians, democracy equals elections. Most government officials, when confronted with the accusation of authoritarianism, will refer to results of the most recent elections.”
And so, the Hungarians, deceived by a discourse of nationalist and religious echoes of a clear emotional nature, have been losing their freedoms little by little. They indeed have a long way to go to become North Korea or Venezuela, but this does not prevent them from realizing that, if it is a matter of preserving freedoms, they are missing the point.
The “covidocracy” emerges
The pandemic is not helping. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter, “The coronavirus is the new terrorism. It is the latest pretext for rights violations that may well persist long after the crisis ends.” An expansion of “draconian powers” is on the horizon as the enduring legacy of the virus.
“We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures,” Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on Terrorism and Human Rights, warned in the New York Times.
Like a nightmare that is becoming a reality, the Hungarian government has declared a “state of medical crisis” that will last at least until mid-December. Under this “umbrella,” which cannot be raised even by the parliament, citizens will have to follow a wide range of regulations by decree. Orban seems to have become the star of the European authoritarian firmament.