As far as the proverbial man in the street is concerned, there is very little that separates the extreme right from the extreme left.
The results are the same: Power concentrated in the hands of a small circle of political leaders, suppression of human rights and academic freedom, political prisoners, torture, absence of a free press, no free speech, no freedom of assembly, rule by decree, corruption and politically-appointed judges presiding over show trials.
That is not to say that there are no differences. There clearly are. The left tends to find its suppressive roots in an all-embracing ideology or – in some cases—a religion which claims to offer solutions to all of mankind’s problems. You need only embrace it.
The far right, on the other hand, is generally based on a belief that one nation or group of people are superior to all the others, and the inferior people should be treated accordingly. These are the ultra-nationalists.
Both groups are adept at conjuring up external threats to justify repression which is really aimed at controlling internal dissent. In modern history we can point to Hitler and the Jews, Stalin and capitalist West, McCarthy and the “Reds under the beds.”
In more contemporary times, several countries stand out as examples of paranoid nationalism grabbing the levers of power. A glaring recent example is Hungary.
In the twentieth century Hungary suffered mightily from both fascism and communism. After World War I there was the short-lived Red Terror of Bela Kun before the country was subjected to the White Terror. Then during World War Two it allied itself with Hitler and after the war it was under the Soviet thumb until 1989.
One of Hungary’s more illustrious countrymen is the billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros. He fled German-occupied Hungary during World War II, and eventually made his way to America where his financial wizardry netted him billions—most of which he has given away to liberal causes around the world.
His biggest single donation– $880 million—was in 1991 to establish the Central European University in his home town of Budapest. Its purpose was to produce a new generation of politicians, lawyers, journalists and civil servants who were so steeped in Western liberal values and democratic traditions that Hungary would never again veer towards the extreme right or left.
Unfortunately, Soros failed to take account of one Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary from 1998 to 2003 and then again from 2010 until sometime in the future. The leader of the National Conservative Fidesz Party has summed up his political philosophy with the words “illiberal democracy.”
He has expanded on it further by rejecting the liberal emphasis on the rights of the individual. In his view, the state is the means of organizing, invigorating, or even constructing the national community. In his view, countries such as Russia, China and Turkey are models to be admired and emulated.
To many world leaders “illiberal democracy” is a complete contradiction in terms. How, they ask, can you have a democracy in which liberal institutions such as freedom of the press and the judiciary are suppressed?
And Orban is suppressing them. He forced the early retirement of most of Hungary’s judges and replaced them with his hand-picked political cronies. He has also forced all media outlets to register with the government. If they print or broadcast something which the government doesn’t like then their licenses can be revoked. On top of that, he has passed legislation making it almost impossible for the Hungarian parliament to amend or repeal laws passed by his Fidesz Party.
Orban’s most visible stand has been over the issue of accepting—or rather rejecting– any EU-directed refugees. Razor wire fences have been strung along the border and any refugee who manages to climb through is chased down by dogs. He has become a talisman for the EU’s anti-refugee lobby.
Not surprisingly, one of Orban’s strongest critics is George Soros. It is also no surprise that the Central European University has become an intellectual incubator for the anti-Orban camp. Demagogues hate dissent, so Orban decided to shut it down.
Of course, he couldn’t just throw out all the students and staff and lock the doors. He had to find a legal ploy. As one was not easily to hand, he created one. The Central European University is based in Budapest but funded from America. Orban this past week pushed a law through parliament banning foreign-based universities from operating in Hungary unless they had a campus in their home country. Surprise, surprise, the CEU was the only such university in Hungary.
But knowing George Soros, this fight is far from over.
Soros should be receiving support from EU institutions. Hungary joined the European Union in May 2004 as part of the EU expansion into Eastern Europe to protect the nascent democracies that sprung up in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Empire.
The EU is a democratic club. And like most clubs it has rules which you sign up to and agree to abide with when you join. These rules are embodied in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and so far it would seem that Hungary is either in breach of or—at the very least—on the verge of breaching rules involving personal integrity, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of press, equality before the law, religious diversity and the right to a fair trial.
So far the European Commission, parliament and council have done little more than utter complaining noises. The fate of the Central European University could tip them over the edge and into the murky waters of issuing sanctions against one of its own members.
Tom Arms is the editor of LookAheadnews.com. Sign up now for the weekly diary of world news events.
LookAhead Radio World Report for week commencing 10 April 2017: