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U.S. entry bans for Hungarian officials are abuses of power

Everyone who knows my long-term views on the history and politics of Central Europe must know very well that I am pretty unlikely to defend some "political idiosyncrasies" of Hungary, especially those that are flavored with nationalism.

Our Slovak brothers would sometimes have problems with Hungary, partly due to the large Hungarian minority that stayed on the Slovak territory, despite Hungary's losing status after the Second World War. I think that when Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, it was wise for the Western powers to incorporate the "potentially controversial" territories into (Czecho)Slovakia because (Czecho)Slovakia had a much higher potential for democracy and respect towards ethnic minorities than Hungary, as the following decades helped to confirm. I think that Slovakia was right to argue that a Hungarian-Slovak treaty about the Gabčíkovo-Nagymarosz dam was valid, despite the nationally flavored backlash by the Hungarian greens and their allies. And so on.

But the way how Hungary and its most powerful party, Fidesz, along with its boss, prime minister Viktor Orbán, is being treated by many politicians in the West is unacceptable.

A few days ago, it turned out that the U.S. government has composed a black list for Hungarian officials who are not allowed to enter the U.S. The plan was to keep the list in secrecy. The precise folks who are on the list are not known even to the main Hungarian political institutions but very important folks like Antal Rogan, the boss of Fidesz in the Parliament, are on the list.

Clearly, due to the importance of the U.S. in the world, such a restriction may have a significantly crippling effect on Hungary's ability to pursue its foreign policy. This is not an acceptable behavior among the allies.

The officially stated justification of the black list is that there are "credible data" showing that these people are "linked to corruption". It may be true or false but I consider this way of deciding this issue and drawing consequences to be unfair, unjust, and as an assault on Hungary's sovereignty. The actual reasons for the bureaucratic harassment are almost certainly different – and it is not an accident that the reasons are different.

Whether a Hungarian citizen has participated in corruption in Hungary is a matter that should be decided by the Hungarian courts. They may be imperfect – and due to the much shorter recent experience with the rule of law and democracy, they are bound to be less perfect than in the Western countries – but courts in any country are still more rigorous and fairer than the ability of a bureaucrat to use his executive power to harass anyone else without the need to confront the counter-evidence (the defense). Moreover, what the very word "corruption" means – and what is legal and what is illegal – depends on the country so whether someone in Hungary has done something that someone in the U.S. could call "corruption" shouldn't matter.

Finally, there may be corruption in a group of people but there's a lot of other corruption and to use it selectively against a certain group of people defined by some political or ideological criteria is simply unfair. And I feel almost certain that this is what has taken place in this case.

The truth is that the PC media in the West have been waging a war against Hungary for many years. It's becoming an authoritarian state and the prime minister must be so evil, and so on, and so on. The reality is that Fidesz has simply enjoyed a clear support by a majority and it leads and transforms the Hungarian society in a way that is fully compatible with the law and the constitution at every point. Theirs is a "government of lawyers", even the critics admit.

So what is the real problem of so many people in the West with Fidesz? They just don't like the outcome for political and ideological reasons. Their criticism is meant to suggest that Fidesz is doing certain things that contradict some basic rules of morality; in reality, what drives them up the wall is that Fidesz and its voters simply have different ideas about a good society they want to see in the future.

Their policies are surely a mixed bag. Of course that I could find things I would strongly disagree with if I looked more carefully. But what I see as drivers of the anti-Hungarian sentiments are mostly policies of Fidesz that I find mostly good.

First, it is a conservative government that tries to reduce the welfare state. So they not just promise that by 2018, people will be put back to work. They have rather specific plans how to gradually eliminate some social benefits in the majority of cases where they are not really necessary. I don't want to go into that.

Second, it is a socially conservative government that wants to make it "more certain" – by modifying the constitution – that marriage is a union between persons of opposite sex (there are several analogous topics but I chose the most obvious one). A huge portion of every nation including the U.S. agrees with this principle and with similar principles. In Hungary, much like in many other (especially more Eastern) countries, people who agree with these things are a rather clear majority and they have the right to adjust their state institutions according to these values. In the U.S., the people who prefer the traditional definition of the marriage have been character assassinated and painted as animals for many years so the actual power of these people to influence politics is in no way equal to the ability of the "progressives" to promote their opinions. But in Hungary, the situation is simply different and different nations should be able to accept the fact that the opinions about similar basic social (and other) questions don't have to follow the same statistical distribution in every corner of the world. Hungarians don't even agree with you that the first name should be first, before the last name ;-) so why should they agree with some most recent fads concerning the definition of marriage, or házasság?

Third, there are various modifications of the law that some people sell as attacks against the "civil society". For example, Fidesz proposed rather clever laws to allow voting by (electronically or manually) registered users etc. which also partly suppresses the ability of the very poor to vote etc. I understand that many people may mostly disagree with those proposals, like with many others, but I would probably mostly agree. At any rate, Fidesz has the mandate for such changes, too.

A special discussion would be needed for the status of NGOs. The people behind the strongest party in Hungary generally dislike most of the NGOs, and so do I. I find it absolutely unacceptable if someone is forcing other people or whole nations to like these entities. They're in no way any "essence" of decent, modern, civilized societies. The Czech law doesn't even recognize the term "NGO" or any equivalent, if you want to know. Most of these entities are just dust or an infection that got attached to most democracies; they're in no way parts of the "heart" of the social arrangement that has improved the life in the West so much. And if some NGOs are designed to decide about some important questions regardless of or against the opinions of the voters, their activity directly conflicts with democracy. A democratic society simply cannot allow the likes of Greenpeace or WWF to decide about the environmental policies, to mention another obvious example. They're unelected activists, biased folks, and mostly unrealistic idiots, too.

Like in other countries, many international NGOs are recognized – or will be recognized – as foreign agents. This description may be less accurate or more accurate in different cases. But it's surely a very important and valid point for a huge number of NGOs. If some NGO is created in a foreign country and its very goal is to change certain laws or aspects of the social arrangement in the target country XY (e.g. Hungary) despite the opinions of the voters in XY, it's clearly a sort of a foreign intervention. There are legitimate ways in which ideas may spread from one nation to another; but there are also illegitimate ways how one nation may influence another. It's very understandable that nations may want to fight against the latter. Organisms have immunity systems for a similar reason.

Prime minister Viktor Orbán is often demonized for his speech where he revealed that he takes some inspiration in the "illiberal democracies" such as Turkey, Russia, China, and Singapore. He stated his belief that the direction in which the real-world typical "liberal democracies" are going to evolve in the future is counterproductive and that some aspects of the social arrangement in his "role model" countries are simply superior and bound to become the winning side in the future.

In fact, it's likely that the entry bans was stimulated entirely by a much more specific, smaller sin – namely the fact that the Hungarian government considers the sanctions against Russia to be counter-productive and that they still consider Russia to be their partner. What a sin!

You may agree with that or disagree with that – and of course that I wouldn't choose those "pretty Eastern" countries as my #1 role models (I would prefer to promote e.g. Western European countries of the 1980s, or something of the sort) – but it is a legitimate opinion that self-evidently enjoys a strong support among the Hungarian electorate.

Before you try to impose the political "normalcy" of your environment on other countries, you should

  1. appreciate that even in your environment or your nation, there are people who may disagree with you, who may have a point, and whose lack of influence may be due to your political group's illegitimate "discrimination against" these political foes
  2. realize that even if the political equilibrium in your environment or your nation legitimately reflects what the people actually think, believe, and want, other environments and nations are simply different from yours so they will reach a different equilibrium
In the U.S. and in other countries that are euphemistically referred to as "typical liberal democracies" in these discussions, the understanding for these points – i.e. the basic tolerance for different opinions and different political cultures – became very low. Of course, I would blame much of this deterioration to the politically correct delusions about "all ethnic groups' being the same". It is not true that they're the same. And even if we neglected all the biological differences between different nations, which is a very unwise thing to do, there are lots of long-term historical and cultural differences between nations that simply can't be erased within a few years.

Hungary is a nearby nation. Hungarian and Czech lands would sometimes share the king; they would live within the same Austrian monarchy (or later Austria-Hungary: as the name indicates, Hungary enjoyed a more official political status but our lands didn't really suffer and a vast majority of the industry was built in the non-Austrian-non-Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary, i.e. in the future Czechoslovakia LOL); and we were members of the Soviet bloc. In other periods, however, our fates would significantly diverge. We imagine that the Hungarians came from some distant corners of Asia, something like Mongolia (I know it's not quite accurate), and that's why almost no other nation can understand their language. In between the two world wars, we would enjoy democracy while they would live under an aristocratic fascist regime. These are differences that seriously affect the perception of our own identity.

I simply see nothing shocking about a speech by the Hungarian prime minister in which he declares that he finds many things in the "illiberal democracies" to be better than what he sees in the West. In our nations, many people have similar views and Hungary, due to its being a different country, may obviously differ in the question "which group has the majority". At the same moment, Hungary is remaining a democracy – at least in the same sense as Russia. It's still vastly closer to any Western country than most countries in the Middle East, for example.

It just seems unacceptable to me if somebody in the U.S. or the EU wants to demonize Hungary even for these "relatively minor" differences in the opinion about the "optimum civilization". This anti-Fidesz hysteria is primarily a testimony of the decline of the legitimate political struggle, tolerance, and of the ideological diversity in the countries that criticize Hungary, and another example of interventionist politics whose ultimate goal is a new Gleichschaltung of a sort.

This tendency of many Western countries is arguably getting out of control and be sure that while I still find most of the countries in the East – China and perhaps even Russia – to be pretty exotic and "different", I am going to support those countries if they work to act as a compensation of the degradation of the usual political culture we have known in the West by the PC activists who would love to make "everyone in the world" obey their regulations and worship their values and misconceptions.

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reader Liam said...

Speaking as UK Citizen who lives in Hungary, Fidesz is a bizarre political animal indeed, with many internal contradictions in their policies and attitudes. From the outside they may appear to be a fairly straightforward nationalist oriented socially conservative party who are skeptical of liberalism and civil rights etc. However in terms of policies oriented towards management of matters of political economy, they are big-state socialists to the core! Since they came to power in 2010 they have been running round nationalising all sectors of the economy they could get their grubby hands on, from small scale industries on a local level such as the taxis in Budapest, (prices are now double what they were in 2009) to medium size national level industries such as the now socialised tobacco and soon to be Alcohol (or at least spirits) which have been grabbed out of private sector hands, and all the way up to the macro-economic such as the forced nationalisation of pension funds, and now behind the scenes the banking sector itself, (foreign banks are under a kind of soft attack by the state, which tries to make it as hard as possible to keep their Hungarian operations economically viable).

They also have a perverse fetish for communist attitudes and methodologies of government, such as renaming various street names and locations to control/sanitize historical cultural references and burgeoning stazi-style intelligence network focused on keeping tabs on middle class/bourgeois hungarian citiziens.

It appears that they are taking a huge gamble with the economy that they accept weakening it in the long term in exchange for increasing their levers of power and control over their own citizenry. So far they managed to at least reduce state corruption compared to their overtly socialist predecessors, (which makes the US charge of corruption somewhat ironic) to a large extent that compensates for the drag to the economy causes by their migration to economic central planning somwhat. For how long they can get away with strategy remains to be seen, they must surely run out of rope at some point.

They are truly expert at keeping the hungarian population unaware of their socialist colors when it comes to the big political-economy issues, by focusing media attention on soft social policy issues and their right-of-centre attitudes on such issues, which are in line with the values of a large majority of the population here. The creeping waves of nationalisation and centralisation of economic planning and management have thus far gone largely unnoticed by the voting public as the pain has yet to set in, (except in terms of some rises in the cost-of-living which are so far at least partially offset by the general wider economic recovery since the financial crisis, the low point of which coincided with the entry of the current Fidesz govt.)

Fidesz is a strange and somewhat paradoxical beast indeed, and I suspect in the long term they unfortunately do more damage to Hungarian national interest than good.

Not that this means I approve of any US entry ban on their officials etc...

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Liam, thanks for the story. It may look bad to us but it may still be best for most of the Hungarians and indeed, with their attitudes, such an arrangement may indeed achieve more than other arrangements.

reader Liam said...

Yes, perhaps! I fear not, but then it's not really my place to say...

reader Shannon said...

These Hungarians should be proud to be black listed by the Unitedstatians. They don't lose anything on the long run. We might see new networks of resistance against this morbid, unethical, Western political culture (which I call Talmudist Zionism).

reader Gordon said...

It does seem bizarre that Hungarians are black listed and not, for example, Saudis---perhaps the most repressive and corrupt "ally" of the US in the Middle East.
The US has a history of doing what I like the least in other
people--namely butting into other peoples' business and imposing their own (often warped) standards on them and their cultures. Overthrowing democratically elected governments (Latin America) and supporting oligarchs and rather brutal dictators, if there is some nugatory strategic interest; manufacturing some PC or false flag reason to but in etc.
The US does do many good things, but also many very bad things as well.

reader Gordon said...

Give the jew-hating a rest, and focus on the real elephant in the room--- the spread of Islam.

reader Shannon said...

Like for QM I prefer the top to bottom approach. If you kill the head, the rest falls naturally ;-)