Hungarian PM Orban says he abandons liberal democracy, citing Turkey

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he wants to abandon liberal democracy in favor of an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as examples.

The global financial crisis in 2008 showed that “liberal democratic states can’t remain globally competitive,” Orban said on July 26 at a retreat of ethnic Hungarian leaders in Baile Tusnad,Romania.

“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” Orban said, according to the video of his speech on the government’s website. He listed Russia, Turkey and China as examples of “successful” nations, “none of which is liberal and some of which aren’t even democracies.”

Orban, who was re-elected in April for a second consecutive four-year term, has clashed with the EU as he amassed more power than any of his predecessors since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, replacing the heads of independent institutions including the courts with allies, tightening control over media and changing election rules to help him retain a constitutional majority in Parliament.

Orban, a former self-described liberal, anti-communist student leader in the 1980s, has championed relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of China, Azerbaijan andKazakhstan since 2010 to boost trade.

NGO Crackdown

The Hungarian prime minister is distancing himself from values shared by most EU nations even as his government relies on funds from the bloc for almost all infrastructure-development financing in the country.

Orban said civil society organizations receiving funding from abroad need to be monitored as he considers those to be agents of foreign powers.

“We’re not dealing with civil society members but paid political activists who are trying to help foreign interests here,” Orban said. “It’s good that a parliamentary committee has been set up to monitor the influence of foreign monitors.”

Orban’s steps mirror those of Russia under Putin, where non-governmental organizations that accept foreign money must register as “foreign agents.” Putin orchestrated a crackdown on NGOs in 2012 after he faced the biggest street protests in more than a decade after elections.

“Orban’s comments are very controversial and closer to what we’re used to hearing from President Putin of Russia than from a leader of a European democracy,” Paul Ivan, an analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, said by phone today. “It’s also an extremely bad moment to cite Russia and Turkey as examples, with Russia becoming much more imperialistic and nationalistic and with serious attacks on the freedom of speech in Turkey.”

‘Workfare’ State

In Hungary, Orban’s government this year raided organizations that received funds from Norway, accusing one group of channeling money to members of an opposition party, a claim rejected by the organization, Okotars.

In May, Norway suspended 153 million euros ($205 million) in grants to Hungary after the government shifted the distribution of funds to a state company from the government. The country has also protested Hungary’s intimidation of civil society groups.

Orban, who has fueled employment with public works projects, said this weekend that he wants to replace welfare societies with a “workfare” state. He has earlier said more centralized control was needed to confront multinational companies such as banks and energy firms, to escape from “debt slavery,” and to protect Hungarians from becoming a “colony” of the EU.

Orban said his “illiberal democracy” won’t deny the “fundamental values” of liberalism, such as “freedom.”

“The point of the future is that anything can happen,” Orban said. “That means it could easily be that our time will come.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Zoltan Simon in Budapest at zsimon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net Zoe Schneeweiss, Ben Sills

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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