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 and Kazakhstan since 2010 to boost trade.
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at email@example.com Zoe Schneeweiss, Ben Sills