Hungarian historian Mária Schmidt draws the connection between populism and democracy in her opinion piece, “The Case for Populism,” published in the The New York Times online.
“We Hungarians have rarely had easy lives. As was the case with other nations that came under the direct domination of the Soviet Union in the 20th century, we had to struggle to retain our national culture and way of life. Yet our trials have prepared us well for the challenges of the 21st century,” Schmidt’s article begins.
She then continues by recounting modern Hungarian history following World War II, beginning with the Soviet occupation that lasted forty years, highlighting the 1956 failed anti-Soviet uprising and going on through the regime change to a brief overview of post-Communist democracy.
Schmidt says in the early years of the new democracy the attitude of Western countries towards the freshly liberated part of the continent was a huge disappointment: not only did they keep these nations 15 years waiting to join the European Union, but they grabbed the markets and forced these countries to adapt to the West.
“We did not experience a genuine reunification with Western Europe. Instead, we were forced to adapt ourselves to the West. It never occurred to the West that perhaps it should adapt itself to us,” she writes.
Schmidt sees the year 2010 as pivotal in contemporary Hungarian history: it was the year when Viktor Orbán was elected prime minister with a sweeping two thirds majority, a prime minister that has insisted on putting Hungary’s interests first and “(…) he has refused to follow the policy directives laid down by European Union bureaucrats in Brussels.”
Giving a brief overview of the economic and social achievements of the three, successive Orbán Governments, she emphasizes the “illiberal democracy” heralded by Orbán in 2014, saying that it was based on community, Christianity and solidarity.
She argues that the non-liberal shift is spreading through Western Europe as well: “In the European Parliamentary elections earlier this year, the “populists” (democrats, in other words) significantly strengthened their position.” And “as liberalism runs out of steam,” she writes, “true majoritarian democracy and popular representation are returning to Hungary.”
Schmidt quotes Scottish historian Niall Ferguson: ““the biggest threat to Western civilization is posed not by other civilizations, but by our own pusillanimity — and by the historical ignorance that feeds it.”
She concludes her article by saying that Hungary, which has been a bulwark of Europe for a thousand years has every intention of continuing that tradition.
“As citizens of a free country in the heartland of Europe, we have served as gatekeepers between East and West for a thousand years. We hope to do so for a thousand more.”
Read the full commentary at The New York Times here.
Title image: (Associated Press)