Western Europe is taking Hungary to task in the name of values that this very country upholds most resolutely, Hungarian economist Károly Kiss writes in a column in daily Magyar Nemzet. Our prime minister, our government, and our country (or at least the part of Hungarian population that supports this government) is in constant debate with the European Union. The main contentious issues are the reception of migrants, otherness, disputes over identities, the conditionality of subsidies, and Europe’s transformation into a centralized confederation. The left-wing of the European Parliament is constantly questioning whether Hungary meets the criteria of the rule of law. Upon seeing the Hegymenet studies volume in 2017, I was amazed to see that the reason for our economic backwardness (more precisely our lack of catching up) and other troubles was unanimously explained by the fact that we deviated from Western values.
Now, in connection with the Hungarian-Polish veto, this issue has come to the fore again, and I am amazed to see that the critics continue to accuse the Hungarian government of deviating from the European path and rejecting European values. In his historicizing article published in economic weekly HVG, István Riba writes that “the Orbán government gives outdated answers to the old dilemma of homeland or progress” and uses the term “declining West” in quotation marks. Several things need to be clarified. First, the third-way populists were right. Wild, Manchester capitalism failed after the war; In Western Europe, the welfare state, the system of the social market economy, has been established. Let me bring up an anecdotal personal story from the old days, the 1970s. I was a visiting a researcher at the University of Glasgow, and at the breakfast table was a visiting professor from India, who after learning that I had come from Hungary, asked, “Do you have a socialism like Britain’s?” I wish we had, I thought. The European welfare state was battered by monetarism, the Thatcher-Reagan attacks, but it survived. Critics turn a blind eye to one important thing (they probably don’t even know about it): there is no long-term catching up in the European Union. The level of development of the southern periphery — which includes the Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, and Greeks — is at the same distance from the more developed North-West, measured in terms of GDP per capita, as before. In the post-World War II world, catching up took place only in the Far East: first in Japan, then in the “little tigers” of Southeast Asia, and finally in China. It can be clearly shown that this is due to an active state economic policy. This activist economic policy, on the other hand, runs counter to the EU’s “values”. In fact, there would be a need for Eastern Europeans to be able to protect their markets and have the opportunity for certain protectionist measures until economic disparities are largely eliminated.
The Hungarian government rejects the idea of supranational integration. This is compounded by long-term economic considerations such as the one above, but the postponement of the introduction of the euro is also linked to this. Our 1,100-year-old history, statehood, and culture are just enough reasons to treat the plan of federalist integration with caution. By no means does this amount to a denial of Europeanness. Linking the unrestricted reception of migrants to European values is also foolish. This is already a hot topic, but it is worth noting the latest developments. In Western Europe, a distinction has so far been made between ordinary Islam and jihadists, and only the latter has been labeled as a danger. President Emmanuel Macron and the latest bill from the French government, on the other hand, broke with this defeatist view. It assumes that not only militant Islam is a threat to democracy, but also peaceful Islam itself, which leads to the creation of parallel societies, and that government will no longer tolerate Islamic religious precepts that override republican laws. It is quite bizarre that a schizophrenic Western Europe accuses Hungary of professing and embracing traditional European values of Europeanness. But it’s even more bizarre that Hungary’s domestic opposition is joining this chorus.
Title image: Europe seen from orbit. (public domain image)