If the EU ignores this assault on democracy, then what is it for?by Victor Sebestyen / May 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
In the last 18 months, nine European governments have lost power: Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Greece, and Romania. Above: The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. Photo: Jozeff
Voters from Athens to Bradford, via Paris, have been loudly saying “A plague on all their houses” to the established parties that have presided over the economic mess in Europe. As the financial crisis deepens in several countries, extremists offering simplistic solutions from a past era may well emerge as winners in elections or as coalition partners in national governments. That is a potential threat to democracy, as serious for Europe as the financial crisis. But the European Union looks as though it will be as weak in dealing with the political and social threat as it has with the economic one.
Take the spineless way European leaders have dealt with the challenge posed by Hungary over the last couple of years, where there continues to be a crisis of democracy. A small parochial story illustrates a wider point. In Budapest, the rapper Dopeman has been under criminal investigation on potential charges of “insulting the state.” The lyrics of one of his songs mock the Hungarian national anthem and crudely satirise leading government figures. As a cause celèbre, a gangster rapper with dubious musical ability may not seem of great significance. But his story is a depressingly familiar one in contemporary Hungary.
Two decades ago, Hungary seemed the Eastern bloc country that could most easily adapt to the western way of life. But it has been transformed into the most autocratic state in the EU, while the rest of Europe has stood idly by.
The Dopeman case is also full of ironies. When in the 1980s the current prime minister Viktor Orbán was a firebrand dissident, he was a passionate devotee of rock music, which the Communist regime thought subversive. And he too was once threatened with that Soviet-era charge against troublemakers of slandering the state. In 1988, as one of the founders of Fidesz (it means “The Alliance of Young Democrats”) and the voice of the student-led protests, the recent law graduate was hauled in for questioning by the police. “You’ve broken the law by starting this group,” his interrogator told him. “And which law exactly is that?” Orbán replied. “I don’t know… you’re the lawyer, you tell me.”
For 20 years Orbán has been the best known…