Commentary

197 MEPs Voted For Orbán. They Have No Excuse

Some believe that the 48% of Hungarian voters who voted for Orbán deserve what they get.

Now MEPs have voted for Orbán.

But unlike those voters, MEPs have no excuse. 

Many people condescendingly believe that those who voted for an autocrat deserve what they get. Or that they ‘wanted’ it. They assume that victims had a choice. That they knew what they were voting for. Or that they were well-informed.

It would be a mistake to generalize from 48% of the voters onto 100% of the population. So would be giving a pass to the 197 MEPs who voted for Orbán, just because the overwhelming majority had the moral backbone to vote against him in a purely symbolic vote.

Because unlike Orbán’s domestic voters, MEPs have really no excuse to vote for an autocrat. Especially in their well-paid position as guardians of European values.

1. Hungarian voters were powerfully misguided by propaganda and dissenting voices were muffled – MEPs had all the facts they needed 

Voters were terrified from years of relentless government propaganda. There are Hungarians who actually believe that the “EU wants to nuke Hungary” because so many headlines in the Orbán-media said so, repeatedly. They are terrified of migrants, even though (and especially because) they have never seen a single one.

MEPs had a well-researched report at their disposal about the situation in Hungary. The Sargentini-report was even modest, it could only contain that could be proved. (The list of problems and corruption is much longer but no one has the bandwidth to meticulously investigate and prove it so that it’s legally airtight. For some reason autocrats have a right to the presumption of innocence – it is just their subjects who should avoid looking suspicious, and even when they do, they are guilty when accused.) The report conflated bleeding heart social concerns like poverty with condemning the willful demolition of the rule of law in Hungary, but it still had the latter in it. In cold, hard detail.

And if the Sargentini report didn’t tip you off, Orbán’s response should have. It didn’t contain any denial, it was essentially just offended yelling about unrelated things and accusing his accusers of “migrants” and Soros. If Orbán had an actual argument against the Sargentini report, he failed to let us know in his response. He was just shrieking hysterically about migration and Soros – something that always works for him at home.

Also, MEPs are paid to be informed, that is their job, they get all the resources and don’t have to spend 10-hour workdays in unrelated jobs before they sit down to their Facebook to find out what happened in the world. Voters are exposed to the government media and Facebook-informed opinionators.

2. For Hungarian voters, there was no electable opposition – MEPs didn’t need to cast their votes on unappetizing alternatives to avoid voting for Orbán

Orbán made sure that his opposition is unelectable. Every autocrat makes sure that his opposition is corrupt, complicit or at least they appear so in the media controlled by the autocrat.

MEPs didn’t have to cast their votes on unsavory opposition parties in order to oppose Fidesz’ power grab.

3. Hungarian voters lose their livelihood for dissent – MEPs are not dependent on Orbán.

MEPs are unlikely to ever go hungry in their lives. Their bosses’ bosses’ boss is not Orbán. They are not trapped under him, they are not financed by his apparatus, their livelihood doesn’t depend on him. Orbán’s capos are not keeping an eye out on them for signs of dissent. They will not lose their privileges, licenses, their businesses won’t be annihilated by the taxman if they don’t align voluntarily.

Hungarian towns and villages had to count with the certainty that if they don’t vote for Fidesz hard enough, they can kiss their central financing goodbye for the next four years. And Fidesz would have won anyway. His supermajority was in danger, but Orbán helped himself to it in the end. With the servile help of said local leaders who had to choose between finding opposition votes invalid or losing their funding for the future.

But MEPs don’t have these excuses.

4. Hungarian voters had to rally against Orbán knowing he would win anyway, he could even cheat without consequences – MEPs’ spirit was not broken.  

Protests, legal action, nothing ever makes a difference. Hungarian voters have been primed to feel that they are helpless against the regime. By the time the elections came there wasn’t even enough manpower on the Hungarian opposition to monitor vote counting, to make sure opposition votes are not lost by the thousands.

MEPs’ spirit was not crushed by years of relentless propaganda, by protesting without any impact, knowing that their votes may not even be counted properly.

5. Hungarian voters may not understand the rule of law and why that’s in their interest. MEPs bloody should. 

197 MEPs voted against the rule of law in Hungary. Maybe they think it’s too good for such savages. They are just worthless Hungarian peasants after all. Human rights and civil liberties are only for privileged westerners. These peasants should fight for it because so did these noble MEPs. (Well, technically, their predecessors did. Today’s MEPs fought for exactly nothing, including their livelihood.) Peasants in unfortunate countries don’t want/deserve freedom/democracy/rule of law anyway. And MEPs don’t think they represent other countries’ peasants.

You don’t like how it sounds? Well, if it doesn’t look right written down, maybe it’s not right when you think it.

MEPs clearly understand what democracy means and I’m sure they can tell a strongman from a semi-civilized conservative when they put their little minds to it. Or when their short-term politicking doesn’t cloud their thinking. Yet, they voted for the strongman.

What’s more, the vote to trigger Article 7 is as symbolic as it gets. It was a vote to express concern about the state of democracy, civil liberties, the rule of law, independent organisations, and economic freedom in Hungary – things that have unquestionably deteriorated under Orbán.

Your vote to protest Orbán’s power grab will never amount to anything. It won’t stop the flow of EU funds pumping Orbán and his friends full of money – while they are starving dissenters. It will never even limit Orbán’s voting rights.

6. A bully cannot be appeased

Voters may not know history – or only the version taught to them by Orbán’s media and his dumbed-down education system, but MEPs had a better education. In which they could have learned that a bully cannot be appeased, he will never stop eliminating constraints on his personal power and he will never welcome dissent. His war on anything decent and civilized will never be over – because it can’t be over. But some MEPs found it alright to vote for it.

7. Sovereignty is not a thing. 

People gasp for arguments against the completely irrational trump card called “sovereignty”. Whenever someone throws it into a conversation, all rational arguments dry up. Let me clear this up for you.

Sovereignty is a 16th century concept that means: I am the king and only I am allowed to use my peasants. I can fleece them, tax them, kill them, use them as war fodder – no other king can fleece my flock. Kings mutually assure each other’s rights to their own human resources. 

By the 20th century it got enriched with the added meaning: Other kings are also not allowed to defend my peasants from me.

Sovereignty has no place in the post-war international order based on human rights – liberties that are specifically designed to protect individuals from their rulers. 

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Apart from the few stooges who claim to have been confused by sovereignty, the reason 197 MEPs voted for Orbán was the same in each case: Putting power over people.

1) Some are true supporters of unashamed nationalism, tribalism, them-vs-us distraction – while they can perform a wholesale theft of public funds and call themselves “historic” “leaders”. You can easily tell these MPs and MEPs by their rhetoric: they want you to talk about and fret from migrants-migrants-migrants while they steal. I have nothing against them voting for Orbán. They belong together – although they don’t belong in Europe.

2) Others were simply spineless and put the grabbing (or keeping) of power over truth, facts, principles, people’s interests, policy, or anything. To some degree, the above mentioned nationalist-populists did the same, but they are at least openly autocratic (spelled “anti-migrant”). The ones who call themselves “conservatives” or “Christian democratic” are the worst of them all.

The list of Orbán-stooges abroad runs long. But they all put power over peoplethe distinctive characteristic of today’s degenerated political generation.

The British “Conservatives” are probably the worse. Having put power over the actual interests of people living in their country they first asked the unforgivable Brexit-question, only to boost their popularity (Cameron), then proceeded to execute it even though they knew it was very bad (Boris, May) and now they even went to bed with Orbán in the vain hope that Orbán would rub their backs in return at the Brexit deal. As one Tory politician told The Independent: “No one will say it publicly, but it’s clear that we are going to gain brownie points with people who might be able to help us in the Brexit negotiations.” Well, bon appetite for your brownie points. You will need it.

The Tories try to deny the existence of a deal with Orbán, but Orbán arrived to the EP saying “We would like to have a fair Brexit because we love the British and because we cooperated always well – and you deserve a good deal, a fair deal” – an odd thing to say before the EP vote about his own country. It is sad to lose your spine only to gain something equally damaging for your country: to vote for an autocrat to get your Brexit.

Same goes to half the EPP. It’s very commendable that at least some of them have a hangup against Orbán’s regime, but not enough to actually kick them out of the fraction. That would cost EPP their precious majority, a thing they cherish more than they cherish the rule of law in the EU.

The EU doesn’t accept countries that are autocratic, maybe shouldn’t accept individuals who don’t share European values – yet they find it hard to kick out a party that is against everything European or conservative, just because they enjoy power more that they hate a dictator.

The only Western governing conservative party whose MEPs voted for Orbán was the Tories, after May informally whipped them. Otherwise, most of the pro-Orbán votes came from the far-right and populists, such as Poland’s Law and Justice Party, Italy’s League, France’s National Front, the Sweden Democrats, the Austrian FPÖ, and British Ukip.

Apart from the British tories, just a handful of western European conservative MEPs voted for Orbán. Only three of Spain’s 17-member conservative delegation did so, as well as three of France’s 19-member group. Austria’s conservative ÖVP MEPs all voted against Orbán after Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stood up against him in a surprise speech. Four MEPs from the Bavarian CSU voted for Orbán, but party chief Manfred Weber spoke up against him. One MEP from Angela Merkel’s CDU also ended up voting for Orbán.

Among opposition conservative parties, MEPs from Poland’s opposition conservative Civic Platform mostly voted against Orbán, while Italian allies of Silvio Berlusconi and the Slovenian conservative voted for him. In the east the governing “conservatives” from Bulgaria and Croatia were also kind enough to support Orbán – but Orbán was actively promoting them at their respective elections and Orbán’s cronies are actively spreading the dark art of getting fat on public funds in these countries. So they are in his chain of command. What’s your excuse?

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