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If it takes a referendum, Orbán can’t make Hungary leave the EU

Hungarians would never vote for Huxit. But according to Orbán’s basic law, a referendum is not even needed to leave the EU. Orbán is more than capable of changing the constitution, but why would he? He could also do it without a referendum – just to show them.

With the events transpiring since The Veto, Orbán is finding himself in a corner. Unfortunately, he is incapable of accepting defeat. And not just politically. The man appears to be constitutionally incapable of accepting others’ perceived triumph over him – and he navigated himself into a corner where there is no way of communicating victory. 

It is not an extreme idea that he might choose to pursue for the country to leave the EU. Just this morning he mused how great Brexit was for the UK. His leading propagandist with the dirtiest mouth can’t stop demanding to return into the Russian empire already. People all over the world (and not just in Hungary) have been trained to give in when they hear the word ‘sovereignty’ – when all it means in practice is that a king is allowed to do whatever he wants with his people and no other king is allowed to interfere. 

The country’s and Orbán’s interests have always diverged and he consistently pursued his own. His followers have adored him for that – not least because authoritarian submission means shunning one’s own, individual perspective and supplanting it with the leader’s. It means identifying with the king/country/crown/cult etc. and happily sacrificing one’s own, very real life for The Cause. And the cause may be to just show them, to defend the leader and his interests. Or to protect his little ego.

Huxit could be just Orbán’s way to express that he can’t be messed with. Revenge, spite, a big fuck-you. 

Leaving the European Union at this point would be the equivalent of following the cult leader and isolating ourselves at a cult compound. Just like Jim Jones and his infamous cult, Orbán and his gang could choose to isolate their followers from even the last bit of outside influence, lest they see that there is another option. That there is a whole world out there. 

Sure, it would be damaging. But to whom? 

According to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, “any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” In Hungary’s case, it wouldn’t even require a referendum – unlike the accession did.

Politically speaking, Huxit would definitely require some popular legitimacy, apart from the legal possibility. But there is no way the majority of Hungarians would vote for a Huxit at a referendum. (See below.) 

But legally, according to Orbán’s very own basic law (that replaced the constitution in 2011) he can do it alone, with his MPs voting us out. 

It’s another question how people would react. 

Many would no doubt seek an exit. Those of us who never bothered to establish a second European citizenship because they mistakenly thought that one is sufficient, would scramble to the exit. 

Many would get on the streets, feeling for the first time that it is now their skin at the stake. It is one thing to let the elite steal. It is another to get locked up. But don’t count on those protests to change anyone’s mind. We have been conditioned that protests never work so they would not be persistent like the ones in Belarus. And it is difficult to see how they would persuade Orbán to change his mind. The people are to be controlled, not followed in his world. 

Outsiders (mistakenly) think that poll numbers matter so here they are: 

Tárki published a report (pdf) using data from Standard Eurobarometer and found that support for the EU has risen most sharply in Hungary between 2009-2019. Orbán became king in 2010 and has waged a breathtakingly expensive and ruthless propaganda war against the EU (among other things). And yet, Hungary is leading the way in Europe with 88.9% supporting the EU, a whopping 50.3% increase in ten years, since Orbán came into power. (The EU-average of those who find the European Union fundamentally useful in the entire population rose from 67% to 78.8% in the same time.)  

eu fundamentally useful 2009 vs 2019 eurobarometer

But to understand the situation, please put aside the assumption that public opinion matters. It may be true where you live, but it is a privilege that must be preserved. Don’t count on Hungarian public opinion would stop Orbán. 

The whole point of autocracy is that public opinion (and the public’s interest) do not matter any more. First they matter less and less. Later, when all the avenues of resistance are sealed shut, anything can be done to citizens.

There is no point where this decline is bound to stop by itself, there is no stable low point where the autocrat is satisfied and stops hurting us because he is finally contented. The nature of bullying is that the bully will keep pushing until the he is finally punched. Until he meets serious resistance. Orbán calls that point “hitting the wall”. Yes, he becomes more dangerous when that happens. That is why he should have been stopped earlier. 

UPDATE – Post updated to reflect that the basic law currently even prohibits a referendum about Huxit. 

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