Replacing the pro-European views of the people?
Hungary before the EP elections
The products of Hungary’s post-truth laboratory are being received with increasing scepticism. Fidesz underlined the limits of euroscepticism in Hungary with an EP campaign that earned the party suspension from the European People’s Party. However, central government’s tight control over the media has thus far precluded realistic representation of the Hungarian people’s pro-European views.
Mainstream political parties often struggle to mobilize their supporters in the European elections. But the Fidesz government has outdone itself with this year’s campaign, targeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and US investor George Soros, and ‘informing’ the people of the malevolent plans of Brussels. Not only is this likely to mobilize Hungarian voters. It has of course already mobilized European political elites – against Fidesz itself. The party’s long-term efforts to heighten tensions between ‘European Elites’ and ‘the Hungarian People’ do draw on some genuine conflicts. But there seems to have been some miscalculation about the possible consequences of the campaign, namely, Fidesz’s suspension from the European People’s Party.
In contrast to many western European countries, where politicians try to ride the waves of euroscepticism already present in the electorate, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has tried to make waves in still waters. While his rhetoric suggests the polar opposite, Hungarians’ trust in the EU is higher than the average for member states. And whereas eurosceptic voters in the West want to oust pro-EU elites, the anti-EU elite in Hungary wants to replace the pro-European views of the people.
In the post-truth laboratory
The means: aggressive campaigns run by a huge, increasingly centralized machinery of fake news and conspiracy theories funded by central government, making Hungary the sole ‘regime of post-truth’ among member states. Here, the only news about the EU is about incoming ‘swarms’ of migrants and George Soros.
Admittedly, this has already had a negative impact on attitudes towards the EU. Orbán wants to destroy the EU’s image for three reasons. First, he has a vested interest in stopping European integration. For the further this process advances, the more difficult it becomes to build and sustain a hybrid regime based on nepotistic corruption. Second, he sees the EU as a political rival that is actually rather popular in Hungary. Third, Orbán wants to transform the EU from within. Luckily for the EU, this will be increasingly difficult to do from the political periphery – which is precisely where he is heading.
First published on 23 April 2019 at Eurozine.
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