Geopolitics

How Orban Is Trying To Take Europe Away From Merkel

Viktor Orban is the only leader in the European Union who has benefited from the refugees crisis. But his ambitions know no boundaries.

Viktor Orban and Angela Merkel at a press conference in Berlin
Paul Lendvai

BERLIN â€" For the first time since his momentous victory six years ago, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has tasted a political defeat. The failure of the referendum that aimed to block required European Union allocations of refugees fell short of the necessary 50% turnout at the polls. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to make too much of the political consequences for Orban of this setback.

Lightening fast and powerfully eloquent, he has turned the fiasco into a "tremendous political success," noting that 98% of those who did vote were opposed to the EU refugee policy, and vowing to block any future decisions from Brussels regarding the refugees question.

Orban has repeatedly proven that he is, above all, a determined and tactical fighter, capable of drawing intelligent conclusions even out of his defeats. European upheaval over the refugee crisis opened the door for him to boldly challenge the EU, which a recent poll says has helped pushed 80% of Hungarian citizens to support his course of total bans on asylum seekers.

"Before the refugees crisis he was an outcast in Europe," says János Kis, a Hungarian philosopher and professor of political center at the Central European University "Now he has become the leading figure of the anti-refugee coalition." According to Kis, Orban is the only head of government within the EU who has actually benefited politically from the refugees crisis.

All the way back on Sept. 5, 2015, Orban had already made it very clear about his attitude concerning the situation: "The crisis is a chance for the national-Christian ideology to regain dominance, in Hungary, but also in the rest of Europe. This situation will result in the definitive end of liberal empty talk. This is the end of an era."

Comparing his words to German Chancellor Angela Merkel is particularly revealing. Orban has proven over the last 18 months in Hungary â€" a critical country in the heart of the EU â€" that he knows perfectly how to work with political tools that are both nationalistic and yet very personal.

Orban is the “most dangerous man in the EU," says Gerald Knaus, head of the think tank European Stability Initiative. Kraus believes the the Hungarian prime minister is plotting against Angela Merkel behind the scenes, without ever mentioning her name. After the Brexit vote and the rejection of Merkel’s refugees policy by governments in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Orban now sees victory at hand.

Facing the liberal critics in Germany and the U.S., he rightly pleads that even center-left politicians from countries like Slovakia and the Czech Republic see him as pioneer and role model. Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev had said that the Bulgarians "entirely identify with Orban’s perception of the refugees crisis."

In the numerous explanations, speeches and interviews, the Hungarian prime minister, at the age of 53, gives a healthy hint of his irrepressible ambition and his â€" secret â€" pursuit of replacing Angela Merkel as Europe’s leader.

"The left-wing parties have held the monopoly over how Europe gets interpreted. If we’re discussing values, we need a strong rear cover," he said. "Not many politicians have electoral support like I do. It has never been my childhood dream to become Europe’s enfant terrible."

Angela Merkel with Viktor Orban in Berlin â€" Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/DPA/ZUMA

The Hungarian government take in major EU subsidies even as they pursue their campaign against the supposed "terrorist threat" posed by refugees and declare the "Christian and national identity." They even took down the European Union flag from above the Hungarian parliament in Budapest.

Mária Schmid, an Orban advisor and director of the House of Terror museum that recounts the horrors of fascism and communism, has recently addressed a frontal assault against Merkel, accusing her of "sacrificing Christianity and the German national interests."

Further afield, who else is close to Orban? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a "personal friend" for a long time, the relationship with Turkey "close and deserving," he calls Azerbaijan strongman Ilham Heydar Aliyev a "role model." In the U.S., he has backed Donald Trump, citing his hardline stance against immigration.

Inside of Hungary, Orban's power seems to be increasingly unchallenged. Reports this week accused the state of forcing the closure of leading opposition newspaper, Nepszabadsag.

András Bozóki, a former Hungarian culture minister and a political science professor at the Central European University, says the prime minister has a competitive advantage. "Orban has always been driven by an astonishing will to win. He's not a statesman, but he's a good politician in terms of techniques and the capacity to stay in power for a long time."

But Bozóki says Orban's grip on power requires him to "break the rules and disrespect the democratic order. In reality there were only three things Viktor Orban has always been interested in: power, money and soccer. In that order. There is not substance. The goal is to remain in power, and he’s doing pretty well for himself."

In the face of the man many consider the most clever authoritarian politician in Europe, the opposition has been split. Meanwhile, in economic terms, Hungary has slipped on the World Economic Forum's competitiveness ratings from 29th in 2001 to 69th today.

Tamás Mellár, an economist and president of the Central Statistical Office during Orban’s first term, says the country is sliding into a semi-feudal regime, with an unequaled concentrated land ownership in Europe.

Poverty and hopelessness among the lower third of society are reaching new extremes, as corruption expands. Another political researcher, András Kürüsénvi, sees "no Orban system, but an Orban regime," because a system is measurable, stable and durable.

"The Orban-regime’s most important move is the unprecedented concentration of power. The enforcement of his political will and interests takes priority over the constitutional state," Kürüsénvi says. "The new regime that has existed since 2010 is trying to legitimate its power with Orban. And that’s why he is portrayed as a leader with extraordinary capacities."

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Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Laphi!*

Welcome to Monday, where post-Merkel Germany looks set shift to a center-left coalition, San Marino and Switzerland catch up with the rest of Europe on two key social issues, and a turtle slows things down at a Japan airport. Meanwhile, we take an international look at different ways to handle beloved, yet controversial, comic books and graphic novels characters.

[*Aymara, Bolivia]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Social Democrats narrowly win German elections: Germany's center-left party claimed a narrow victory in the federal election, beating the CDU party of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel by just over 1.5%, according to preliminary results. SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and Liberals, in what would be Germany's first three-way ruling coalition. Germany's capital city Berlin will also get its first female mayor.

Switzerland says yes to same-sex marriage: Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum, making it one of the last countries in Western Europe to do so.

San Marino voters back legal abortion: More than 77% voted in support of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in San Marino in a historic referendum for the predominantly Catholic tiny city-state, which was one of the last places in Europe that still criminalized abortion.

COVID update: Australian authorities announced they will gradually reopen lockdowned Sydney, with a system that will give vaccinated citizens more freedom than the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and several other regions for vaccinated travellers in November. In Brazil, a fourth member of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations has tested positive to COVID-19.

Power shortages in China spread: Tight coal supplies and toughening emissions standards have led to power shortages in northeastern China, forcing numerous factories including many supplying Apple and Tesla to halt production.

Strong earthquake hits Crete, at least one killed: An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the Greek island of Crete, with reports that at least one person was killed and several injured after buildings collapsed.

Turtle causes delays at Tokyo airport: A wandering turtle forced the Tokyo Narita airport to close its runway for twelve minutes, delaying five planes, including an All Nippon Airways plane featuring ... a sea turtle-themed fuselage.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Neck and neck," titles German daily Augsburger Allgemeine about the tight results of the federal election, which according to preliminary results, is set to be won by the center-left party SPD led by Olaf Sholz by just over 1.5%. It was the country's tightest race in years, and will likely lead to long, complicated negotiations to form a coalition government.


💬  LEXICON

Magal

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from Senegal, but also from elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and the United States, converged to the great Mosque of Touba, as part of the Grand Magal. The annual pilgrimage, a Wolof word meaning celebration, marks the date French colonial authorities exiled spiritual leader and founder of the Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood Sheikh Amadou Bamba.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Cancel Tintin? Spotting racist imagery in comics around the world

From the anti-Semitic children's books of Nazi Germany to the many racist caricatures of Asian, African or Indigenous people in the 20th century, comics have long contained prejudiced, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. These publications have been rightfully criticized but some are pushing back, saying that this kind of unwarranted "canceling" threatens freedom of expression. Here are examples from three countries around the world about how people are handling the debate and sketching the future of comics.

🔥📚 The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix both emerged in French-speaking Europe during the 20th century and quickly developed global audiences. But the comic books have also been called out for controversial depictions of certain groups, including North American Indigenous peoples. And as Radio-Canada recently reported, one group of French-speaking schools in Ontario found the texts so offensive that they decided to go ahead and burn the books. The report, not surprisingly, stirred up a pretty fiery debate on the issues of free speech and what some refer to as "cancel culture."

🤠 In a more progressive model for rethinking cartoons with long — and complicated — legacies, Lucky Luke in France is taking a different direction. Telling the story of a cowboy in the Wild West, the series is notably lacking in terms of diversity. But in 2020, well-known French cartoonists Julien Berjeaut (known as Jul) and Hervé Darmenton (known as Achdé) took on the challenge of a more inclusive Lucky Luke. With its 81st album, Un Cow-Boy Dans Le Coton (A Cowboy in High Cotton), they changed the perspective to focus on recently freed Black slaves.

🇯🇵 Outside of France and Belgium, Japan arguably has the largest market for graphic novels, or manga, which first developed in the late 19th century. And like their European counterparts, certain manga titles have been accused of using racist tropes. One example is the character Mr. Popo, a genie from the popular Dragon Ball series who has been cited for having offensive features. In the meantime, more and more mangaka (creators of manga) are expanding beyond these traditional representations, including in their depictions of women, who are over-sexualized in many mangas.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Still now, I am terrified."

— In mid-August, Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a high-ranking Taliban representative, for TOLOnews. A historic moment for the female presenter, just days after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan. Now exiled in Albania, Arghand tells the BBC in a moving testimony why she had to flee to Albania and how she, like many in her country, has lost everything.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin, Clémence Guimier & Bertrand Hauger


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