Orban's Law: When National Identity Is Warped By Fear Of The Other

Who are we? A referendum in Hungary raises fundamental questions in the West about how the fear of otherness turns culture into a weapon in the hands of populists.

On the border between Hungary and Serbia
On the border between Hungary and Serbia
Andreas Zielcke

Hungary will hold a referendum on Sunday to decide whether to take in refugees. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s views on the resettling migrants is already well known â€" "We are talking about the essence of Hungarian identity. That is, simply put, threatened by the migration policies of Brussels."

Orbán’s colleagues in the Visegrád group â€" an alliance of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia â€" share his fears about migrants. But in addition to this central European group, Western European nations are also seeing populist movements. "The ghettos, the ethnic conflicts, political and religious provocation are a direct consequence of a massive immigration movement, which threatens our national identity," France’s National Front warns on its official website.

Germany’s AfD party manifesto says: "The AfD views the ideology of multiculturalism as a serious threat to social peace and the continued existence of our nation as a single cultural unit. This is due to multiculturalism giving the same rights to imported cultural norms as it does to local culture, due to historically induced blindness, which relativizes local cultural values to the extreme."

All of Europe fears for its national identity. Now, anything that is valued by what we might call the "collective mind" may be deemed part of this identity. But currently this usually wide spectrum has been refocused drastically. It is one thing to be sure of your national identity, and another all together to see this identity being threatened.

The collective mind, typically, does not make a big deal of its identity because it feels secure, as it lies unchallenged. The collective can afford to be ambiguous, open-minded and interactive, and for its borders to remain open. Indeed, in times that are perceived as resistant to crises, national identity is of no importance â€"and if it does become important, then it is perceived as being an integral part of a broader global community. Even critical thinkers spoke of entering a "post-national" era in the later decades of the 20th century.

Only when national identity is threatened in the larger collective mind does it then become an integral part of the political agenda. But not in its former shape, as a meandering, multicolored aura, but as an immovable core. A defensive, intolerant and rigid core. When unchallenged, national identity is an epic, looking towards the future. When threatened, it becomes a drama focused on the past. In the whirlpools of the refugee maelstrom it is becoming an identity that is above all about self-defense.

If viewed from the vantage point of neo-national politicians and parties, we are currently experiencing the aforementioned drama. Especially in continental Europe many people feel adversely affected by refugees entering the country, as well as by the alien "cultural norms that are imported," as AfD has declared. Orban warns that these norms will "destroy Christianity," a clear reference to the Muslims arriving. In France, the FN and other like-minded people speak about their threatened "Laïcité" (secularity), which is considered part of the French national identity, but also a way to target Islamic influence.

â€" Photo: Jakob Ratz/Pacific Press/ZUMA

It also does not matter if the threat is actually present for national identity to become a "threatened national identity." Just as it is not possible to decide if a nation is an imaginary concept or a real nation, as it is a projection, an "invention" by its citizens, it is impossible to determine if national identity is just perceived as threatened or is truly threatened. What we can determine, however, are the consequences that result through the perceived threat.

Patriotism turns sour

While an identity that does not feel threatened proudly sees itself as a result of a patriotic history, of the achievements of the American and French Revolution, for example the threatened identity instead focuses on "the predominant local culture."

It follows that Germany, Hungary, Western culture in general as well as the Judeo-Christian roots raise their shields against Islam and the "different" and often "backwards" culture of the Turkish, Arab or African refugees. It is not the political nation-state that is threatened but the "continuation of the German nation as a single cultural unit," according to the AfD.

But if cultural characteristics are declared as being the basis for national identity, culture mutates into an offensive as well as defensive weapon. Culture that is exploited as defending identity, is not only degraded to being a weapon but also serves to delegitimize the immigrating culture.

When Orbán says "we do not want to change," he means that Islam and Oriental culture have no business in Hungary. National identity demands the disempowerment of the alien. The commandment of submission, of which we accuse the Koran of promoting (and which Islamism certainly is guilty of), is reversed and we demand submission to the dominant Christian Occidental culture.

This addiction to hermetically sealed cultural thinking that exponentially increases the risk that conflict will escalate: as so-called alien elements move from worries to fear, to perceived threat, to hysteria, to panic, to paranoia, to aggression.

In order to terminate this escalation it is paramount to reflect a much more direct question: Is our political, legal and democratic reality truly so weak, so small, so fragile that we feel we need to lose all sense of moderation and open-mindedness to defend it?

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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