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August 18, 2022

Bucharest is not Budapest

Unlike his political ‘friends’ in Bucharest (fellow EPP members), the government in Budapest is able to answer the street with other, even more numerous voices. Despite its economic difficulties, Hungary seems like one of the most stable contries in the region. With an absolute majority in parliament, with its multiple legislative and constitutional reviews and with a consistent enforcement of electoral pledges, FIDESZ remains a popular ruling party both literally and figuratively. It political voluntarism has strengthened its influence over sympathisers, while also stirring some sharp criticism.

Its main opposition is not in the country, but at the European institutions, worried about what is considered to be an authoritarian derailment as well as a far too strident stain of colour in a EU striving to head in a different direction. What irritates in the first place is moral conservationism.

The new Constitution, recently coming into force, makes reference to the country’s Christian tradition, a reference ‘European’ leaders have avoided in the debates on a EU constitution. Restrictions regarding homosexual marriage and abortion (at least potentially, by recognising the foetus’ right to conception) are stipulated, despite the opposing European lobby. A state strengthening itself in the context of a trend of diminishing its role for economic(preponderantly liberal choice) and European (sharing selected prerogatives) reasons looks more like a reminiscence of times past. All the more so as, in order to hedge its influence, it institutes a draconic control over the media. And, not least, promotes a vetust nationalism, not hesitating to give Hungarians in the neighbouring countries the right to vote.

All this is going against the tide. However, it would be a rushed conclusion of this kind of politics was solely explained by a democratic deficit. The comparison with Romania is a must. If he had had a party with a similar parliamentary backing on his hands, President Basescu would have probably changed many things.

But the difference comes from the seriousness of the approach. It is first an ideological conformism specific for Romanian parties in general. No one innovates, all ideological references are always some vaguely European ones and alternatives are always left with marginal o extremist figures. The Social-Democrats are afraid to exhibit their leftist identity and the people’s party adopt the cosiest right-wing version. Although relations between the president and the Orthodox patriarch are good (some have even mentioned a political complicity in boycotting the ex-king’s speech in parliament), which has practical ramifications (for example the social welfare bill or the support for building the new cathedral), the ruling party would never dare taking its Christian identity rhetoric to the next level. The president was (at least at that point) in favour of homosexual marriage and his party has promoted a relaxation of manners (right to have an abortion, even a possible legalisation of prostitution). FIDESZ on the other hand has the courage and consistency of a more conservative philosophy (Romanian people’s parties actually lack this particular nuance)
As for the role of the state, if Viktor Orban has chosen the nationalisation of the pension system, Traian Basescu did not hesitate to risk having a crisis for the sake of privatising the emergency medical system.

The type of state institution politicisation is also different between the two countries. While political clientelism is massive in both cases, the Hungarian government has, however, proved institutional creativity by introducing additional checks through newly-created bodies. That gives a certain degree of transparency compared to a system much more vulnerable to corruption like the Romanian one. The most perverted effect of the Romanian ‘specificity’ is the massive erosion of trust in the political class as a whole. Bigger resemblance can be identified about the regime of minorities living in neighbouring states. The Hungarians claimed their double-citizenship law was inspired by the Romanian model applied in the case of Moldovans on the other side of the River Prut.

Apart from the specific nationalism, the stake is also an electoral one. FIDESZ can already count on the support of the Hungarian communities in the neighbouring countries, more attached to a party which is openly and consistently upholding their interests. Regarding the press, Viktor Orban’s Government is making the most iconoclastic move in the current European context. Te press often plays a crucial role in political transformations.

In Romania, the war for the domination of the mass-media goes on in the backstage. Orban, on the other hand, has chosen an already uncommon authoritarian way. However, the biggest difference between the two governments is their ability of engaging the masses into the game. President Basescu and Premier Boc could hardly call a support rally. But the explanation for that is quite simple: the Hungarian government ahs fulfilled its electoral promises and consolidated its popular support. The Romanian government has not, with the due consequences.

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