Ask Hungary’s young people whether Europe still matters

Demonstrators in Budapest

Demonstrators in Budapest protest against Viktor Orbán earlier this month. Photograph: Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty Images

The crowds demonstrating in Hungary in recent weeks have numbered many tens of thousands. They are by no means all students of a university the government is threatening to shut down, but they are mostly young and carry two flags: the Hungarian red-white-green tricolour and the European Union flag, with its circle of stars. “Europa! Europa!” they chant.

Are they keen to be ruled by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels? Are they determined to have only straight (or curved) bananas? Do they earnestly desire to be occupied by the 80 million Turks of Boris Johnson’s imagination or Nigel Farage’s hordes of Syrian freeloaders? It does not seem likely.

It is not impossible, depending on the result of the French election, that soon there will be no Europa to chant about, that it will break up like a shattered jigsaw with the exit of the UK, the freefall of Greece and the increasing hostility of the so-called Visegrad group of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – a group of which the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is the leading light.

Apologists for Orbán’s Hungary will tell you it is a perfectly normal country that is constantly being traduced by the liberal left and undermined by international financiers such as the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. So plutocrats and radicals conspire against defenceless normality.

But normality in Hungary, increasingly since Orbán swept to power by a landslide in 2010, means a firm grip on most of the judiciary and on almost all of the media. Receiving a two-thirds parliamentary majority has twice now, though with a smaller share of the vote the second time, enabled him to rewrite the constitution to suit an agenda that looks to establish Hungary as an “illiberal state”, with Putin’s Russia and Erdoğan’s Turkey as models.

“Europa! Europa!” cry the students, appealing to what, for them, remains a source of hope and of legitimacy. That Europe was never discussed in Brexiting Britain. Its small broken fragments might soon float off to join other larger masses where regimes such as Hungary’s might indeed become normal.

 

Source/More: The Guardian

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