20 Hungarian lessons the West is still missing


By Erik D’Amato


Quillette (13.08.2021) – https://bit.ly/3mB51B4 – I lived in Budapest from 1999 to 2014, and for 10 of those years I ran a nonpartisan daily news service focused on Hungarian politics. For me, and for the small number of foreign journalists and analysts based in Hungary in the years before Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s 2010 return to power, the West’s recent interest in that small, long-overlooked Central European nation and its pugnacious nationalist leader provides its own source of fascination.

While most recent interest has tended to focus on the behavior of the Orbán government or its opponents in the EU, Hungary’s current moment in the spotlight seems to be mostly due to outsiders arguing over whether and how it might serve as either a model or cautionary tale. Unsurprisingly, this argument has mostly used Hungary as a proxy for domestic dramas. And unfortunately, it is likely that the spotlight will move on, with relatively little attention paid to many of the lessons the country actually can offer to Right, Left, and center.

List of the 20 points addressed by the author. The full article can be read on https://bit.ly/3mB51B4

  1. Hungary was once the West’s darling, and that’s why it’s not anymore.
  2. The lingering presence of Western-fêted ex-Communist elites was tragically corrosive.
  3. Hungarian politics is usually much less ideological than you think.
  4. An overweening state fuels corruption and toxic politics. 
  5. Fears of demographic decline and “population replacement” should not be scoffed at. 
  6. The populist Right will co-opt the welfare state. 
  7. It will also co-opt minority groups. 
  8. …and speech curbs initially cheered by the Left.
  9. Markets will shrug off really kooky populist economic policies.
  10. The West’s own example hasn’t always been exemplary.
  11. It takes good lawyers to really mess with the rule of law.
  12. The efforts of Western NGOs and media can backfire spectacularly.
  13. Internationalists flee, nationalists fight.
  14. There is always a further right far-Right. 
  15. Desperate liberals will make illiberal allies (and vice-versa).
  16. The Left and Right long had a cozy graft-splitting arrangement. 
  17. Borderlands gonna borderland.
  18. On the ground nationalist conservatism looks more liberal than you might think. 
  19. Successful populists eventually become the establishment. 
  20. Change itself is the only constant.

Erik D’Amato is a New York-based writer and corporate intelligence operative, and the author of The Little Book of Left-Right Equivalence. A former editor of the Budapest Business Journal and columnist for the Budapest Times, from 2004–2014, he ran a network of websites focused on Hungarian politics, business, and culture. You can follow him on Twitter @erikdamato.