There is a jarring note to the musical, Hungarian Rhapsody, composed by Franz Liszt in the 19th century. Perhaps alone in the world, now increasingly under the weather, Hungary’s Prime Minister has afforded a political spin on the coronavirus pandemic.
The deadly virus has enabled Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s most authoritarian leaders, to marginalise his detractors. Given his ambition and ruthlessness, he is following the political maxim ~ “Never let a crisis go to waste”.
In point of fact, he is exploiting an international emergency for his personal advantage. With a degree of insensitivity, almost revolting in a former Communist country and East Europe generally, he has accorded precedence to his personal and/or political agenda of holding on to power over attending to the sick and the dying in the capital, Budapest, and other cities.
More accurately, the power-grab is no permanent settlement. In functioning democracies, any request by a leader for “emergency powers” is subjected to scrutiny. And this spells the difference between a democracy and dictatorship. If the emergency power is granted, normal constitutional practice can be suspended but with a strict timeframe.
Elsewhere in Europe, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s Coronavirus Bill, which gives sweeping powers to his ministers, was passed last week… on condition that the MPs would vote every six months on whether it should be renewed. In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s more wideranging and draconian emergency measures have a lifespan of two months. Mr Orban’s Hungary is a stranger to the system of checks and balance.
In recent years the Prime Minister has consolidated his power in office by curbing the independence of the courts and the media, and restricting the activities of NGOs. Poised to acquire dictatorial powers, the Hungarian parliament, dominated by his Fidesz party, is expected to rubber-stamp the law titled, “Protecting against the Coronavirus”, ushering in an indefinite period of what amounts to oneman rule in a member-state of the European Union.
This is dictatorship in the moment of a disaster, the like of which the world has seldom suffered, not to forget the plague, the devastating pandemic of the 14th century. While dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Orban has introduced harsh measures that curtail an individual’s freedom.
Of course, no such compulsion has influenced Donald Trump who has begun to consider himself as a “Wartime President”. The signal across the Atlantic, now ever so choppy, is direly ominous in Hungary. Concerns around the world that the restrictions imposed by the virus would shrink the space for contrary views are proving dangerously valid.