This article is taken from the December-January 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Political heroes are difficult to find these days. This may be one reason why Rod Dreher, along with members of the American Alt Right, has taken to eulogising Viktor Orbán (GUARDIAN OF LIBERAL FREEDOMS, NOVEMBER) along with the Hungarian prime minister’s success in halting economic migrants and his pro-family economic policies, both of which do indeed deserve respect.
However, Dreher’s view that many criticisms made of Orbán are the result of liberal bias overlooks the fact that many of the most telling criticisms come from conservatives.
In their judgment, Orbán’s policies have brought about a system of crony capitalism in which loyalty to Fidesz, the party he founded as a young anti-communist, has led to the emergence of a new elite similar in important respects to the old communist nomenklatura.
The consequence has been to limit economic competition and entrepreneurship while hampering the growth of civil society and a civic-minded middle class. Critical media outlets have been stifled whenever a suitable opportunity presented itself.
Dreher acknowledges the widespread corruption, but suggests that this is only to be expected in eastern and central Europe. He overlooks the progress made by some of Hungary’s neighbours in cleaning up their acts, while corruption in Hungary, as assessed by Transparency International, has become the worst in Europe.
Dreher asserts that Hungarian elections are free and fair. The OSCE report on the 2022 general election complains about the lack of a political level playing field, listing numerous examples of unfairness.
Many conservative critics are yet more unhappy about the increasingly close relations with Russian and China, the lack of support for Ukraine (including Orbán’s description of Volodymyr Zelensky as an “opponent”), his resistance to Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO, his attempts to prevent or delay sanctions against Russia and his “pride” in recently meeting with Vladimir Putin as the latter sought to crush the Ukrainian state. Some champion of liberal freedoms!
Between two evils
Robin Aitken’s article (BRITAIN’S FORGOTTEN BATTLE FOR THE BALTIC, ONLINE) sheds light on what is mostly unknown history outside Estonia. But it does have a glaring omission when it summarises:
“The state which emerged then enjoyed 20 years of sovereign existence until 1940, when the dark forces of German National Socialism overwhelmed the fledgling nation.”
Through the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which divvied up that part of the world into two totalitarian spheres, Nazi Germany was in play well before its troops raced across Estonia in 1941 to lay siege to Leningrad.
Indeed, alluding to Nazi Germany’s dark forces misses out on the none-too-fun period that preceded, when Soviet Russia invaded the Baltic republics, and set the NKVD to work to destroy civil society.
Come Operation Barbarossa a lot of surviving Balts consequently welcomed the Nazi troops heartily, only to end up on the losing side and the endurance of 40 years of Soviet rule.
And this is to say nothing of the fate of the Jewish populace, often at enthusiastically-collaborating “liberated” hands.
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
School for scandal
What happened, some might ask, to the drunken naked cyclist, who featured in Andrew Gimson’s kindly article on the bohemian ways of the Conservative Research Department (SCHOOL FOR FUTURE TORY STARS, NOVEMBER)?
His nocturnal exploits did not impair the high quality of his work. His girlfriends never seemed much bothered by his antics, and he settled down after marrying one of them.
He is now a wealthy man, dispensing advice on public affairs in return for the hefty sums available to those who enjoy access to senior figures in the government.
A successful future looked out of the question for one of his contemporaries who seemed to sleep with a different man every night, and could hardly type a useful word the following morning.
Yet he has progressed in academic life and has published a well-received book. The CRD was rather good at turning all kinds of frogs into princes.
(consultant director, Conservative research department 2004-10)
House of Lords
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