My country is being poisoned by populism. The EU must stand with Hungary


By Ádám Fischer* – The Guardian

I conduct orchestras all over the world, and I know that only if we work together can we have harmony

Human rights are under attack from populist and nationalist movements across the world – in Hungary, Italy, Poland, the US and elsewhere. These forces encourage their supporters to look inward and reject the outsider, whether it is an idea or a migrant on a boat. We need to overcome this narrow focus and look out for the interests of everyone.

Because the biggest challenges of today and tomorrow, from climate change to migration, are international, they are minutely interconnected. Individual governments cannot tackle them alone and should not act unilaterally. I say this as someone who has spent his professional life conducting orchestras – the world needs conductors. The conductor ensures that all the sections of the orchestra are in harmony. A populist credo such as “America first” is like having the first violins playing their own tempo regardless of the other groups. In the case of Hungary, the European parliament should lead and coordinate. On Wednesday, MEPs will vote on whether the EU should trigger article 7 of the Lisbon treaty, a legal process that could lead to sanctions on Hungary in response to restrictions on freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary. MEPs have an opportunity (and, I think, an obligation) to help to save Hungary from its own populist dissonance.

I have had the privilege of conducting Wagner in Bayreuth, Mozart in Salzburg and Verdi in Milan. In such productions singers and musicians from all over the world work together. Music has always been an international profession. In the 18th century, Handel, a German, was living in London and Salieri, an Italian, in Vienna. Music brings people together as we make it, obliging us to speak on behalf of people who have no voice.

Hungary is one of the least international of the EU member nations, with a low rate of foreign language learning. Left unchecked, the government of Viktor Orbán will continue to undermine pluralism and further marginalise voiceless minorities.

I am a member of the Helsinki Committee – a human rights organisation originally founded in the Soviet Union in 1976. Our work is exemplified by the need to protect the international Central European University in Budapest, which is under threat of closure from the Hungarian government.

This summer, I took a taxi in Budapest, and the driver told me that all migrants were terrorists and the worst thing any government could do was to allow them into the country. Notions like this, and the idea that migration is part of an international conspiracy, poison a country. I would welcome a debate on the real dangers of populism, the kind of thinking that would allow migrants to die at sea rather than being rescued.

Supporting article 7 – the clause setting out sanctions against member nations when they are found to have breached the EU’s founding values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights, including the rights of minorities – would encourage the country to look beyond the government’s insidious propaganda that misinformed my taxi driver. Today we are facing the same arguments against groups supporting human rights that were made 40 years ago under communism and 80 years ago under nazism. The techniques of autocratic power are the same, and freedom is in danger across Europe once again.

By voting yes on Wednesday, the European parliament can show that it understands both our collective past and the necessity of a collaborative future, and is prepared to stand with us on the right side of history.

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*Ádám Fischer is a Hungarian conductor. He is honorary conductor of the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, and chief conductor of the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, and the Düsseldorf Symphony. September 2018

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EU votes for disciplinary action against Hungary

BBC World

The European Parliament has voted to pursue unprecedented disciplinary action against Hungary over alleged breaches of the EU’s core values.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has been accused of attacks on the media, minorities, and the rule of law – charges which he denies.

MEPs backed the vote by 448 to 197, giving it the two-thirds required for proceedings to go ahead.

If also approved by national leaders, Hungary could face disciplinary action.

Wednesday’s vote is the first time the European Parliament has voted to take such action against a member state under EU rules.

Measures could include suspension of the country’s voting rights in Europe or other sanctions.

Mr Orban personally spoke to the parliament on Tuesday in defence of his country, labelling the threat of censure as a form of “blackmail” and an insult to Hungary.

He claimed a report by Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini was an “abuse of power”, and included “serious factual misrepresentations”.

Since coming to power, Mr Orban’s government has taken a hardline stance against immigration. It introduced a law which made it a criminal offence for lawyers and activists to aid asylum seekers, under the banner of “facilitating illegal immigration”.

Ms Sargentini’s report into Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party alleged such actions were “a clear breach of the values of our union”.

Under an EU rule called Article 7, breaching the union’s founding principles can lead to suspending a member state’s rights as a punitive measure.

Suspension of Hungary’s voting rights is the most serious possible consequence – but is considered unlikely, as Poland’s nationalist government may support Hungary.

Poland is itself facing disciplinary proceedings, launched by the European Commission in December last year. The case has yet to reach the European Parliament.

The decision on Hungary will now be referred to the the EU’s 28 member states to consider.

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Viktor Orban’s most controversial migration comments

‘Muslim invaders’

“We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders,” Orban said in a recent interview with German daily Bild newspaper. The 54-year-old prime minister of Hungary added: “We believe that a large number of Muslims inevitably leads to parallel societies, because Christian and Muslim society will never unite.” Multiculturalism, he said, “is only an illusion.”

‘You wanted the migrants, we didn’t’

When asked by Bild whether it was fair for Germany to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants while Hungary accepted none, Orban responded: “The difference is, you wanted the migrants, and we didn’t.” Migration, he said, threatens the “sovereignty and cultural identity” of Hungary.

‘Migration is poison’

It was not the first time the Hungarian leader has framed migration as a problem for his country. In 2016, he said that Hungary “does not need a single migrant for the economy to work, or the population to sustain itself, or for the country to have a future.” He added: “for us migration is not a solution but a problem … not medicine but a poison, we don’t need it and won’t swallow it.”

‘Importing homophobia’

Orban has repeatedly criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her decision to allow over a million migrants into Germany in the summer of 2015. Orban told Bild in early 2016: “If you take masses of non-registered immigrants from the Middle East into your country, you are importing terrorism, crime, antisemitism, and homophobia.

‘All terrorists are basically migrants’

Orban has also repeatedly criticized the EU for trying to get member states to share refugees based on national quotas. In a 2015 interview with POLITICO, he suggested the bloc’s leaders instead focus more on strengthening the EU’s external border. In the same interview, he said: “Of course it’s not accepted, but the factual point is that all the terrorists are basically migrants.”

‘Parallel societies’

Orban has found allies in other right-wing governments in eastern Europe such as Poland that also oppose the EU’s refugee policies. In an interview with Spanish TV channel Intereconomia in 2015, Orban raised fears about integrating Muslim migrants in the EU when he said: “What sort of Europe do we want to have? Parallel societies? Muslim communities living together with the Christian community?”

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Author: Alexander Pearson –The Guardian

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