We must admit watching Vicky Orbán getting lambasted in a makeshift trail in the European Parliament this Tuesday, September 11, had all the ingredients of antiquity’s best dramas – simultaneously farcical and exhilarating, but also very sad indeed. There was little Vicky, Hungary’s only hope, acting tough in front of his accusers while being reminded about his toxic grip on the same country.
Amidst the rhubarb none was more vocal than EP’s own stationary peacock, the soaring eagle of European liberalism, Guy Verhofstadt, who was kind enough to state the obvious that Orban is in bed with Putin. Duh. We guess it does not hurt to say it a few more times, maybe after being reiterated tirelessly some verses do indeed lead to discernable results. Guy also paid his dues to Hungary’s great “literature and culture”, an allegiance customarily reserved for delineating brute elites from the learned citizenry in illiberal regimes.
The case: Viktor did it
A handful of other remarks words were also thrown down this well. According to Verhofstadt, Orbán was not Hungary, rather a mere authoritarian pimple on the face of a giant nation set to outlive both this pagliaccio and his measly political party. All things considered, this sounded precisely like the kind of tune liberally-oriented politicians would start singing every time they cannot explain why a leader like Orbán or Putin (or whoever those are in bed with) would sit on top of a hitherto normal state.
This narrative posits such ringleaders as power-hungry villains who use their clandestine ways and a bit of Kremlin-dispatched dirty money to swindle the electorate and snatch the rudder. Voters were duped, mind you, they thought they were choosing a prince, but it was actually a crooked Quasimodo.
We assume believers of such portrayals undergo a small personal catharsis when they realize that voters still continue to support their prince-turned-frog even after they are fully aware how fundamentally rotten one really is. Look at how genuinely surprised mainstream media has been recently at accounts showing relentless core support for Drumpf over the Cohen/Manafort trial. A devil whose glaring disregard for any values, let alone democratic ones, is by now visible from the moons of Jupiter.
The defense: Viktor did not do it, the people did it
So how did Hungary allowed itself to be swindled so effortlessly by its charlatan? Wasn’t Hungary this old, well-cultured nation that should have known better in the first place? Get bamboozled once and it might be considered a fluke, a minor mistake with grand consequences, but vote twice for the same conman and it is a pattern.
We have a tentative suggestion why that might be. What if Vicky Orbán actually is the people of Hungary, contrary to Verhofstadt’s suggestion? What if the people of Hungary do indeed want a hard grip on the country’s politics and do not care a single bit about democracy’s untimely gifts?
To us the hypothesis that the majority of Hungarians are actually aware of Orbán’s shenanigans but are consciously casting their ballots for him anyway seems as plausible as the reverse explanation. It seems improbable that “the people” would vote for Vicky three times in a row in the face of his corruption record. But they did. In the same way, it is none other than “the people” of Poland that are so thrilled with what PiS has to offer. It is also “the people” who are increasingly voting in far-right abominations all across Europe.
The verdict: there is an issue with the people
This begs the question – are “the people” dull? Last time we checked the Middle Ages were over, liberal education had been widely available, and in some European countries even free, for some time now. Unlike Russia, attacks on media in Europe’s “illiberal democracies” also did not start overnight: information was and still is available for those who need it. Not to speak about the US media landscape containing some of the most influential liberal opinion-makers worldwide. Yes, the US, where “the people” chose a clueless depraved billionaire for their main man.
It is a daunting task to disentangle why “the people” would want to be ruled by corrupt schemers. It could be that they generally do not understand or desire democracy, particularly considering its slight failure to distribute wealth well. Maybe being fed is after all preferred over free speech. Or maybe it is some dark impulse that mob mentality has scooped from humanity’s underbelly and put on top.
In any case, lending credence to worldviews seeing populism as a one-way avenue, where “the people” only feature as voiceless receivers, might be a tad gullible.
What seems clear is that Europe has an issue with its people.