Illiberal international seeks ‘cultural counter-revolution’


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, have proclaimed a counter-revolution aimed at turning the European Union into an illiberal project, notes Sławomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement, and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.

Despite their different motivations for embracing illiberalism, Kaczyński and Orbán agree that, in practical terms, it means building a new national culture, he writes for Project Syndicate:

State-funded media are no longer public, but rather “national.” By eliminating civil-service exams, offices can be filled with loyalists and party hacks. The education system is being turned into a vehicle for fostering identification with a glorious and tragic past. Only cultural enterprises that praise the nation should receive public funding.

Orban and Kaczynski pledged to wage a “cultural counter-revolution” together to radically reform a post-Brexit EU, The FT adds:

Exchanging gushing compliments, Hungary’s prime minister and the head of Poland’s ruling party confirmed what many in western Europe had long suspected of being a growing bromance between the conservative ideologues.

“Brexit is a fantastic opportunity for us. We are at a historic cultural moment,” said Mr Orban. “There is a possibility of a cultural counter-revolution right now.”

Katrina Lantos Swett, the daughter of former US congressman Tom Lantos who survived the Holocaust, this week returned a distinguished award to Hungary in protest at its decision to honor a writer accused of anti-Semitism.

Many other organizations, civil society groups, and governments have rightly expressed their disapproval and dismay, including more than 100 individuals who have received honors over the years from the Hungarian government, who also returned their awards in protest, notes Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

From Hungary we can draw important lessons about how to effectively push back against illiberalism and antisemitism, she told an UN Forum this week:

The planned statue to Balint Homan was never erected. A widespread coalition of Hungarian and international organizations, faith leaders, and governments came together to signal their opposition – persuading the Hungarian government to withdraw its support. I’m proud that American civil society organizations and government officials were part of this effort – including many of you here in civil society, and including U.S. Envoy for Combatting and Monitoring Antisemitism and the U.S. Envoy for Holocaust Issues…… Their engagement is one of the many reasons we continue to urge other countries to create a ranking position for monitoring and combating antisemitism within their own governments. But these envoys were far from the only U.S. government officials involved in the effort; as President Obama said recently, our government made clear that the statue was, “not a side note to our relations with Hungary – this was central to maintaining a good relationship with the United States.”


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