April 14, 2014 10:55 pm

Danger of creeping authoritarianism

From Prof Peter Oliver.

Sir, As Ivan Krastev points out (“Orban’s European influence is second only to Merkel’s”, April 11), the danger of the Hungarian government’s authoritarianism spreading to other European countries is severe.

Over the last few years, the Fidesz regime has been criticised – in many cases repeatedly – by such diverse organisations as the Council of Europe (especially the Venice Commission), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Transparency International as well as several EU institutions. Surely, this indicates that something is gravely amiss. György Schöpflin’s plea to the contrary (Letters, April 10) rings hollow.

In particular, he writes that “the Hungarian precedent is dangerous for those who are working for a homogenised Europe, in which there is only unity and next to no diversity”. Apparently, in Mr Schöpflin’s eyes, this “diversity” should extend to tolerating in our midst authoritarian regimes whose attachment to the rule of law, fair elections or diversity at home is tenuous at best.

Ironically, the fact that the Fidesz government has little interest in maintaining the pre-existing rights of minorities is neatly illustrated by a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights delivered last Tuesday. The case concerned a recent statute that deprived several hundred churches of their official registration as religious organisations and their related right to tax relief and subsidies. Unsurprisingly, in that judgment this was held to constitute a breach of the freedoms of religion and of association enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Employing uncharacteristically harsh words, the court described the procedure whereby churches could attempt to regain their official recognition as “politically tainted”.

Peter Oliver, Visiting Professor, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

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