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ANTI-RACISTS mobilising against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s visit to Britain point out that he and Boris Johnson are “partners in crime.”
This is not to belittle the extreme right character of Orban’s regime. His anti-semitism, unrepentant Islamophobia, persecution of the Roma and anti-immigrant hysteria are combined with a calculated authoritarianism which has seen him grant himself sweeping powers to rule by decree.
But nor do we have the luxury of treating Orban’s regime as an anomaly. His summit with Johnson is no accident.
BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale reflects the broadcaster’s increasing resemblance to a conveyor belt for Downing Street propaganda briefings, asking: “Why on Earth should Johnson decide that [Orban] should … get a warm welcome?” and then relaying a series of unconvincing explanations from inside No 10.
These range from not wanting to seem rude when Orban asked if he could pop round, to needing to press him to take a tougher line on Russia and China.
None reflect the parallels between Orban and Johnson — another leader with a long record of racist remarks, whose legislative agenda from the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to ripping up the asylum system is dangerously draconian and anti-immigrant.
Nor do they show geopolitical insight. Orban may have irritated the EU by importing Russian and Chinese vaccines, but he is hardly a Moscow ally: Hungary is a Nato member participating in the current Russia-baiting Defender Europe 2021 war games and its closest EU partner is the fiercely anti-Russian regime in Poland.
His revanchist “Greater Hungary” narrative and idolisation of dictator Miklos Horthy have much in common with the glorification of Nazi collaborators in Ukraine and the rewriting of World War II history to paint Russia as an aggressor and rehabilitate fascist movements across eastern Europe.
Last month Orban hosted Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and the leader of Italy’s hard-right League, Matteo Salvini, in Budapest, where they vowed to “resurrect” Europe on nationalist lines.
As a key player in the drive to build a coherent European political right, Orban is a useful partner for Johnson’s Tories, while from his perspective Johnson’s success in defeating a revived socialist movement under Jeremy Corbyn and establishing a more authoritarian and xenophobic political “centre ground” make him a man to watch.
Mobilising against this requires a clear-eyed assessment of the balance of forces. In Britain a tendency to view nationalism through the prism of Brexit can distort the picture, leading anti-racists to align themselves with liberalism, markets and the EU itself.
This is a problem when the EU’s immigration policy is — as Orban boasts — completely in line with his own, a “jointly held position” that has seen EU search-and-rescue missions ended, volunteer missions prosecuted and refugees drown in their thousands.
It blinds the left to the role played by liberals in the rise of the authoritarian right. Another European leader who enacts laws by decree, unleashes savage police violence against protesters and pursues a deeply Islamophobic agenda is French President Emmanuel Macron, whose 2017 election was hailed as a triumph for the liberal centre.
French politics has now lurched so far right that former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier pitches a complete ban on all immigration for five years, army officers warn of a “civil war” against Muslims and polls have had fascist Marine Le Pen in first place for next year’s presidential election for the last eight months.
We should not despair. The socialist revival of recent years has not disappeared and the mobilisations for Palestine and against the policing Bill show the left still has fire in its belly. There were similar demonstrations across Europe despite bans and repression.
But we must build an independent socialist anti-racist movement, one which is not compromised by support for a failed market model nor duped by a liberal “centre” that caves repeatedly to the nationalist right.
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