Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Opinion

Merkels shameful silence

Dear Angela Merkel,

We address this letter to you as academics, writers and activists who are deeply disturbed by your complicity with the attacks on Hungarian democracy.

Since he was elected prime minister in 2011, Viktor Orbán has turned public broadcasting stations into propaganda outlets, forced the sale of private stations into the hands of his political allies and taken effective control over the most important courts in the land.

He has also massively impeded the work of the countrys NGOs and independent academic institutions, stuffed the countrys electoral commission with his own cronies and rewritten electoral rules to favor his political party, Fidesz. As a result, leading experts believe that the recent elections in Hungary were less than free and hardly fair.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian government has, over the past months, repeatedly fanned the flames of anti-Semitism. Orbán has used public funds for a mass propaganda campaign that suggested that a Jewish banker is the puppetmaster behind an international conspiracy to destroy Hungarys Christian culture.

This silence makes you complicit. Your inaction has effectively made you an ally to anti-democratic and anti-Semitic forces.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Budapest, he went even further, implicitly equating Jews with enemies of the Hungarian nation. “We are fighting an enemy who is different from us,” he said. “This enemy hides rather than operating out in the open; he is crafty rather than forthright; base rather than honest; has loyalty to foreigners rather than compatriots; speculates with money rather than believing in work; and, lacking his own homeland, feels he owns the whole world.”

Leading political scientists are convinced that the survival of Hungarian democracy is now acutely imperiled; some even believe that it has already been effectively dismantled. And yet, you as German chancellor have so far failed to condemn either Orbáns anti-Semitic rhetoric or his concerted attacks on democratic institutions.

Worse, the party you lead remains allied in the European Parliament with Orbáns political party; though the MEPs of the CDU have consistently helped to legitimize Orbán, you have never called for them to change course.

This silence makes you complicit. Your inaction has effectively made you an ally to anti-democratic and anti-Semitic forces.

Orbán picks up a pen accidentally dropped by Merkel | Tibor Illyes/EPA

If religious minorities, including Jews, are to feel safe in Europe, they need to know that the Continents most important political leaders would never sell them out. But how can German Jews take their governments opposition to anti-Semitism seriously when the countrys ruling party counts outright anti-Semites among its closest allies in the European Parliament — and a chancellor who repeatedly pays lip service to the importance of Jewish life in Germany does not even dare to condemn their outrageous rhetoric?

The price that Europe will have to pay for the failure to stand up to Orbán is also much higher than you seem to realize. The European Union is founded on values including democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. By allowing the Hungarian government to destroy democratic institutions and to demonize minorities with impunity, the EU risks turning into little more than a regional trade bloc devoid of common values.

Other aspiring autocrats will take Orbáns success as a sign that they can dismantle national democracy within the EU, and the rot will spread. And without these common values, the mutual trust that underpins the entire structure of EU governance could gradually collapse.

You know from your own experience what it means to live in a country without free speech or meaningful elections. Throughout your distinguished career in public life, you have been admirably forthright about the crimes of the Third Reich and the dangers of anti-Semitism. Your evident abhorrence for dictatorship helps to explain why you have long commanded great respect, both in your own country and around the world.

Your shameful silence about Hungary is now rapidly undermining that respect. We are well aware that it is, for many reasons, politically expedient for you to ignore what is happening in Hungary. But the survival of democracy and the safety of European Jews should never be treated as a mere matter of political expediency.

And so the only minimally honorable course of action that remains open to you at this late stage is to condemn Orbáns attack on democratic values and to call on the European Peoples Party to expel Fidesz.

Sincerely,

Yascha Mounk, lecturer on government, Harvard University and author of “The People vs Democracy” (Harvard University Press, March 5, 2018)

Volker Beck, former member of the Bundestag and former parliamentary speaker on human rights for the Green Party

Georg Diez, columnist, Der Spiegel

Hasnain Kasim, journalist and author

Brian Klaas, fellow in comparative politics, London School of Economics

Sheri Berman, professor of political science, Barnard College

Jennifer Rubin, author of the Right Turn blog, Washington Post

R. Daniel Kelemen, Jean Monnet Chair in European Union Politics, Rutgers University

Grzegorz Ekiert, professor of government and director of the Center for European Studies, Harvard University

Steven Levitsky, professor of government, Harvard University and co-author of “How Democracies Die” (Crown, January 16, 2018)

Daniel Ziblatt, professor of government, Harvard University and co-author of “How Democracies Die”

Lamya Kaddor, author, pedagogue and scholar of Islam

Jerry Taylor, director, Niskanen Center

Edward Luce, author, “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” (Atlantic Monthly Press, June 13, 2017)

See here for a complete list of signatories.

Original Article

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