In the wake of a Russia-style crackdown on civic groups in Hungary, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, to respect his country’s political opposition and civil society during a visit to Budapest this week.
“I have indicated that even if you have a broad majority, as the Hungarian prime minister does, it's very important in a democracy to appreciate the role of the opposition, civil society, and the media,” Merkel said after meeting with Orban, EurActiv reports.
Later she told students that civil society “is our strength and the reason for our success, as is an independent and pluralistic media environment,” according to Bloomberg.
Referring to Orban’s praise of “illiberal democracy” last year, of which he held up Turkey and Russia as examples, Merkel said, “I cannot put the words ‘illiberal’ and ‘democracy’ together.”
Since 2010, Orban’s conservative Fidesz party has had a commanding majority in parliament. It has introduced politically tinged regulation for the media and significantly curtailed the power of Hungary’s judiciary. More recently, the government has gone after nongovernmental organizations, labeling some of them “foreign agents” in an echo of Russian practice.
Germany is Hungary’s top foreign investor (pdf), and in a joint press conference, Orban thanked the country for the 300,000 jobs that German firms have created in Hungary. But he insisted, “Those who say that democracy is necessarily liberal are trying to put one school of thought above the rest and we’re not going to grant that privilege,” according to Bloomberg.
Hungarian analyst Markus Schicker dismissed Merkel’s remarks as “toothless,” according to EurActiv. He said the EU should be monitoring and sanctioning Hungary for violations of the bloc’s guarantees on the rule of law, human rights, and pluralism.
Merkel urges Orban to respect dissenting voices