The Moment of Truth

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Judit Varga

The Hungarian government has faced a barrage of criticism from some of the EU’s leadership. Minister for Justice Judit Varga claims this should worry other member states, because they could be next.

Judit Varga is the Hungarian Minister of Justice.

In the wake of Hungary’s successful fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the lifting of its state of danger, one hoped that the moment of truth had finally arrived – what had become an unprecedented level of criticism directed at Hungary would end and those who made such outrageous claims about the country might take a moment for self-reflection. But in this polarized era, it seems the truth matters little if it is inconvenient for the purposes of pushing a political agenda.

I have said before that Brussels is more concerned with demonising Hungary than respecting the rule of law, which should be consistently and equally applied to all Member States. In the face of this, what difference does it make that the extraordinary measures introduced in Hungary were in no way unique in Europe? What difference does it make that Hungary’s Constitutional Court reviewed the country’s new legal provisions on fearmongering and found them constitutional while also confirming that they cover only the intentional spreading of false information and not the freedom of expression?

If we had a genuine moment of truth, it would reveal how vulnerable the “rule of law” toolbox of various international organisations is to political abuse. In the absence of objective standards agreed upon by all EU Member States along with reliable and balanced sources of information and procedures that are transparent and fair to all, the rule of law mechanism currently in place will continue to be captured by particular political interests and be used as a bargaining chip in political horse-trading.

For the foreseeable future, whatever the Hungarian government does, it will remain a target for these politically motivated attacks, charges that we have somehow violated the rule of law. That should concern us all. While the past few months have singled out Hungary, any Member State could one day become a target.

“Quid est veritas?” asks Pontius Pilate of Jesus of Nazareth, uttering perhaps the most famous question in history: “What is truth?” Arguably, Pilate’s main concern at the time was not the existence or philosophical nature of truth but rather its impact on what he was supposed to do as governor. He realised that the truth did not play any role in his political survival, and for the purposes of his political agenda, the truth was irrelevant. The same could be said for certain political figures in the European Union.

For some, the logic of politics has not changed in the past two thousand years. We see this in the criticism levelled against Hungary, these are the people who cried “dictatorship!” when the state of danger was introduced by the Hungarian government and later confirmed by the required two-thirds of the National Assembly in order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Independent” NGOs, along with western, liberal politicians and MEPs, along with representatives of like-minded media were all in perfect harmony: “Hungary has become the first dictatorship in the EU”, “Hungary’s Orban Uses Pandemic to Seize Unlimited Power”, “The National Assembly is being prevented from exercising its prerogatives”, “Courts are not functioning”, “Journalists will be jailed for simply reporting unfavourable opinions”, “Medical staff are forced to work without proper protective equipment.” The same lines echoed across many channels.

What none of these players seemed to realise was that amidst their dutiful iterations, yet woefully inaccurate claims, reality had a different story to tell, with Hungary announcing the end of its special legal order sooner than many other Member States of the EU. What resulted was a jumble of notes, with some sadly continuing the then out-of-tune cries, others anxiously trying to twist reality to fit their own version of truth, and yet others emphatically questioning if the new reality would even prevail.

On 18 June, the Hungarian government terminated the state of danger, while several EU Member States remain under an extraordinary legal order as of today. Thanks to timely and effective measures taken by the government and the cooperation and solidarity of the Hungarian people, we have managed to successfully navigate through the first phase of the pandemic. Measures taken under the state of danger were not only necessary, proportionate and successful but also temporary, as they were always intended to be – a truth that will prevail no matter how many times it is denied by those who seek to push their own political agenda.

I have not given up hope that the moment of truth will come. Not because politically motivated attacks against Hungary will suddenly stop, but because it will be increasingly plain for everyone to see that these attacks have nothing to do with the truth or objectivity.

In the case of Hungary, an orchestrated political offensive was launched that escalated in a matter of days, consisting of coordinated arguments and mutually reinforcing efforts from interconnected actors. This time, we were lucky. Facts eventually prevailed, drowning out their orchestra and its cacophony of falsehoods. This time, it became obvious to all relatively quickly that the Hungarian measures were not those of a dictatorship, but those of a nation in the European family trying its best to navigate a crisis that has challenged every one of us.

Other governments may be convinced that such an ordeal could never befall them. They are wrong.

By the time other Member States realise this, it might be too late. We should all be asking ourselves this question: Is it in Europe’s interest to create new instruments or strengthen existing ones that can be so easily manipulated to serve a political agenda for which the truth is largely irrelevant?

Europe today needs cooperation, cooperation among partners who work to uphold and work toward the truth – a truth that works towards a harmonious, sustainable community that ensures that the rules and laws governing us are equally applied to all. This is a future to which Hungary is prepared to contribute.

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