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Orbán’s many critics might find it easier to understand him if they looked beyond the clichés. It is most certainly true that Orbán has distanced himself from his early commitment to playing a leading role in integrating the Central European states into a wider Atlantic community based on the market economy, democracy and the rule of law. But the “far-right” label does as much to mislead as to inform; it is doubtful, for instance, whether Orbán’s highly interventionist and increasingly centralised economic policy, for example, can be so described. This has included bank nationalisation combined with anti-banker rhetoric, the almost complete state monopolisation of energy utilities, which has thereby reversed previous governments’ encouragement of foreign private investment in the sector, and the banning of private majority shareholding, both foreign and domestic, in environmental utilities such as water, wastewater and municipal waste management. Waste management is not a subject to which political analysts are apt to pay much attention, but a recent study of Hungary’s new waste management system show that this effectively removes powers from local authorities and is more centralised even than in Stalin’s day. One consequently feels a tinge of sympathy for Tamas Molnar, one of the leaders of Hungary’s fractious and ineffective socialist party, when he complains that that it is becoming difficult to devise credible populist left-wing economic policies because Orbán has already beaten the socialists to it.

Orbán does not describe himself as a conservative, but shares the belief held by many conservatives that the institutions of international co-operation and the liberal ideology which sustains them are deeply flawed and in need of drastic revision or replacement. He is not entirely consistent about this — he has recently given rhetorical backing for the creation of a European army — but he believes that his conviction that the principal actors on the world stage will inevitably be nation-states is being demonstrated by the onward march of events.

On the issue of immigration he has surely been proved correct: EU policy is now in tatters. Few European leaders believe that new life can be breathed into Schengen, and an increasing number accept, however reluctantly, that the management of immigration inflows must be left to individual states. If they have not already done so, this will inevitably mean following Orbán’s example of fortifying their borders, as indeed Austria and France have done. The Hungarian leader’s deep conviction on this issue has coincided with self-interest. Hungary’s relationship with Germany is by far the most important of its economic ties, but had Orbán not acted swiftly and decisively to oppose Merkel’s initial open-door policy by blocking the arrival of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants seeking to enter Hungary via Croatia and Serbia from 2015 onwards he and his party would have been swept aside, and its imperfect democratic institutions with them. The consequences for Central Europe, where majority opinion strongly favours Orbán’s approach on the issue, would have been calamitous — and the resultant shock waves sufficient to produce a greater crisis in the EU than any it has known during its crisis-strewn history. It is one of the many ironies of the present situation that Europe’s Bad Boy should have acted in a way that helped save it from the consequences of its liberal internationalist instincts. The Western journalists who poured into Budapest in the late summer of 2015 concentrated on the often pitiable plight of the migrants, ignoring the physical and administrative problems their huge surge presented and the government’s determined attempt to uphold the Dublin Agreement (while largely ignoring the unreasonable demands of the migrants in seeking to use Hungary as a conduit to the nation of their choice as well as instances of violence and lawlessness). But they failed utterly to grasp the enormity of what was at stake.

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