The European Union is on the verge of unprecedented action against Hungary. The violation of rule of law and democratic norms by the Hungarian government are many and flagrant. These are well documented in numerous reports published by international organizations (including the EU itself and the United Nations), Non-Governmental Organizations and even exposed through confrontational battles against other countries, such as Norway and the United States. Advanced negotiations are taking place within both the European Parliament and the European Commission for tangible political and economic actions against Hungary. This institutional response must be followed through.
Demonstrations across Hungary and around the world demonstrate people are strongly opposed to the actions committed by Prime Minister Orban and his political party Fidesz. Hungary is a young democracy and while each country develops its own form of democracy fitting to its unique historical social and political landscape, there are inalienable Democractic standards. When these standards are crossed, as they have been in Hungary, it is the role of other countries, and international institutions to step-in and support the muted democratic voices of the people.
There is a generation gap between our current political leaders and those just becoming politically active. The 1956 revolution in Hungary began with students. The current ‘Budapest uprising’ of 2017 contains an unseen level of vibrancy and energy because it is being led by students and young adults. On April 10th, Hungary’s President Ader signed the bill that would shut down Central European University. This political action inspired a spontaneous gathering of this group in front of the Presidential Palace. The jovial atmosphere was laced with intense political disgust for the ruling and corrupt Hungarian elite. Later in the night, the chats were carried through the streets of Budapest ‘waking up’ everyone and culminating in a historical and symbolic protest of raising the EU flag atop the Hungarian state-owned radio building. A flag that already flies across the EU on an infinite number of state buildings.
I also joined the protest that evening. But I went home at 11:00 PM. I had to work the next day. It is then I realized the importance of the young in leading these political revolutions and the importance of institutions to support the public actions of the youth. Institutions are controlled by older generations that assume the events of their own lives are known by the younger generations. Who doesn’t remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and why this happened? Who remembers the role of Gorbachev and Reagan? Recently, I was shocked when I needed to explain who Gorbachev was to a class of university students. It is this generation gap and knowledge of authoritarian systems and democracy that the EU is now facing.
Democracy is not assured. The past political and social struggles are no guarantees that democracy will live on. It is the responsibility of institutions, led by people who remember these past struggles, to protect and ensure respect for our common values, such as freedom of the press, academic freedom and even more central: the right to fair political representation. Each of these core values is already significantly eroded in Hungary. Inaction against Hungary’s violations of democratic norms betrays our common history and the future of not only Hungary’s youth, but the youth and future across Eastern Europe.
The bold political decisions made in the 1980s to challenge and transform the Communist bloc must be protected. The political institutions that once represented democracy against the authoritarian Communist system must re-engage, protect and act to ensure democracy lives in Hungary.