Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"Do not be distracted by a delusion of impending normalization."

 Miklós Haraszti
Miklós Haraszti, Hungarian author, published an op-ed today in the Washington Post titled "I watched a populist leader rise in my country. That’s why I’m genuinely worried for America." In this article, he summarized his advice for America in the new era. He bases the advice on experience with Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary. Under Orban he watched the country change "from an exemplary post-Cold War democracy into a populist autocracy." His advice confirms some of my worst fears. He starts with this chilling statement:
"Alas, right now I find it hard to squeeze hope from our past experiences, because halting elected post-truthers in countries split by partisan fighting is much more difficult than achieving freedom where it is desired by virtually everyone."
Here are some of his suggestions:
  • "Do not be distracted by a delusion of impending normalization. Do not ascribe a rectifying force to statutes, logic, necessities or fiascoes. Remember the frequently reset and always failed illusions attached to an eventual normalization of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Orban."
  • "I think hope can be damaging when dealing with populists. For instance, hoping that unprincipled populism is unable to govern. Hoping that Trumpism is self-deceiving, or self-revealing, or self-defeating. ... Or hope extracted, oddly, from the very fact that he often disavows his previous commitments."
  • "Please do not forget that populists can turn into peaceniks or imperialists at any moment, depending on what they think could yield good spin that boosts their support. Remember how Putin and Erdogan had switched, within months this year, from warring to fraternity. Or how Orban in opposition had blasted any compromises with Russia, only to become Putin’s best friend upon his election."
  • "It probably helps to be as watchful as possible on corruption, to assist investigative journalism at any price, and to defend the institutions that enforce transparency and justice. And it also helps to have leaders in the opposition who are not only impeccably clean in pecuniary matters, but also impress as such."
I wonder if an effective opposition here will be able to live up to these plausible suggestions for resistance. Or if we will be destroyed as Hungary has been.

I was intrigued by this author, whose work I had not  heard of. Here is his brief biography from his page at Central European University, where he is director of research on human rights at the Center for European Neighborhood Studies --
"Miklos Haraszti is a Hungarian author, professor, and human rights promoter. His books, including A Worker in a Worker’s State and The Velvet Prison, have been translated into many languages. He was a founder of Hungary’s democracy and free press movement in the 1970s. In 1989, he participated in the "Roundtable Negotiations" on the transition to free elections. As a member of Hungary's parliament in the 1990s, he authored the country's first laws on press freedom. From 2004 to 2010, he directed the media freedom watchdog institution of the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Recently, he headed the OSCE's observation missions for elections in the U.S. and in Kazakhstan. He has taught at several universities, including Bard College, Northwestern University, and the New School. In the past two years, he gave courses on global press freedom issues at Columbia University."

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