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Could the Fate of Europe, Also, Hinge on Budapest?

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Among its nations, Europe is banishing Greece for failing -- it's true, big time -- to fulfill the rules of good economic and financial governance.

A decade ago, it excommunicated Austria -- and with good reason -- when its conservative leaders entered into a coalition with Jorg Haider, leader of the extreme right.

Well, today there exists in the heart of Europe a country whose government gags the media, is dismantling the health and social protection systems, challenges rights once considered acquired, such as that to an abortion, and criminalizes the poor.

There is a country that has revived the most obtuse chauvinism, the most worn-out populism, and the hatred of Tsiganes and Jews, transforming the latter in an increasingly open manner into scapegoats for any and all misfortune, much as they were in the darkest hours of the history of the continent.

There is a country where, in the name of a principle of belonging one can only describe as ethnic or racial, an electoral regime we once thought dead with Nazism grants all "nationals" who are not citizens but scattered throughout the rest of Europe the right to vote.

This country is Hungary.

And this time, Europe remains silent.

Readers of Istvan Bibo's wonderful The Misery of the Small States of Eastern Europe are quite familiar with this cocktail of national obsession, victimized patriotism, and collective, martyrized suffering that makes the Hungarian nation -- like the Polish or the Bulgarian, for that matter -- a sort of Christ-Nation, called upon to protect and restore a threatened civilization, like good King Stephen clashing swords with the Ottomans.

The readers of Danube, Claudio Magris's masterpiece, know how this business of people outside the walls, this manner of granting Magyars on the outside the same rights as those on the inside, this way of saying, especially, that the very soul of the people and its most sacred truth is there at the border, strikes a resounding chord with a very old story, that of the Transylvanian question which still kindles the Hungarian spirit, as it does the Rumanian.

And, in a more general sense, beyond the region, anyone who listens carefully cannot fail to hear what lies at the substance of this form of nationalism, in this definition of the Nation as a blessed and glorious entity, touched to the heart, wounded to the core and hence become a sort of creditor, demanding that the world make up for the outrage. No one can fail to understand that the essence of this concept that turns the national community into a creature of God, a quasi-mystic entity, a being that is whole but separated from itself, one that must urgently find anew its lost purity, is an exacerbated form of an idea that, since the 1930s, has lain at the heart of all forms of fascism.

I do not believe it has come to that.

I do not think that this Europe (that, like Kundera, I prefer to call "Central" rather than "Eastern") has already turned its back on this other vocation, so evident on the Chain Bridge of Budapest, much as it was on the Moldau, in Prague: "We want to return to Europe".

And the fact is that there remains in Hungary itself an opposition vigorous enough to have organized a great demonstration in support of democracy (as well as, it is understood, the European idea) led by the writer Geogy Konrad and others, just weeks ago.

But it is undeniable that this tyrannical, anti-European, and fascistic drift gives one pause. And, in these times of economic and financial crisis, in this hour of a moral and identity crisis that has spread throughout the world, in this very special moment when, if we listen to the demagogues, the very idea of Europe should be scrapped, I fear that the alarm applies not only to Hungary, but to the rest of the continent.

One never knows where the worst might come from, right?

In the shadow of history as it plays out, one can never measure the meaning, the echo, the influence of an event at the time it is happening.

In the Internet age, under the new regime where, for better or for worse, "social network" politics reign supreme, in this hour in which everyone communicates with everyone and where a Marine Le Pen can be linked, by a taut thread, to an extremist leader in Thuringia, Flanders, Northern Italy or, thus, to a Viktor Orban, it is not inconceivable that an increasing number of individuals in Europe perceive in this Hungarian laboratory the actualization of their less and less secret plan: undo Europe, get rid of it and, at the same time, get rid of a corset of democratic rules judged, as during the 1930s, unsuitable in times of crisis.

It is for this reason as well that it is imperative to react.

Governments, opposition heads, declared or undeclared candidates for this election or that, European leaders on the right as well as the left, what is going on in Budapest concerns them all. It is for them also, and for their people, that the bell of liberty will toll there, and that is why we expect from them, and quickly, words of strong and unequivocal condemnation.