China under dictatorial rule is better positioned than the West. The free democracies fail. That was the message that Volodymyr Selenskyj spread via video stream a week ago. The Ukrainian president has thus formulated the most open illiberal declaration of war in Eastern Europe since the outbreak of the corona pandemic. The Ukrainian President said literally: "Experience from China shows that tough decisions can overcome the virus and save lives. Experience from other countries shows that softness and liberality are allies of the virus."
Remaining doubts remain whether Selenskyj meant exactly as he said it. After all, the former actor has not been in office for a year and has already made a mistake in the choice of words on another occasion. And yet Selenskyj's anti-liberal failure highlights an entire region. Because the discussion about authoritarian dangers of the corona crisis policy is also being conducted in the West. But even before the pandemic broke out, many of the young democracies in Eastern Europe were particularly vulnerable to populism, nationalism and illiberalism. In view of the Corona crisis, are authoritarian systems of rule now being established permanently?
Hungary and Poland are particularly under scrutiny. EU constitutional proceedings are ongoing against both countries because the national-conservative governments in Budapest and Warsaw have eroded the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press and other fundamental rights.
"Junta like in South America"
And actually it seems above all Viktor Orbán want to use the corona pandemic to further strengthen its power. Later this week, the Hungarian prime minister wants to submit to parliament a bill for a national emergency law that would allow him to rule by decree by the end of the year – without the possibility of a parliamentary revision. Instead, there should be a "parliamentary break".
Opposition politicians in Budapest and opponents of Orbán at home and abroad spoke in the first reactions of the establishment of a "junta as in South America" and a "transition to dictatorship". However, the chances of the head of government for this type of "empowerment", which the critics also spoke of, are not good at first. In the first attempt, Orbán would need a four-fifths majority, which his right-wing national Fidesz does not have. The opposition flatly rejects the plan, which would restrict or abolish many civil rights: "We will not pass a law that will indefinitely subjugate Hungary to Viktor Orbán's whims," said the head of the socialist MSZP, Bertalan Tóth.
However, Orbán could be successful on a second try a week later. Then a two-thirds majority is enough and Fidesz has 133 of 199 mandates, one vote more than necessary. This would not only extend the emergency rules in the fight against the corona epidemic, which in Hungary have been valid for two weeks. Likewise, spreading fake news and panic-fueling news could face up to five years in prison. Elections and referenda would be prohibited until the end of the year.
The Corona crisis shows what power Orbán and his Fidesz have in Budapest thanks to their constitutional majority – and how far they are willing to go if the EU fails as a supervisory authority. The Hungarian prime minister can refer to similar, but not identical, emergency rules in many other EU countries and the USA. Or on comparable demands. In Germany, for example, Boris Pistorius, Minister of the Interior of Lower Saxony, recently brought penalties for false messages into discussion.