Trump and Brexit hurt Hungary, says liberal presidential candidate

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Lszl Majtnyi says global events have bolstered authoritarian leaders such as Viktor Orbn while weakening civil society

Donald Trumps election and the prospect of Brexit have weakened democracy and civil society in Hungary just as campaigners are fighting against a rising tide of authoritarianism, the liberal candidate for the countrys presidential election has said.

Lszl Majtnyi said the psychological impact of Trumps arrival in the White House represented a greater setback for civil groups in Hungary and other former communist eastern European countries than it did in the US, where he said democracy was probably robust enough to survive.

The victory of Trump is bad news for Hungarian democrats, Majtnyi told the Guardian ahead of Mondays presidential election in which MPs will vote to replace Jnos der, a member of the rightwing governing Fidesz party, as Hungarys president.

I think its much worse compared with the people of the United States because I am sure that civil society and democracy in the United States is extremely strong. But the new American administration is a threat to democracy in the Baltic countries and not very good news for the Hungarian people.

Majtnyi, 66, said democratic forces had been similarly affected by Britains impending departure from the EU, which he said had bolstered authoritarian leaders such as Viktor Orbn, Hungarys prime minister, who has spearheaded a drive to turn his country into an illiberal state while openly flouting EU norms on issues like migration policy.

While the governments stable parliamentary majority in the 199-member chamber makes victory on Monday unlikely, Majtnyi said his candidacy for the mainly ceremonial post was a moral decision driven by the need to keep democratic values alive in a climate of growing authoritarianism.

Viktor Orbn, the prime minister of Hungary, seeks to turn his country into an illiberal state. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

It comes before an anticipated government clampdown on NGOs and civil groups, which are likely to face stricter funding regulations under legislation expected to be disclosed in the coming days.

Opponents have labelled Majtnyi the Soros candidate in reference to the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist George Soros, whom Orbn and his allies have depicted as a hate figure representing a discredited liberal globalism.

Soross Open Society Foundation provides grants to numerous Hungarian NGOs, including the Eotvos Karoly Public Policy Institute, established in 2003 and which Majtnyi headed until he took leave for the duration of his presidential candidacy. Orbn and his allies have threatened to drive Soros-funded groups from Hungary, saying Trumps election provides a favourable climate.

Majtnyi, a former ombudsman and ex-chairman of the national television and radio authority, denies representing Soros and dismissed the accusation as a practical joke.

Im accused by the press of the government, and by media owned by businesspeople very near to the Hungarian government, of representing Mr Soros and several times I heard that Im the governor of Mr Soros in this country, he said. They even talk about me being a criminal.

By contrast, Majtnyi described himself as an independent intellectual, a professor of law and a well-known public figure. The Open Society Foundation also rejected the characterisation of Majtnyi as Soross representative.

If he was the candidate of George Soros, then George Soros would make a statement of public support endorsing his candidacy, said Goran Buldioski, the foundations European director. This is a smear campaign against the NGOs. Its litmus test for the EU because its also an attack on European values.

Such protestations have been rejected by Orbn.

Zoltn Kovcs, a spokesman for the prime minister, called Majtnyi a symbolic figure of the Soros network in a recent interview with the Guardian and said his candidacy proved the governments contention that foreign-funded NGOs were meddling in Hungarian politics.

But Majtnyi likened the governments campaign to tactics suggested in Machiavellis The Prince.

It is a very interesting recommendation of Machiavelli that if you have no enemy, you have to look for one that you can [defeat], he said. Last year the enemy was the refugees and this year it will probably be George Soros, and the Hungarian government will get a huge victory over the Soros foundation and the civil society. I think these actions are absolutely immoral.

He said it was no longer possible to call Hungary a constitutional state under the changes introduced by Orbns government, which liberals argue have weakened judicial independence and stifled freedom of the press.

It is not a dictatorship but an authoritarian system, he said. In Hungary there is no state terror. Only a verbal one. There are no democrats in prison. This is the difference between a dictatorship and an authoritarian system.

The EU had no tools to protect Hungarian democracy, Majtnyi said, but he insisted it was essential for Hungary to stay inside the union in order for things to improve.

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