Eastern Europe's extremists and populists line up behind Orban

Eastern Europe's extremists and populists line up behind Orban
Far right Ataka leader Volen Siderov says the Hungarian prime minister "has shown how citizens and Christian values can be protected”.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia September 14, 2018

Two Bulgarian political parties — one of them a member of the ruling coalition — have urged Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to back his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban and object to the European Parliament’s decision to trigger the Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary. The foreign ministry in Poland, Budapest’s close ally within the EU, has already said it will oppose any sanctions imposed on its neighbour. 

The European Parliament voted on September 12 to trigger the sanctions, on the grounds that Hungary has breached democratic values. Orban’s government was accused of silencing the media, putting pressure on NGOs and removing independent judges. 

The report on Hungary authored by Green MEP Judith Sargentini says there is a "clear risk" of a serious breach by Hungary of the values of the European Union and calls for the Article 7 procedure, which ultimately suspends a member state's voting rights, to be opened. This is the first time the parliament has initiated such a procedure against a member state, an unprecedented move that will alter the status of Orban's Fidesz party in Europe.

MEPs voted 448 in favour and 197 against, with 48 abstentions, in Strasbourg on the report that required a two-thirds majority to pass.

Some members of the European People’s Party, of which Fidesz is a member, backed the report, while among those whose votes supported Orban were a few MEPs from Bulgaria’s ruling Gerb party, according to local media.

Bringing the Article 7 procedure to the final stage would require the unanimous support of all other EU member states, which analysts say is unlikely, as Poland has already indicated it would veto sanctions against Hungary.

The European Commission initiated similar proceedings against Warsaw in December and three months later the Hungarian parliament adopted a resolution supporting Warsaw in its fight against the bloc, saying the commission does not have “the right to meddle” in the domestic affairs of member states and that it was “unjustified” in initiating Article 7 proceedings.

The two Bulgarian parties now want to persuade Borissov to line up with Hungary and Poland in the debate over European values that is increasingly dividing the EU. 

On September 14, two Bulgarian political parties — far-right Ataka and populist Volya — tabled to parliament a motion for a resolution urging Borissov to support Orban, who “has dared to stand against the wrongly-understood liberalism and to protect his country”.

Volen Siderov, the leader of Ataka, a small party that is part of the United Patriots, the far-right junior member of Borissov’s ruling coalition, told MPs when presenting the draft resolution that “Orban has shown how citizens and Christian values can be protected”.

“Viktor Orban has shown how one should work, but immediately he was shown the stick of punishment,” Siderov said.

The politician and his party have been known for their radical and anti-EU views. Moreover, Siderov has a history of violence. He had many times started physical fights, as well as offended people and parties, even breaking into the office of the public broadcaster BNT. Although he has been under investigation several times, he has never been sentenced.

One scandal concerns his feud with the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts (NATFA) in Sofia. Back in 2015, the parliament voted to lift Siderov’s immunity after he reportedly harassed students from NATFA on several occasions. Claiming he had information about drug dealing and drugs hidden in the building, he made several personal inspections at small shops around the university. On two occasions Siderov and a group of Ataka supporters entered NATFA's building, shouting insults at students. 

The other party backing the resolution — populist Volya led by businessman Vesselin Mareshki — is not member of the ruling coalition, but supports Borissov’s third government. Mareshki has made several controversial statements in the past, including against a Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. He has also history of expressing radical and discriminatory views on ethnic minorities, homosexuals and women.