The Szájer scandal is about more than individual hypocrisy
The colourful antics of Fidesz MEP József Szájer, caught shinnying down a drain pipe while fleeing an illegal sex party by Brussels police last week, have been a gift to headline writers and meme generators.
As a party that positions itself as a defender of traditional ‘Family Values’ against the ‘decadence’ of a Western Europe corrupted by ‘LGBT+ ideology’, it is easy to focus on apparent moral duplicity. Szájer, a Fidesz founder, famously authored most of Hungary’s 2011 Basic Law on his iPad commuting between Brussels and Budapest: Clauses L.1-3, embedding a heterosexual definition of marriage and the state’s duty to uphold it, are his personal handiwork.
But it is a mistake to linger on this point. Individual hypocrisy is after all ‘the tribute that vice pays to virtue’. What really matters is how Szájer typifies the ethos of an internally disordered polity, and Hungary’s troubled place within the EU’s legal framework.
For starters Szájer, a law graduate and lawmaker, broke local public health regulations amid a pandemic which has devastated the EU state in which he is a temporary migrant-worker. Further, he invoked European Parliamentary Immunity to shield himself from any adverse judicial consequences.
Szájer’s personal conduct encapsulates the elan with which his government flouts EU Law. This rule breaking is facilitated by a claim for immunity (national sovereignty) to frustrate any holding of Hungary’s leaders to account. On a side note, Szájer’s conduct is especially egregious as Fidesz has concertedly undermined the constitutionally guaranteed privileges and immunities of Hungary’s domestic opposition MPs since 2018.
That Szájer and Fidesz, cheerfully believe they can ‘get away’ with such behaviour is regrettable but not irrational: to date they have.
Fidesz-KDNP has long been shielded by a protection racket arrangement within the European People’s Party, which is the EU’s alliance of — theoretically — moderate conservatives. That’s why the EU’s moved against Warsaw over Rule of Law far more swiftly than it did against Budapest.
In fact Fidesz-KDNP is the third largest party in EPP’s European Parliament caucus on paper and second largest in practice — once MEPs from allied ethnic-Hungarian satellite parties in neighbouring states are included.
Fidesz was ostensibly suspended from EPP party structures over Rule of Law concerns in 2019 but continued to operate as an integral part of the EPP parliamentary caucus making a mockery of the disciplinary process. Szájer served as vice-chair and chief whip despite both the suspension and his own frequent defiance of group voting instructions.
There were no consequences.
It looks as if Szájer will be protected from consequences in Budapest too. The scandal broke in Hungary’s small independent media yesterday but the website of state broadcaster MTV led with news of recent approval ratings for the PM. Pro-government outlets like Hirado ignored the story while MTI the state news agency carried only a statement — not a news report — by Szájer acknowledging a technical breach of lockdown regulations without reference to the stories other aspects.
Today Fidesz mouth piece Magyar Nemzet carried a fresh attack on George Soros on its front page, and on lockdown-breaking Belgians on a double page spread inside the paper. Journalists seeking to question ministers arriving for their weekly cabinet meeting were corralled a safe distance away from the Prime Minister’s office in the Castle District.
“Of all things the measure is Man,” claimed Protagoras in the fifth century BC. Philosophers and theologians have long debated that maxim but József Szájer’s career is a handy yardstick for Fidesz today.