From Poland to Austria and Hungary, a new nationalism and hostility to migrants are rife. What does the spread of ‘illiberalism’ mean for the rest of Europe?
In the House of Terror, one of Budapest’s most popular tourist attractions, two mannequins’ torsos stand back to back on a rotating platform, one wearing the uniform of Hungary’s communist secret police, the other that of the Arrow Cross fascist party. They bear mute testimony to the traumas of 20th-century history in this corner of Europe. Mária Schmidt, the museum’s director, says she would like to show her display to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, thus reminding her that in 1945 Hungary was occupied by the two most brutal totalitarian regimes of the last century in the space of a single year. This would, she believes, explain why the country remains fiercely proud of its independence and suspicious of “neocolonial attitudes” towards eastern Europe from Brussels.
“We are Hungarians, and we want to preserve our culture,” Schmidt says, sitting in the museum’s boardroom. “We don’t want to copy what the Germans are doing or what the French are doing. We want to continue with our own way of life.” When the German chancellor visited Budapest in 2009, Schmidt claims she sent her an invitation to a commemorative event but got no response. “There is only one explanation for this,” she says. “She has a heart of ice.”
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