Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Pastor Martin Niemöller, who was imprisoned in a concentration camp by the Nazis in Germany in 1938, points towards exactly those moments when dissent is gradually silenced until it becomes impossible. Of course, the circumstances in 1938 were considerably different to what we witness in today’s Hungary. Yet, there is an important lesson to be learned that applies equally well to the recent closure of the most widely circulated independent newspaper Nepszabadság. This is a blogpost on why it is important not to stay silent on each of the singular attempts by the Hungarian government to close down, threaten and marginalize all dissenting voices in Hungary. We do not want to go into all of the details of the closure here, since they have been widely reported on (you can read those here and here) but give just a brief overview of what happened, before arguing why raising one’s voice in solidarity with Nepsabadság is important for civil society in Hungary at large.
The closure of Nepszabadság affects the civil society in general and thus Migszol just as much as all the other groups, NGO’s, oppositional parties and dissenting individuals because it is not a singular event but stands for a general strategy of the Hungarian government to shut down and silence oppositional voices. It represents a cornerstone for building what Orbán has called an “illiberal democracy”. The thought “who cares, it was not us who was targeted” is an illusion. Fading resistance and silence towards the closure of Nepszabadság will be read by the government as a sign that states “You face no consequences for your oppressing politics!”. To give the government such an impression would lead us straight into the dynamic that was described by Niemöller in his quote - “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” It is thus essential to treat the closure of Nepszabadság not as an unfortunate singular event (which in fact it is not. See only the media laws of 2011), but as part of a more general blow to the freedom to dissent in Hungary all together.
Surely, the closure is a loss not just for quality journalism but for anyone who wants to read and learn more and is unsatisfied with the mindless flattering of the Orbán government. Surely, it means a blow to the freedom of the media in Hungary. But this is not all. The closure of the paper is not only important with regards to democratic principles - the principles that hold that politics is made in discussions amongst divergent opinions. It is important because it signals the bluntness with which Orban is ready to suppress all sort of dissent. The Orban government is testing the waters. It is waiting on how the civil society will react and how far it can go. So far, it seems that resistance against the closure of Nepszabadság has cooled down already a few weeks after it was closed. Yet, we should not be silent. We should raise our voices against those that aim to limit media freedom. We should raise our voices against those that want to silence dissent. We should learn from Niemöller - to speak out, before it is our turn!