These days, states like to define their “values” — either, as in Europe or Australia, to limit immigration, or, as in Asia, to evade criticism of human rights violations. The “values” expressed in European or Australian citizenship tests are largely very similar: freedom of expression, respect for democratic institutions, equality of the sexes and of sexual minorities, non-coercive childrearing, reasoning instead of violence, and so on. Not bad, though who would have thought that the Christian Democratic Party in the conservative German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg would initiate citizenship tests that include questions like “In this country, it is accepted that people who are openly homosexual hold public office. Do you agree with this?” The correct answer is “yes.” Considering Baden-Wuerttemberg’s sociodemographics, it is likely that a large proportion of current citizens would, however, answer “no,” and the question is simply an imagined way of ferreting out supposedly homophobic Muslims. That is perhaps part of the reason why conservative parties embraced these values, rather than, say, faith in God or the importance of family — an alternative set of “European values” espoused by the Vatican and its Eastern European allies, who are not worried about deeply religious immigrants. (Not just because there are few of those, but also because Eastern European politicians are less concerned about the niceties of keeping them out.)
In our recent book Maxikulti, Joana Breidenbach and talk about two Brussels politicians adamant about defending European values. Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister and author of a number of liberal “citizens’ manifestos” that defend openness, tolerance and individualism in the face of the xenophobic moral panic that has followed the rise of home-grown Islamist terrorism. For Maciej Giertych, a member of the European Parliament representing the League of Polish Families (whose presidential candidate he also was), European values are morality, faith in God and respect for parental authority.
Another Eastern European politician who publicly shares these values is Zoltan Balog, chairman of the Human Rights Committee (!) of the Hungarian Parliament and “spiritual adviser” to the opposition leader, Viktor Orban, who is expected to win the 2010 election. In a recent interview, he explained that “it is not right to accept uncritically everything that people want to sell us under the pretext of human rights.” For example, it is not right that “the mayor of Berlin can only win with a large majority by getting out in front of people and declaring that he is homosexual,” or that soccer players are not allowed to pray on the field because that is an imposition of their religion on others. Balog went on to explain that although the state must be distinguished from religion, it “cannot be separated… from it” because “although they are not the same, they belong together.”
It is obvious that Giertych’s or Balog’s “European values” are close to the “American values” of the U.S. religious right or to the “Asian values” of Mahathir Mohamad, Lee Kuan Yew or the Chinese Communist Party than to the “European values” of the citizenship tests. I wonder why this does not receive more public scrutiny — especially considering that Balog’s job is supposedly to ensure that those consensual European values of tolerance and respect for individual rights prevail in Hungary. In this capacity, he is presumably in constant touch with his Brussels counterparts. Yet these fundamental disagreements on the nature and limits of rights and tolerance within the EU’s mainstream institutions remain quite hidden.