From Turkey to China, strongmen rewrite the past to suit their ends. But democracies are not immune to this revisionism
On 22 July, the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán stood before university students and delivered a speech titled “Will Europe belong to Europeans?” It contained rambling passages about how a “Soros plan” was in place to bring in “hundreds of thousands of migrants every year – if possible, a million – to the territory of the European Union from the Muslim world”. The aim was to transform the continent into “a new, Islamised Europe”. This, Orbán argued, was what lay behind “Brussels’ continuous and stealthy withdrawal of powers from the nation states”. Orbán has form when it comes to this kind of paranoid vision. He’s an authoritarian populist who has made a habit of stoking xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment. He eagerly amplifies far-right conspiracy theories about the Christian majority being threatened by demographic “replacement”. His message isn’t just fake news about the present, however. It comes laced with historical distortion.
Orbán’s message isn’t just fake news about the present. It comes laced with historical distortion