Michael Ignatieff: Liberalism in Search of a New Self

Steve Paikin speaks with Michael Ignatieff, rector and president of the Central European University and former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, about his university’s ongoing battle with the Hungarian state, populist unrest in Europe, and his impressions of Canada’s recent election.

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almost a decade ago Michael Ignatieff
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fought a tough election as leader of the
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Liberal Party of Canada although he
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didn’t win the day then it turns out it
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may have been a meaningful precursor to
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the fight he’s been facing of late
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having returned to academic life as the
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rector and president of the Central
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European University in Budapest he’s
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been making the case for small L liberal
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values in the university’s ongoing
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battle with the Hungarian government so
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joining us now to reflect on that and
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the wider context of populist unrest in
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Europe here’s the former MP for
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Etobicoke lakeshore there’s Michael
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Ignatieff welcome back nice to be here
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and whenever I say welcome back to you I
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always have to start by reminding
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everybody you used to do a show here at
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TV in this studio I don’t know how many
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years ago but it was a lot absolutely I
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can’t believe I’m still standing well
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you’re sitting at the moment but anyway
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the last time we spoke your University
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was in Budapest Hungary yes where is it
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now well we’re never gonna leave
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Budapest we we stood up for academic
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freedom and we defied this regime so
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we’ll always maintain a presence in
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Budapest but they’ve rendered it illegal
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for us to offer our us masters and
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doctorates in Budapest so we’re doing
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them in Vienna so we have we’ve
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recreated the austro-hungarian Empire we
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have a campus in Budapest and a new
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campus in Vienna but it’s a kind of
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scandal Steve that in the 21st century a
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member of the European Union an ally of
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Canada a member of NATO could get away
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with throwing a university out of its
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country because it doesn’t like the
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politics and it doesn’t like we’re
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frankly a liberal institution in the
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small-l sense of it that we believe in
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academic freedom liberal democracy and
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those values and that’s the beef he has
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with us and so he’s pushed us to move
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next door he is Viktor Orban the prime
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minister he is Viktor Orban I never met
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him no I’ve never had the I’ve never had
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the pleasure and then that’s significant
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in a normal country the university
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president might talk to a prime minister
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from time to time we’ve sought
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continuously to have some contact with
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him but it’s just not possible he
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determined that he could win an election
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in 2018
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by making George Soros who founded our
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University his chief number-one enemy so
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if George Soros was the number-one M
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enemy then the University he founded our
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university would be you know the number
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one enemy and that’s what it’s about
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it’s a political battle in which an
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illiberal single-party state has lined
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up against academic freedom and
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institutional autonomy and so we’ve had
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to fight back and and it’s been a it’s
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been kind of brutal battle the the the
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official media never stops coming after
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us it’s a very unfamiliar position for a
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university to be in because most of the
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time people don’t even notice
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universities are there and suddenly
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you’re constantly under attack but we
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fought back and I feel proud of the team
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that has fought with me because we’re
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fighting for something important there’s
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a connection between democracy and free
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institutions we forget how important to
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democracy is the idea of free
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self-governing institutions like
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universities and when you attack a
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university you are eventually attacking
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democratic freedom he calls it George
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Soros University why did you do that do
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you think well because he wants to brand
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us with kind of an association with you
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know let’s remember who George Soros is
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he’s a Hungarian Holocaust survivor made
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a huge amount of money on the
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international markets has now given away
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billions to promote difficult unpopular
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causes like human rights and founded
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this university why to help the
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countries of Eastern Europe move from
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communism to democracy but there must be
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there must be something about evoking
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the Soros name in Hungary that he feels
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resonates with his base what do you
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think that is well then we get into
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complicated territory
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George is Jewish some of the rhetoric
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not some of it a lot of the rhetoric has
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been anti-semitic while denying that
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it’s anti-semitic so there’s a lot of
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stuff about the
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Paulette rootless speculator who ruins
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the lives of ordinary people has no
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national attachments no national roots
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no national commitments where have we
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heard that language before and they
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surface that language and it calls up
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the devil from the deep as it were and
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then when you say but this is
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anti-semitic language they say how dare
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you right so it’s the anti-semitism of
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the 21st century and it’s very alarming
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to be to see it happen you think you
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know let’s remember in 1944 500,000
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Hungarian citizens were exterminated in
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the space about 8 weeks so you really
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don’t want to go back to this this is
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just poison all the way down and when
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they play with it I feel I feel that
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they’re there they’re there they’re
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playing with fire and it gets me steamed
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up to see it happen when we thought you
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know never again to the best of my
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knowledge
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orbán studied liberal arts in Great
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Britain during his younger days what do
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you think’s happened to him well his
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story is a parable of what’s happened to
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the transition from communism to
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democracy in in Europe he did have a
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scholarship paid for by George Soros he
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went to Oxford he was a heroic figure in
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1989 because he was the first young
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student leader to call for the retreat
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or removal of Soviet troops in Hungary
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then I think he understood I think he
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felt dissed by the Budapest liberals
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he’s a country very smart able country
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boy he felt I’m a rural guy these urban
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sophisticates you know and and then I
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think he saw just how conservative the
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base of Hungarian society is just how
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fearful they were of being integrated
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into a global capitalist economy just
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how fearful they were about the future
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of their language their national
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identity there’s some of their religious
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identity and now that’s bad too you know
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to want to preserve that but he went
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right into that grab that nationalist
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conservative
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strand in Central and Eastern Europe but
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it’s a strand in every society and he’s
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built a political career on it very
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effectively I mean this this is a master
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politician I he Hungary’s a small
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country but the whole world talks about
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him because he’s tried to do something
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that you know he’s a model for a lot of
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people air21 in Turkey mr. Netanyahu in
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Israel
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mr. Kachinsky in Poland and even mr.
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Putin they respect mr. Orban because
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he’s creating a new form of single-party
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rule for the 21st century and it’s it’s
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is justified by democracy I mean mr.
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Rubin wins elections and then he uses
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elections against democracy by eroding
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civil liberties by eroding the
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independence of the courts by you know
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and then coming after the universities
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so he set a new path in the liberal path
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which is pretty significant pretty
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important that’s why I think Canadians
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and Ontarians listening to this ought to
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pay attention to what’s happening in in
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in in Hungary I’m not saying it’s coming
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to a neighborhood near you but I’m
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saying it is concerning to see a great
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democratic society go towards a
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single-party state in this way it should
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concern us all I want to share with you
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and our viewers and listeners on
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podcasts two sets of numbers here which
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compare popular opinions in Hungary and
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in Poland and then I’ll get your take on
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this so according to Pew Research this
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is what Hungarians say are the very
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important liberal democratic values for
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their country
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apparently 95 percent support a fair
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judiciary eighty-five percent support
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gender equality eighty seven percent
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support free speech 76 percent support
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of free media eighty seven percent
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support regular elections 68 percent
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support free opposition party so some
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pretty high numbers and here it is in
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Poland and these numbers are all lower
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only 72 percent supporting a fair
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judiciary only 69 percent supporting
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gender equality 61 percent supporting
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free speech 64 percent supporting a free
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media 63 percent supporting regular
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elections less than half the people
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supporting free opposition parties the
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agendas got some great numbers there
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it gives me a lot to think about and I
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don’t have an instant answer for the
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comparison between Hungary and Poland
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but I think it shows something hopeful
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in my view which is that people vote for
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Orban because they don’t have actually a
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better alternative it’s important to
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remember that the opposition which you
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know picks up those numbers has never
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been able to consolidate around a single
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candidate that people can support so
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Orban has benefited massively from a
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divided opposition but those numbers are
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telling you that Hungarians want to be
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consistent with European values and
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human rights standards and if those
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numbers tell you that if a candidate got
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together and said folks I want to make
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those those numbers mean something I
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want free courts I want free media I
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want real political pluralism I think
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those numbers are telling it that
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opposition figure could win an election
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now when when that will happen I don’t
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know but it indicates a an important
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thing about liberalism is that it is a
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mistake to think that Orban reflects the
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country orbán shapes the country from
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the top-down but this is a country that
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wants to be a modern Western European
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democratic society what it doesn’t have
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is an opposition that can express that
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but here’s the the proof of what I’m
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saying is that about a month ago the
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city of Budapest elected an opposition
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mayor a moderate pragmatic liberal green
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candidate who swept the board swept out
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the fit as the the government mayor and
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that’s a sign of what those numbers are
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saying to you
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they won’t change so I I don’t feel
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Orban as the end of the story and I
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don’t think a liberal ISM is going to
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triumph over liberal democracy I think
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those numbers are telling us an
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important story not just in Hungary but
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also in Poland though I can’t explain
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the difference between the two numbers
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let me now read an excerpt for you this
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is by Yvonne Kruschev and Stephen Holmes
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an excerpt from their new book and here
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we go Central European elites saw
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imitation of the West as a well-traveled
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pathway to normality encouraged by hopes
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of joining the EU the reformers
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underestimated the local impediments to
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liberalisation and democratization and
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overestimated the feasibility of
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importing fully worked-out Western
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models the wave of anti liberalism
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sweeping over Central Europe today
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reflects widespread popular resentment
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at the perceived slights to national and
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personal dignity that this palpably
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sincere reformed by imitation project
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entailed what’s your view on the
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suggestion that well I think the
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suggestion is that Eastern European
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countries are really not quite ready to
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recreate Western cultures in their midst
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well that’s a very good book by Yvonne
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Kraus 7 Stephen Holmes these are people
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I know and respect and they really know
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the ground they’re making a key point I
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think which I think Canadians would
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resonate with which is that nobody likes
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to be told the only way you can go is to
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copy someone else Canadians don’t want
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to copy Americans we like living beside
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them but there are a lot of things we do
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not want to copy Eastern Europeans do
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not want to copy you know Germany and
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France they don’t want to be Germans
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they want to be Hungarians Czechs and
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poles that’s what that story is telling
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you emulation copying being told that’s
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the only objective you can have creates
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resentment because people wanted to fin
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they want to defend what they have they
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want to defend being Hungarians urban
12:37
has been a genius at capturing that
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resentful feeling that they don’t want
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to just become Germans or French people
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they want to stay on Geary and and so
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you know nationalism patriotic pride is
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just the building block of all politics
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everywhere and liberals forget that at
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their peril and if you have a if you
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have a political story that says we want
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to be transnational we want to be
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cosmopolitan we want to have you know a
13:04
borderless world at a certain point
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there’s gonna be a push back and we see
13:09
the push back in Europe but we all would
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see we would also see it in Canada
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Canadians want be Canadians we’ve had a
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hundred and fifty plus year experiment
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in being
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different doing our own saying and I I
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just think that’s bedrock to all
13:24
politics everywhere whether you’re a
13:25
conservative whether you’re a liberal
13:27
whether you’re a new Democrat who ever
13:29
you’re if you don’t have a story about
13:30
why you love your country and want to
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defend it and keep it distinctive in
13:34
itself you’re not going to win an
13:36
election
13:36
have we been too arrogant in the West
13:38
suggesting you got to be more like us if
13:40
you want to be ready for primetime I
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think I think the straight answer is yes
13:45
sometimes arrogant it’s been appropriate
13:48
for us because I teach human rights for
13:50
us to say look every democracy is going
13:53
to be different but we think democracy
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is a better system than a totalitarian
13:58
or authoritarian one we should have said
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a little more you know there are
14:03
different strokes for different folks
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democracy doesn’t come in one color
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one-size-fits-all Canadian democracy is
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completely different from American
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democracy to the south
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Hungarian democracy will will have its
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own national characteristics where we
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were right to say is look there’s some
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things you should never do to anybody
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and that’s what we’re saying with human
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rights you know don’t torture don’t
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imprison without trial don’t you know
14:28
treat people with the basic elements of
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justice there are some universals but i
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think it was right for us to say we
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stood for but i think we paid much too
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little respect to the national histories
14:40
the specificities of countries their
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pride their desired not to emulate other
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people but to be themselves i think i
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think that’s the story we did get wrong
14:49
in the nineties blood and belongings
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still matters oh yeah if I can steal a
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chat app so tightly from a book
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absolutely I mean that that was I think
14:58
that’s the thing I learned actually from
15:00
Quebec nationalism weirdly I mean I we
15:03
we had this dingdong battle about the
15:06
future of our country in the 80s and the
15:07
90s when I was a student growing up and
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it taught me to respect nationalism it
15:12
taught me to respect the stubbornness of
15:14
it and I think the trick Canada’s tried
15:16
to manage is we can share the same house
15:19
you know and easy let me sort of lay out
15:23
this sort of well-worn political path
15:24
and have you tell us what we’re supposed
15:26
to make of it
15:26
progressives want progress for a
15:29
significant number of people progress
15:31
represents
15:32
a threat to their sense of what is
15:34
normal clashes ensue populist s– gain
15:38
attention they win elections what do you
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do with that kind of conundrum yeah I’ve
15:46
lived this you know you go to towns in
15:49
southwestern Ontario where the steel
15:51
mill is just closed or where you know
15:53
they’ve relocated something across the
15:55
border or they ship the jobs out
15:56
altogether
15:57
and that’s progress in the sense that
15:59
it’s capitalist progress it helps the
16:02
stock price and it’s a killer for the
16:04
for the working people and a lot of
16:07
those folks didn’t finish high school
16:09
and they’re in their 50s and you think
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I’ve never felt so bad being in public
16:14
offices I was facing those folks because
16:16
I’d you did the blah blah blah but you
16:18
know it was kind of empty and they were
16:19
too smart not to know it was a bit empty
16:21
you know job retraining and got to have
16:24
hope you got to have faith and you know
16:26
they just looked crumpled bye-bye bye
16:28
Automation job relocation progress and
and I think liberalism liberal
gradualism of the kind I passionately
believe in often meets its limit at that
moment when when progress and change
really hurts livelihood another place
where I think progress is running up
against a real limit is the green agenda

because I think you know progress
absolutely requires us getting our co2
down and it’s a national project that
we’ve got to get right but it’s it’s
dividing the country west-east it’s
dividing smokestack people working in
smokestack industries and fuel intensive
industries from those in the tomorrow
industries and we just haven’t we we’ve
got the wrong idea about green politics
which is we’re all supposed to agree
this is the great civilizational
challenge and it’s kind of above
politics

green politics is politics all the way
down because it’s so divisive
and I
think liberalism has been slow to
adopted green agenda and it’s been slow
17:37
to understand then how do we get these
17:39
share conflicts adjudicated I mean the
17:42
West wants that pipeline built to
17:44
Tidewater Eastern Canada
17:46
says hell no i we that’s the only way we
17:48
can make our targets if we keep the
17:50
stuff in the ground Alberta is
17:52
absolutely incandescent with anger at
17:55
the threat and and the fatal mistake
17:58
would be to turn this into a kind of
18:00
tribal religious conflict to say you
18:03
know oh the Albertans don’t care about a
18:05
green agenda you know to divide us that
18:09
way a liberal politics that says look
18:11
we’ve got a common objective which is to
18:13
save the planet how do we make these
18:15
tough choices together you talk you talk
18:18
you talk everybody puts water in their
18:20
wine and we you know this is a real test
18:23
for what I love which is liberal
18:24
gradualism you know step by step patient
18:27
adjudication of interest which is how
this country holds together but boy the
green stuff is really the biggest
challenge we’ve got in Canada in the
21st century I really mean it the green
agenda is the most divisive issue in
Canadian politics and it will be for a
long time
also because the aboriginal
factor if your side doesn’t figure out
its side of the argument and there are
18:49
more people like XI and Trump and Boris
18:52
Johnson and air Dhawan and Modi and and
18:54
then you mentioned those Eastern
18:56
Europeans Kachinsky and/or bun then they
18:58
come along they’re gonna win so your
19:03
side of the arguments kind of got its
19:04
get its act together pretty soon don’t
19:06
you think well I think we need to be we
19:10
need to be go on the offensive we need
19:14
to say and it’s an unpopular thought
19:16
because it sounds kind of complacent but
I don’t think it is that liberal
gradualism is the only thing that’s
going to get the green agenda done
if
you think about how far we’ve come since
1970 when I was a student there was
19:32
barely any ecological or environmental
19:34
consciousness at all there was very
19:37
little understanding of what the climate
19:38
science was meaning in 50 years there’s
19:41
been an absolute change every single
19:44
thinking person in the world now we’ve
19:47
got to make the choices but the the
19:49
increase in our consciousness has been
19:51
enormous the public policy is getting
19:55
sharper and sharper here’s an here’s a
19:58
significant fact
19:59
if you look at the places in the world
20:02
where emissions co2 emissions have
20:06
platformed out that is we’re still
20:09
putting too much out there but there is
20:11
no growth in co2 emissions they are all
20:13
in liberal democratic societies which
20:17
tells you that a liberal democratic
20:20
society is actually very it’s built for
20:22
adjudicating share conflict it’s built
20:25
for getting people to recycle it’s built
20:28
for getting a price on carbon it’s get
20:31
it’s built for getting the cost
20:33
renewables down and those societies
20:36
democratic societies are doing actually
20:38
a better job of that than authoritarian
20:41
China than authoritarian Russia and we
20:44
need to hold on to confidence that it’s
20:46
actually through democracy that we get
20:49
an adjudication of these political
20:51
conflicts over green issues its renewed
20:55
my faith in democracy not made me more
20:57
pessimistic about democracy we either do
21:01
the green agenda democratically we’re
21:03
not going to do it at all I can’t have
21:05
the former leader of the federal Liberal
21:07
Party in that chair and as I hinted at
21:09
earlier and not ask him questions about
21:11
Canadian politics you knew this was
21:13
coming how carefully did you follow the
21:15
last just-completed federal election in
21:17
this country well I get it on my news
21:20
feed every morning and my wife and I sit
21:23
in bed and feel basic relief that we’re
21:26
not in the bear pit are still did you
21:29
take any particular lessons away from
21:31
the results of that election well I
21:35
think a minority government it was a
21:38
kind of a bit of a slap in the face to
21:41
my party in a way and I think there’s a
21:43
kind of sense of relief that it wasn’t
21:45
worse that the minority is quite strong
21:47
mr. the Prime Minister campaigned hard
21:49
he’s an unbelievable campaigner and I
21:51
think they kind of pulled it out but I
21:53
think it’s been sobering and I think
21:55
that’s probably good for a Liberal Party
21:57
I think it will force much more cross
21:59
party collaboration I think that’s good
22:02
I think you can see a minority
22:04
government lasting for a while how
22:06
long’s a while well they usually last 18
22:09
to 24 months I could see this going
22:11
three possibly four
22:13
or actually but look year’s possibly
22:16
possibly just because I think that the
22:18
stars are aligning and a certain way to
22:20
favor stability and I think as I said
22:23
before the green issues are the really
22:26
tough ones there are national unity
22:27
issues in our country and handling them
22:30
wisely will be the test of the next the
22:33
next mandate but I think the stars are
22:35
aligning to make this make this better
22:39
we’ve had a very strong resurgence of
22:42
Quebec nationalism we’ve had a very
22:44
strong resurgence of Western alienation
22:46
I think it’s important just to remember
22:48
we have been here before this is the
22:50
this is the ground condition of Canadian
22:52
politics since forever
22:54
I don’t see it as being fundamentally
22:56
new the thing I do see is new is that
22:58
the share conflicts are now
23:00
fundamentally about the green agenda in
23:02
a way that they weren’t in the 70s or
23:04
80s so they weren’t in the nationalist
23:06
period before now the green agenda is
23:10
the is the thing where we’ve got to get
23:12
our public policy right but I you know I
23:15
I think that I hope the the election was
23:20
a lesson in humility sobriety you say
23:25
you hope because that is certainly one
23:26
of the questions that’s percolate in
23:28
Canadian politics right now is you know
23:30
did the Prime Minister and did his party
23:32
understand that they were that they
23:34
ought to be somewhat chastened right now
23:36
and the jury is out on whether they are
23:37
yeah I think they should be I I am not
23:42
in a position to give anybody any
23:44
political advice since you will recall
23:46
how just how well I did and in that last
23:49
election so I’m not I I don’t actually
23:51
have the credibility to give anybody
23:53
least of all my successor advice but I I
23:56
would hope that it’s chastening and
23:58
sobering the public sent this government
24:01
a message and I think they will because
24:04
they’re all very politically smart the
24:06
Prime Minister whatever is a very shrewd
24:08
political you know master of his game he
24:12
will read the tea leaves I have no doubt
24:15
about it it’s one of the takeaways from
24:17
this election that some politicians
24:20
amazingly have incredible layers of
24:22
teflon and others don’t
24:25
yes I think that’s true
24:26
I think that I think there’s no question
24:28
and that’s a huge political asset but
24:32
again don’t don’t abuse it don’t misuse
24:34
it be careful that that’s that’s that’s
24:37
pure treasure it’s pure lightning in a
24:39
bottle
24:39
don’t don’t don’t overdo it as a guy you
24:42
can lose it sure and as a guy who’s been
24:44
through all that do you find a sort of
24:46
fundamental injustice in in who gets the
24:48
Teflon and who doesn’t no no no no this
24:52
is about this is about deep stuff in our
24:56
in our in our country you have a Prime
25:00
Minister speaks both official languages
25:02
perfectly who is credible and both of
25:05
our fundamental national communities a
25:08
man who has a name that is deeply
25:13
resonant in Canadian politics I’m not
25:15
you know and he’s a good-looking guy I
25:17
mean he and he put it all together I
25:20
mean you know you know I I feel you know
25:24
the key question is whether he will use
25:28
these gifts wisely
25:30
in the next mandate and that’s it that
25:33
will be a test of his leadership it’ll
25:35
be a test of his toughness it’ll be a
25:36
tough test of his decisiveness it’ll be
25:39
a test of whether he’s willing to get
25:41
down and really master the difficult
25:46
questions of national unity this this
25:48
the the job of a prime minister is keep
25:52
a country together that’s that’s what
25:55
you do and he will have to keep the
25:58
country together and that means
25:59
Aboriginal Canada means Western Canada
26:01
means go back it means all our regions
26:03
it’s one of the most difficult political
26:05
jobs in the world and as a bystander I
26:09
can only wish him the very best of luck
26:11
because you know the country’s future
26:13
depend on depends on his wisdom his
26:16
sobriety his humility and his discipline
26:18
I want to just finish up by I always
26:23
like to have a little fun with you when
26:24
you come in here because you do have
26:26
history with this place and I want to
26:28
remind everybody that it was almost
26:30
exactly 25 years ago that you and I sat
26:33
in this very studio and talked about a
26:35
book that you had just written called
26:37
blood and deal belonging about the
26:39
spasms of national is
26:40
in the world as much as I fear doing
26:43
this you want to see what we look like
26:44
25 years ago when we had that
26:46
conversation really Steve I really dread
26:49
this boy you’re gonna see a lot of miles
26:51
on the clock okay Sheldon let’s let’s
26:56
introduce the horror show to come roll
26:58
it please what we have to find is a form
27:02
of state government or state order that
27:06
allows ethnic groups to have
27:08
self-determination in the states that
27:10
matter this is why the Canadian story is
27:12
so important so crucial if we can show
27:15
that you can have two nations and I
27:18
regard the québécois as a nation if we
27:20
can have two nations sharing a single
27:23
state we can prove that you do not have
27:26
to fragment state structures in order to
27:28
give nations self-determination in other
27:32
words we can have a situation in which
27:34
we can collaborate in the business of
27:36
maintaining a state structure if we fail
27:38
the whole world is going to draw one
27:41
overwhelming lesson which is that every
27:43
nation in the world has to have its
27:45
state if every nation in the world has
27:47
to have a state we will have 5000 States
27:51
instead of 300 and that is a recipe for
27:55
chaos pretty good hair back then I gotta
27:58
say it feels deeply embarrassing where
28:02
did that hair go I haven’t got much of
28:04
it let’s go get your hair what are you
28:05
talking about though do you know what
28:06
can I say though 25 years later those
28:09
words still seem pretty wise and how do
28:10
you think we’re doing at accommodating
28:12
two nations inside one country well I
28:15
think Canada you know when I was in I
28:19
was in Spain about two weeks ago every
28:22
time a Canadian arrives in Spain they
28:25
ask you one question how do you how do
28:27
you guys do it pretty separatist leaders
28:29
in jail there they put separatist
28:30
leaders in jail and my Canadian instinct
28:33
are frankly is that that’s a mistake I’m
28:35
strongly in favor of a the sovereignty
28:38
of national sovereignty of Spain but I
28:40
think judicial izing and criminalizing a
28:43
secessionist attempt was a political
28:45
error these things are solved as we
28:48
solve them by talking and talking and
28:50
talking we we had 30 years of this or
28:52
something it can
28:53
and we were all sick of it but the
28:55
talking saved us and and I think now and
28:59
it doesn’t mean we love each other it
29:01
doesn’t mean Quebec nationalism is over
29:03
it doesn’t mean threats to to even
29:07
Western separatism will will not
29:10
entirely disappear but we’ve managed to
29:13
create a political frame in which we
29:15
talk we discuss we don’t necessarily
29:16
love each other we don’t necessarily
29:18
understand each other all that well
29:20
sometimes but I think there is a kind of
29:22
basic existential commitment to the
29:25
dialogue that makes us Canadians and
29:27
that’s that really is important to the
29:30
world I mean you know it’s important
29:33
when you go to Spain it’s important
29:34
everywhere every country that I ever go
29:37
to looks to Canada not for a lot of
29:41
things but they look to us intensely on
29:43
this issue how did you keep your show on
29:46
the road and what I answer is it was
29:49
politics all the way down and talking
29:52
and keeping it simple and keeping it
29:53
peaceful and that’s the great story that
29:56
Canada has to offer the world it’s
29:58
always good of you when you make the
30:00
trip back over to this side of the pond
30:01
that you spend so much time with us here
30:03
at Evo we’re grateful and let’s keep
30:05
doing it okay well thanks so much Steve
30:07
that’s Michael Ignatieff director and
30:08
president of Central European University
30:14
the agenda with Steve Paikin is brought
30:16
to you by the chartered professional
30:17
accountants of Ontario CPA Ontario is a
30:20
regulator an educator a thought leader
30:23
and an advocate we protect the public we
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advance our profession we guide our CPAs
30:29
we are CPA Ontario and by viewers like
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you
30:33
thank you

The Kashmir crisis isn’t about territory. It’s about a Hindu victory over Islam.

For two weeks, Kashmir, India’s sole Muslim-majority state, has existed in a surreal state of nonexistence. Since a presidential decree abolished the state, revoked its autonomy and partitioned it into two federally administered territories, the Internet has been shut down, cellular networks have been disabled, and even landlines went dead. Public assembly is banned, and citizens are under curfew. A soldier has been stationed outside every house in some villages. Eight million people have been cut off from the world — and from one another. Pharmacies are running out of medicine, households are low on food, and hospitals are clogging up with injured protesters. Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, insists that all this is for the good of the Kashmiris. India’s grip on Kashmir has seldom been stronger. Its hold on Kashmiris, however, has never been more threadbare.

Modi’s sudden takeover in Kashmir is the fulfillment of a long ideological yearning to make a predominantly Muslim population surrender to his vision of a homogeneous Hindu nation. It is also a way of conveying to the rest of India — a union of dizzyingly diverse states — that no one is exempt from the Hindu-power paradise he wants to build on the subcontinent. Kashmir is both a warning and a template: Any state that deviates from this vision can be brought under Delhi’s thumb in the name of “unity.”

Those who believe that such a day will never come — that India’s democratic institutions and minority protections will assert themselves — also never thought that someone like Modi would one day lead the country. Modi once seemed destined to disappear into history as a fanatical curio. As the newly appointed chief minister of Gujarat, he presided over the worst communal bloodletting in India’s recent history in 2002, when 1,000 Muslims, by a conservative estimate, were slaughtered by sword-wielding Hindus in his state over several weeks. Some accused Modi of abetting the mobs; others said he turned a blind eye to them. The carnage made Modi a pariah: Liberal Indians likened him to Hitler, the United States denied him a visa, and Britain and the European Union boycotted him.

But Modi expanded and solidified his appeal among India’s Hindus, a religious majority whose resentment at being invaded and ruled for centuries by Muslims had been papered over for decades with platitudes from India’s secular elites. He used three powerful tools to propel his ascent. The first was

  1. sadism, the hint that, under him, Hindu radicals could indulge a dormant bloodlust: After the killing of a Muslim man in police custody, for instance, Modi mused at a 2007 rally, “If AK-57 [sic] rifles are found at the residence of a person … should I not kill them?” (The crowd roared back: “Kill them! Kill them!”) The second was
  2. schadenfreude, an exultation in the torment of defenseless minorities: At an earlier rally in 2002, Modi had ruminated on the fate of the Muslims displaced by the recent Gujarat riots, asking: “What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby-producing centers?” His audience erupted with laughter. “We have to teach a lesson to those who are increasing population at an alarming rate,” he said. The final affect was
  3. self-pity, a license for Hindus to regard themselves as the real victims. He told Parliament that India had been a slave nation for more than 1,000 years and claimed that there were forces out to kill him.

Since his 2014 election to the premiership, bigotry has been ennobled as a healthy form of self-assertion. Lynchings of Muslims — breathlessly demonized as jihadists devoted to seducing and converting Hindu women — by aggrieved Hindu mobs have become such a common sport that dozens of videos of grisly murders circulate on WhatsApp groups run by Hindu nationalists. Last summer, a minister in Modi’s cabinet garlanded eight men who had been convicted of lynching a Muslim man. In this universe, Kashmir could never remain autonomous, a place impervious to the desires of a majority happy to see its will done by violence.

India-Pakistan split deepens with train travel block

India has urged Pakistan to review its decision to downgrade diplomatic ties over the withdrawal of special status to Kashmir.

Modi’s reelection this year emboldened the supporters whose rage he skillfully incited. The prime minister rarely acknowledges the murders of minorities. Rarer still are instances when he condemns them. Not once, in fact, has he memorialized, by name, Muslims slain by Hindu fundamentalists. This is not an accident. It is a small step from letting Hindu vigilantes subjugate their Muslim neighbors to subjugating them himself, using the power of the state, as he has now done in Kashmir.

Modi’s political awakening occurred in the training camps of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing paramilitary group that incubated the modern politics of Hindu nationalism. The RSS introduces young “volunteers” to the vast pantheon of supposed villains who plundered and emasculated India over the ages — the medieval Islamic invaders, the accommodationists like Mohandas Gandhi and the Congress party he led, the Muslim nationalists who mutilated India to create Pakistan and sought to abscond with Kashmir — and exhorts them to shed their Hindu impotence. The effect on Modi’s young mind was so powerful that he came to regard the RSS as his family, abandoned his wife and mother, and wandered through India as a catechist of the Hindu nationalist cause.

By seizing Kashmir, Modi has mollified votaries of Hindu nationalism and established himself as the father of what they proudly call the “New India.” Kashmir was always at the top of their wish list, which also includes the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, where a mosque stood for half a millennium before Hindu nationalists razed it in 1992; the erasure of small privileges granted to minorities (such as a subsidy for the Muslim pilgrimmage to Mecca); a legal end to religious conversions by Hindus; an extra-legal suppression of interfaith romance and marriagesespecially when the bride is Hindu and the groom Muslim; and, ultimately, the rewriting of the constitution to declare India a formally Hindu state.

But can India, the most heterogeneous society on Earth, survive the ascent of a majority like this? In his stirring inaugural speech to the first freely elected assembly of Kashmir in 1951, Sheikh Abdullah, the wildly popular socialist who championed Kashmir’s accession to India, laid out the choices before Kashmiris. India’s commitment to “secular democracy based upon justice, freedom and equality,” he explained, negated the “argument that the Muslims of Kashmir cannot have security in India.” India’s constitution, Abdullah said, “has amply and finally repudiated the concept of a religious state, which is a throwback to medievalism.” Abdullah denounced Pakistan, a quasi-theocracy that waged a war in 1948 to seize Kashmir, as “a feudal state” where “the appeal to religion constitutes a sentimental and a wrong approach.” But his rejection of Pakistan was also a reminder to India that secularism was the nonnegotiable condition of Kashmir’s allegiance. Kashmiris, he said, “will never accept a principle which seeks to favor the interests of one religion or social group against another.” That sentence was aimed then at Pakistan. It applies now to India.

Kashmiri separatists who once labeled India a “Hindu state” could be dismissed at the time as chauvinists, and India could credibly argue for Kashmir’s place within its polyglot fold: The religion of Kashmiris was irrelevant to their full citizenship of the Indian state. But now the separatists’ claim against India has as much substance and weight as Abdullah’s against Pakistan. The argument of “inclusive nationalism” deployed by Modi’s predecessors to persuade Kashmiri separatists to participate in elections is unavailable to him, a religious nationalist. An India that has ceased to be secular will have forever lost its argument for Kashmir. The calm currently imposed on the region conceals a deep rage that is waiting to erupt. The abuse of Kashmir justified by Modi as “integration” may, if it is not confronted and reversed, be the beginning of the end of India’s unity.

The Who-Can-Beat Trump Test Leads to Kamala Harris

Bringing the energy and hope to stare down Trump and his movement.

Nations, like people, may change somewhat, but not in their essential characteristics. The United States is defined by space and hope. It is an optimistic country of can-do strivers. They took the risk of coming to a new land. They are suspicious of government, inclined to self-reliance. Europeans ask where you came from. Americans ask what you can do.

The Declaration of Independence posited a universal idea, that human beings are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Americans, then, embraced an idea, however flawed in execution, when they became a nation. Their government, whatever else it does, exists to safeguard and further that idea, in the United States and beyond.

President Trump, in the name of making American great again, has trampled on America’s essence. He is angry, a stranger to happiness, angrier still for not knowing the source of his rage. He is less interested in liberty than the cash of his autocratic cronies. As for life, he views it as a selective right, to which the white Christian male has priority access, with women, people of color and the rest of humanity trailing along behind for scraps.

Adherents to an agenda of “national conservatism” held a conference last month in Washington dedicated, as my colleague Jennifer Schuessler put it, “to wresting a coherent ideology out of the chaos of the Trumpist moment.”

Good luck with that. One of the meeting’s leading lights was Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. Lowry’s forthcoming book is called “The Case for Nationalism.” Enough said. The endpoint of that “case” is on display at military cemeteries across Europe.

Nationalism, self-pitying and aggressive, seeks to change the present in the name of an illusory past in order to create a future vague in all respects except its glory. Trump is a self-styled nationalist. The “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” chants at his rallies have chilling echoes.

Lowry holds that “America is not an idea” and to call it so is a “lazy cliché.” This argument denies the essence of the country — an essence palpable at every naturalization ceremony across the United States. Becoming American is a process that involves the inner absorption of the nation’s founding idea.

The gravest thing Trump has done is to empty this idea of meaning. His has been an assault on honesty, decency, dignity, tolerance and civility. On this president’s wish list, every right is alienable. He leads a movement more than he does a nation, and so depends on fear to mobilize people. Any victorious Democratic Party candidate in 2020 has to counter that negative energy with a positive energy that lifts Americans from Trump’s web.

I watched the Democratic Party debates among presidential contenders through a single prism: Who can beat Trump? In the end, nothing else matters because another five and a half years of this will drag Americans into an abyss of moral collapse.

Yes, how far left, how moderate that candidate may be is of some significance, but can he or she bring the heat and the hope to stare Trump down and topple him is all I care about. That’s the bouncing ball all eyes should be on, with no illusions as to how vicious and devious Trump will be between now and November 2020.

With reluctance, because he is a good and honorable man of great personal courage, I do not believe that Joe Biden has the needed energy, mental agility and nimbleness. Nor do I believe that the nation of can-do strivers I described above is ready for Bernie Sanders’s “democratic socialism.” Forms of socialism work in Europe, and the word is widely misunderstood in America, but socialism and America’s essence are incompatible.

Elizabeth Warren’s couching of a campaign for radical change as “economic patriotism” is a much smarter way to go, and her energetic advocacy of ideas to redress the growing injustices in American life has been powerful. Still, I am not convinced that enough Americans are ready to move as far left as she proposes or that she passes the critical commander in chief test.

Kamala Harris does that for me. The California senator is a work in progress, with

  • uneven debate performances, and policies, notably health care, that she has zigzagged toward defining. But she’s
  • tough, broadly of the center,
  • has a great American story, is passionate on issues including immigrants, African-Americans and women, and has
  • proved she is not averse to risk. She
  • has a former prosecutor’s toughness and the ability to slice through Trump’s self-important bluster.

Last month Harris said Trump was a “predator.” She continued: “The thing about predators you should know, is that they prey on the vulnerable. They prey on those who they do not believe are strong. And the thing you must importantly know, predators are cowards.”

Those were important words. It’s early days, but Trump’s biggest electoral vulnerability is to women. They have seen through his misogyny at last, and they know just where the testosterone of nationalism leads.