Viktor Orbán‘s victory speech in Budapest on Sunday night took a curious turn. Speaking after a fourth landslide win, he opined:
This victory is one to remember because we had the biggest [opponents] to overpower. The left at home, the international left, the bureaucrats in Brussels… the Soros empire… and even the Ukrainian President.
Orbán skipped over the challenge to regional stability caused by the Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. Having refused military aid to Kyiv, and having exchanged barbs with President Volodymyr Zelensky, he reassured ethnic Hungarians in West Ukraine: ‘Don’t be afraid, the motherland is with you’.
Those words make for curious reading days after Csaba Belénessy, a leading figure in the ruling Fidesz party, said publicly that Hungary must ‘be emotionally and financially ready to accept back the Hungarian people and/or the Hungarian territory’. You read that correctly: Orbán’s party is raising the prospect of secession of Ukrainian lands, midway through the Russian invasion.
State media in Hungary has continued to reiterate Moscow’s propaganda, including references to a ‘special operation’ within their neighbour’s territory rather than an ‘invasion’ or ‘war’. Fidesz-linked security experts have appeared on air defending the intervention, talking in terms of Ukrainian provocation or the safeguarding of ethnic Russians in the country. Fidesz officials have said little to demur from these suggestions.
Indeed Fidesz-controlled media branded the mayor of Budapest a ‘traitor’ for flying the Ukrainian flag from City Hall. A key attack line against opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay was that he was a ‘CIA agent’ – a curious barb from the leading party in a Nato member state.
Indeed, it emerged shortly before election day that Hungary’s Foreign Ministry has long tolerated Russian penetration of its ‘secure’ internal computer networks. Proxy operations against Nato partners have been met with remarkable passivity from the Hungarian state; there was, reportedly, a minimal technical response to the breach and complete diplomatic silence. Worse, in December foreign minister Péter Szijjártó accepted the Russian Federation’s ‘Order of Friendship’ from Moscow counterpart Sergey Lavrov (the highest award available to a non-national), despite the fact he must have known of the hack.
Just how deep does the Fidesz-Kremlin relationship go? In 2019, Orbán’s administration allowed the surprise relocation of the International Investment Bank (formerly the Cold War era Comecon bank) from Moscow to Budapest, together with full diplomatic immunity for its staff and the conferral of unrestricted access to travel within the wider Schengen zone. This was done despite vigorous protests from Nato partners – though the location of the institution, first planned for a building immediately opposite the American embassy on Budapest’s Freedom Square, was frustrated. Following Russia’s invasion, Hungary has taken no steps to expel the bank or curtail its activities. It has not even joined its European neighbours by symbolically divesting from its stake in the institution.
Internationally, Orbán and his MEPs have voted mainly in favour of EU and Nato measures against Russia, while occluding or denying this in domestic media. Orbán has also maintained Russia’s controversial role in the development of the new Paks 2 nuclear power station on the Danube, while the procurement contract will remain classified for some 30 years. Again, the project involves the presence of a significant complement of ‘technical experts’ with close ties to the Russian state, who also receive residency and unrestricted travel within Schengen.
Banning Sputnik or Russia Today, as the UK and other Nato states have done, is pointless: Russian messaging is already transmitted via state and Fidesz-affiliated media. But such outlets continue to carry incessant warnings about the dangers posed by ‘LGBT+ propaganda’.
Orbán’s sympathisers suggest he wants to preserve western civilisation. They say his defence of Europe’s Christian inheritance stands in painful contrast to woke progressives who rage against their intellectual and cultural genealogy. If only that were true. He has, instead, hollowed out a once-great European nation, handing more and more influence to the autocrat in the Kremlin. Orbán is not the defender of the West, instead it is he who rages against it.
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