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Hungary vs. European values

Modern politics in Hungary can often seem pro-Russian. But is it really so?

Hungary's aggressive policy towards Ukraine became an obstacle to our country's closer cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance for several times. Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his closest associate, Foreign Minister Peter Siarto, play an important part in this. Their statements and actions harm both the Ukrainian-Hungarian relations, and the EU as a whole. However, are they really as supportive of Vladimir Putin, as they are considered to be?

"Liberal democracy cannot remain globally competitive. An increasing number of discussions is held in order to understand how systems that are not Western, non-liberal, non-liberal democracies, and perhaps not democratic in general, can still lead their nations to success."

And further: "We are forced to reject the liberal methods and principles of society organization, as well as the liberal way of comprehension of the world" (1).

These are the words of Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, addressed to the Hungarian minority in Romania in 2014. They contain the quintessence of his paradigm of political thinking.

One of the most active supporters of the Hungarian democratic path after the collapse of the Communist bloc in Central and Eastern Europe is now building barriers against migrants along the border with Serbia, as well as leading an undercover struggle against any form of civil activism, declaring Soros "Enemy Number One", concentrating control over leading Hungarian media.

In the EU and NATO member state, on the official website of the Foreign Office, the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg is called "extremist" and "idiot". Illegal issuance of passports to citizens of other countries is almost an official state policy, while the Prime Minister provides political asylum to a Macedonian prime minister suspected of corruption, and publicly admires Vladimir Putin as a politician who keeps his promises.

And the last parliamentary elections in April of 2018, where Fides ruling party has received more than 40% of votes, and about two thirds of seats in the country's legislature, testify that such a policy finds support in the hearts of the Hungarians.

We can add to the list the further persistent exacerbations of relations with Ukraine on the pretext of violating the rights of the Hungarian national minority in our country - because of the "scandalous" new law on education, because of the illegal issuance of Hungarian passports in the Hungarian Consulate in Ukraine, because of the blocking of the Commission's meeting Ukraine - NATO.

It would seem impossible to imagine such things happening in a member state of the European Union. But oddly enough, Orban’s political project turned out to be quite viable and prosperous - and, most importantly, showed how, in fact, the rhetoric of the right-populist spectrum can be combined with political pragmatism.

Orbaniada

Speaking about Hungarian domestic and foreign policy, analysts are paying attention to Viktor Orban's personality, the country’s Prime Minister since 2010, and for a good reason. After all, it has become, in fact, an expression of its own world outlook and vision of the modern world order. So it makes sense to get acquainted with the life of this odious politician.

The future Hungarian leader was born on May 31, 1963, in Székesfehérvár, a small provincial town in the southeast of Hungary, where he spent his childhood. In 1987, he graduated from law school at the Budapest University, and a year later, ironically, he was invited to work as a researcher in a research group for Central and Eastern Europe, funded by George Soros Foundation. A year later, in 1989, the same fund gave him a scholarship to study political philosophy at Oxford University (2).

At the age of 24 Orban became the co-founder of a youth protest movement called the Federation of Young Democrats, or Fides for short. On his campaign posters, a well-known photo of kissing Brezhnev and Honecker was shown opposite a young couple in love, with the slogan of "Make your choice".(3)

Orban gained popularity after his famous speech during the reburial of former Hungarian prime minister Imre Nagy who had led the revolutionary events of 1956 in the country, calling for free elections and the withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Hungary (which happened before the end of 1991). He was elected for the first time in parliament, as a member of the Fides party, of which he would become a leader in three years’ time. However, the party did not have significant electoral support at that time and was defeated in subsequent elections (4).

Observing the unpopularity of the left ideology as such, associated with the communist Hungarians, Viktor Orban shifted the political orientation of the Fides, uniting with right-centered groups. The chosen strategy paid back: in the 1998 elections, the party received 44% of the vote and formed a coalition government led by 35-year-old Viktor Orban, the youngest head of government in the history of Hungary (5).

The Fides government led to certain positive results, economic ones first of all - a reduction in the level of inflation and budget deficits and the provision of stable economic growth thanks to the policy of reducing taxes and social contributions. At the same time, Orban pursued a course towards more active Hungarian involvement in the European Union issues; under his rule, the country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999.

Internal political changes, however, turned out to be much more weighty over time. Propagating the German model of government, Orban conducted the radical reform of the government apparatus, significantly strengthening the role of the prime minister. Opposition forces have criticized these initiatives, considering them to be the forerunners of authoritarianism (6).

After the Fides lost the parliamentary elections to the Hungarian Socialist Party's in 2002, Orban left the post of Prime Minister and joined opposition. The second consecutive defeat of the "young Democrats" in 2006 led to appeals for his resignation, but the political scandal that broke out around the "socialists" (they lied about the state of the Hungarian economy to gain more votes in the elections) saved the reputation of Orban (7). His rhetoric began to acquire an ever more ethno-nationalist color, which became a source of concern in neighboring states where a significant number of Hungarians lived, including Slovakia, the conflict with which would continue until 2014.

In the wake of the devastating economic crisis in April 2010, Fides received a convincing majority of votes, and Orban returned to the Prime Minister's chair. A successful economic policy and a gradual increase in the welfare of the population provided the second consecutive Fides victory in the 2014 parliamentary elections (8).

It should be noted how Viktor Orban's worldview changes also were reflected in his political activities. He initiated changing the name of the country from the Hungarian Republic to Hungary. The purpose of the renaming was to include the Hungarian community not only in the country's population, but also in all the Hungarians living beyond its borders. Actually, the policy of supporting Hungarian national minorities abroad is written in the Constitution of the country.

Orban succeeded in earning political capital on the so-called "Trianon syndrome": June 4 was declared the Day of national unity. On June 4, 1920, the Trianon Peace Treaty was concluded between Hungary and the Entente countries, which secured the country's defeat in the First World War on the side of the Central Powers and, most importantly, finalized the transfer of part of the Hungarian territories to neighboring Romania, Serbia and Slovakia.

The parliamentary majority allowed to adopt a new edition of the Fundamental Law of the country in early 2012 practically unhindered, with conservative moral and religious views being consolidated there. The adoption of the new Constitution caused protests both inside the country and outside it. The assessments of other legislative initiatives of the parliament and government were equally sharp, namely, the judicial reform, which, according to experts of the Council of Europe, led to a decrease in the level of independence of the judicial branch of government.

It is also worth noting that an apparent resemblance to the actions of the President of the Russian Federation in his own country is traced in the actions of Viktor Orban . And given the fact that he publicly appraised Putin, sometimes even claiming the need to revise the EU sanctions regime against Russia, many observers had grounds to talk about the pro-Russianism of the Hungarian prime minister.

Moreover, tension in relations with Ukraine is a separate milestone in Hungary's foreign policy. It is worth recalling that, with the onset of Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine, Orban made a number of loud statements, which supported the occupation of the Crimea, and spoke about the need to provide the status of the autonomy of the Hungarians in Transcarpathia (9). And in his recent speech in the Romanian city of Baile-Tusnad, the Hungarian Prime Minister expressed his assessment of the future of Ukraine, which surprisingly coincides with Russian opinion; once again hinted at the need to lift sanctions against Russia and stated that our state would remain in the zone of Russian influence for some time. (10)

Logical changes

Strangely enough, such dizzying transformations in Orban’s policy, from a fighter with the communist regime and a champion of democratic change to an ultra-right conservative with authoritarian inclinations - are not as surprising for those who know him well, and for himself.

"I am twenty-five years older now. I have five children. It would be strange to not change my attitudes and behavior, "Orban said in an interview with Politico. Let's recall the words from the beginning of the article, where he noted that "the significance of liberalism has changed", both in Hungary and in the whole world, and named Russia, Turkey, Singapore, India and China as examples for the development of its own country (11).

Such views were also reflected in the policy of Hungary in the international arena. Despite the indicative conflict, the persecution of imaginary enemies and chaoticity, it has a clear pragmatic calculation -just as some time ago the swing to the right side of political spectrum allowed Fides to go to parliament. The main thesis of Orban's foreign policy concept was pronounced at his meeting with the heads of diplomatic missions of the country in March 2015: Hungary's diplomacy should become more bold and resolute in defending national interests, openly declaring their aspirations and goals, and persistently pursuing and defending them.(12)

In practice, this meant using ultimatums, blackmail and creating conflict situations. But, strangely enough, there always was a definite pragmatic goal. For example, blocking Hungary-Ukraine meetings of the Ukraine-NATO Commission was strangely aimed at establishing a dialogue with Washington as a key player in the North Atlantic Alliance. Thus, an occasion for dialogue was first created at the level of Foreign Affairs departments, and then personally between Orban and Trump. (13)

For example, attacks on George Soros, including a ban on the activities of the Central European University financed by him, the sharp criticism of the EU and its policy towards refugees are aimed at the domestic audience, demonstrating that the Hungarian authorities are in fact protecting the population from external threats - by the way, yet another typical populistic approach.

Nothing personal

Does this mean that the policy of Hungary is pro-Russian? Rather the opposite. In Orban's actions, there is a clear calculation for obtaining situational advantages, and at the same time he is going to use every opportunity to strengthen his own positions, including a dialogue with the Kremlin.

Hungary is primarily interested in Russia as in the main supplier of energy carriers and the main trading partner outside the EU. There is no favorable or attractive alternative for the Russian political project due to purely geopolitical and historical circumstances. Therefore, in official statements of Hungary, there is often a kind of maneuvering: yes, the comment of its Foreign Affairs department on Russia's open aggression in the Sea of Azov does not contain any references to the Russian Federation, nor appeals for the release of the captured Ukrainian seamen. Orban personally states that in Hungary there now is a "pro-Ukrainian government", which supports Ukraine in this conflict (14).

The indicative "non-linearity" of Hungarian diplomacy is simultaneously accompanied by quite real pro-Ukrainian actions, at least by an official non-recognition of the occupation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation and a consistent vote for the package of sanctions of the European Union against Russia for four years (even if they are intermixed with calls for dialogue and statements about counterproductivity of sanctions measures).

At the same time, it is no good to deny the tensions between Budapest and Brussels - the European Parliament has already launched a procedure for the possible temporary suspension of Hungary's right to vote in the EU due to repeated violations of its community standards (15). Although the Hungarian leaders bravely reject any accusations, it seems that the economic arguments will be sufficiently effective for them, and there are no grounds to talk about Hungarian withdrawal from the European Union yet.


1 https://www.politico.eu/list/politico-28/viktor-orban/

2 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viktor-Orban

3 https://www.politico.eu/list/politico-28/viktor-orban/

4 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viktor-Orban

5 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viktor-Orban

6 Dmitri Kozlov. Putin's Friends. Myths and reality. - Center for the Study of Army, Conversion and Disarmament, 2016. - P. 11.

7 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viktor-Orban

8 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Viktor-Orban

9 Dmitriy Kozlov. Putin's Friends. Myths and reality. - Center for the Study of Army, Conversion and Disarmament, 2016. - P. 13.

10 https://www.eurointegration.com.ua/articles/2018/08/1/7085087/

11 https://www.politico.eu/list/politico-28/viktor-orban/

12 https://www.eurointegration.com.ua/articles/2018/06/21/7083417/

13 https://www.eurointegration.com.ua/articles/2018/06/21/7083417/

14 https://www.eurointegration.com.ua/news/2018/11/30/7090081/

15 https://edition.cnn.com/2018/09/12/europe/hungary-orban-eu-vote-intl/index.html

 

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