On Orban, Hungary, Ukraine, Putin, and Russia
[guest post by JVW]
OK, it’s obvious that I am the Orban-friendly blogger here, and I am a big fan of Hungary and the Hungarian people. Let me address this whole notion that Viktor Orban is “pro Putin” which has become a recurring theme in the West recently (and has been repeated in the weekend open thread comments) because I think it’s nonsense.
Orban, it is true, has been far less critical of the Russian invasion than a number of other NATO countries. Nevertheless, Orban did speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and he pledged support for NATO sanctions against Russia. Also, Hungary has done its duty in accepting refugees from Ukraine, including providing them free rail transport through the country to whatever destination they are headed. But given the fact that they are a mere 800 miles from the Russian border and only about 7.5% the size of Russia in population, it’s kind of understandable that Hungary doesn’t want to be at the forefront of anti-Russia and anti-Putin sentiment. If the United States, Germany, France, and Britain don’t want to intervene militarily in this Russia-Ukraine war, why would a nation like Hungary push its way to the front of the line to antagonize a nation fifteen times its size and with the same proximity as Los Angeles has to the California-Oregon border? Especially one who is a far more important trading partner than Ukraine is.
And why is the media suddenly flush with stories about how Viktor Orban is allegedly turning his back on the West and trying to ingratiate himself with Vladimir Putin? Do you think it might have something to do with the fact that a parliamentary election in Hungary will be held one week from Sunday and for the first time in twelve years Orban’s Fidesz Party is facing a unified and motivated opposition which could conceivably challenge it? Is it possible that the academic/bureaucratic/media left, about whom we complain so much in the U.S., is perhaps flooding the worldwide press with anti-Orban stories precisely to weaken his electoral prospects next week? Or is this all one giant coincidence that has nothing to do with the visceral hatred that the EU elite have for Orban and the rest of the populist right? And is it fair to note that so much of the bad press about Orban and Fidesz which appears in Western media comes from the various Hungarian opposition parties and from people who have directly or indirectly received a paycheck from George Soros?
Hungary and Ukraine have had their own squabbles, not the least of which is that Ukraine — just like its neighbor to the west — has been assertive in wanting to preserve its own historic culture, which includes imposing the Ukrainian language upon the Hungarian-speaking people on the Ukrainian side of the shared border. There’s also naturally a longstanding cultural split between Roman Catholic Hungary and Eastern Orthodox Ukraine. But before we go about playing the tired and banal game of “Vlodymyr Zelenskyy = good guy, Viktor Orban = bad guy,” let’s be sure we’re making a fair comparison. Both of them have understandably been criticized for failing to curb the cronyism rampant in their respective country’s junction between government and private interests (the same could easily be said of any Western country); both of them have been accused of using their office to accrue power and solidify their hold on power; yet only one of them has used his office to shut down opposition media (this being a full year before the Russian invasion), and it was not the guy in Budapest.
I will repeat what I wrote more than nineteen months ago: Hungary needs to prepare itself for a post-Orban period, which should probably come after Prime Minister Orban serves his final five-year term after being returned to office next weekend. Seventeen years as PM is more than enough for Mr. Orban to set a direction for his country which he can claim is worthy of its eleven centuries of existence. But between now and then, don’t think for one moment that the incessant anti-Orban stories in the media aren’t a coordinated campaign from unreliable and antagonistic sources, designed to sway elite Western opinion away from a country and a leader whom Brussels, Berlin, and Paris can’t seem to control.