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.
It is more than just the strong economic ties — mostly Orban’s doing — which countries closer to Russia than Hungary (Poland, Romania, the Baltic states) don’t so much have. They have also carried water for Putin diplomatically, in ways that put Ukraine at a significant disadvantage.
https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/russia-ukraine-latest-news-2022-03-25/card/at-eu-summit-ukraine-hungary-tensions-burst-open-as-zelensky-chews-out-orban-RAHgyqkU6MfJBjfQyzB6Kevin M (38e250) — 3/26/2022 @ 7:25 am
Is it certain that Orban doesn’t consider himself “indispensable” and won’t engineer constitutional changes to extend his rule, a la Putin and Lukashenko?Rip Murdock (b274da) — 3/26/2022 @ 8:09 am
Janos Hunyadi was praised both for his diplomatic as well as his military acumen. And that’s about the most I know about Hungary. No, wait … I know more. They also have a muzzleloader culture. The guns are not restricted, but the powder and caps are.nk (1d9030) — 3/26/2022 @ 8:43 am
Orban got in bed with the Bear for cheap energy deals and financing of nuclear power plants. In the parlance of KGB spy-dom, he’s been compromised….neutralized….to the point where he will not allow defensive weapons to flow into Ukraine through Hungary….and won’t stop the flow of natural gas and oil from Russia into Hungary. The comment by Polish PM Morawiecki is particularly biting: “We are seeing that the price of European naivete over Russia is Ukrainian blood.” Should there be a political price paid for getting in too tight with the devil? That’s for the Hungarians to decide. Orban has created economic opportunity….though claims of kleptocracy, government interference, and corruption are rampant. The Hungarian media appears closely controlled. Like Putin himself, Orban uses culture war and othering to excite his base. He’s an authoritarian that was suckered by Putin. It’s certainly a resume bullet we don’t need in our politics……AJ_Liberty (3cb02f) — 3/26/2022 @ 8:49 am
Great post, JVW! You have convinced me that all is not as it seems. But then, all I know of Hungary is it produced Zsa Zsa, and Eva, and the other one there…Magda, yes, Magda.felipe (484255) — 3/26/2022 @ 9:01 am
Is it certain that Orban doesn’t consider himself “indispensable” and won’t engineer constitutional changes to extend his rule, a la Putin and Lukashenko?
No, it’s not at all certain. And that would be a major disappointment and would change my perception of his service.JVW (ee64e4) — 3/26/2022 @ 9:33 am
Orban got in bed with the Bear for cheap energy deals and financing of nuclear power plants.
It’s a crowded bed, given that Germany has been firmly ensconced there for years. And even Uncle Sam shows up for a throw from time to time.JVW (ee64e4) — 3/26/2022 @ 9:37 am
Great post, JVW! You have convinced me that all is not as it seems.
Thanks felipe. I don’t deny that Hungary’s behavior towards Putin’s Russia can be problematic. But so can Germany’s behavior, Britain’s behavior, France’s behavior, our behavior, and so on. I just have a feeling that Hungary is being singled out for criticism precisely because of next Sunday’s coming election and the hatred that the European elite have for Orban.JVW (ee64e4) — 3/26/2022 @ 9:42 am
This is one of the finest essays you’ve ever quilled; all ‘politics’ is essentially “local.”
“And you, sir, are a steely-eyed missileman.” – Bill Pogue [Brett Cullen] ‘Apollo 13’ 1995DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/26/2022 @ 9:58 am
“It’s a crowded bed, given that Germany has been firmly ensconced there for years”
I’m fine with being critical of Merkel too. Her big failure was not hard reversing her romanticized Russian relationship following the 2014 annexation of Crimea, so that now Germany gets nearly 70% of its natural gas from Russia. Of course Scholz has now announced a halt to the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, is supplying weaponry to Ukraine, and is increasing Germany’s defense budget. It’s a dramatic pivot. Do we see the same from Hungary….or is it more like a kid that’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar…who me!? Hungary is likely in a harder economic position than the Germans…but it just underscores why exactly the Hungarian voters should continue to reward Orban for past poor decisions? Orban supporters pointing at other poor decision makers doesn’t exactly imbue confidence in OrbanAJ_Liberty (3cb02f) — 3/26/2022 @ 10:09 am
“Putin knows if I am president of the United States, his days of tyranny and trying to intimidate the United States and those in Eastern Europe are over. I’m going to stand up to him… ” – Joe Biden, 2020”
“He’s a butcher.” – Joe Biden, 2022
Attaboy, pork chop.DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/26/2022 @ 10:15 am
I just have a feeling that Hungary is being singled out for criticism precisely because of next Sunday’s coming election and the hatred that the European elite have for Orban.
Well, yes, but also because of the invasion of Ukraine, which showcases Orban’s affinity for Putin and Russia. A perfect storm for him. I’m willing to bet that Hungarian state media is presenting this much the same way: “Orban is a victim of European elites”, not as “Orban whose policies have dug us a hole.”Kevin M (38e250) — 3/26/2022 @ 10:24 am
A perfect storm for him. I’m willing to bet that Hungarian state media is presenting this much the same way: “Orban is a victim of European elites”, not as “Orban whose policies have dug us a hole.”
Why does a small and relatively poor (by EU standards) country like Hungary ($160 billion GDP) whose economy is dwarfed by Russia’s ($1.5 trillion GDP) come in for so much more opprobrium than Germany (GDP $3.8 trillion), who made a very self-serving choice to become heavily dependent upon Russian energy, and whose heavy-handedness in the EU over the past 20 years has caused major fissures among countries with smaller economies and less security against the Russian bear?
Why isn’t anyone asking how in the world a relatively small country like the Netherlands accounts for over fifteen percent of all Russian exports? I would have thought all of those picturesque windmills would supply all of the energy that Holland needs. The EU and US and other allies were happy to help Putin build up the Russian economy and create hundreds of oligarchs, and now it’s Viktor Orban’s fault that Putin thinks he can just march into Ukraine? Recall that Vlodymyr Zelenskyy asked the trenchant question of why the NATO alliance could not have imposed economic sanctions before Russia crossed the Ukrainian border when it just might have worked as a deterrent? Is that Orban’s fault somehow?
I guess what it comes down to is that I am willing to cut Viktor Orban some slack, especially since to me it makes at least some sense for there to be at least one leader of a NATO country who might have some credibility down the road when it comes time to negotiate a cease-fire and settlement. It sure isn’t going to be the mind-addled President of the United States who today rather stupidly called for regime change in Russia (his team of liars is going to gaslight us into believing that he didn’t) which is almost certainly causing angina among our allies and will no doubt lead Putin (and Xi) to believe that regime change has been our goal all along.JVW (ee64e4) — 3/26/2022 @ 11:17 am
It sure isn’t going to be the mind-addled President of the United States who today rather stupidly called for regime change in Russia (his team of liars is going to gaslight us into believing that he didn’t) which is almost certainly causing angina among our allies and will no doubt lead Putin (and Xi) to believe that regime change has been our goal all along.
Bingo. But what else would you expect a senator to say– such is the limitations of the Peter Principle. He’s channeling safe-in-the-Senate-chamber-Lindsey Graham rhetoric.
Always give your adversary an out. Remember when JFK called for Khrushchev to be ousted amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis? Nope.
You’re batting 1000 today, JVW. Baseball season can do that. 😉DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/26/2022 @ 11:30 am
Biden gives teleprompter talk oozing Jon Meacham.
Tells Putin: “Stay off NATO’s lawn!” Calls for Russian regime change as Moscow’s missiles blast Lviv. Lauds Pope John-Paul II, crows over Berlin Wall, Iron Curtain demise while omitting names Bush, Reagan and Thatcher.
Ice cream for dessert. Jetting home.
Film at 11.DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/26/2022 @ 11:32 am
I’m sure that the Magyar people have many fond memories of Russia. Who can forget the fun times of 1956.Fred (e4803a) — 3/26/2022 @ 11:34 am
California Dreamin’: Newsom proposes $400 debit cards to offset soaring gas prices for car owners.
This man and the CA legislature are, if not thieves, idiots.
It’s a shell game: it won’t actually be “$400” for gas because w/a 51 cents per gallon state gas tax, that percentage of the $400 immediately returns the gas tax back to the state at purchase. The thing to do is SUSPEND THE GAS TAX COMPLETELY for 12 to 18 months which delivers savings directly based on usage and consumption to the consumer – or until the markets drop the price of oil and the conflict in Europe ends. But no, that would cut out revenue flow to the state.
Do not move to California. It sucks.DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/26/2022 @ 12:09 pm
^Oops. Wrong thread. Sorry.DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/26/2022 @ 12:10 pm
Why is Hungary more tied to Russia than Romania? Maybe it’s because the government of Romania has spend the last couple of decades reducing its dependence on foreign energy, developing its own nuclear, hydro, gas and coal, while Hungary has sought cheap fuel from Russia. Having been in power for so long, Orban has to take responsibility for the box he is in.
I don’t have any dog in the “I hate Orban because he’s right-wing” fight — more the contrary. BUt I see the situation he’s in and I have to say it’s his own damn fault.Kevin M (38e250) — 3/26/2022 @ 3:14 pm
JVW – Naturally, I condemn DCSCA/DCCCP’s efforts to discredit your argument — by praising it. That’s unfair, as we all know.
That said, I do have some sympathy for Hungary, which, for historical reasons, has no natural friends among it neighbors. (As most of you know, they don’t even speak an Indo-European language.)
But I also think Orban should have kept more distance economically, and politically, from “Czar” Putin. To some extent that’s hindsight, but I think matters were clear after Putin seized Crimea.Jim Miller (406a93) — 3/26/2022 @ 4:38 pm
What strikes me is how short History really is. One century and two pandemics* later, the European rump states are still sorting themselves out.
*Spanish flu.nk (1d9030) — 3/26/2022 @ 4:49 pm
@20. W.T. F.?!
Step away from the frigging bong, Jimbo.DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/26/2022 @ 5:11 pm
@21. The history of the U.S. telephone tax is an endless source of amusement- and at times, revenue for Uncle Sam, too. Perhaps another ‘creative’ way to help pay for the freebees sent to Ukraine.
Would bring a whole new meaning to, ‘reach out and touch someone’ for Joey. 😉DCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/26/2022 @ 6:00 pm
How much slack are you willing to cut him?Demosthenes (3fd56e) — 3/26/2022 @ 8:05 pm
I blogged about the very article you cite. See here for my thoughts.JVW (ee64e4) — 3/26/2022 @ 9:40 pm
The CIA is busy causing all this strife for civilians across the world.mg (8cbc69) — 3/27/2022 @ 4:15 am
—- Joe BidenColonel Haiku (2601c0) — 3/27/2022 @ 7:46 am
Biden approval rating tumbles to lowest of presidency: poll
President Biden’s job-approval rating has plummeted to the lowest of his White House tenure — and seven in 10 Americans lack confidence in the commander-in-chief’s ability to handle the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a survey released Sunday found.
‘Course, what does the NYPost know; they only got the Hunter laptop story right to begin with. 😉
25th Amendment time: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power…” – Joe BidenDCSCA (f4c5e5) — 3/27/2022 @ 11:51 am
Enjoying a trip to South America. In Honduras headed to Belize. Thank you for the fantastic piece JVW. I appreciate the nuance and the effort to understand the workings of Hungary beyond the leftist media bubble. Keep up the good work.
As an American that has ancestors of Hungarian descent, I pay attention to the goings on there more than most. I’ve been to Budapest and seen the harm that the Soviets did to Hungary. Anyone that thinks Hungary sides with any semblance of that past is a foolNJRob (f9c769) — 3/28/2022 @ 9:29 pm