Commentary

Orbán’s about-face in Europe and continued Putinism at home

It doesn’t seem at all convincing that Orbán finally found the democrat inside.

Politico published a list of the Putinist European politicians performing an about-face after Putin actually attacked Ukraine. Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, François Fillon (what’s wrong with the French??), Matteo Salvini, Miloš Zeman, Alex Salmond, Gerhard Schröder, and even Boris Johnson performed a U-turn and rushed to declare that they don’t know this Putin guy. And while these treasonous western European politicians performed the U-turn on their own accord, it took a few attempts to slap some sense into Trump to finally do the same. Sort of.

Politico also mentioned Orbán and his everlasting alliance to Putin. Orbán spent the better part of the last decade performing the impossible: warming Hungarians to Putin’s Russia. It wasn’t an easy ride as many have longer memory than a fruit fly. It wasn’t even perfectly voluntary on Orbán’s part – but we will never learn that. Enough to say that Orbán managed to warm a chunk of his followers to trust Putin and shun the West. Rhetorically, anyway. These morons are just as unlikely to vacation in Sochi or to buy a Russian car as Russian oligarchs are.

By 2018, Orbán’s voters were the most pro-Putin in the country. (Still not a love story.) 62% of Fidesz voters even believed that it is good for Hungary if Putin is strong. (How great is it now?)

Orbán Made His Voters Adore Russia

Orbán met Putin 12 times according to Politico (it is difficult to keep track but let’s assume it was only 12) and even last week reassured everyone that Putin is a peaceful love bird. “Orbán was forced to adopt a different posture Thursday, however, slamming Moscow’s actions in a Facebook video, while saying Hungary would not send weapons to Ukraine. “Together with our European Union and NATO allies, we condemn Russia’s military attack,” he said. He also joined EU leaders later that evening in signing off on a large-scale sanctions package targeting multiple sectors of the Russian economy.”

What Politico didn’t mention is that Orbán-controlled media in Hungary is still blasting Russian propaganda about the war against Ukraine so a big chunk of the population has only heard of Putin’s favorite talking points about Ukraine.

The question is the other chunk of Orbán voters who are better informed and a bit more cerebral in their justification of Orbán’s recent love affair with Russia. Russia’s imperial ambitions and autocracy export has been a difficult pill to swallow for anyone who knows the first thing about eastern European history – but many Orbánists managed to rationalize it by saying that it is a different Russia now.

Ukraine showed that it is not the case. Once a dictator takes hold, we can only expect bad things. Not only does Putin regard the genocidal Stalin as his role model, but he also regards the 1980s as the era that must be brought back, cold war and all. With the invasion of Ukraine these intelligent Orbánists can no longer lie to themselves that easily.

Politico reminded that Orbán had to appear in Moscow earlier in February, supposedly negotiating a long-term gas deal with Putin. (Orbán actually dared to claim that it was a peace mission. I was seriously concerned that he would be made to watch the start of the invasion from the Kremlin, standing next to Putin. He doesn’t have a lot of choice is these matters.) We don’t know what Orbán had to give in exchange for the gas, but state controlled energy prices are the backbone of his reelection bid and they may become unsustainable – one way or the other.

The parallels with 1956 are also not working in Orbán’s favor. Orbán has made his political bones at the 1989 reburial of Imre Nagy, the 1956 prime minister who was executed for his part in the revolution against Russian occupation of Hungary. But Orbán’s anti-Russian credentials had to be buried if he was to please Putin. His efforts succeeded. In 2018, the statue of Imre Nagy has been removed from outside of Parliament unannounced, overnight and in secret. Meanwhile, Orbán has been sucking up to Putin so hard, it left no doubt as to whether it was voluntary. Russian tanks on the streets of Kyiv are way too poignant reminders of the parallels between 1956 and 2022.

Orbán Removes 1956 Memorial Signifying Return to Russian Sphere of Influence

It is difficult to know just how deeply Putin penetrated Hungary with Orbán’s assistance. It is a recurring theme that Hungarian authorities and secret services are kept in isolation by their western allies because of the unfettered Russian penetration in their ranks. Orbán also allowed Putin’s “spy bank” to open in Budapest with de facto sovereignty and outside of the jurisdiction of Hungarian authorities.

It was used to take over the role of financing pro-Putin politicians in Europe – circumventing pre-war sanctions – once the Czech no longer had the stomach to front for Putin. It is interesting whether the aforementioned treasonous western politicians will now also say no to Putin’s “loans” or just issued a few tweets to jump on the anti-Putin bandwagon. The Czech and the Romanians have already left the bank as shareholders and the Hungarian opposition is demanding that Orbán should follow suit – but Orbán is quiet. For a guy who supposed to have been at war with random things for the better part of the last decade he is oddly wimped out at the first whiff of an actual, real war.

orbán 2022

Orbán spent all his remaining influence in the EU trying to delay sanctions against Putin. In the end he didn’t veto – but it will be interesting to learn whether he was intimidated or bribed into dropping his veto. Did he get something in exchange for toeing the line for once? He has a long list of things he wants for himself right now – immunity for the last decade’s kleptocracy is at the top of that list.

For now, the picture is opaque. Orbán is signing off on most sanctions abroad – while his domestic media keeps pumping out Russian propaganda. (We don’t have RT or Sputnik in Hungarian as Orbán had his own media translate it to Hungarian.) He is careful not to mention the Russian giga-projects that should now also be trashed – but his MEPs in Brussels voted with the motion to block them.

Orbán is walking a tightrope between a population he had conditioned to love Putin (and who expect more loyalism and “peace” rhetoric) and the West. those who had enough of goulash Putinism and blame Orbán for it. He simply can’t please them all – and five weeks before the elections he is forced to take sides and lose voters with it.

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