Many of the most celebrated love stories are actually incredibly abusive and rooted in dependence – so I figured I might as well call what Putin and Orbán have a love story.
444.hu has recently released a 21-minute video neatly summarizing the Orbán-Putin affair for the uninitiated. They also added English subtitles so it’s highly recommended. (Content starts at 1:10)
Some notes and annotations:
- Orbán became a household name in Hungarian politics by sending the Russians home in 1989. Many western analyst and ageing commentators got to know him then and only remember that persona. They don’t bother to update their information about Orbán’s twists and turns ever since.
- One such turn was becoming friendly to Russia and a vassal to Putin. Before he roared back into power in 2010 on the wave of discontent after the financial crisis, Orbán was colorfully attacking the then Hungarian government for every meeting or deal with Putin.
- In 2006 he fired up street riots against the election results. His party likened themselves to the Belarus protestors who protested against the fraudulent election of Lukashenka. (Today, 2006 is the new 1956 in Orbán’s narrative.)
- 2007 Orbán: “Maybe the oil comes from the east, but freedom always comes from the west.”
- In 2008 Orbán’s predecessor made a deal with Putin about supporting South Stream, Russia’s way to circumvent and starve its eastern satellites. Orbán duly criticized it as the Hungarians had no say in it. He calls it a coup.
- In 2008, during Russia’s attack on Georgia, Orbán told everywhere that Hungary in particular has to stand up against Russian aggression, when an independent country is under attack. (Excellent footage of the ghost of Orbán past. Remember, your ageing commentators are still keeping this image in mind when they opine about Orbán. I guess old people inevitably try to live off their accumulated information after a while and save the energy of updating it. But still, they should be embarrassed for this one.)
- Also 444.hu just published a collection of Orbán-quotes that he said on the March 15 celebrations every year. Until 2010 he was warning about the Russian threat. After that he started to replace Moscow with Brussels and started to incite his followers against the EU. In the last years he started to frame his 2006 riots against the election he lost as yet another revolution.
- Fun fact: One of his pre-2010 speeches has been played (by trolls) to Orbánist voters marching to listen to Orbán’s 2022 speech and they booed hard. (“You want the gas to be turned off?“) When did half the country become such belligerent, submissive cowards? Always ready to start violence against the weaker and the peaceful – but meek little poodles for Putin.
- According to the video around 2009 Orbán realized that he was the only one among western politicians who actually rejected the Russians on the basis of principle – while all western politicians, Blair, Bush, the Germans, happily did business with Putin. Who, by that time, had imprisoned Khodorkovsky, had a few dissidents and journalists fall out of windows, and invaded Georgia. It was all hugely rewarding for Putin – so unsurprisingly he kept doing it.
- Looking at Angela Merkel and her relentless appeasement of both her people and Putin (the ill-conceived nuclear phase out and Nord Stream II) should also give us pause. It certainly did to Orbán, and he learned his lessons.
- In 2009, a year before he came back into power, Orbán visited Putin in Moscow.
- A few months after the public meeting between Orbán and Putin in 2009 there was another, secret meeting, between two Hungarians and Putin’s FSB men in Moscow. (We only learned about it in 2016, when an investigative site wrote it up.) The businessmen were Orbán’s top oligarch and his deputy. They were learning the ropes of how to get rich dealing with Russia.
- The aforementioned top oligarch fell out with Orbán in 2015, after Orbán’s reelection. He claimed that they fell out over Orbán’s treasonous dealings with Putin that he could not stomach. Everyone was waiting for him to come public with the details, but it never happened. He lost all his businesses (save a goat farm) and disappeared from public view. Orbán replaced him with his own childhood friend, who was until then a gas fixer in his birth village, and turned him into a Forbes-rich serial tender-winner. Global Forbes rich. In 3 years. This new oligarch doesn’t seem to have any spirit of independence, looks more like a well-paid front for Orbán.
- Few remember, but the early years of Orbán’s new government (until 2014) was not a story of friendship with Putin. The “Eastern Opening” in foreign policy was announced, but it mainly just meant dodgy deals with third world countries no one was dealing with for a reason. Moscow was cold to Budapest. Until 2014, the year when Putin invaded Eastern Ukraine.
- On a fateful day in January 2014, right when Ukrainians were protesting at Maidan for their western allegiance, the previously non-existent relations between Moscow and Budapest burst into existence when we saw Orbán in Moscow (no one knew he was going) signing a deal for a 10+ billion euro nuclear power station with ancient Russian technology to be built in Hungary. (A month later Putin invaded Eastern Ukraine.)
- Everyone thought Orbán can’t survive this politically – especially not two months before the elections. He clearly had no choice in whether to go or whether to sign. The deal also had Russia, nuclear and decades-long dependence in it, mixed with a massive corruption opportunity. There was no previous debate, not even a warning. Not the parliament, and least of all the public had a chance to weigh in. But Orbán pushed the deal down his voters’ throats and within weeks his fake NGOs were chanting deliriously pro-Russian and pro-Rosatom slogans at a national holiday in Budapest’s streets.
- Orbán’s 2014 campaign was about cheap energy prices for domestic consumers – a price control that has been in place ever since (!). Cheap Russian gas was a cornerstone of his “utility bill reduction” and his election weapon.
- Later on, the noise from the 2015 refugee crisis has drowned out everything and Orbán embarked upon his most successful hate campaign yet, against refugees. The refugee crisis was also partly of Putin’s making. He just divorced his old wife and felt reinvigorated, entering Eastern Ukraine and Syria, and picking out the weakest link among EU leaders to export autocracy and kleptocracy to Hungary. It was not mutual and it was not love. But Orbán could no longer say no and got rich in the process, anyway.
- July 2014 – Orbán announces the “illiberal state” or “illiberal nation”. (He never says illiberal “democracy”, it just slips off of the tongues of western commentators and they assume it must be. But no. It is illiberal state at best, nation at worst, in which nation refers to ethnicity, not a country.)
- Speech by speech, campaign by campaign Orbán built the narrative of Brussels replacing Moscow and the European Union replacing the Soviet Union, against which Orbán has to defend Hungary. (Read: his own ass) By 2018 his voters love Russia the most in the EU, thanks to years of shrieking Kremlin propaganda streaming from the Hungarian broadcaster and from each and every Orbán-controlled medium. We don’t even have RT or Sputnik. Orbán does it for them.
- From 2015 the EU funds have finally started coming in earnest – and also to act as a classic case of resource curse on Hungary, enriching Orbán and his cronies, stifling innovation and entrepreneurial spirit and building up a system of neo-feudalist clientelism with Orbán at its top.
- Copying Putin: NGOs, the backbone of civil society, have been attacked by law and law enforcement in Hungary – just like in Moscow. They were listed as foreign agents and demonized. The media buyout has been accelerated (through cronies at first) and Orbán amassed much of it in a “foundation” that he controls. His childhood friend got enriched shamelessly, while Orbán met Putin over a dozen times (that we know of).
- Meanwhile, Putin established an bank in Budapest to pursue his interests in the EU and the Hungarian residency bond program awarded free roam in the EU to Russian officials. The family of FSB leader and spy chief Sergey Naryshkin among them (most famous for being publicly humiliated by Putin in the video announcing the war.) (A few weeks before the war the US decided to partially drop Hungary from the ESTA visa waiver program: Hungarian passport holders who were not born in Hungary now have to apply for visa.)
- According to journalist talking to 444 Orbán also had a personal reason to run with Putin: he felt he was too good for domestic politics, that he was above it already. He didn’t want to be the small guy in international politics, but short of making Hungary somehow bigger, he had to come up with an idea to see himself as a player on the international field. He started to see himself as the clever boy who plays the big powers against each other and out-manipulate everyone. And being the guy who regularly meets Putin and desperately wants to meet Trump (it took him time) – and also is the cog in the stick in the wheel of the EU renders him a “world leader”. So there, both Putin and Orbán needed a reality check when it wasn’t forthcoming from the EU.
- Despite what Orbán fashioned himself to be, Putin kept using him, an EU leader, as prop to announce his moves in Ukraine on EU soil. He used Orbán to appear in the EU when he was invading Eastern Ukraine in 2015 and his troops shot down a commercial flight. (Watch Orbán’s face at 9:30 when Putin decides to send a message to Ukraine to capitulate – at a press conference with Orbán in Budapest.) He also uses Orbán to block any sanctions within the EU.
- When Orbán was made to visit him in Moscow in February 2022 I was worried he will be made a prop to watch with Putin as his troops invade Ukraine. If it didn’t happen it was because China asked Putin to postpone the invasion until after the dumbass muscle-display of the Olympics.
- Orbán’s media workers kept pushing until the last minute how ridiculous it is that Putin would invade Ukraine. Even Orbán appeared oblivious three days before the war, in his state of the nation speech.
- US secret services had info about Putin planning an actual invasion – but Orbán’s secret service was obviously not informed. The reason: they are so full of Russian moles that western allies now routinely withhold information from Hungary.
- In 2022 and with an open Russian invasion of Ukraine 12 years of ever-more intense Putin alliance is burying Orbán among Hungary’s western allies. Even the Polish PiS-government, Orbán’s comrades in arms to defy EU values and block the alliance, had enough of him for his continued Putinism. But he is nothing if not self-interested. Somehow managed to convince the EU to drop the rule of law procedure and send him the money anyway – no doubt his lack of vetoes against Russian sanctions had to be bought. We are expecting details to learn if he also bought immunity for the last 12 years of kleptocracy, although if he wins again he will pull that off easily.
- Western allies had had enough of him but that doesn’t mean he can’t keep his voters in their information bubble that is still pushing Kremlin propaganda about the too-short-skirt of Ukraine and the NATO’s provocation (the same NATO that spent the last two decades wondering if they should just disband because Russia is no longer a threat). They add a good dose of “we want peace and gas” and “the opposition wants war and send Hun soldiers to die”. That is the public media and the hundreds of print, online, radio and TV channels Orbán now owns.
- As 444 puts it, Orbán’s media is trying to tackle the problem by spreading every possible points of view among his audience and let them choose whichever argument they can believe in support of Orbán.
- Orbán’s rallying cry for the war is “strategic calm”, which is a fancy way of suddenly becoming a peace dove and only wanting gas and peace.
- Meanwhile the refugee system that Orbán dismantled in 2015 in his “war” with Brussels is still non-existent so the much hated civilians are trying to deal with the influx of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. The government does nothing.
- Bonus in the video: How Orbánists are trying to ballet around their former Putinism – but also defend it. “Strategic calm.”
444 also released a longer version of Putin’s overtaking of Hungary. 90 minutes and no English subtitles.