Commentary

How Orbán navigates between Putin and the upcoming elections

It is impossible to tell what he stands for now but it is definitely disgraceful.

19 days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and 19 days before his tightest election challenge yet, Orbán had to give a speech at the March 15 national holiday. The speech and Orbán’s whole conduct that day was a low point for Hungary’s reputation in the world.

Partly because Orbán’s Slovenian, Czech and Polish counterparts visited besieged Kyiv at the same time and Orbán refused to even explain why he was not there to show solidarity. (Their Slovakian colleague also stayed at home and he now regrets it.) Interestingly, two of the three prime ministers are Orbán’s admirers (or former admirers). Both Slovenia’s Jansa and Poland’s Morawiecki were taking lessons from Orbán – who in turn was teaching them what he learned from Putin about becoming a strongman, taking over the media and the judiciary and illegalizing dissent.

But the war put a wedge between Orbán and pretty much every other western leader in the world (with the possible exception of Trump, but Trump seems to have no capacity of understanding – or he is just incredibly compromised). It is unlikely that the Poles will keep up the cheerful collaboration with Orbán now that he proved resistant to standing up to Poland’s arch enemy, the Russian empire. What that will mean form Orbán’s and Morawiecki’s alliance against the EU remains to be seen. Politicians are irresponsible and not to be held accountable for what they do and say during election campaign, that is true. But there are limitations to that caveat as a war might be slightly more momentous in their eyes as Orbán’s desperate clinging to power.

To illustrate Orbán’s Polish problem one has to know that Orbán regularly received a contingent of Polish nationalists bussed to Budapest to march for him on national holidays – the anniversaries of the 1956 anti-Russian revolution in October and the March 15 anniversary of the 1848 revolution. Both these revolutions have been eventually crushed in blood by … yes, Russia. As a reaction of Orbán’s behavior that day the Ukrainian foreign minister said that Orbán doesn’t seem to remember either revolution very well. And the Polish crowd? They simply failed to show up this year in Budapest to help Orbán “show force” at the March 15 political rally.

The Polish were represented though. Orbán’s previous ally in EPP, Donald Tusk came to Budapest. But he gave a speech for the opposition rally, not to Orbán’s.

There were a few moments during the day that deserve a giggle. When Orbán’s 2007 March 15 speech was played from a window to participants of Orbán’s rally (in which he said that we belong to the west Orbánists booed and demanded to know if the opposition activists wished to live without gas. (We choose gas was a recurring theme among them.)

Even the trolls with the purposely overdone pro-Orbán posters caricaturing Orbánists’ worshipping tone could simply just blend in – but the joke party activist wearing a dinosaur costume was stabbed with a pair of scissors and punched in the Orbánist crowd. (The stabbing will not be punished, the activist might be.) And when three Orbánist protestors caught the wrong ride from their town to Budapest and found themselves on board of an opposition bus they were terrified and demanded to be let off – despite being offered to be taken to Budapest. What do they think people do with members of the other party?

And when it came to Orbán’s speech?

  • he did not mention 1848 (and not just the part where Russia crushed our freedom fight)
  • he did not mention Ukraine
  • he did not condemn Putin’s violence
  • but he attacked the opposition. The opposition wants war. And fighting the opposition is the real war, according to him, against the other half of the country. Life or death war. Said the prime minister. During an actual war.
  • he had the cheek to call Donald Tusk the black cat of international politics. Orbán. The man whose visit is the kiss of death for a politician.
  • he announced complete neutrality in the war, not to take any sides, as if it was somehow indifferent to Hungarian interests which side wins. (It is not.)
  • he never mentioned Putin
  • but he quoted Schwarzenegger. Too bad Schwarzenegger doesn’t support Putin

  • unlike the Ukraine war, Orbán took his time to mention the gender war and his referendum to oppose the imaginary trans propaganda in kindergartens
  • he spoke as a party leader, not once as a statesman
  • he used the term “force” so many times, someone suggested he should give this speech again on May the 4th
  • speaking of Star Wars, there is a major Jedi mind trick pulled over his followers who still (still!) exclusively only listen to pro-Kremlin propaganda about the war on the public media and in several hundred other media outlets Orbán controls. The parallel reality is to be maintained at least after April 3

The next day Orbán’s speech was repeated 9 times in its entirety on the public television – while the opposition candidate got 5 minutes to talk. That is 5 minutes for the entire campaign – and the entire four years between two campaigns.

Then Orbán went to look at the Ukraine war. From a safe distance. He decided to keep an eyen on the refugees situation from Debrecen, 20 km from the Romanian border. Yes, Romania. He will spend three days there in a crony’s hotel, probably taking long looks at the refugee center that he belligerently dismantled in 2015, at the height of his pretend war with Brussels over the refugee quotas. (Pretend war because he secretly accepted the quota refugees, he just kept grandstanding that he never would.)

I guess he is right. We really need the return of masculinity and courage…

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