Viktor Orban’s election victory in Hungary might be greeted with enjoyment of Moscow, Beijing and Mar-a-Lago — and with dismay in Brussels and Kyiv.
Forward of Sunday’s Hungarian parliamentary elections, Volodymyr Zelensky, the embattled Ukrainian president, referred to as Orban “virtually the only [leader] in Europe to openly support [Vladimir] Putin”. The Hungarian prime minister took his revenge instantly after claiming victory, singling out Zelensky as one of many “opponents” he had defeated — alongside Brussels bureaucrats and the worldwide media.
Even permitting for election evening euphoria, Orban’s taunting of Zelensky — on the day that brutal obvious battle crimes dedicated towards Ukrainian civilians have been uncovered — was grotesque. However it shouldn’t have been shocking. Prior to now, Orban has praised Putin for “making Russia great again”. He held a jovial assembly with the Russian president in Moscow, shortly earlier than the invasion of Ukraine.
Donald Trump is one other Orban fan. Earlier this 12 months, the previous US president endorsed the Hungarian chief’s re-election bid, calling him a “strong leader” who has achieved a “powerful and wonderful job”.
Orban has additionally cultivated a particular relationship with Xi Jinping’s China. Hungary was the primary EU state to purchase the Chinese language Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine. Orban’s authorities blocked an EU assertion criticising China over Hong Kong.
These sorts of attention-grabbing acts clarify why an election in Hungary — a rustic of slightly below 10mn, or roughly 2 per cent of the EU’s inhabitants — has assumed world significance. By his phrases and deeds, Orban has positioned himself as a global spokesman for an ideology that he calls “illiberal democracy”.
What this implies in Hungary is a political system that preserves the trimmings of democracy whereas hollowing out a lot of the substance. The voting on this weekend’s election appeared honest. However Orban has rigged the political system in his favour for greater than a decade. The courts have been packed, the civil service purged and the electoral system gerrymandered.
Above all, there was an assault on media freedom. Peter Marki-Zay, the Hungarian opposition chief, was given all of 5 minutes airtime on state tv — throughout the whole election marketing campaign. All of Hungary’s newspapers are Orban-friendly. It’s this political setting that explains why Hungary is the only EU nation rated solely “partly free” by Freedom Home, a think-tank.
Regardless of this document — or maybe due to it — Orban is a favorite of the pro-Trump proper within the US. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, labelled the Hungarian chief a “hero”. Tucker Carlson of Fox Information moved his entire present to Budapest for per week final 12 months — to showcase Orban’s Hungary as a potential mannequin for the US.
The far proper within the US and Europe see Orban as a mannequin due to his assertive nationalism, his arduous line on refugees and his embrace of populist themes on cultural points. In the course of the current election marketing campaign, Orban portrayed his issues with Brussels as stemming from the EU’s want to impose “gender insanity” on Hungary.
In actuality, the core of the argument between Brussels and Budapest lies in prices that Orban’s authorities has systematically undermined the rule of regulation and channelled EU funds to his cronies. A faculty good friend of Orban is now Hungary’s richest man.
Orban’s electoral triumph will feed the worry in Brussels that the EU could have left it too late in appearing towards him. Intolerant democracy is cemented into place in Hungary. Orban, 58, is the EU’s longest-serving nationwide chief and should stay in energy for a few years to come back. However though Orban and his worldwide admirers will really feel vindicated and euphoric, his life could quickly get extra difficult.
For greater than a decade, Orban has walked a tightrope. He has stayed within the EU membership — having fun with all the advantages this brings when it comes to funding, subsidies, elevated safety and diplomatic clout. On the similar time, he has courted anti-EU strongman figures — resembling Putin, Trump and Xi.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will make it more durable for Orban to maintain up this balancing act. Pushed by a combination of ethical outrage and worry, the remainder of the EU is mobilising towards Putin. The willingness to tolerate Orban’s double-dealing on Russia is prone to diminish sharply. As Zelensky mentioned, the Hungarian chief could quickly have to choose.
Till lately, Orban was saved from isolation, inside the EU, by the help of the Polish authorities — which has additionally clashed with Brussels on rule-of-law points. However the Poles are main the cry for harder motion towards Russia. They’ve made their unhappiness with Orban clear — and could also be considering a compromise with Brussels within the curiosity of EU unity towards Russia.
After his election victory, Orban claimed, as he usually has prior to now, that his model of intolerant conservatism represents the way forward for Europe. That could be a problem to the remainder of the EU. It ought to be taken extraordinarily critically, at a time when one other authoritarian nationalist is committing battle crimes on Hungary’s japanese border.
However Hungary’s rising isolation within the EU creates a chance to place some lengthy overdue stress on Orban. It have to be taken.