Hungarian election: roots and effects

Hungary’s Orbán, whose right-wing nationalist party won reelection just four days ago ( 04/03/22), The success of Fidesz in rural districts and its defeat in Budapest show that the country is not only severely divided politically but also increasingly polarized in geographic and educational terms. Fidesz is highly popular in villages and among the less-educated and older age groups but doesn’t perform as well in cities and among more-educated people and younger age groups.

This is a result that will be mourned in Brussels and celebrated in the Kremlin. After pledging to keep Hungary out of the confrontation between the liberal West and Vladimir Putin’s Russia over Ukraine, Mr Orbán has the mandate to obstruct and disrupt E.U. attempts to impose further sanctions on Moscow. When European unity is paramount, that is a problem that western leaders can do without. But at a still more fundamental level, the E.U. faces the acute dilemma of dealing with a member state in which democratic norms. In his 12 years in power, Orban has often clashed with the E.U. over what critics have called his increasingly undemocratic tendencies, “We won a victory so big that you can perhaps see it from the moon, and certainly from Brussels,” Mr Orban told a jubilant crowd of supporters late Sunday, taking a dig at the European Union. In the following, he not only described Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as one of his campaign “opponents” during his victory speech but also received congratulations from Putin, according to CNN


Two far-right political leaders friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin have won reelection in Europe, even as Moscow’s largely unpopular war in Ukraine drags on. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban easily sailed to victory against a coalition of political opponents from both the left and right. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic won a second term with 60% of the votes. Despite Hungary and Serbia having very different histories, Mr Orban governs a country that, until he came to power, viewed Russia with great distrust due to its past suffering at Russia’s hands, most notably when Moscow sent troops to brutally crush an anti-communist uprising in 1956. Mr Vucic’s nation, however — Slavic and Orthodox Christian, like Russia — has long looked to Moscow as its ally and protector.

This background is related to the Hungarian Revolution, a popular uprising in Hungary in 1956, following a speech by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He attacked the period of Joseph Stalin’s rule. Encouraged by the new freedom of debate and criticism, Hungary’s rising tide of unrest and discontent broke out into active fighting in October 1956. Rebels won the revolution’s first phase, and Imre Nagy became premier, agreeing to establish a multiparty system. On November 1, 1956, he declared Hungarian neutrality and appealed to the United Nations for support, but Western powers were reluctant to risk a global confrontation. On November 4, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to stop the revolution, and Nagy was executed for treason in 1958.

How was Orban elected?

Before Hungary’s election, Mr Orban hit back to counter opposition charges that his policy on Ukraine had betrayed foreign allies and Hungary’s painful memories of aggression by Russia. Mr Orban mobilized the news media, mainly controlled by the state and by friendly tycoons, to cast his opponents as warmongers bent on sending Hungarian troops to fight against Russia. The election offered a “choice between war and peace,” pro-government media warned.

The campaign seems to have worked, even among some older voters who remember the suffering caused by Moscow’s troops in 1956. “Why should Hungarian boys fight for Ukraine?” asked Janos Dioszegi, who was 13 at the time of the Hungarian uprising and whose father was imprisoned for 14 years by Soviet-backed authorities for his part in the anti-Moscow uprising. He said “of course” he chose Mr Orban’s Fidesz party when he voted in Nagykovacsi, a small town near Budapest.


Echoing a line frequently aired in Fidesz-controlled media outlets, Mr Dioszegi said there was no need to help Ukraine defend itself because it had provoked the war by becoming “a military base for America.” However, the war next door in Ukraine derailed Mr Orban’s effort to get voters to focus on transgender individuals and gays, forcing a reboot concentrate on painting his opponents as eager to take Hungary to war.

The consistent line throughout Mr Orban’s public policies and communication is the concept of protection — a commitment to halting otherwise rapid changes in the country’s demographic makeup, extending even to cultural transformations and economic shifts. Who or what Mr Orban thinks Hungarians need to be protected from changes from time to time. Over the past decade, he has fought against migration, the European Union institutions, the U.S.-Hungarian billionaire George Soros, nongovernmental organizations, Western liberals, the I.M.F. and high utility bills, among other enemies.

During the campaign, Mr Orban put in place welfare benefits a few months before the election (income tax rebate for families with children, 13th-month pension, minimum wage increase, exemption from income tax for Hungarians under 25), as well as a price freeze on fuel and some essential food products.


According to left-wing Závecz’s leader, Tibor Závecz, no one expected a two-thirds majority, not even political scientists or even Fidesz itself. According to him, the key was the government’s communication on the war (they are the ones ensuring Hungary’s peace, “let’s stay out of this”), which convinced those undecided to vote for Fidesz at the last minute. In contrast, the opposition slogan “Europe or Putin” did not have the same potential as Fidesz’s message. Therefore, Závecz assesses that researchers failed to anticipate the impact of the communication on the war on undecided voters, which led to a severe number of distortions. With that, Fidesz’s dominance in media played a part. 


Even though there were 300,000 fewer (partly due to population decline) voters at the ballot boxes this year than four years ago, 100,000 more cast their ballots for the ruling alliance than in 2018. And while in 2018, only three districts were won by the opposition outside Budapest, this time around, they calculated at least 25-26 victories outside the capital but only succeeded in two. In brief, the portal demonstrated that 60-65% of Hungarians tended to vote for the right-wing populist or far-right sides (earlier Fidesz and Jobbik) in the last three elections.


One of the nations with the most outstanding individual reliance on Russian gas is Hungry; they import more than required for domestic consumption and export other energy products. The number is about 110.4 per cent of their requirement. Hungary is prepared to meet Moscow’s demands for Russian gas to be paid for in roubles. Viktor Orban has said in a challenge to the E.U.’s rejection of Vladimir Putin’s attempts to shift the terms of energy contracts. The Hungarian prime minister, who won a fourth consecutive term in office in Sunday’s landslide election victory, told a press briefing in Budapest that he was reassessing his close ties to Moscow and said he was currently an “adversary” of Russia. But he added that there would be no problem if Moscow followed through on its threat to cut off gas sales unless they were paid for in roubles. The demand is part of an attempt by Russia to hit back at western sanctions and prop up its currency.

Given this deep dependence on Russian gas and energy, and the risk of economic costs for the Hungarian people, another reason that led to the victory of the slogan of “choice between war and peace” was the background and memories of the Hungarian-Soviet conflict, which demonstrates The main demands of the Hungarian people in the current elections have been peace and the economy, so any group that could better address (or at least show) these two issues had a better chance of winning the election. 

Another effect of this election is the impact of the Ukraine war on the policies of Europe and its countries and the fact that other people (usually low to middle class) will have to pay for the policies chosen in Brussels or Washington.

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