Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

Opinion

Emboldened Orbán will not abandon Moscow

  • Fresh from victory, his fourth consecutive, Orbán now has no reason to slow down on his attack on LGBTQ rights, either - quite the reverse (Photo: Council of the European Union)
Listen to article

Last weekend, Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party not only won 88 out of the 106 single mandate constituencies, but also the popular vote — with more than 53 percent of the ballots cast on party lists.

The united Hungarian opposition, which according to polls was in a neck-and-neck race with Fidesz , only won 18 single mandate constituencies and 34 percent of the party list votes.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

And to add to the gloom, the extreme-right party Our Homeland also entered parliament, with 6.15 percent of the vote.

Those results are actually both a shock and a surprise for Hungary's EU partners. What do these new realities mean for European politics?

It is difficult to interpret the election results any other way than as broad political support for the policies of Orbán.

Namely, his Janus-faced 'Moscow and Brussels' foreign policy, his balancing act between the West and authoritarian global powers such as Russia but also China, and not least his ongoing conflict with the EU due to Hungary's anti-democratic and corruption track record.

Given that the war in Ukraine and Orbán's policy to Russia played the most central role in the election campaign, the obvious conclusion is that the Hungarian electorate embraced the government's ongoing and existing policies.

Hence Orbán will feel even more emboldened to further pursue Hungary's foreign policy balancing game with fresh legitimacy.

During the election campaign, Ukraine was framed as a hostile country and the Budapest government accused Kyiv of intervening in its domestic vote.

Ungracious in victory

Indeed, in his victory speech Orbán referred to Ukrainian president Zelensky — and of course the EU — as one of the primary opponents he actually defeated by his election victory.

In light of the emerging anti-Ukraine narrative, expecting Hungary's re-alignment with a more Ukraine-friendly or Russia-critical position is simply unrealistic.

Even more so, because domestic concerns do not give any motivation to readjust Hungarian foreign policy. Quite the reverse — the domestic cost of such a readjustment could be significant.

Orbán will further pursue and extend his multi-vector foreign policy that keeps a balance between the Western and Eastern ties of the country.

He will ask for an even higher prize for his minimum cooperation at EU and Nato-level and for not blocking joint positions on sanctions.

Orbán's red lines, those he will never be ready to cross, are the suspension of energy cooperation with Russia and Nato's direct involvement in support of Ukraine.

Peace in Ukraine, return to Moscow?

If the war in Ukraine ends with a political solution in the next couple of months, the Budapest government will be among the first and most vocal advocates of reestablishing pragmatic economic relations with Russia.

However, Hungary won't be alone with that agenda.

The surprising unity of the whole European political spectrum over Russia, with even the radical-right parties distancing themselves from the Kremlin should not deceive observers.

There will be a gradual return from the European anti-Russian unity forged in the shock of the invasion to the traditionally more pro-Russian stance of the radical right, which will be further encouraged by Orbán's landslide election victory on a pro-Russian platform.

A pragmatic turn may also occur in Hungary's relationship with its closest central European regional partners Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

Relations within the 'Visegrad 4' group became tense over the past month due to Orbán's blatantly pro-Russian approach and reluctance to support Ukraine.

Even a joint defence ministers meeting in Budapest was canceled, sending an unmistakable but symbolic message.

However, in one of his most recent interviews Poland's de facto supreme leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, signaled the possibility of pragmatic cooperation with Budapest, in spite of the differences in the two countries' approach to Moscow.

With that move Kaczyński in fact acknowledged the mutual strategic interest in keeping up the Hungarian-Polish defence pact against potential EU sanctions.

Orbán may now feel emboldened also in his conflict-laden approach to EU institutions.

Although overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, one key campaign tool of Fidesz was the anti-LGBTQ referendum scheduled parallel to the elections.

While invalid thanks to an abstention campaign, 92 percent of the ballots cast supported the government's hate-mongering approach.

In a similar vein to Orbán's previous and similarly-invalid 2016 anti-refugee referendum, government propaganda will exploit the popular support expressed to introduce further measures to intimidate sexual minorities.

Hungary's gradual autocratisation will hence also continue, putting further burden on its relationship with the European Union

Author bio

Daniel Hegedüs is transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMFUS).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Analysis

EU can expect Orbán 'on steroids'

After winning a landslide election, Orbán is expected to harden his pro-Putin position, entrench his conservative views and continue eroding democracy at home.

Hungary's Orbán secured fourth consecutive win

In a surprisingly massive win, Hungary's nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán, Russian president Vladimir Putin's closest EU ally, has secured another majority in Sunday's general election against a united opposition.

Orbán has hurt Hungarian culture, not just politics

Once considered a global haven for artistic creation, Hungary under Viktor Orbán's influence is becoming an increasingly closed space for artists and cultural producers who oppose the government.

Why Orbán won't really change his spots

Viktor Orbán will never admit in his upcoming election campaign that his Russia-policy over the past 12 years has been a huge, strategic mistake.

Podcast

Ultraconservatives in Putin's shadow

Vladimir Putin's Ukraine war has threatened to be a public relations disaster for hard-right gatherings like the Conservative Political Action Conference — now meeting in Budapest and featuring Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who remains highly-cordial with the Kremlin.

Feature

Hungary sets dogs on non-Ukrainian refugees

Orbán's government is still beating up and pushing back non-Ukrainian migrants, including one Lebanese man who fled the Ukrainian war zone to Europe.

The six-hour U-turn that saw the EU vote for austerity

The EU's own analysis has made it clear this is economic self-sabotage, and it's politically foolish three months from European elections where the far-right are predicted to increase support, writes the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.

The farming lobby vs Europe's wolves

Over the past few years, farming and hunting organisations have waged an unrelenting vendetta against the wolf, culminating in the European Commission's 180-degree policy U-turn, writes the director of the Humane Society International for Europe.

Latest News

  1. EU agrees rules to ban products made with forced labour
  2. I'll be honest — Moldova's judicial system isn't fit for EU
  3. Rafah invasion — a red line for EU on Israel?
  4. EU must overhaul Africa trade offer to parry China, warns MEP
  5. EU watchdog faults European Commission over Libya
  6. Hungary's Ukrainian refugees in two minds as relations sour
  7. The six-hour U-turn that saw the EU vote for austerity
  8. Defence, von der Leyen, women's rights, in focus This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us