5th Mar 2024


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)
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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.

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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).


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


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