Author: Irina KHALTURINA
The parliamentary elections held in Hungary on April 3 caused a high international resonance. In fact, the victory of Viktor Orban, who has been in power for 12 years, was predicted by many. But even for his staunch supporters the high result of Orban’s right-wing party Fidesz currently in coalition with its junior ally, the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) came as a surprise. So, Fidesz won the constitutional majority of seats in the parliament for the fourth time (53%, or 135 seats). At the same time, the vote turnout was a record 73.5%.
Cause and effect
Fidesz-KDNP was opposed by a broad coalition of Euro-Atlantic forces, Unity for Hungary, consisting of six parties: the left-wing Socialist Party, social-liberal Democratic Coalition, left-green Dialogue for Hungary, green-liberal Politics Can Be Different, liberal Momentum Party associated with George Soros, and the right-conservative Jobbik. Officially these political forces were led by the provincial mayor Peter Marki-Zay, but actually by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and Budapest’s mayor Gergely Karacsony. The reason for such a big split in the opposition leadership became clear right after its defeat during the parliamentary election. No one expected such a defeat, with the worst outcome since Orban’s election back in 2010.
Unity for Hungary relied heavily on voters in the capital, having won in 16 of 18 constituencies. But it was a complete failure nationwide, with only 35% of votes (56 seats). Marki-Zay publicly and very emotionally admitted the defeat of his political bloc: "I am as stunned as everyone else. I don't want to hide my disappointment, my sadness. We never thought the result would be like this." That said, almost all of Marki-Zay's associates pinned the blame for the defeat on him personally. He is primarily criticised for his careless statements and neglect of social issues. Either way, finger-pointing and a desire to rethink the outcome to draw conclusions is an inevitable and sometimes effective process.
In turn, Marki-Zay blamed the government propaganda on dominant state-run television channels and media. This is where it gets extremely interesting, as Orban's coalition was mainly voted for by the rural provinces (88 of 106 constituencies), where the electorate consists mainly of the elderly, which is not as rich as the Budapest population. Also, about a third of voters in Jobbik (19% in the 2018 elections) did not like the party's Euro-Atlantic reorientation, hence voting for Orban. This eventually had a tangible effect on the final result.
But it was not only the urban-rural confrontation and ideological and cultural polarisation of the country that determined the outcome of the recent Hungarian elections. Everything is much more complex. It was directly related to the EU, especially its foreign policy. Viktor Orban has long been considered a naughty child of the EU, known for his strong opposition to the rest of the system. Brussels has a whole list of complaints against Orban. He is accused of authoritarianism, increasing the powers of his government at the expense of other branches of government. There are also claims of Budapest’s increased control over various state institutions and media, reluctance to accept the required quota of refugees from the Middle East, and an outspoken bias against the LGBT community as well as George Soros’s institutions. That’s why, immediately after the announcement of election results, Orban said: "Our victory is so big that it is even visible from the moon, and certainly from Brussels.”
Another intriguing point of the Hungarian elections was the rather tense relationship between Budapest and Kiev, which now looks rather unusual amid the unanimous support given to Ukraine and its government around the world. We can see quite the opposite in Hungary. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has criticised Orban, while Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó accused the Ukrainian authorities of trying to influence the Hungarian parliamentary elections. Hungarian-Ukrainian contradictions have long roots, primarily due to the rights of Hungarians in Transcarpathia. For example, Budapest has strongly criticised the Ukrainian law on education, which reduces the scope of the Hungarian language in Transcarpathia. In turn, the Hungarians have blocked the operation of the Ukraine-NATO council for several years. Now Kiev also dislikes Orban's position on anti-Russian sanctions.
Indeed, Orban, who has long been reproached for excessive closeness to Moscow and his frequent visits to the Kremlin, has taken a different course. Meanwhile, he explains his interest in Russia from a very pragmatic point of view, without making any ideological references. Hungary is 80% dependent on Russian gas and has a contract with Rosatom for expansion of its nuclear power plant in Paks. Given that the country is landlocked and has no LNG terminals or other pipelines passing through the country, it is easy to understand Orban’s position. He claims that the EU will not be able to refuse Russian gas. Otherwise, he says, it will do so only at the expense of its economic interests. Budapest said it was ready to pay for Russian gas in rubles, which, of course, again caused a very sharp reaction of its European colleagues. German Minister of Economy Robert Habek even said that such a decision would isolate Hungary.
But can Orban be called a friend of Russia, as he is often portrayed in the Russian media? Certainly not. He is a political egoist, so to speak. For example, he underlines his commitment to NATO and the EU in every possible way, but only when it complies with his own interests. Orban always defends a strong nation state. That is why, as he explains, in a situation of war between Russia and Ukraine Hungary has to maintain a strict neutrality. How justified such a position is another question. The point is that the same position is shared by a large part of the country. Apparently, Orban’s political opponents have missed the point entirely. Within the Unity for Hungary coalition, only Dialogue for Hungary and Momentum have an unambiguous position on the situation around Ukraine. Meanwhile, Orban is trying to get political benefits from his ‘neutrality’, offering the Russian President Vladimir Putin to organise talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelenski in Budapest...
It is therefore interesting how Orban's success will affect overall trends within European politics, especially after the elections in France and his own statement of him being impatient to see their outcome. We will soon see whether the so-called far-right populism develops any further amid very favourable conditions for this. Hungary, France, the EU, and the whole world are entering another round of economic turbulence, with inflation, rising prices, an increasing number of refugees coupled with energy and food crisis.