‘The Brussels sanctions will destroy us!’ was a slogan featured on billboards (with the sanctions depicted as bombs) paid for by the Hungarian government, which have been displayed across the country since the second half of 2022. The campaign was introduced as a reaction to the European Union’s decision to impose sanctions against the import of Russian products – most prominently energy resources.
The rhetoric around the billboards directly suggests that it is the EU, and its sanction packages, that should be blamed for the high inflation and the energy crisis – and not the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The Hungarian government has used the rising prices to delegitimize EU policies while not discussing the role of Russia in the situation.
Even though this discourse against the EU by the Fidesz government is not a new phenomenon, Hungary’s anomalous position in the middle of unanimity among other member states proves to be an interesting puzzle that should be unpacked. The aim of this article is to offer a deeper understanding of Hungary’s ambiguous standpoint by looking at the governmental discourse that has successfully convinced Hungarian voters repeatedly.
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Social values diverged even before the war, as Hungary has been committed to ‘protecting’ conservative, Catholic, ‘illiberal’ values from Western liberalism in terms of migration, gender questions, and liberal democracy. Over the past year, it has become apparent that this gap has not decreased, but that the EU has shifted its focus from domestic issues to Russia. However, the divergence of these values is still significantly present in the agenda of the EU, as Hungary threatens to obstruct the EU’s policies to punish Russia and support Ukraine. The phenomenon described here had also applied to Poland before the war, as it allied with Hungary on conservative values and violation of democratic institutions.
Notwithstanding, since the outbreak of the war, Poland proved to be a crucial geostrategic asset to the European Union. The country’s rather negative historical and political experience (such as the Soviet invasion or the circumstances of the Smolensk air disaster) with Russia might have urged the Polish government to strengthen ties with its European partners.
There is an important element of referring to the Hungarian nation’s history which can be attributed to Fidesz’s nationalist values and communication. It drew on Hungarian historical elements – both from the distant past and the more recent events. These references include Hungary’s efforts to fight back the muslim Ottomans in the 15-17th centuries and the country’s eventual division between the occupation of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires, or the Soviet occupation in the 20th century. This rhetoric builds on the viewpoint that during its 1000 years of existence Hungary has always been fighting with external (mostly much stronger) powers which aimed to control the Hungarian ‘nation’.