The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was a wakeup call for Europe. EU member states united in taking up a strong stance against Vladimir Putin’s aggression. Everyone seemed to hold the same front – everyone except for one country: Hungary. While other European states redoubled in a tour de force of liberal values, the Hungarian government sunk even deeper into illiberalism and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán further consolidated his power, despite a dismal economic performance and international ostracism.
In order to better understand how this could have happened when all of the favorite analysts of the Hungarian government (going against the warning of the international community) were predicting that there will be no invasion, one needs to look at the situation in Hungary and examine its foreign and domestic policies with regards to the war in Ukraine. This will also help explain how Viktor Orbán is still popular, despite Hungary having the highest inflation in the European Union (EU), and how he managed to win the election with a supermajority again by utilizing the war in the neighborhood. It is important to do so, as the Hungarian model of illiberalism – which enables authoritarian figures such as Viktor Orbán to rule strongly in the face of economic crisis and become an international pariah – is not unique.
The Case of Hungary Can Have Global Effects on Redefining Politics
Populism has been gaining ground in Europe. Although other countries are not echoing Valdimir Putin’s propaganda on the war, such a U-turn would not be unexpected if it would gain more votes, stemming from the nature of such politics. Outside of the EU, a prime example of a lukewarm approach towards the war is embodied by former U.S. President Donald Trump, who desperately seeks reelection on an extremist populist ticket.
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Hungary is a country that experienced Russian aggression several times in the past. Viktor Orbán is a popular figure because of his apparent stance against the Soviet Union, yet now he goes against the Western nations, often condemning them, and plays a dangerous game in maintaining risky alliances with Russia and its satellites. It is, therefore, crucial to understand the reasons behind these tendencies and the benefits to the Hungarian regime, because only then can one start working on preventing the spread of similar politics. Illiberalism has no place among European values.
However, if liberals fail, illiberals might redefine the meaning of these values. Numerous freedoms – such as freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and press – as well as such values as tolerance, free markets, democracy, and peace, are at risk. Valdimir Putin has shown his true colors. He is waging a war he cannot win, and which does not benefit him in any real way – apart from the propaganda value. In order to sustain his power, he needs to repress the people of Russia – a process which destroys whatever freedoms Russian citizens could still grab onto.