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Will Viktor Orbán avoid the Twitter censors?

Viktor Orbán tweeted out this picture with the caption: 'Busy day ahead in Berlin with @Bundeskanzler. Stay tuned!'

October 11, 2022 - 7:00am

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán launched an official Twitter account on Monday morning, sparking interest among supporters and opponents alike.

Facebook has long been Orbán’s social media platform of choice for Hungarian audiences. His step into the world of Twitter — with a first post written in English — could mark the start of more concentrated efforts to connect with international conservatives. “Let’s make some noise!” shouts his first post, which highlights a trip to Berlin where Orbán is meeting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The question, though, is how much noise. Orbán’s notoriety among American establishment media, who don’t miss an opportunity to label him as an authoritarian, will put him in the bad books of Twitter censors from the start.

So, will his Twitter account go the same way as that of his friend Donald Trump? Some of his more combative culture war interventions — including an infamous recent claim that Hungary doesn’t want to become a “mixed-race” country — managed to provoke a Twitter storm even in his absence from the platform. If Orbán speaks his mind, his account could turn into another flashpoint in the battle over the free expression of conservative ideas on social media.

Yet it’s more likely that instead of providing a window into his soul, as was the case with Trump, Orbán’s Twitter account will become another part of his Fidesz party’s well-honed public relations machinery.

Orbán’s Facebook account is full of slickly produced videos portraying him as a dynamic leader in times of crisis. One recent clip came replete with dramatic action music as he and his cabinet grappled with Russia sanctions and the energy crisis. And after winning a landslide election victory in April, Orbán used Facebook to introduce his new cabinet as a “Fight Club” standing up for Hungarian interests.

Such effective use of social media is an oft-overlooked element in Fidesz’s remarkable electoral success. Orbán and his ministers buy into the youth-oriented nature of these platforms; Justice Minister Judit Varga, who plays a leading role in negotiations with the EU over the bloc’s withholding of funds for Hungary due to rule-of-law concerns, was mocked on Twitter the day before Hungary’s election for a post quoting Carly Rae Jepsen’s famously vacuous song “Call Me Maybe.”

But Varga’s critics missed the point entirely. Playful use of social media is all part of Fidesz’s effort to make its brand of conservatism not just acceptable, but desirable — even fashionable. The party encourages a dichotomy between its fun-loving, optimistic conservatism and a progressive opposition painting an unremittingly bleak picture of modern Hungary. Faced with this choice, many voters naturally gravitate towards the former.

The success of this narrative means Orbán would probably relish being banished by the faceless censors of Twitter. Still, his account is likely to be another outlet for Fidesz’s persuasive and tightly controlled communications, only this time aimed at conservatives beyond Hungary’s borders.

William Nattrass is a British journalist based in Prague and news editor of Expats.cz

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