breaking news from the world of ideas

by William Nattrass
Wednesday, 15
June 2022

Why Hungarians boo taking the knee

Central Europeans do not take kindly to lectures on privilege

Hungarians are celebrating today — and not just because their football team thrashed England 4-0 at Molineux last night. They also see a moral dimension in the victory, with headlines focusing on the booing of the Hungarian national anthem and chants of “you racist bastards” from England fans, after previous controversy over England ‘taking the knee’ at an away match in Budapest on June 4. 


At the Budapest game — supposed to be played behind-closed-doors due to racism from Hungarian fans at Euro 2020 — the gesture was booed by a crowd of 35,000 schoolchildren allowed to watch the game by the Hungarian FA. After heavy criticism from England manager Gareth Southgate and his players, along with widely reported comments in the British media about “brainwashed” Hungarian youth, a Hungarian government spokesperson bullishly said “anyone who thinks that children at a football match in Budapest can be blamed for any kind of political statement is truly an idiot.”  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 31
May 2022

Viktor Orbán defeats the EU — again

The bloc has caved into his demands by carving Hungary out of the oil embargo

After almost a month of wrangling, the EU finally announced a long-awaited ban on Russian oil late last night. European Council President Charles Michel said the ban would immediately affect 75% of oil imports from Russia, “cutting a large source of financing for its war machine.” 

Viewed in the cold light of day, though, the embargo falls short. In truth, the deal, portrayed as a compromise between Hungary and the rest of the bloc over the former’s demand that its oil supplies be protected, has little in the way of “compromise” about it. To get Hungary onside, Brussels has caved to Viktor Orbán’s demands, effectively granting Hungary a total exemption for an indefinite length of time.  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Thursday, 26
May 2022

Once again, the media gets hysterical over Viktor Orbán

The state of emergency in Hungary isn't the end of democracy

In a message posted on Facebook, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced a state of emergency to deal with the effects of war raging across the border in Ukraine. Orbán told the nation that “the world is on the brink of economic crisis,” and that emergency powers are needed to “allow the government to react immediately and protect Hungary, and Hungarian families, by all possible means.” 

Right on cue, cries of “dictatorship” arose from international media and politicians. Readers were informed that “Hungary’s authoritarian leader is using the Ukraine war as an excuse to seize more power,” and that “the Hungarian government is now using the humanitarian crisis to further its own authoritarian ambitions.” MEP Guy Verhofstadt frothed that Orbán’s emergency powers are out of “Putin’s playbook” and an “abomination of all that’s European.” ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Wednesday, 18
May 2022

Can Viktor Orbán’s ‘fight club’ take on the EU?

The Hungarian PM's new cabinet is setting its sights on the bloc

After swearing his prime ministerial oath in the Hungarian parliament on Monday, Viktor Orbán gave a speech squarely aimed at the EU.

“The only question is this: what are we doing in the European Union?” he asked. “Every day, Brussels abuses its power and tries to impose on us all manner of things that are bad for us and alien to us.” 

Hungary is fighting back against the EU’s new power to withhold budget funds from member states, which Budapest claims is actually being used to pressure Hungary into dropping controversial policies, such as its limitation of LGBT+ content in public life.  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Thursday, 5
May 2022

Unity on Ukraine is crumbling in Eastern Europe

Concerns over NATO expansion and oil embargoes are dividing EU countries

Croatian President Zoran Milanović’s intervention on the possible accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO was anything but diplomatic.  

“I will be chasing the sinful souls of every parliament member who votes in favour like the devil” was his warning to Croatian lawmakers expected to back Sweden and Finland’s anticipated membership application. Milanović said that if called upon as head of state to represent Croatia in NATO discussions, he would veto the two countries’ admission. 

Milanović argues that before NATO admits any more members in the name of western solidarity, it should first pressure Bosnia and Herzegovina to change its election law and “give (Bosnian) Croats their fundamental rights.” The Croatian government claims Croats are not properly represented in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency and condemned elections coming in the country this October as “illegitimate.”   ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Thursday, 14
April 2022

China shows its hand in eastern Europe

Serbia and Hungary will be top targets for increased Chinese influence

Tensions in central Europe rose this weekend when six Chinese Air Force transport planes landed unexpectedly in Belgrade. Reports quickly emerged that the planes were delivering HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems to Serbia, stoking fears of further destabilisation in the western Balkans.  

The arrival of weapons from an eastern power which, like Serbia, doesn’t recognise the independence of Kosovo clearly has the potential to stir regional tensions. So Kosovans will surely have been relieved to hear reassurances from Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, that “the project is not related to any third party, nor is it related to the current situation.”  ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Wednesday, 6
April 2022

How will Viktor Orbán use his supermajority?

The Hungarian PM has the power to make significant constitutional changes

Viktor Orbán is more powerful in Hungary now than he’s ever been. Pollsters predicted a close election, but it turned out to be a landslide. A system combining proportional representation and first-past-the-post meant Fidesz’s 53% of the vote won it over two-thirds of the seats in parliament.

Keeping this parliamentary “supermajority” is key because it gives Orbán the power to push through constitutional changes. Some fear this will be used to keep skewing the democratic playing field in Fidesz’s favour. This is certainly possible, but constitutional tinkering would more likely be used to support Fidesz’s traditionalist social policies. ...  Continue reading

by William Nattrass
Wednesday, 30
March 2022

Ukraine’s neighbours welcome refugees — but for how long?

The citizens of Eastern Europe are already dividing along familiar lines

For many, one of the greatest surprises of the Ukrainian war has been seeing countries like Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, previously lambasted for their isolationist tendencies, becoming humanitarian superpowers providing succour to millions of refugees.

It’s been argued that the warm welcome can be attributed to refugees being of the ‘same civilisation’ as their hosts. Yet scratch the surface, and it’s clear that this argument only goes so far. On a recent trip to a regional town in Moravia, the eastern part of the Czech Republic, I was told that “on TV they say nine out of ten Czechs want to welcome refugees. Here, everyone says ‘I’m number ten.’” ...  Continue reading