by William Nattrass
Monday, 24
October 2022

Viktor Orbán lists his enemies on Hungary’s day of unity

Hungary's opposition parties, America, Brussels — to name but a few
by William Nattrass
Viktor Orban speaks during an event to commemorate the 66th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising. Credit: Getty

Sunday in Hungary was a day of conflict, although it was supposed to be a day of unity. The commemoration of the Hungarian Uprising — crushed by Soviet troops in 1956 — should have been a time for reflection, but it was overshadowed by protests in Budapest and a speech by Viktor Orbán which inflamed national tensions. 

Orbán spoke in Zalaegerszeg, a town in western Hungary — a decision he justified by saying the events of 1956 were “not just about Budapest.” But there may have been another reason for the relocation, as student and teacher unions had called a demonstration in the capital for the same day to express dissatisfaction with the Hungarian educational system. It’s estimated that around 80,000 people attended the protests. 

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While some of their demands were critical of Orbán’s style of leadership, the politicisation of debate in Hungary was underlined by the eagerness of the opposition to co-opt these demonstrations. As opposition leaders called on their supporters to take to the street, the protests ended up being seen as overtly political, despite calls from the unions for politicians to take a back seat because “resentment is strong” towards all major parties. 

This feeds Orbán’s narrative about the cynicism of the Hungarian opposition and boosts the present-day relevance of his reminder that the events of 1956 weren’t only about Budapest. In the same speech, he claimed the opposition is only interested in the capital city and “looks down on us rural people.”   

Orbán thrives on such polarising narratives, and he recently set up an English-language Twitter account to bring them to international audiences too. Pugilistic posts so far have seen him lament the “witch-hunt” against Steve Bannon and criticise the EU’s “primitive” sanctions policy against Russia. 

And his adversarial approach is also becoming more problematic due to perceptions that amid an economic downturn, Fidesz’s long-running ideological tussle with Brussels over “rule of law” concerns is something the country can ill-afford. 

With a decision due from the EU later this year over the disbursement of billions of euros in funds to Hungary, Orbán used his speech to repeat a trope popular among regional eurosceptics; namely, that the EU’s political overreach evinces imperial ambitions comparable to twentieth-century oppressors. He made veiled threats to the EU, saying “let’s not bother with those who shoot at Hungary from the shadows or from the heights of Brussels. They will end up where their predecessors did.” And worryingly, the strain of more general anti-western resentment was also ramped up: Orbán claimed that “if the West had not betrayed us,” Hungary could have thrown off the yoke of Communism in 1956. 

Heated rhetoric surrounding Hungary’s relationship with the EU and the West has become more polarised since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, and the economic fallout from that war may pose the greatest threat yet to Orbán’s reign. The divisive events of a supposed day of unity highlighted the potential pitfalls, in tempestuous times, of his increasingly belligerent political persona.

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Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
5 months ago

I have not really followed exactly what Brussel’s Rule of law concerns are with respect to Hungary. It is actually quite hard to discover the answer on the internet However this is a brief extract from an EU official website so I presume is an accurate summary from their point of view:

“On 15 June 2021, the Hungarian Law purportedly aiming at taking stricter action against paedophile offenders and amending certain laws to protect children was adopted. Some of the new provisions target and limit the access of minors to content and advertisements that “promotes or portrays” the so-called “divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality”.

By relying on those categories, the Law lays down restrictive rules affecting specifically electronic commerce services and information society services, educational activities, classification of audiovisual content and audiovisual advertising;”

I suspect many in the UK and not just on the right would welcome stricter laws against paedophiles and provisions to limit access of minors to contents and adverts promoting trans ideology on the internet targeting children with imagined sex dysphoria so they can bypass sensible medical and psychiatric advice. No wonder the EU wants to claim it is about rule of law that all sane people want to support rather than that they want Hungary to be kinder to paedophiles and ban the encouragement for the young to be persuaded to take puberty blockers and undergo surgery if they feel they are in the wrong body. It sounds like the sort of policy that would gain widespread support among ordinary Europeans.

Can someone tell me if I am wrong?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I thought it was more to do with stuffing the judiciary with government allies and clamping down on the media rather than any particular law but I could be wrong.
Orban is a corrupt autocrat, as bad as any others you find within the EU. He simply has a fan club because he’s of the “other” side

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
5 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I believe in Poland there have been legislative attempts to reduce the influence of Soviet era appointed Judges which I think sounds pretty sensible for a country trying to regain democratic institutions, but which the blind formalists of the EU disapprove of, and I vaguely assumed something of the same sort was involved in Hungary, but when I tried to search to discover exactly what the Rule of Law objections to Hungary were the legislation referred to in my post was all I could discover.

It did seem that the Hungarian people were being threatened with being deprived of financial subsidies unless Hungary allowed Stonewall type trans propaganda. Orban may be corrupt and an autocrat ( I don’t know enough about Hungary to tell) but he seems to be getting the democratic votes and passing legislation that many who are not right wing, still less far right, would applaud, but which the bureaucracy of the EU does not approve of. The EU have an odd idea about democratic norms which is perhaps unsurprising in an institution where democracy is very filtered.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Hungary so am open to any factual correction of the impression I have gained.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I recall the huge reaction to Section 28 back in the eighties, which was binned eventually and has become a totem of gay oppression.
Now the leading gay charity, Stonewall, and it’s many gay charity allies including Mermaids, endorses the rape of lesbians and the physical and mental abuse of children with their consent. Now we have schools promoting these perverse ideas.

This is a direct consequence of a failure to stop the promotion of non standard sexuality in schools, which was what Section 28 was about.

Consequences, eh?