Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have regained the trust of the Hungarian people and will remain in power for a fourth consecutive term. The news of the day, however, is not the reappointment of the national-conservative government in Budapest, but the extent of the victory achieved.
A triumph for Orban and Fidesz
A landslide victory, in what should have been the most balanced electoral race in fifteen years.
This is the fifth election won by Orban, since the late '90s when he managed to make the small Fidesz a large national party (in between, there are also two elections lost). Never before, however, had he managed to obtain such a high level of consensus: when the count was almost complete, over 53% of the votes were cast for him. Confirming the parliamentary majority of 2/3 (in Hungary there is a mixed system, partially majoritarian), sufficient to vote constitutional amendments.
An unexpected victory
The unknowns and difficulties for Orban were numerous. The diverse opposition, in fact, had decided to get together in a large coalition ("United for Hungary") that, already in 2019, had shown its potential by winning in Budapest and several other cities.
This is a "Frankenstein" coalition, ranging from the far left to the far right and featuring a candidate as weak as Peter Marki-Zay; but this "jumble" seemed capable of convincing Hungarian voters. For the whole of 2021, Fidesz and United for Hungary were paired in the polls, with the latter for long tracts of the year ahead in voting intentions. In the last few months the trend was in favor of Orban's party, given as the favorite with a fair margin: but we were talking about 4/5 percentage points in a country where polls are often inaccurate. The Hungarian conservatives communicated a certain caution and, above all, despaired of being able to maintain a 2/3 majority of seats in parliament.
Why Fidesz has triumphed again
What happened? Understanding the reasons for Orban's unannounced triumph may perhaps also be a source of inspiration for our politicians.
In spite of the shortening of political cycles, which see leaders who were once on the crest of a wave rapidly deflate, Viktor Orban is stronger than ever after three decades. This is undoubtedly due to a solid governmental performance, but also to the consistency he has shown throughout his political history.
The consistency factor
While the Orban of 2022 is certainly not the same as the Orban of 2002 or 1992, the changes are part of the normal evolution that anyone goes through in their lifetime. From when, 25 years old in 1988, he founded the anti-communist student movement from which Fidesz would emerge, to today, Orban has remained a patriot, conservative, traditionalist and jealous of Hungary's independence. He has never tried to ride the trend of the moment, not even after the advent of social media: his vision of things has always remained in line with the guiding values of his life and his party.
Even when it came to fighting difficult battles that turned movers and shakers of half the world against him: this is the case of the one waged against gender ideology and exemplified in the law against the sexual indoctrination of children. Orban has not been afraid to build extra-political strongholds that could defend, independently of him, the values and interests of Hungary: this is the case of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium of Budapest. Orban is not impressed by the criticism of the opposing press (which, in spite of the vulgate, he does not close) or by the ideological crusades of the European Commission. He does not wish to be accepted in the circles of the progressive elite, but rather to please his people.
It would be good if every right-wing leader, in every country, learned from his consistency: it exposes him to the storm but makes him credible in the long run, where the consensus of others melts like snow as soon as they are perceived (rightly or wrongly) as unreliable and transformist.
The nationalism factor
What is important is not only loyalty to ideas, but also what those ideas are. "Illiberal democracy" is a lexically unfortunate formula, but behind it there is no project to conculcate individual freedoms, but only the idea that a nation is not the sum of persons-atoms that by pure chance find themselves in a given moment within certain administrative boundaries. According to Orban, the nation is the product of a people, composed of individuals, but linked together by a common origin, a common history and a common culture.
This pushes him to defend national sovereignty or borders from uncontrolled immigration. Apparently the Hungarians appreciate: will the Italians really be so different from them?
The Ukraine factor
Finally, a last notation must relate to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Orban condemned the Russian aggression but, at the same time, made it clear that within the dispute between Russia and Ukraine - two countries outside NATO and the EU - the Hungarian government would not do anything that could jeopardize the interests of the Hungarian people. Translated: no excessive involvement and no economic sanctions that would seriously harm Hungary. Read: blocking gas supplies from Russia. On the other hand, Marki-Zay advocated a greater commitment of Hungary to Ukraine, finding an assist in Ukrainian President Zelensky who personally attacked Orban.
It is difficult to overestimate how much the Ukrainian factor has weighed in this electoral round. If Fidesz has triumphed rather than just won, it is due, to a great extent, to the desire of the people not to risk finding themselves in a war or to jeopardize their own well-being for a conflict they do not perceive as their own. It may be that the Hungarians are alien compared to us, but the question deserves reflection: how much will the Italians be ready to sacrifice their standard of living to defend "western values"?
Keeping in mind that, in spite of some media talking points, all this does not make Orban an "ally of Putin". If he were, it is unlikely that the main congress of American conservatives, the CPAC, would have decided to hold a session in Budapest this year.
Founder and President of Centro Studi Machiavelli. Graduated in Historical Sciences (University of Milan) and PhD in Political Studies (Sapienza University), he is professor of "History and doctrine of jihadism" and "Geopolitics of the Middle East" at Cusano University. From 2018 to 2019 he was Special Advisor on Immigration and Terrorism to the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Guglielmo Picchi. His latest book (as editor) is Topicality of sovereignism. Between pandemic and war.
L’EU ha dato inizio a una ritorsione ai dannio dell’Ungheria con la scusante che il governo ungherese non abbia impiegato nel modo dovuto i capitali ricevuti. Ma cosa dire dell’Italia sull’argomento? Eppure un procedimento del genere non ha mai fatto capolino. Che non sia un modo di vendicarsi da parte di chi ha dovuto prendere atto di una realtà scomoda ma consapevole?
Thank you, terrific!
I live in New York and Budapest. I met the Italian cultural attaché in Budapest.