A shorter version of this article was published by Newsmax.
Hungary does what it pleases. And what it pleases is exclusively in the interest of Hungary as perceived by its longtime Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He cares not whether his moves raise eyebrows, infuriate his detractors, or upset his allies, including the United States. This single-mindedness allows Hungary to exercise unduly powerful influence not just in the Intermarium, the lands between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas, but also in the European Union at large.
In this historian’s assessment, Orbán’s idol must be Count István Imre Lajos Pál Tisza de Borosjenő et Szeged (1861-1918). The latter served twice as prime minister of Hungary, including between 1913 and 1917. A year later, he was assassinated by radical leftists.
Calvinist and educated at Oxford like Orbán, Count Tisza was a conservative libertarian, to use today’s terminology. He was the target of hatred of various far-leftists, hardcore nationalists, most ethnic minorities, and others. A great admirer of Germany’s Prince Otto von Bismarck and his Realpolitik, he firmly believed in traditional Magyar aristocratic supremacy. Nonetheless, Count Tisza consistently protected the Jewish minority, and he expedited their elevation to Hungary’s elite by granting them aristocratic titles prodigiously. He was generous to the Rumanians, Croats, and Serbs, so long as they acquiesced in a limited franchise just like the Hungarian peasants.
During the First World War, the prime minister famously refused the pleas of imperial Vienna – his nominal sovereign capital – for food. Faced with widespread starvation, the prime minister chose to keep his Hungarians supplied, and not share with the Austrians and other subjects of the Habsburg Monarchy, to which the Kingdom of Hungary was subordinated.
Despite a personal affinity for them, the prime minister further effectively vetoed the efforts of the Poles to regain their independence under the Habsburg scepter. He adjudged that to be against the interest of Budapest, for a Poland liberated from the Russian yoke would upset the Magyar-Austrian balance of the Dual Monarchy and threaten Hungary’s advantageous position by bringing more Slavs into the Habsburg realm.
Thus, Count Tisza never let any personal sentiments interfere with his single-minded resolve to rely on national egoism as his guiding philosophy. Neither does Orbán.
He loves the United States of America. He prefers Donald Trump to his successor, of course. But neither has been able to influence the Hungarians to keep their distance from China and Russia.
Beijing has long enjoyed a foothold in Hungary. This is about trade and investments, nothing else. For example, the Budapest Airport is set to become China’s main hub for its commercial activities in the EU and in North Africa. To encourage more, Orbán has ordered his representatives at the EU parliament to thwart any anti-Chinese actions, including censure for the Middle Kingdom for cracking down on Hong Kong and saber-rattling at Taiwan. This is harsh, but no sentiments where Hungary gains.
Recently, with both government’s blessings, the Chinese have pledged to open up a branch of its Fudan University in Hungary. That has caused concerns about Chinese indoctrination and influence. Worry not. If Orbán judges this to be against Hungarian interest, he’ll promptly kick the Chinese communists out.
He did the same thing to the George Soros-funded Central European University. Why? Orbán does not want critical race theory, intersectionality, post-modernism, deconstruction, gender studies, and queer criticism to poison young impressionable Hungarian minds. He does not want the children exposed to an ideology that makes them hate their parents, like in the US. He not only prompted the CEU to decamp but eliminated all taxpayer funding for the woke shenanigans at all of the Magyar educational institutions. They are free of the yoke of political correctness.
Orbán loves the Poles. That has never stopped him from making deals with Russia’s Gazprom. Most recently, Budapest has inked an agreement with the Russian company to supply him with energy for 15 years. This happened just in the wake of U.S. President Joe Biden’s virtual capitulation to Moscow and Berlin’s joint Nordstream-2 pipeline, which endeavors to shut out America of Europe’s gas and oil markets and make the EU’s energy dependency on the Kremlin permanent.
Washington seems helpless; Warsaw is baffled; Budapest coldly calculates its interest.
It is really simple. Orbán has cozied up to Moscow because Hungary needs energy. If the U.S. is unwilling to supply it, then the Hungarians will take it from anyone, including the Russians.
Like Tisza, Orbán goes against the grain as far as Jewish issues are concerned. His relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been beyond cordial. The European Union censures Israel in support of the Palestinians; Hungary defends it. Further, Budapest pursues a “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism” policy at home. It cracks down hard on any anti-Jewish acts. Tell that to the embattled Jews of Berlin, Stockholm, or Paris.
National interest is paramount in Orbán’s calculations, and not popularity in the media or on the international circuit. And guess what? It turns out that he has been winning national elections: for the first time in 1998, and then consistently in 2010, 2014, and 2018.
Orbán’s party FIDESZ commands a supermajority in the parliament, so it was able to change the constitution to solidify its conservative-populist-nationalist program. It also controls all rural (county) jurisdictions (19 out of 19) and a decent portion of urban ones (10 out of 23).
No wonder the Hungarian leader does what he pleases. His people like it and continue voting for him. The United States can use a guy who singlehandedly defies the EU. We would have to be able to offer something he believes his nation needs, like energy. Of course, this is unlikely to happen under the Biden administration.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC, 8 June 2021