For a certain section of the American media, every international development is interpreted as part of a grand ideological struggle. Freedom is either on march, as was the case with the Arab Spring and the liberalization of Eastern Europe in the 1990s, or in retreat, as with the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, Vladimir Putin in Russia and now Victor Orban’s re-election in Hungary.
In truth, global events are usually more complex than these stories are. The Arab Spring sparked political violence and an authoritarian reaction. The collapse of the Soviet Empire was a boon to Central Europe, but the East certainly had mixed results. Orban’s latest political victory, meanwhile, owes more to domestic politics than to any global ideological struggle between democracy and authoritarianism.
To be fair, some of these reactions are inspired by Orban’s own grandiose declarations – he suggests that Hungary’s “Conservative Democracy” Is the Alternative to the Western Left—and the ideological booster of the Hungarian prime minister (American conservative writer Rod Dreher recently called Orban “Leader of the West”) Although Orbán is a consequentialist, we should be wary of over-interpreting an election based on local political conditions.
Doomsdayers are not hard to find in the Western press. According to Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Moscow, Orban is a Putin export, the AtlanticK Yascha Maunk calls for Hungarian election “Dark day for democracy”. Just before the vote, another writer the Atlantic Hungary merged with Venezuela, Iran, Russia and North Korea As a staunch enemy of democracy.
The appeal of these explanations is clear: a global ideological conflict is more exciting (and easier to explain) than Hungarian domestic politics. However, a closer look at Orban’s re-election campaign reveals that more professional factors played a decisive role. To put it in the simplest possible terms, a seasoned politician overshadows a newborn baby against the backdrop of an international crisis.
Consider the quality of Orban’s rival Peter Markey-Jay. When Marquee-J took over the leadership of the opposition, it seemed like a smart move. The Catholic husband and father of seven first rose to prominence by defeating a mayor from the ruling Fidesz party in the undeclared southern town of Hodmezuwaserli, a victory that suggested a crossover appeal to rural, conservative voters, based in Orbán. make. However, the relative inexperience of the Marquee-J on the national stage has been criticized by A. was exposed by Category embarrassing gaffes, As war broke out on Hungary’s eastern border, an inexperienced mayor with a tendency to put a foot in his mouth made for an unwanted contrast with the veteran incumbent.
The Marquee-J was supported by a heavy coalition that agreed on little except the importance of ousting Orban. Coalition partners included several left-wing parties and Jobik, a far-right organization that has attempted to move towards the political centre. However, by shifting in a moderate direction, Jobick seems to have alienated many of his former supporters. The third-highest vote-getter in the Hungarian election was Mi Háák Mozgalóm (“Our Homeland Movement”), a far-right alternative to Fidesz who suppressed Jóbi on the nationalist and conservative fringes. The defection of these voters highlights the difficulty of managing a coalition that includes the extreme left and extreme right of Hungarian politics.
The war in Ukraine was supposed to undermine Orban’s candidacy by raising energy prices and highlighting his ties with Putin, but there is a stark contrast between Western perceptions of Orban’s foreign policy and the preferences of a typical Hungarian electorate. Often portrayed in the Western press as a staunch Putin ally, Orban has opportunistically sought closer ties with Russia and China. However, the joke about Orban’s relationship with Putin was aimed at foreign critics, not potential voters.
Once again, local factors help explain Orban’s foreign policy appeal. Right or wrong, the existence of a substantial Hungarian minority in south-west Ukraine coupled with complaints against the national government has made many Hungarians reluctant to embrace the Ukrainian cause wholeheartedly. Add to that the prospect of an untested mayor taking over in the middle of a crisis, and you can understand why Orban actually benefited from a war that many believed would hinder his chances of reelection.
Beyond specific issues, Orban’s outlandishness is colored by the belief that he has rigged the system to ensure his political dominance. But the spontaneous comparison with autocrats like Putin recalls the ambiguities of Hungarian politics. Yes, fiddles-friendly voices are dominated by state-run outlets, print media and (to a lesser extent) television. However, the Internet remains free and open and Orbán reliably won two districts in liberal Budapest, a center of opposition politics, and a cosmopolitan, international city. The idea that these voters were brainwashed by the Fidez media machine is simply implausible.
Here are the realities of Hungarian politics: Orbán is a shrewd orator who does not shy away from political bigotry, including worrying tactics. spying on journalists and massage coverage from apparently neutral state media. He is also an effective prime minister whose many issues, from immigration to the war in Ukraine, are closer to your average Hungarian voter than his harshest critics. Meanwhile, the opposition would continue to run Budapest and several other major Hungarian cities, despite being neutralized in parliament.
Hungary remains a conservative country with liberal enclaves, including its capital, and a political system that, while flawed, is far from a one-party state. This is a less satisfactory assessment than what the recent vote portrays as the latest battle in a global holy war between liberals and authoritarians. However, it has the quality of being true.
Will Collins is a schoolteacher in Budapest, Hungary.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.