Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Hungary’s Prime Minister’s relationship with Putin is now at the heart of his country’s election campaign | Nation World News

On the streets of Budapest, posters promoting Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party are visible on almost every block, with candidates’ photos wrapped around poles and pasted on walls.

In the capital, where two-thirds of constituencies voted for the opposition in the last 2018 election, government advertisements are regularly disfigured.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands after a news conference following talks in Budapest on October 30, 2019. Orban hopes to win his fourth consecutive term in what is expected to be a close election race on Sunday . (Bernadett Szabo / Reuters)

On several, the letter “Z” was scribbled.

In Russia, it has become a symbol of support for the country’s military offensive in Ukraine. In Hungary, it is aimed at Orbán, who is accused of not doing enough to denounce Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

“Orbán is the most pro-Putin prime minister in the entire European Union,” said Péter Krekó, a political scientist and executive director of Political Capital, a Budapest-based think tank.

“I think the rest of the world has come out of this conflict stronger. Hungary is clearly an outlier.”

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An election poster for Kovács Balázs Norbert, a member of Orbán’s political party, is disfigured with a ‘Z’ in this photo taken on 28 March 2022 in Budapest. (Briar Stewart / CBC)

Close ties with Putin

Orbán hopes to win his fourth consecutive term as prime minister in what is expected to be a close election race on Sunday. His party had a slim lead (41 percent of voters) over a six-party opposition alliance (39 percent of voters) in a poll by the brainstorming IDEA Institute conducted in the last week of March.

He has cultivated close ties with Putin during his last 12 years in power.

While condemning the Russian invasion, he did not personally criticize Putin, and this put him in an awkward position with EU leaders. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Hungary during a speech at a virtual meeting on March 24, saying Orbán should “decide for himself who you are.”

KYK | Hungary opens its borders to Ukrainian refugees:

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Hungary welcomes Ukrainian refugees in stark contrast to the past

Hungary has been welcoming Ukrainian refugees for weeks – a noticeable difference from its response in 2015 when officials closed the border with Serbia to keep migrants out. 2:30

Orbán said Hungary would not send weapons to Ukraine, or allow consignments from other countries to be transported through its territory.

While analysts say his stance has left him more isolated from Western leaders, including some of the country’s strongest allies such as Poland and the Czech Republic, the war has allowed him to create a campaign message for his domestic audience.

He considered himself the only choice for peace and security, and said that what Hungary needed now was neutrality.

During a rally in Budapest on March 15, he told a crowd of Fidesz supporters that Hungarians should stay out of the war and not be caught between “the Ukrainian anvil and the Russian sledgehammer”.

Hungary is dependent on Russian gas, oil

Orbán, a hardline nationalist, visited Moscow just three weeks before Russian troops entered Ukraine.

In a press conference afterwards, he spoke about the need for cooperation and reliable energy. According to Hungarian officials quoted in the news portal Hungary Today, the country gets 85 percent of its gas, and more than 60 percent of its oil, from Russia.

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Putin, left, listens to Orbán, right, during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow on February 1, 2022. (Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik / Kremlin Pool Photo / The Associated Press)

That dependence is why Orbán said he would not support sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, even though Hungary supported other rounds of sanctions already adopted by the EU.

“It’s not about putting on a jersey, slightly increasing the heat as some in the West think,” Orbán said in an interview with Hungarian national radio station Kossuth on Friday.

“It’s a question about the functioning or non-functioning of the economy.”

In ‘Stalin City’ people are divided

Outside the capital, most constituencies voted for Fidesz candidates in 2018, but not the industrial city of Dunaújváros, a community built in the 1950s around a steel mill that is still functioning.

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A local woman buys products on 31 March 2022 at a market in Dunaújváros, Hungary. (Lily Martin / CBC)

It was once called Stalin’s city. While the name was later changed, Soviet apartment blocks still stand in the streets.

CBC visited the town’s market, where stalls were full of products, flowers and sausages, and people were divided over Hungary’s government and its loyalty to Russia.

“Europe will freeze to death if it does not get Russian gas,” said Lazlo, who would only give his first name.

He said he thought Orbán’s relationship with Putin was a good thing, and that the Russian president had justification for going to Ukraine.

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Fidesz supporter Lazlo, who was photographed in a market in Dunaújváros on March 31, 2022, says he believes Putin was justified in sending troops to Ukraine. (Lily Martin / CBC)

In another vein, fruit seller Tünde Tamás said she feels hopeless with the direction her country is heading.

“In the event that this regime continues, our country will be finished,” said the 45-year-old mother of four.

“I want to be part of the West,” she said, “I do not want to belong to the East.”

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Fruit seller Tamás Tünde, who was on display at a market in Dunaújváros on March 31, 2022, says she feels hopeless. (Lily Martin / CBC)

A political transformation

Long before Orbán became prime minister, he was part of an upbeat group of Democrats trying to start a political transformation across Hungary. During the waning days of communism in 1989, he made a passionate speech in which he called for free elections and the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The Fidesz party was founded by Orbán and other activists who wanted Hungary to be shaped by democratic ideals, but today he adopted the idea of ​​an “illiberal democracy”.

KYK | A summary of events in week 6 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

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What happened in week 6 of Russia’s attack on Ukraine: Peace talks, Mariupol evacuation

Russia’s vow to scale down its military activities near Kiev has been greeted with skepticism, and a humanitarian convoy has attempted to evacuate Mariupol. Here is a summary of events in Ukraine, and how world leaders reacted, from March 26 to April 1. 8:21

According to Freedom House, Hungary, an American think tank, is the first and only EU country to be listed as “partially free”.

“I think Orbán wants a system like in Russia,” said Gergely Kálló, an opposition politician running for re-election in Dunaújváros.

“We see Putin’s policy is that there is no free media, every power is in one hand. I think Orban wants the same thing.”

Stronger grip on the media

Over the past decade, Orbán’s government has created a tighter grip on the country’s media and exerted more influence on both public and private outlets.

Dozens of newspapers, radio and TV stations were bought by Orbán supporters and hundreds of local publications were centralized. According to government officials, state ownership of local media has increased to 55 percent in the past year.

One of the most influential independent news magazines, HVG, says the government is also channeling advertising revenue to pro-government outlets, putting pressure on the rest of the publications.

A few years ago, the magazine was banned from compiling exhibitions of its satirical covers, making fun of government officials, and often Orbán’s relationship with Putin.

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A cover of HVG, an influential independent news magazine, depicts Orbán shining on Putin’s shoes in this photo taken on April 1, 2022. (Lily Martin / CBC)

“The publication on the streets of our front page was so important to us – even if you do not buy our newspaper, you can see our statement against the government,” said Mercédesz Gyükeri, who leads the publication’s economic column.

She says over the past month, much of the campaign has shifted from a conversation about the economy to which party can ensure peace and stability.

A Tilt to Russia

Péter Márki-Zay leads an opposition coalition of six different parties. He tried to gain a foothold among voters by proclaiming Orbán’s close relationship with Putin and tipping over to Russia.

But Orbán is at the forefront of the polls and has positioned himself as the only candidate who will prevent the country from being dragged into the Ukrainian conflict.

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A billboard for the opposition that reads’ The Hungarian Putin or Europe? Voice April 3 ‘is seen outside Dunaújváro. (Lily Martin / CBC)

This week, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto accused Ukraine of trying to influence the election by collaborating with the country’s opposition parties. Ukraine has denied the claim, but Krekó, of the think tank Political Capital, says the allegations are reflected in pro-government media in Hungary.

He says throughout the West countries are worried about Russia and China interfering in elections, but in Hungary they are worried about Ukraine and the US interfering.

“I think it tells a lot about how far Hungary has moved from the Western mainstream.”

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