The Orban acolyte who became his fiercest critic

All sorts of people are grateful to Peter Magyar for bounding into the arena of Hungarian public life. Journalists, chiefly. Many a grizzled, lugubrious Hungarian hack had tears of gratitude welling as Magyar demolished the tedium and predictability of Hungarian party politics: Viktor Orban trampling a feeble collection of bunglers and chisellers, known as the opposition, again and again. Of course, the foreign correspondents were even more elated. Vilifying Orban? Step this way for your eulogy and hosannas, you smooth-talking cosmopolitan. Magyar is certainly deserving of attention; he’s fought a remarkable one-man blitzkrieg. In February, no one outside the halls of government knew who he was, and if they did,

The immigrant’s experience of Europe

Meet Ibrahim, from Syria. He fled Aleppo just before the bombs began to fall. A clean $4,000 in cash to a smuggler got him a fake passport and, voilà, a ticket to Europe – briefly in Greece, then in Germany (‘the people, they looked different’), now in Spain. Immigrant life was tough at first: the strange language, the alien norms, the overt racism. ‘He was not on their level. Just a refugee.’ Then a lucky break. He starred in a homemade porn video that went viral: ‘100 per cent real Arab bull.’ Next, he’s earning close to a seven-figure salary, owns a flash car and has women dripping off his

Viktor Orban is not abandoning Europe

The news that Hungary and China have signed a security pact, following a visit by to Budapest by Wang Xiaohong, Minister of Public Security, has been a long time in the making. In 2012, two years after beginning his second term as Prime Minister, Viktor Orban formally re-orientated Hungary’s economic and foreign policy under the slogan of the ‘Eastern Opening’. Orban understood the frustration that had returned him to power with a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Two decades of integration with western Europe had made plenty of Hungarians prosperous, but not the majority.  The introduction of the free market in Hungary was accompanied by the mass closure of businesses, and

The West has much to learn from Hungarian culture

In central Budapest a crew from Hungary’s state TV is filming the unveiling of a new street sign. In honour of his centenary year composer Gyorgy Ligeti now has a road named after him. Contemporary classical music is deemed newsworthy in Hungary. Even more astonishingly – and anyone working in British classical music might want to sit down at this point – the ‘Ligeti 100’ concert at the Budapest Music Centre, dedicated to a clutch of bracing new works, was being filmed for transmission prime time on the Hungarian equivalent of BBC1. Here, we’d be lucky if it got a midnight slot on Radio 3. If much of the West’s

Why Britain needs more marriage

Hungary is something of a bête noire in the international community. Viktor Orban and his government have had much-deserved condemnation over their treatment of certain minority groups, as well as undermining judicial independence and what many see as an attack on the freedom of the media.  But Orban’s administration has been getting something right, and it would be a shame if the country’s pariah status means its greatest achievement goes overlooked. Hungary has become a marriage super-power. According to the Marriage Foundation, which rightly promotes legal matrimony as the bedrock of a healthy society, Hungary’s marriage rate has exploded over the last decade, rising by 92 per cent. The country

Hungarian wine is Europe’s best kept secret

The Ottomans were evicted from Budapest in 1686, but you can still find reminders of Turkish rule if you look in the right places. All these relics are on the western, or Buda, side of the river, for Pest did not really exist in the 17th century. The original Turkish dome crowns the Rudas Baths, which are still in operation, public baths being one of the more salutary legacies of 145 years of Turkish occupation. Just north of the baths, on a slope leading up to the Buda Castle, an out-of-the-way cluster of graves is all that’s left of an old Muslim cemetery. From a distance, the weathered turban headstones

Viktor Orbán’s Texas rodeo

Say what you want about Viktor Orbán, but he gives a good speech. His address on Thursday in Dallas on the opening day of CPAC, the annual jamboree of the American right wing, was wide-ranging, hard-hitting and quite funny. One of his best jokes – paraphrasing Pope Francis – was ‘that Hungary was the official language of heaven because it takes an eternity to learn’. It also happens to be nonsense. Hungarian is recognised as considerably easier to learn than Arabic or Mandarin, but Orbán doesn’t do nuance. In fact, the entirety of his speech was about drawing an unbridgeable distinction between the ‘Judeao-Christian’ values of himself and his audience on one

Viktor Orbán won’t save conservatism

It’s always the ones you most expect. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, nationalist strongman and post-liberal poster-boy gave a speech over the weekend on the evils of race-mixing. He was speaking on Saturday to attendees at Tusványos summer university in Băile Tușnad, Transylvania, previously an annual forum for Hungarian-Romanian dialogue but now an intellectual pep rally for the ultranationalist Fidesz party. According to the Budapest Times, he told his co-ideologues the West was ‘split in two’ between European nations and those in which Europeans and non-Europeans lived together. He declared: ‘Those countries are no longer nations.’ This is also how the Daily News Hungary and Hungary Today characterised Orbán’s remarks.

Where does brave, stubborn Hungary stand today?

‘Deplorable,’ wrote the historian Denis Sinor in 1958 about the state of Hungarian historiography in English. ‘Not only are the interpretations out of date but the facts themselves are all too often erroneous, and a proper name which is not misspelt is received with a sigh of relief by the reader who knows Hungarian.’ That was only two years after the revolution of 1956, when Hungary was on the world’s lips. Today, when the government of Viktor Orbán and the country’s position on Russia and Ukraine makes it equally talked about, this book – from an author born in Budapest in 1956 – is well timed, and its subtitle ‘Between

The EU is trying to bring Hungary to heel

If there was a word in Euro-speak for ‘Move on, nothing to see here,’ the EU would undoubtedly have used it in its announcement yesterday about Hungary. Brussels has formally notified Budapest that it is invoking the so-called ‘conditionality mechanism’ against it, meaning a supermajority within the EU can vote to withhold funds from a member state where there is a threat to the rule of law coupled with direct effects on the sound financial management of the EU budget or other EU financial interests. The notification itself has not been publicised; but everything, the EU says, is in order. A letter was sent last November outlining allegations of graft,

How to lose elections XXXX

I have remarked here before about our era’s tendency to accept election results if your side wins but to reject them if they lose. Happily in the UK there is no significant body of opinion which believes that Jeremy Corbyn won the 2019 election. True, there are a few Momentum loons who still think that Corbyn would have won had the Tories not somehow got more votes. But even among the most diehard Momentum-ites few actually come up with stories of ballot rigging, high-level corruption and more. Still, our country is not immune to the ‘I only accept the results if my side wins’ tendency. After all, we had Carole

Gavin Mortimer

Progressives vs populists: Macron, Orban and Europe’s faultline

As soon as Emmanuel Macron was sure that Joe Biden had won the American election, he tweeted: ‘We have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!’ There was no effusive tweet this week from the Élysée when 54 per cent of Hungarian voters re-elected Viktor Orban as Prime Minister for a fourth term. The silence from Macron was deafening. Not so his principal rival in France’s impending election. On Sunday evening Marine Le Pen tweeted an old photo of the happy couple shaking hands with the declaration: ‘When the people vote, the people win!’ Le Pen will hope that Orban’s victory is a good omen ahead

Portrait of the week: Covid fines, cancelled flights and sunflower oil shortages

Home Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s business spokesman, said that the government should be preparing for energy rationing, but Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary ruled it out. Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, asked the British Geological Survey to reassess the effects of fracking, Essex police arrested 192 people from Just Stop Oil in a weekend of protest at oil refineries. By the end of March, 4,700 visas had been issued from 32,200 applications to sponsor accommodation for Ukrainian refugees; under the family visa scheme, 24,400 had been issued from 32,800 applications. Britain’s biggest bottler of sunflower oil had stocks for only three weeks left and said that food manufacturers were turning to

Viktor Orbán is no friend of the West

Viktor Orbán‘s victory speech in Budapest on Sunday night took a curious turn. Speaking after a fourth landslide win, he opined: This victory is one to remember because we had the biggest [opponents] to overpower. The left at home, the international left, the bureaucrats in Brussels… the Soros empire… and even the Ukrainian President. Orbán skipped over the challenge to regional stability caused by the Russian invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. Having refused military aid to Kyiv, and having exchanged barbs with President Volodymyr Zelensky, he reassured ethnic Hungarians in West Ukraine: ‘Don’t be afraid, the motherland is with you’. Orbán’s party is raising the prospect of secession of Ukrainian lands,

Why Hungary’s opposition failed

Viktor Orbán has now spent a total of 16 years as Hungary’s Prime Minister but he has not lost his hunger for power. Energetically campaigning across the country, exploiting every advantage of incumbency, and excoriating the incompetent opposition, on Sunday he notched up his fourth landslide victory in a row. Crucially, he maintains the two-thirds majority in parliament that he has held since 2010, allowing him him to amend the constitution whenever he chooses. Predictably, the opposition challenged the legitimacy of the election process even before the votes had been counted. They note that the lion’s share of the media supports Orbán. But this is an excuse, not an explanation. It was not

Why is the EU attacking Poland and Hungary in a crisis?

With Russian bombs harassing Kiev and Kharkiv, the two unsung heroes of Europe have been Poland and Hungary. With very little notice, they have between them welcomed, fed and accommodated well over a million refugees from Ukraine. This they have done gladly and without complaint. Yesterday the European parliament passed a ponderous 2,500-word resolution devoted to Poland and Hungary. An appreciation, perhaps, or even a vote of thanks? Not exactly. It was actually a call for the EU to take steps as soon as possible to block payment of EU budget and Covid recovery funds to both countries, and criticising Brussels for not having started the process earlier. Why? The

Hungary’s ‘patriotic fight’ with the EU: an interview with justice minister Judit Varga

Budapest is racked with tension. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sends a stream of refugees to Hungary’s eastern border, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party has scrambled to respond to the humanitarian crisis while turning his back on his previous pragmatic relationship with Moscow. Fidesz’s unequivocal condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s actions will have come as a relief to Brussels. But a bitter argument still rages over Hungary’s opposition to the bloc’s new ‘rule of law’ budget mechanism, which allows EU funds to be made dependent on adherence to legal and democratic norms. When the European Court of Justice rejected a challenge to the mechanism from Hungary and Poland on February 16, Hungary’s

The crisis in Ukraine is strengthening the EU

The EU has a knack for turning a crisis into an opportunity. The Eurozone crisis led to the centralisation of economic powers in Brussels; Brexit consolidated the Franco-German push for EU integration; and Covid became the pretext for EU funds being made dependent on members adhering to the ‘rule of law’ for the first time. It’s looking likely that the bloc will repeat this trick with the war in Ukraine. Prior to Russia’s invasion, the EU was being mocked for its divisions: on Russian gas dependency, on proposed economic sanctions, and on political links with the Kremlin. Now, the bloc is trumpeting its unity. And it has been remarkable to

Viktor Orbán has played a perfect game with Putin

On 3 April Hungarians will have their ninth set of free parliamentary elections since the collapse of the communist dictatorship in 1989. The winner is likely to be Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz-KDNP coalition, which is leading in five of the six major polls. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not change that dynamic even though the opposition leader, Péter Márki-Zay has called Orbán a ‘traitor’ for his long-standing friendship with Vladimir Putin. Ever since Viktor Orbán began his second stint as Hungary’s prime minister in 2010, he has repeatedly played the provocateur within the EU, tweaking the eurocrats’ noses with his cultural conservatism and hostility to mass immigration. His alliance

The EU is pushing Hungary and Poland to the brink

Storm clouds looming over the EU’s ‘rule of law’ dispute turned a shade darker on Wednesday. The European Court of Justice rejected challenges from Hungary and Poland against a controversial budget mechanism linking adherence to democracy and EU funding.  In an indication of the significance of the ruling for the bloc’s future, the verdict was the first ever to be broadcast live from the court. The European Commission will now come under intense pressure to apply the rule of law mechanism and withhold long-term budget funds for Hungary and Poland, along with the pandemic recovery funds it has already refused to hand over to those states. But the escalation of the conflict