Hungary does what is exclusively in its interest as perceived by its long-time Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He cares not what others think, including the United States. This singlemindedness allows Budapest to exercise unduly powerful influence in the European Union at large.
Orbán’s idol is Count István Tisza (1861-1918). The latter served twice as prime minister of Hungary, an integral part of the Habsburg Monarchy, over a hundred years ago.
Calvinist and Oxford-educated like Orbán, Tisza was a conservative libertarian. He was a target of hatred of various far leftists, hard core nationalists, most ethnic minorities, and others. He firmly believed in traditional Magyar aristocratic supremacy. Nonetheless, Tisza consistently protected the Jewish minority.
During the First World War the prime minister famously refused to feed Austria. Faced with widespread starvation at home, the prime minister chose to keep his Hungarians supplied, and not share food with others.
Further, despite personal affinity for the Poles, the prime minister vetoed effectively their efforts to regain their independence under the Habsburg scepter. Adding Poland to Austria-Hungary would upset the Magyar-Austrian balance of the Dual Monarchy and threaten Budapest’s advantageous position by bringing in more Slavs into the realm.
Thus, a practitioner of Realpolitik, 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.
The current Hungarian prime minister loves the United States of America. He prefers Donald Trump to his successor, of course. But neither politician has been able to influence the Hungarians to keep their distance from China and Russia.
Beijing has long enjoyed a foothold in Hungary. The latter needs trade and investments.
For example, with Chinese money, the Budapest Airport wants to become China’s main hub for its commercial activities in the EU and in North Africa. To reciprocate, 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 prevail where Hungary gains.
Recently, Budapest has also approved for the Chinese to open up a branch of Fudan University. That has caused concerns about Chinese indoctrination and influence. Worry not. If Orbán judges this project to turn against Hungarian interest, he’ll promptly kick the Chicoms out.
He did the same thing to 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 U.S.
The prime minister further eliminated all taxpayers funding for the woke shenanigans at all of 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 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.
Orbán has cozied up to Moscow because Hungary needs energy. If the U.S. is unwilling to supply it, then the Hungarians with 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. That is why he has been winning national elections: for the first time in 1998, and then consistently in 2010, 2014, and 2018.
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’d 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 is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here
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