Will Putin be the driving force behind Hungary’s Urban Western allies?

Pink ankle boots and sneakers, sensible pumps and leather loafers, and a pair of baby-sized yellow-rubber rain boots – all set on the east bank of the Danube in the center of the Hungarian capital.

The scene, which was hastily convened last month, was a tribute to those killed in the Ukrainian war. It was a deliberate echo of a nearby permanent monument, where the array of cast iron shoes embedded in the pavement stones of the river is reminiscent of thousands of people, many of whom were Jews, forced to take off their shoes before being shot by a fascist. Hungarian army in the 1940s.

The modern shoe classification also has another powerful meaning. It represented the condemnation of Prime Minister Victor Orban, a longtime friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is now freshly excited by a crushing election victory.

A week before Sunday’s referendum, Orban’s name was verified by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky, who, in a video linked speech to European leaders, invited the Hungarian prime minister to visit a riverside monument to World War II. Reconsider the victims and his position on Ukraine.

Hungary, the only European country on the border with Ukraine, has refused to supply arms to it – weapons are not allowed inside Hungary – and is widely seen as a possibility by dictatorial-minded Urban ambassadors to unanimously demand EU sanctions. Consensus of the module.

“Listen, Victor,” Zhelensky said in his March 25 speech, citing the Russian siege of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol as one of many atrocities. “Please, if you can, go to your riverbank in Budapest. Look at the shoes. You will see how mass killings are repeated in today’s world.

Orban, a notorious politician who did not popularly appreciate being told what to do, was urged by Zhelensky: “Decide who you are with.” Whether the Hungarian leader did so or not, the result was not good.

After his failed victory, Orban landed in a mostly unilateral feud with the Ukrainian leader, breaking off with the EU over Putin’s willingness to pay Hungary’s energy bills in Moscow in rubles. There are likely to be severe new sanctions on Hungarian civil society.

Such militancy, with all the cultural baggage it carries, made Arban the darling of Donald Trump’s White House, and elevated his position in the right – wing American media ecosystem, exemplifying the devotion of commentators such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.

Hungary’s opposition, generally united for this contest, but was optimistic about going to the polls – could not actually win, but could snatch Arban from the parliamentary majority that had helped him pass the constitution during his ten years in power. Replacing and intimidating opponents with increasingly anti-democratic measures.

But the 58-year-old prime minister’s right-wing Fidesz party dominated the referendum, which was described by international observers as having no apparent fraud, but did not take place on an equal footing.

In the context of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, in an environment of increasing targeting of civilians, Orban’s comfortable relationship with Putin seemed brief – for a while – that could drag him into the referendum.

Instead, Hungarian political analyst Andras Toth-Czifra portrayed himself as a brilliant politician capable of building a bridge with Prime Minister Moscow and torturing his opponents as irresponsible warlords eager to jump into the fight for Ukraine.

“He really turned it into an asset,” Doth-Sifra, a non-resident colleague at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said of Orban’s toxic contact with the Russian leader, who was widely denounced as an international war criminal.

This is not what Orban and Putin particularly like about each other, he and others said – it was a transactional relationship that worked well for both leaders. Arban, who was always changing the political landscape, gritted his teeth in the late 1980s with fierce opposition from young extremists to the presence of then-Soviet troops in Hungary. But these days are different.

Analysts say most Hungarians, especially those outside of Budapest and other major cities, have a large capacity to hammer Orban’s election message home because of his government’s tight grip on radio and television.

Eva Pokner, an academic researcher specializing in the Hungarian media, said the state-run media were marching in a state of lock-up with the government, and that many independent shops had been bought by Urban partners.

“There are definite misconceptions that are well known to those who study the Russian campaign,” said Pogner, a project officer at the Democratic Institute of Central European University. In recent weeks, he said, “there were two main topics: the war in Ukraine and the election campaign, which is unrelated to the war.”

In both cases, Pogner said, pro-urban sales outlets used “smear campaigns and misinformation – pro-government and fabricated stories”.

Promises such as the ghostly portrayal of LGBTQ people and Muslim immigrants as the brand, security and cultural-war fodder of Arban’s fierce nationalism play better for the conservative rural base than in the Hungarian capital, but even in the urban areas, he has his devotees.

“He’s a strong guy, and it’s good for all of us!” Butterfly shopkeeper Carolyn Lutani said the milestone in Budapest connects to a stall in Central Market Hall. “In the EU, they are very generous.” He said the war in Ukraine was unfortunate, but “not our fight.”

Hungary, which has long been loyal to the Hungarian population in Ukraine, has taken tens of thousands of refugees out of the war – but Orban’s government has portrayed their existence as no threat, in stark contrast to its fierce objections to those fleeing the war. Middle East and Afghanistan.

Maria R., a middle school chemistry teacher in a town just outside of Budapest. He said he suspects some of his students, perhaps motivated by pro-Orban parents, tried to provoke him into publishing statements critical of government policies. She was sure they would report anything controversial she said.

He said he was afraid of his job, kept his political views to himself and asked not to reveal his full name, but said he was saddened and upset by the thought of some students he had known since he was a child, some of whom he knew. To trap her.

“I feel like a bond has been broken,” he said.

But even if the prime minister believes his election influence offers him a greater chance of overthrowing the EU, the federation could take steps to snatch away the key lever of power for him – large subsidies Orban are suspected of diverting to allies to keep them loyal. . European authorities this week launched a mechanism to hold Hungary accountable for violations of the law, but any financial cuts could take months.

Orban’s friendly stance on Putin has also alienated Poland, which has previously sided with him in rejecting EU criticism of anti – democratic practices. The Warsaw government views Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as an almost existential threat, fearing that if Russia is allowed to subjugate its western neighbors, it could be the next.

Despite Hungary’s harsh history with Moscow – which crushed its revolution in 1956 with Soviet tanks in the streets – such fears seem imaginary to the Prime Minister’s supporters.

Meanwhile, Orban seizes opportunities to happily make fun of both Zelensky and the EU. In a victory speech to supporters on Sunday, he quoted both the Ukrainian leader and the camp as trying to lose his victory.

“For a rational observer, for an outside observer, this does not really make sense,” said Daniel Hegades, a visitor to the American German Marshall Fund, which studies populist leaders.

But he said a key part of the Urban brand was engaging in effective confrontations with influential soldiers – in the case of Zhelensky, a leader was singled out for his wartime leadership, and the EU was the defender of billions of euros that changed the face of Hungary.

“It’s like he says,‘ Look how I oppose them, ’’ Hegades said. “He believes it shows him to be powerful too.”

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