Viktor Orbán — The West’s friend or foe?

Viktor Orbán — the current Prime Minister of Hungary and leader of the political party Fidesz — has not only shaped politics in Hungary but has influenced the actions of the West. His continued flirting with both Russia and the West is inviting trouble, especially in the contemporary political climate.

The right-wing politics of Hungary has been bolstered under the influence of Orbán, who has been advocating for an ‘illiberal’ democracy and attempting to eliminate democratic debate. This approach led to backlash, resulting in Orbán instead taking a more accepted stance as a Christian Democrat — although he had never previously shown interest in religion. Donald Trump takes a similar approach to ideology and religious manipulation in the US, however, Orbán has a far better grasp of the legal and political structures of his nation. Orbán has played an integral role in Hungarian politics moving towards the right, having influenced his party to move from a liberal and youth-based group towards one that supports one-party rule and is much less progressive.

As part of this move away from the left, politicians in Hungary have been using nationalist rhetoric to push their right-wing agendas. Under Fidesz and Orbán the country has been united through a slew of anti-immigration policies, which advocate for ethnic Hungarian supremacy and use terrorism as a scare tactic to pressure people into accepting more controversial policies. This hatred has been heightened by the worsening economic situation and the cost of living. However, the hypocrisy of Fidesz and Orbán is conveyed in their attempts to increase state revenue by allowing foreigners to pay for permanent residence within Hungary.

Hungarian politics has been dominated by Fidesz over the past decade, but this has not been without competition. Initially, resistance came from the left of Hungary, with the Socialist Party gaining control of the government in 2002 — however, they were pushed out of power by Fidesz in 2010. Orbán’s attempt to isolate the opposing parties after he came into power backfired and has instead led to a coalition of the left and right against Orbán’s government. Objection to the government has increased in recent years, especially with the dire economic situation forcing Fidesz to levy a price freeze that hits small businesses. Orbán has been able to curb this criticism through his tight grasp of the money flow within Hungary: anyone who is openly hostile towards his policies is blacklisted and forced to emigrate due to lack of an income.

Hungary has had a long and fluctuating relationship with the US and the West, with diplomatic relations starting in 1921 but later being revoked. This friendship was reconciled in 1989 — after the collapse of the Soviet Union — when the US aided Hungary economically. The relationship has been further consolidated with Hungary joining a range of different Western political groups — such as NATO, the EU, and the OSCE. The right of the US even came to embrace Orbán and his policies, with Republican commentator Tucker Carlson visiting Hungary in 2021. Although seemingly cosy with conservatives in the US, issues with the rest of the West arose when Orbán refused to sign the UN’s global compact on immigration in 2018 — which would have subjected Hungary to the viewing and assessment of their immigration controls. Instead, UN human rights experts have only been able to voice their fears over the severity of anti-immigration measures in Hungary without being able to take action. There have also been tensions within the European Commission due to the belief that Orbán has been acting in an antidemocratic fashion, leading to Orbán’s counterparts berating him during sessions.

Tensions have further been heightened as Orbán and Hungary have maintained a friendly relationship with Russia, even during the invasion of Ukraine. Orbán has followed a similar political path to Putin, creating an autocratic regime by manoeuvring his friends and allies into imperative positions in business, media and politics. His friendship with Putin has led to conflict between Hungary and the West, especially in January 2022 when Orbán claimed to be going to Russia for a “peace mission”. Many questioned the motives behind his trip, their suspicions augmented when Hungary ignored the EU’s calls for sanctions against Russia’s energy and when Orbán refused to supply Ukraine with weapons.

Orbán and Hungary are walking a fine line. They may be allies of the US and the West in writing, however, Orbán’s actions tell a different story. The development of this story will not only impact on the political situation within Hungarian politics, but it may even exacerbate the friction between Putin and the West.

The featured image, ‘File:Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán (Hungary, February 2015) 02.jpeg’, by Presidential Press and Information Office ( is from Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

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