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Mr. Orban has long been seen as a political chameleon — and reviled by foes as a brazen opportunist — but he is now pushing his shape-shifting talents to a new level. He has broken ranks not only with Hungary’s allies over Ukraine but also with his country’s own long history of wariness toward Russia as he seeks to reconcile economic populism with the nationalism that underpins his political brand.
Hungary, according to the European Union’s statistical agency, has the lowest electricity prices and third lowest gas prices for consumers in the 27-member European bloc. While prices elsewhere have doubled or tripled over the past year, Hungary has kept them steady, a feat that Mr. Orban’s governing Fidesz party is hoping will help it defeat an unusually united opposition in elections on April 3.
Hungary gets 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia — but Europe on the whole gets 40 percent. All of Europe, then, is deeply dependent on Russian natural gas. The Europeans know it, which is one reason Germany has been a reluctant partner in the US’s hostility towards Russia over Ukraine. More from the NYT piece:
More important, [Putin] offered Mr. Orban a helping hand with energy, noting that underground storage facilities for gas in Europe are just 40 percent full and “our European partners in Europe will probably face problems next year.” But Hungary, Mr. Putin promised, “will have no problems because we will coordinate additional volumes.”
As I write this, it’s evening here in Budapest, and it’s cold. You could call Orban’s trip to Moscow and his arrangement with Putin cynical, but you could also be grateful for it, given how cold it is outside. More broadly, you could see Orban as recognizing that the Cold War has been over for a generation now, that American power is waning in the world, and that the states of Central and Eastern Europe have to come up with a more realistic relationship with the troublesome giant to the East:
“We had a bad relationship with the Soviet Union for many reasons that I do not need to list here,” Mr. Orban told radio listeners on Friday. “But that era is over, and now we are trying to have a system of relations with this new Russia that is different from what we had with the Soviet Union.”
Mr. Orban’s Moscow visit secured no written commitment of additional supplies and mostly just reaffirmed a 15-year deal signed last September. That deal, which advanced Russian efforts to reduce gas deliveries to Europe through Ukraine by using alternative pipelines, was condemned by Ukraine as a “purely political, economically unreasonable decision.”
Mr. Orban’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, responded that Hungary was not playing politics but simply securing its own economic and security interests. “You cannot heat homes with political statements,” he said.
That’s exactly right. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Hungarian who loves Russia, but Orban is being a realist here. In any case, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas, especially Germany, which shut down its nuclear plants. European leaders know very well that come next winter, Russia could have them on their knees. This is an economic and strategic reality that Americans do not face, but Europeans do.
I am not troubled by Orban’s relationship to Russia, but I am by his relationship to China. Nevertheless, let me explain what I think is the idea behind the strategy. I have no special knowledge of how Orban thinks; this is just based on what I have seen in my time in this country.
Hungary is a small country that is unlucky in its geographical location. It is impossible to overstate how important national sovereignty is to the Hungarians. As I have written in this space before, this is the cultural factor that nobody in the West understands; I certainly had no idea about it until spending time here last year. The Hungarians — even those who support the majority Fidesz Party — certainly, and correctly, consider themselves to be European. But the Orbanists believe that the EU badly overreaches its mandate. Back in 2015, when Angela Merkel threw open the gates of Germany to a million Middle Eastern migrants, Orban famously refused to play along. He also rejects — as, I believe, do most Hungarians (though we will see in the referendum later this spring) — the EU’s gender and sexuality ideology. He believes Europe is committing demographic and cultural suicide, and does not believe that being part of the EU requires the sacrifice of the Hungarian nation.
My take is that Orban sees that the West is sick unto death, and believes that it is his role as Hungary’s leader to assure a future for his people. Plus, the Orban government is unapologetically pro-Christian, and is appalled by the indifference and hostility the US and European nations show towards Christians, both at home and abroad (as I wrote last year, the Hungarians have a governmental agency, working out of the Prime Minister’s office, that helps persecuted Christians). Someone I know was in a group of religious liberty activists who met several years ago with Orban, who told them that he was working with the Polish government to create a Central European zone where Christians will be able to live in peace. I would not be surprised if Orban believed that a Europe without Christianity is going to die as a civilization. I believe that.
Moreover, I believe, and I am sure Orban must as well, that accepting gender ideology in all its manifestations, and the rest of the identity politics package, is a civilizational death sentence. Now, if you believed that, would you bet in the long run on Russia, or the US/Europe? Russia is not socially healthy, no doubt about it, but it hasn’t swallowed this particular poison. I’m not saying that it’s better to bet on the longer-term survival of Russia than the US in its current state, but I am saying that it’s not an unreasonable move — especially if you live not, as I do, in the US, but in a country that’s only 750 miles from the Russian border (that’s the distance between Dallas and Atlanta). And if the Russians invade and re-absorb Ukraine, that means Hungary will once again share a border with Russia.
Geopolitically, Hungary is on the border between East and West. It is a Catholic and Protestant country, so clearly Western-oriented. But it lives in Russia’s shadow, and culturally, for now, at least, the West is alienating it with its revolutionary values. Consider what an older Hungarian friend, a fierce anti-communist, told me last summer when I shared with him my concerns about Orban’s making nice to the Chinese. He said that whatever else you can say about the Chinese, they will never require the Hungarians to embrace wokeness. This man was in the middle of a terribly unjust attack on his business in the West, all having to do with wokeness. He was being victimized in the same way his family had been under Hungarian communism. He believes very strongly that the West, to which he defected during the Cold War, is now bent on self-destruction. At this point, he cares most of all about the survival of Hungary, and as such, believes that Hungary should make an alliance with China to protect it from the West.
Might this be an unwise judgment? Sure. But again, given the facts on the ground, it is not an unreasonable one.
I’m not trying to get you to agree that Orban’s opening to Russia and China are good news. I’m trying to get you to understand why it might be happening. The EU is driving an ancient European nation into the arms of Russia and China principally by being intolerant of Hungarian difference — especially Hungary’s eagerness to defend its culture and its ancestral religion.
Besides, if you were the leader of Hungary, and you saw this pop up on an official NATO Twitter feed, what would you think about the long-term (or even short-term) future of the alliance?
“To integrate a gender perspective is to integrate a force multiplier.” Oh? Like “diversity is our strength”? These woke bureaucrats keep repeating these woke shibboleths as if they were revealed truths. How, exactly, will integrating a gender perspective make it more likely that NATO will be able to defeat the Russian army in a shooting war? I bet you a thousand dollars that any NATO junior officer who posed that question to his superiors would find his career at a standstill. And I bet that the gender perspectives of military women who do not take the woke line are unwelcome.
My point is simply that the West is starting to have a late Ottoman Empire feel to it. If you were the leader of Hungary, you would not have the liberty to hope that all would be well — especially if your country’s Western allies increasingly despised your country because you won’t accept policies that you believe violate your country’s sovereignty and weaken your society. Look, the prime minister of the Netherlands wants to expel Hungary from the European Union because the Hungarians don’t want TV networks to show the Blue’s Clues Pride Parade to pre-kindergarten Magyar children. This is the bright red line for contemporary Western European leaders: the queering of the minds of children, which they favor.
You are not getting any of this context reported in the American media, of course. But it exists, and you should know about it. Anyway, you cannot heat Hungarian homes with children’s Pride parades, nor can you secure a future for your small country by surrendering to woke ideology.
* This article was originally published here
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