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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

How times - and people - change: Ukraine is a greater threat to Hungary than Russia - Fidesz voters

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Almost half of government-party voters see Ukraine as a threat, or very significant threat to Hungary, according to a poll by left-leaning think-tank Policy Solutions. In contrast, two-thirds of opposition voters view Russia as the greater threat.

A graphic from the English summary of The World Through Hungarian Eyes – Foreign Policy Attitudes in Hungary in 2023 - revealing a doubling of support for Russia by Hungarian respondents between 2021 - 2023

Hungarians love their history: ask a group of Magyars over beers what happened in say, 1989 and before you know it - because otherwise you can't possibly understand he answer - they will have backtracked to 1956 (revolution against hard-line Communist rule), 1948 (Communist-engineered elections-cum-putsch) and World War 2.

They might stop there, but WW2 is a bit of a sensitive topic that some might not like to dwell on, so things are likely to slide into the grief of the 1930s, which inevitably leads to a crash course on Trianon (a treaty most native English spearkers have never heard of, 1920).

By this time, you might have forgotten your original question, but if the ászok is flowing, don't rule out a few paragraphs on 1867 (the Great Compromise) and possibly 1848 (another revolution, this time against the nasty, autocratic Habsburgs).

If, en route, someone has switched the beverage of choice to pálinka, you may even get to 896.

The next day, somewhere in the fog of hangover, you might remember a few mentions of Russia.

This is quite likely for one, simple, sad reason: historically, Russia is bad news for Hungary.

In 1849, the intervention of imperial Russia on the side of those nasty Habsburgs meant defeat for the revolutionary Magyar forces. In 1945-6 'liberating' Soviet troops (and we know who led them) raped and pillaged their way through the country before engineering a Communist dictatorship. In 1956, Soviet forces crushed the popular revolution, followed by a year or two of more terror under the (Soviet-backed) rule of János Kádár.

Indeed, would-be political leaders in the heady years of the late 1980s leveraged the groundswell resentment against Russian treatment of Hungary for their own ends, none more so than one particularly driven, fiery ex-student from the town of Székesfehérvár.

In June, 1989, an eloquent Viktor Orbán made himself famous by publicly demanding an end of servility to the “Russian Empire” (note, not “Soviet”) and that “Russian” (again, not “Soviet”) forces should leave the country and allow it to reach its “western” destiny.

How times - and people - change.

Today, after more than a decade of cosying up to a Russia led by President and former KGB operative Vladimir Putin, the government of Hungary, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and using its vast media resources on hand, bends over backwards to project Kremlin-friendly views on Russian aggression on Ukraine.

As András Bíró-Nagy, Founder and Director of Policy Solutions, says: “I always say, here in Hungary we don't need Russia Today, because we have it; it's called Hungarian public media. Because when you see the news ... the public TV, it's 24/7 Russia-friendly propaganda there.”

In Policy Solutions' latest study, the effect of this, and of other media outlets controlled by “oligarchs close to the government” is steadily feeding through to influence the perceptions of not only government voters, but even opposition supporters in Hungary, Bíró-Nagy asserts.

Dubbed The World Through Hungarian Eyes – Foreign Policy Attitudes in Hungary in 2023, the Budapest-based think tank asked a sample of 1,000 Hungarian citizens about their views on issues ranging from where Hungary belongs in terms of its culture and history to their favourite foreign public figure.

Released last month, the most widely cited result of the study is the growth in public support for closer ties to Russia, which has doubled from 13% to 26% in just two years. (See opening graphic - above.)

But for this blog post, I will focus on just one aspect of the study – the risks to the country posed by Russia, Ukraine, China and the United States (yes, really, Hungary's Nato ally) according to voter preferences. (Unfortunately, these graphics are only available with Hungarian texts.)

How Fidesz-KDNP voters perceive the threats to Hungary posed by Ukraine, the USA, Russia and China. Dark green represents 'absolutely no danger' across to Bordeaux red , reprenting 'serious/significant danger'. Grey stands for 'don't know/no answer'.

This first graphic reveals that 46%, or just short of half of Fidesz-KDNP voters believe Ukraine to be “a threat or a significant threat” to Hungary.

This is a Ukraine which has never existed as an independent state prior to 1991 in any real form (and so has no history of aggression against Hungary) and a Ukraine which voluntarily relinquished its nuclear weapons arsenal in a 1995 treaty – a treaty signed in Budapest.

(Granted, Ukraine has a controversial minorities' language law, much cited by the Hungarian government in its case against Kyiv. Romania, Slovakia and Poland also have issues with this law – but don't let that get in the way of assistance to Ukraine in what they deem to be the far greater issue of war with Russia.)

This graphic also reveals a little over one third of government supporters (36%) view the United States as a threat, closely followed by Russia (35%). Just one-in-five (19%) Fidesz voters deem China as a danger to Hungary.

The threats posed by Russia, China, Ukraine and the USA - six-party opposition voters

The second graphic, in contrast, shows the strategic concerns of opposition voters – or, more specifically, voters who joined the six-party opposition alliance formed in 2021 to contest the parliamentary election in April, 2022.

In this grouping – continually denounced as “leftist” by government media – 64% see Russia as the biggest threat, but with nearly one in two (47%) clearly concerned about China.

Milder, true, but even among opposition voters, a good quarter (26%) view Ukraine as a threat, with 20% holding similar fears over the United States.

Our Homeland voters views on threats posed by Russia, Ukraine, the USA and China

For completeness, I've included the views of Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland), the radical-right party which gained almost 6% of the vote in 2022, giving it 6 seats in parliament.

Intriguingly, while its leadership has strongly pro-Russian views on the Ukraine conflict, its voters seem to habour more 'classical Hungarian' feelings regarding Moscow and its policies. Granted, one-third (33%) of its voters view Ukraine as a threat, but even more (40%) see Russia as a greater danger.

Perhaps surprisingly (for a radical-right party), almost half (48%) believe the USA poses “no threat or absolutely no threat” to Hungary.

Even more remarkably, Chinese “panda policy” seems to work well with Mi Hazánk voters – a mere 14% see Beijing as a threat.

There again, as Bíró-Nagy puts it:

“Hungary hasn't become a predominantly Russia-friendly or China-friendly country, it's still pro-western. But, when we look underneath this surface, like, for instance, on the war [in Ukraine], or what should drive Hungarian foreign policy, or how we should think about the United States, then the effect of the Fidesz media empire - which is about undermining western values and promoting the relationship with eastern countries - can really be seen [as having an impact].”

For a broader analysis of the Policy Solutions study (in English), see:

For a 10-page summary of the study (in English)

For the full, 105-page study (in Hungarian)

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1 Comment

Jul 19, 2023

One can only wonder what this perceived danger is. Do they really think Ukraine is going to invade Hungary when it is spending all its energy defending its existence in the South and East?

As a conservative myself, it has been a depressing feature of the war to see how wrong so many on the right have been about Russia. The Hungarian government and its supporters are a very good example of this. It is difficult trying to understand why they continue to promote the Putin narrative, especially in view of the many atrocities by his forces, both in the temporarily occupied areas and in persistent bombing of hospitals, schools and other civilian targets. Personally as regards Orban, I suspect…

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