Is Russia secretly controlling Hungary’s every move?

Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest - but who's really in charge here?

Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest – but who’s really in charge here?

Who controls Hungary? Is it the Hungarian government in Budapest? Or is the ‘power behind the throne’ truly wielded by Russia’s controversial president, Vladimir Putin?

Ah, Hungary. Your history reads like a series of unfortunate events, which I got to learn about when I visited the capital, Budapest, a few weeks ago.

In 1241, Hungary was invaded by the Mongols and defeated disastrously at the Battle of Mohi. Half of Hungary’s population were killed and 50-80% of the villages on the Great Hungarian Plains were destroyed. In 1526, Hungary suffered a crushing defeat by the Turks at the Battle of Mohács and was taken over by Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. It took 150 years before the Hungarians were able to drive out the Turks, only to be controlled by the Austrians for the next few hundred years.

In World War I, Hungary fought on the side of the Germans and was defeated. In 1920, it was forced to sign the incredibly harsh Treaty of Trianon, called “the greatest catastrophe to have befallen Hungary since of the Battle of Mohács”. As part of the treaty, Hungary lost two thirds of its territory and half of its population.

Hungary’s bad luck didn’t end there. In World War II, the country again fought on the wrong side. 60% of the economy was destroyed, Budapest was severely damaged, and hundreds of thousands of Hungarians were killed. Post-war, the Soviet Union took over Hungary and established a four-decade-long communist dictatorship.

After an unsuccessful revolution against the Russians in 1956, Hungary finally took back its independence in 1989 and became a democracy…. or did it?

With a history like this, it’s not remotely surprising that 42% of Hungarians believe their country is not really controlled by its own government, but by some other shadowy force.

Hungary’s Prime Minister is Viktor Orbán, a man who recently called migrants a “poison” that his country did not want or need and thinks Donald Trump has lots of good ideas about foreign policy. Mhm. Viktor Orbán is the leader of the right-wing Fidesz political party, which has a supermajority in Hungary’s parliament. It’s claimed that Fidesz has close ties with Russia and one of Orbán’s best mates is president of Russia Vladimir Putin.

Is the Hungarian media in Putin’s pocket?

It’s said that much of the media in Hungary is pro-Fidesz, and these channels and news outlets are continuously repeating reports, views and conspiracy theories from Moscow that are pro-Putin.

For example, after Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the pro-Fidesz media followed the line from Moscow and blamed Ukraine and the West. This is despite the fact that the Dutch, the British and the Americans all concluded that Russia had shot down the plane using a rocket. Russian media outlets suggested that Ukraine had shot down the plane in a botched attempt to assassinate Vladimir Putin (as in, Ukraine meant to shoot down Putin’s plane, flying over the same airspace just an hour before, but hit the wrong one). The Russian media also said that this assassination plot was organised by Western backers.

Meanwhile, Hungary’s media followed suit. Even though the rest of the world was blaming Russia, Hungary suspiciously wasn’t. Anti-Semitic, pro-Orbán columnist Zsolt Bayer blamed the tragedy on the West, while far-right news channel EchoTV said that a failure of Ukrainian air control could’ve caused the disaster. All failed to mention the very conspicuous detail of a Russian rocket.

Similarly, the pro-Fidesz media in Hungary copied verbatim what Russia was reporting about the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. Ukrainians wanted to oust their pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, because they believed his regime to be corrupt. They succeeded and a new government was established, but Russia refused to accept it. Moscow called the uprising a coup d’état by fascists and neo-Nazis—as did Hungary. None of the rest of the world was on Russia’s side—except Hungary. Hungary’s public broadcaster labelled anyone who opposed the pro-Russian Yanukovych as a “terrorist”. Several Hungarian newspapers suggested that the West had helped depose him, particularly the US, and EchoTV derogatorily called the new Ukrainian government a “junta”, which means a political group that has taken power by force.

Then, earlier this year, Hungarian media repeated a discredited theory about how the terrorists who attacked Brussels on 22nd March 2016 were Belarusian nationals who’d converted to Islam. Where did this theory come from? That’s right. Russia.

It seems the Hungarian government is determined to keep Mr Putin happy. Just this month, the Budapest Festival Orchestra lost public funding after the conductor criticised Viktor Orbán. Consequently it had to cancel a ton of performances, including one planned for St. Petersburg, Russia. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs wasn’t happy about the cancellation and called Hungary’s foreign minister, who immediately agreed to pay for the orchestra to go to Russia out of the Hungarian government’s budget.

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán in Hungary's capital, with a sizeable Russian flag for all to see

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán in Hungary’s capital, with a sizeable Russian flag for all to see

This mysterious, servile allegiance to Russia suggests to me that Hungary’s history of being dominated by other nations isn’t over. That in 1989, when Hungary ousted the Russians, it didn’t totally get rid of them.

That in Hungarian politics today, there is a ‘man behind the curtain’. And his name is Vladimir Putin.

Next week:
I’m looking at the recent developments in the most famous missing person case in modern history: Madeleine McCann

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