Between a Hammer and an Anvil

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Most Central and East European leaders have been outspoken in their condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and support of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Polish, Czech, and Slovenian leaders made a risky visit to Kyiv earlier this month to demonstrate that they stand with Ukraine, for example.

But, as Al Jazeera noted, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been less vocal about the Russian invasion’s needless horrors. Known before the invasion as one of the most pro-Russian leaders of a European Union member state – the Wilson Center documented the two countries’ close ties – Orban has backed sanctions against Russia and permitted NATO troops to deploy to western Hungary near its 85-mile long border with Ukraine.

But Orban has opposed curtailing Hungarian imports of Russian oil and gas. He has refused to end work on a Russian-funded expansion of a nuclear power plant, reported Time. He won’t send weapons to Ukraine, unlike other European countries. And state-owned media has been broadcasting Kremlin talking points for weeks, wrote Politico.

Orban has long been viewed as the ringleader of the so-called “illiberal democrat” EU politicians in formerly communist states who have used their success at the ballot box to rewrite election laws, alter judiciary rules, consolidate government structures and weaken independent journalism while investing in propagandizing and state surveillance. Orban has created a near-authoritarian state, the Atlantic magazine argued. And he has sought to protect “family values”: For example, a government-pushed referendum on LGBTQ issues is taking place along with the election, which, if successful, would ban teaching about homosexuality in schools,

Now, as Orban and his Fidesz political party seek a fourth consecutive term in parliamentary elections in what is looking like a tight race on April 3, his coziness with Russia and affinity for authoritarianism have taken on a different light given events in Ukraine. “Putin and Orban belong to this autocratic, repressive, poor and corrupt world,” Orban’s main rival, opposition candidate Peter Marki-Zay, told the New York Times. “And we have to choose Europe, (the) West, NATO, democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press, a very different world. The free world.”

In response, Orban has described Marki-Zay as wanting to intervene in the fighting. In contrast, he portrayed himself as a responsible leader who will avoid foolish moves that could lead to bloodshed. “The opposition has lost its mind,” the prime minister said at a campaign rally covered by the Guardian. “They would walk into a cruel, protracted and bloody war and they want to send Hungarian troops and guns to the frontline. We can’t let this happen. Not a single Hungarian can get caught between the Ukrainian anvil and the Russian hammer.”

Extending that analogy, one might say that Hungarian voters will be deciding whether they sympathize with the anvil or the hammer when they cast their ballots.

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