Facing Economic Crisis and a Steep Decline in Polls, Orban Imports US ‘Racial Politics’

Inspired by post-Trump America

If we take a look at all of Orban’s controversial moves in recent years, it’s clear he hasn’t actually invented anything new. He just keeps drawing on US campaign strategists and the latest Republican talking points, then promulgates divisive campaign issues already proven to be successful in the US: mass migration, the George Soros globalist conspiracy, the great replacement theory, and gender/LGBT issues.

By peddling misinformation on these issues, just like in the US it has helped push mainstream right-wing discourse in Hungary to the extremes. It was all intentional, too: another trademark of Orban’s political strategy since the 1990s has been to unite the political right by courting far-right voters. In Hungary’s 2022 post-election situation, this strategy has probably never proved more timely for the prime minister.

Our Homeland, a new far-right, fascist-leaning party, shocked many by making it into the Hungarian parliament with 6 per cent of the vote in April, and it’s currently the top choice for many disillusioned former Orban supporters. For the prime minister, it absolutely makes sense to try to outflank them from the right. Between 2018 and 2022, I have managed to win over hundreds of thousands of far-right voters who previously supported the Jobbik party, Our Homeland’s predecessor.

The consequences of this strategy are obvious, as it also requires Orban to take action and realize what opposition far-right MPs can only talk about. “Pay attention to one thing: what I do,” Orban said a decade ago, so we should do exactly that.

In 2015, government billboards opposing migration were quickly followed by a barbed-wire border fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border and the inhumane treatment of migrants and refugees. In 2017, rhetorical attacks on George Soros quickly turned into law, forcing the Soros-founded Central European University to leave Budapest. Soros-supporting NGOs were not only vilified, but so-called “Stop Soros” legislation was passed to criminalize some of their activities. Then, in 2020, after the far-right Our Homeland party attacked a children’s book with LGBT characters, the issue was picked up by Orban himself, quickly leading to an anti-LGBT law widely condemned, including by the European Commission.

As Orban’s previous culture war topics have all resulted in official government policy, there is a real danger that something similar will happen in this case, too.

In his speech, for example, Orban already hinted at restricting free movement in the EU, despite Hungary’s obligations as both a member of the EU and the passport-free Schengen zone. “Who we do not want to let in – regardless of Schengen – will have to be stopped at our western borders,” Orban said, adding that he thinks this will become the reality in the long run.

But this is not the only way that Orban can implement his vision of racial purity. In December, both Orban and his spokesman talked about the 2 million Bosnian Muslim population as a “challenge” and “security issue” when it comes to the country’s potential EU accession. Those remarks should be taken seriously, especially given that Oliver Varhelyi, the EU commissioner in charge of enlargement and neighborhood policy, is an Orban appointee who still closely coordinates with the Hungarian prime minister.

And this is the big difference between the post-Trump American right and Viktor Orban: he actually holds the power to turn rhetoric into reality.

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