Orbán and Horthy

Orban is a rare political leader in Europe. He is quite popular, but he is in a balancing act. To his left are the Europeanists, who see all his actions as a repudiation of liberal democracy. On the right is a fascist party that won 20 percent in the last election. Between these two forces, Hungary could tear itself apart. It is in precisely this situation that Weimar Germany failed. Caught between left and right, the center was too weak to hold. Orban is trying to do what Horthy did: strengthen his power over the state and the state’s power over society. He is attacked from the left for violating the principles of liberal democracy and Europe. He is attacked from the right for remaining a tool of the European Union and the Jews. The left believes he is secretly of the right and his protestations are simply a cover. The right believes he is secretly a Europeanist and that his protestations are simply a cover.

Now we add to this the fact that Hungary must make decisions concerning Ukraine. Orban knows that Hungary is not in a position to make decisions by itself. He has therefore made a range of statements, including condemning Russia, opposing sanctions and proposing that the Ukrainian region directly east of Hungary, and once Hungarian, be granted more autonomy. In the end, these statements are unimportant. They do not affect the international system but allow him to balance a bit.

Orban knows what Horthy did as well. Hungary, going up against both Germany and Russia, needs to be very subtle. Hungary is already facing Germany’s policy toward liberal integration within the European Union, which fundamentally contradicts Hungary’s concept of an independent state economy. Hungary is already facing Germany’s policies that undermine Hungary’s economic and social well-being. Orban’s strategy is to create an economy with maximum distance from Europe without breaking with it, and one in which the state exerts its power. This is not what the Germans want to see.

Now, Hungary is also facing a Germany that is not in a position to support Hungary against Russia. He is potentially facing a Russia that will return to Hungary’s eastern border. He is also faced with a growing domestic right wing and a declining but vocal left. It is much like Horthy’s problem. Domestically, he has strong support and powerful institutions. He can exercise power domestically. But Hungary has only 9 million people, and external forces can easily overwhelm it. His room for maneuvering is limited.

I think Orban anticipated this as he saw the European Union flounder earlier in the decade. He saw the fragmentation and the rise of bitterness on all sides. He constructed a regime that appalled the left, which thought that without Orban, it would all return to the way it was before, rather than realizing that it might open the door to the further right. He constructed a regime that would limit the right’s sense of exclusion without giving it real power.

Russia’s re-emergence followed from this. Here, Orban has no neat solution. Even if Hungary were to join a Polish-Romanian alliance, he would have no confidence that this could block Russian power. For that to happen, a major power must lend its support. With Germany out of the game, that leaves the United States. But if the United States enters the fray, it will not happen soon, and it will be even later before its role is decisive. Therefore he must be flexible. And the more international flexibility he must show, the more internal pressures there will be.

For Horthy, the international pressure finally overwhelmed him, and the German occupation led to a catastrophe that unleashed the right, devastated the Jews and led to a Russian invasion and occupation that lasted half a century. But how many lives did Horthy save by collaborating with Germany? He bought time, if nothing else.

Hungarian history is marked by heroic disasters. The liberal revolutions that failed across Europe in 1848 and failed in Hungary in 1956 were glorious and pointless. Horthy was unwilling to make pointless gestures. The international situation at the moment is far from defined, and the threat to Hungary is unclear, but Orban clearly has no desire to make heroic gestures. Internally he is increasing his power constantly, and that gives him freedom to act internationally. But the one thing he will not grant is clarity. Clarity ties you down, and Hungary has learned to keep its options open.

Orban isn’t Horthy by any means, but their situations are similar. Hungary is a country of enormous cultivation and fury. It is surrounded by disappointments that can become dangers. Europe is not what it promised it would be. Russia is not what Europeans expected it to be. Within and without the country, the best Orban can do is balance, and those who balance survive but are frequently reviled. What Hungary could be in 2005 is not the Hungary it can be today. Any Hungarian leader who wished to avoid disaster would have to face this. Indeed, Europeans across the continent are facing the fact that the world they expected to live in is gone and what has replaced it, inside and outside of their countries, is different and dangerous.

by George Friedman, the Chairman of Stratfor.  The full article can be read here.


I don’t agree with everything Friedman writes but certainly it’s a very interesting analysis on Hungary’s situation.

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  1. Angela Bogaczy

     /  11/06/2014

    ‘Angela Leto did not write this article, its Friedman’s article.’

    Szebbjovot, I am aware of this. I am also aware that Leto says he does not agree with all Friedman says. What bothers me is that Leto published this twisted, dishonest Friedman article at all.

    The very idea that the Regent somehow balanced ‘Russia’ and Germany before and during WWII is an absurdity. There was no ‘Russia’ by that time. Russia had been relentlessly crushed by the Jewish Bolsheviks from 1917 onwards. It had become ‘Soviet Russia’ long before WWII. Soviet Russia was the great threat to Hungary, and to Europe (not least to Germany), well before WWII. And that was the power, the Jewish Bolshevik power, that crushed Hungary in 1945. Horthy never so much as considered any sort of truck with Soviet Russia. So where was the balancing act that Friedman attributes to the Regent?

    The smarmy Friedman article has this objective: to equate contemporary Russia and Soviet Russia, and to make it palatable to conservative Hungarians by referencing Horthy’s protection of Hungarian Jews during WWII. The Russia = Soviet Russia is the neo-cons’ current narrative. And it seems to me also to have become Leto’s.

  2. Dane

     /  22/05/2014

    Just wanted to thank you for maintaining this blog. It really is a goldmine for those interested in Hungary.

  3. szebbjovot

     /  22/05/2014

    Angela Leto did not write this article, its Friedman’s article.

    Note Leto’s input at the end:
    “I don’t agree with everything Friedman writes but certainly it’s a very interesting analysis on Hungary’s situation.”

    Hope that clears it up…

    • Angela Bogaczy

       /  11/06/2014

      Sorry, szebbjovot: I replied to you incorrectly. That reply is above.

  4. Angela Bogaczy

     /  21/05/2014

    ‘On the right is a fascist party’

    Oh, really? I did not know there is a fascist party in Hungary. You surely cannot be referring to the Jobbik party. If you are, please give due attention to this:

    In the last elections, the leader of the Hungarian Gypsy Party, Aladar Horvath, standing in a ‘safe’ electorate that has a majority Gypsy population, managed to garner 200 votes. ‘His’ electorate voted in the Jobbik candidate. Did this electorate vote in a fascist party?

    (My growing suspicion is that you are one of those Fidesz supporters who is responsible for the characterisation of this party as Zsidesz.)

    • Well, I must let you down but “the characterisation of Fidesz as Zsidesz*” is not a Jobbik invention. It was coined by “Ifjú Baloldal” (Young Left) in the early ’90s. IB is/was a youth organization of MSZP and Péter Kiss, an MSZP stalwart (long time MP, ex-minister, etc.), was its leader.
      However Jobbik fans love the word (and that speaks volumes.)

      Zsidesz is a portmanteau of “zsidó” (Jew) and Fidesz.

      • Angela Bogaczy

         /  21/05/2014

        I did not say that ‘Zsidesz’ is a Jobbik invention. The term was in existence before well Jobbik came into being. So on that count, you cannot have let me down. Your attempt at being patronising falls on its face, here.


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