Hungarians, conspiracy theories and Budapest’s allegiance to Moscow

Political Capital, one of Hungary’s most prominent think tanks, reminds us this week that 42% of Hungarians believe that it is not the government in Budapest, with its near super majority in parliament, which controls events in the country, but rather some other, shadowy force. Among those who believe this to be true, 30% are convinced that Jews rule the world and rule Hungary as well. This is why Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s relentless hate campaign against George Soros, the billionaire Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor, is proving so successful.

Mr. Orbán’s conspiracy theory, broadcast widely and highly repetitively by other government ministers in an all pro-government publications, is best summed up by Russia Today, in an article entitled “George Soros: A psychopath’s psychopath,” which quotes the Hungarian prime minister at length:

“Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is quoted as saying, ‘This invasion is driven, on the one hand, by people smugglers, and on the other hand by those activists who support everything that weakens the nation-state.’Orbán went on, “This Western mindset and this activist network is perhaps best represented by George Soros.”

Soros (…) responded to Orban’s comments by arguing that his beliefs “uphold European values”. I don’t know what Soros means by ‘European values,’ but I assume it includes lots more immigration for us – unilaterally decided upon by Mr. Soros.”

According to Political Capital, the systematic attacks on Mr. Soros from Fidesz is a nod to Hungary’s anti-Semitic far-right. The narrative is very simple, yet effective, according to the think tank: “Soros is a Jew, who is flooding Christian Hungary with Muslims.”

What the pro-Fidesz media never mentions, however, is how much Russia’s bombing of Aleppo, in Syria, exacerbated the refugee crisis, which the Hungarian government likes to suggest is either the doing of Mr. Soros, or is being used by the businessman to destroy Christian Hungary and Europe.

As Political Capital points out, the pro-Fidesz media accepts at face value reports and conspiracy theories appearing in Russian publications and shares these views from Moscow, generally ones that are advantageous to President Vladimir Putin, most enthusiastically with Hungarian readers.

For instance, shortly after Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over war-torn Eastern Ukraine in 2014, resulting in 298 deaths, the pro-Fidesz media followed the line from Moscow and put the blame squarely on the West, even though a Dutch inquiry into the tragedy suggested Russian involvement and the use of a Russian rocket in downing the plane. With assistance from Moscow, Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine almost certainly shot down the airplane. But one of Hungary’s most prominent and vitriolic publicists, Zsolt Bayer, also a founding member of Fidesz and close friend of Mr. Orbán, suggested that the West may have caused the tragedy, “as it is outstanding propaganda and the whole arsenal of sanctions (against Russia) have already been prepared.”

EchoTV, a far-right and staunchly pro-Orbán cable news channel owned by oligarch Gábor Széles, theorized that a failure on the part of Ukrainian air control likely caused the disaster, completely “neglecting” to inform its viewers about the central role of a rocket.

During the Euromaidan revolution in Kyiv (2013-14), pro-Fidesz media in Hungary adopted verbatim the line from Moscow, which characterized the upheaval in Ukraine not as an uprising against a corrupt, pro-Putin regime by Ukrainians who wanted closer ties with the European Union, but as a coup d’état by neo-Nazis and fascists. Hungary’s public broadcaster, for instance, labelled anyone who opposed pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Viktor  Yanukovych, who was forced out of office, as a “terrorist.” Both the Magyar Hírlap and the Magyar Idők pro-Fidesz dailies suggested that Mr. Yanukovych was deposed with the assistance of the West and, in particular, the United States. One of EchoTV’s popular anchors declared that Euromaidan was tantamount to a “NATO-putsch” and then referred to the new Ukrainian government as a “junta.”

More recently, Hungarian pro-Fidesz media accepted at a face value a discredited theory developed in Russia about how the terrorists who struck Brussels on March 22nd were Belarussian nationals who had converted to Islam. Recently, there had been tension between Moscow and Minsk, as the latter attempts to improve its relationship with the West, in an effort to end sanctions. Both Hungary’s public broadcaster and the Magyar Idők daily published news items based on this discredited theory.

Vladimir Putin visits Viktor Orbán in Budapest, but the sizeable Russian flag blocks the view of the Hungarian capital.

Vladimir Putin visits Viktor Orbán in Budapest, but the sizeable Russian flag blocks the view of the Hungarian capital.

Budapest’s increasingly servile allegiance to Moscow does not end here. Most recently, the Budapest Festival Orchestra was forced to cancel a number of performances and programs, after it lost public funding, following critical, anti-government remarks made by its conductor, Iván Fischer. One of the concerts on the chopping block due to lack of funds was one planned for St. Petersburg. The local Russian organizers were outraged and turned to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Russian Ministry registered its displeasure with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, who then immediately agreed to pay for the trip to Russia out of his Ministry’s own budget.

Mr. Orbán declared in 2010, after winning a super-majority in parliament, that Hungary was fighting its “war of independence.” At the time, he did not mention that his one and only ally is Vladimir Putin.

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