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Huxit: Could Hungary go the way of Great Britain?

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Budapest, Hungary – An opinion piece by Tamás Fricz, titled “It is time to talk about Huxit,” began a frantic dialogue about the likelihood of Viktor Orbán’s leading Hungary out of the European Union in order to avoid any constraints on his dictatorial, undemocratic leadership.

Foreigners might find this terrified reaction of politically savvy, intelligent people to the words of a government propagandist masquerading as a political scientist bizarre. Anyone can sit down and write an opinion piece on any crazy subject. The fellow got carried away. We certainly don’t assume that what every op-ed writer in The New York Times, The Guardian, or Die Welt suggests is God’s honest truth.

Is it time to talk about Huxit?

But this is not the case in Hungary, especially if that opinion piece appears in the government’s flagship paper, Magyar Nemzet. Within a few hours the news spread in opposition circles, among politicians as well as sympathizers, that Fricz’s piece was a message straight from Viktor Orbán.

For example, Klára Dobrev, one of the opposition candidates for the premiership, declared that “the article on leaving the EU was written at Orbán’s behest and in Orbán’s interests.” The country should be ready for such an eventuality, even if the latest Medián opinion poll reaffirmed all of the earlier ones, that the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian people (83%), including 79% of Fidesz voters, are committed supporters of the EU.

Those who are convinced that without Orbán’s approval no such opinion piece could have appeared in Magyar Nemzet are not naïve political rookies. They know that Viktor Orbán is an extremely talented politician who would not rush into a move so fraught with danger, which might end up being a huge defeat for him. He must have something up his sleeve. Given the seemingly pointless insistence on the “child protection law,” Huxit may well be an issue he hopes to employ as an election weapon, especially if he loses too many battles with the bureaucrats of Brussels.

While the EU, as a source of financial benefits, enjoys wide support, Hungarian society is much more divided on the issue of the “child protection” law. The ratio of those who approve to those who disapprove is almost even: 47% to 42%. If the government can successfully convince the electorate that it is the European Union that is punishing Hungary for a law against pedophiles and the spreading of homosexual propaganda among children, it can, through the kind of massive propaganda at which it excels, turn them away from support of the European Union.

Majority of Hungarians remains attached to the EU

Moreover, as Gábor Bojár, a thoughtful businessman who is politically engaged, put it, Orbán needs to convince only about 50% of the electorate that Hungary is being unfairly punished by the European Commission. That number would be enough to trigger a referendum, where, given the Orbán regime’s propaganda machine, Hungarians might turn out to be the victims of the Hungarian equivalent of Nigel Farage.

This is a real possibility, especially since Hungarians’ attachment to the EU is based on monetary considerations. At least this was the case in 2019, when Policy Solutions published a study titled “After 15 years: The European Union and Hungarian Society.” At that time, it was the EU subsidies that 50.8% of Hungarians saw as the greatest advantage of membership. That was followed by Schengen (15.5%) and foreign employment (14.4%). The best article on the dangers of a possible Huxit appeared in Válasz today.

I should point out that there have been several occasions on which Fidesz politicians suddenly began talking about leaving the European Union. The first such moment was in October 2014 when László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, in an interview on Echo TV, complained about diktats coming from the EU, which reminded him of Soviet Russia. “If this is the future of the EU, then it would be worth thinking about how we should slowly and carefully get out of this.” However he added that “I’m convinced that this is not the future of the European Union, it’s a nightmare.”

Two years later, in July 2016, János Lázár, who at that time was the second most important man in the government, at one of his weekly press conferences, while discussing Brexit, said that he could not “in good conscience vote to stay in the EU.” That inspired Index to take a survey. It published an article titled “A narrow pro-EU majority in government.” At that time, the most enthusiastic supporters were Péter Szijjártó, Zoltán Balog, and Gergely Gulyás. Zoltán Kovács was less firm. “If the EU’s handling of illegal migration were the only basis for a decision, I would not be in favor of staying in.” Orbán, as usual, didn’t answer. His communications director told the journalist that “on this topic, please consider Viktor Orbán’s 70-minute press conference after the EU summit as a reference point,” which didn’t deal with the topic in any forthright way. It concentrated on migration as an issue which, if not resolved, will be troublesome.

Hungary’s EU membership at stake

In December 2020, during the Polish-Hungarian threat of a veto of the EU budget, several opposition politicians, among them Tamás Mellár, were certain that, as a result of the EU-Hungarian conflict, Orbán was planning a possible exit from the European Union. Péter Márki-Zaj, one of candidates for the position of prime minister, is convinced that if joining the European Public Prosecutor’s Office were made compulsory, Orbán “would rather drive the country out of the EU than stop stealing.” István Ujhelyi, an MSZP MEP, believed way before Fricz’s article appeared that “Orbán is preparing for the final battle, which could end—tragically—with Hungary’s exit from the EU.”

So, the topic is not new. It emerges whenever Hungary is in sharp disagreement with the European Union. Until now, these disagreements have never had serious consequences for Viktor Orbán as prime minister of Hungary or as a member of the European Council. The Hungarian government’s attack on the homosexual community, however, has changed Orbán’s certainty of never experiencing any substantial consequences of his flagrant disregard of EU laws.

Now that money has been withheld, the threat seems real. Norway’s decision not to release its usual funds to the Hungarian government infuriated him to such an extent that by now he has lost all sense of rationality. In this mood, what else remains? To threaten to bring down the whole edifice. Maybe out of fear the EU will apologize and continue to keep him and his clan fat for a few more years.

With the notion firmly planted in the heads of Hungarians that everything Orbán decides sooner or later becomes reality, it is no surprise that a Fidesz propagandist’s urgent call for Huxit sounds like a threat. But instead of panicking, the opposition parties must organize themselves into one unified group as soon as possible and make clear to the Hungarian public that at stake in the election is membership in the European Union.

By the Hungarian Spectrum, an official partner of Kafkadesk.

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