Hungary Insight

Is Viktor Orbán arrogant?

In his Tusványos speech last week, the Hungarian prime minister said the things he has been saying for seven years, just more openly.

Every year at Bálványosi Free Summer University (also known as Tusványos), a festival in Transylvania, the Fidesz elite gather to discuss their agenda and ideological underpinning of their policies. For many regular attendees, the politicians are nothing but an optional side event at a normal festival. For many others, the festival’s main event is Viktor Orbán’s address to his faithful.

In 2014, it was in Tusványos where he announced Hungary’s illiberal turn and in 2018 he declared the start of the culture wars during his address. As this year’s was another post-election Tusványos (and as due to Covid, this was the first in 3 years), there was widespread curiosity regarding what the prime minister might say.

But this year, Orbán did not announce anything new, just repeated familiar topics but with greater confidence which, at times, turned into arrogance.

Orbán’s new arrogance?

The first sign of Orbán’s new arrogance was not a pre-planned part of the speech. Orbán was interrupted by Romanian nationalists with a sign saying “Transylvania is a Romanian land.” While the security guards were escorting the individuals out of the premises, Orbán remarked, “Gently, like with the druggies at the bridges!” This sentence was a reference to this month’s protests against tax rises by Hungarian entrepreneurs who decided to occupy bridges. At one of the protests, the leader of the Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party, Gergely Kovács was taken by police officers who found marijuana in his possession. Orbán’s press team later claimed that he meant him.

As Orbán said “bridges” it is perfectly conceivable that he meant not only Kovács but the protesters in general. Even if he only mocked Kovács, he did so in a way that could easily be misinterpreted to mean the protesters. This shows how he is not afraid of any consequences of even being seen as looking down on regular protesting Hungarians. 

In the speech, Orbán talked about the war in Ukraine. He claimed that if Trump and Merkel had been in charge of their respective countries, the war would have been avoided. Another statement he made was that Ukraine can’t win the war even with aid from the West. According to Orbán, instead of choosing a side between Russia and Ukraine, the West should stand between Ukraine and Russia. The only new element in this messaging is how open it is.

By constantly saying that the sanctions and military aid prolong the war and that Hungary’s top priority is peace (which the government has been saying for a while now), Orbán’s idea that Ukraine could never win was already implied. The big change is that now Orbán is not afraid to talk out of Hungary’s alliance network even more openly than before.

“Racial mixing”

The part of his speech that sparked the most backlash was his comments regarding “racial mixing.” This is what Orbán said:

The internationalist left employs a feint, an ideological ruse: the claim – their claim – that Europe by its very nature is populated by peoples of mixed race. This is a historical and semantic sleight of hand, because it conflates two different things. There is a world in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe. Now that is a mixed-race world. And there is our world, where people from within Europe mix with one another, move around, work, and relocate. So, for example, in the Carpathian Basin we are not mixed-race: we are simply a mixture of peoples living in our own European homeland. And, given a favourable alignment of stars and a following wind, these peoples merge together in a kind of Hungaro-Pannonian sauce, creating their own new European culture. This is why we have always fought: we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race.

Despite the valid domestic and international outrage, these comments are not exactly new either. Orbán repeatedly made the same argument, just without the explicit use of the word “race.”

For one, Orbán occasionally refers to the great replacement theory. Most recently, he did so in his Prime Ministerial inauguration speech. But, as it has been pointed out, there are other concrete examples from Orbán’s public addresses that make the same argument. In 2017, he argued that Hungary “should preserve its ethnic homogeneity” because “mixing causes too much trouble.” In 2018, he also said that “We do not want our own colour, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others.”

Though it is true that in other statements, Orbán tended to focus on culture or religion but in the quoted two examples, the overarching argument is exactly the same as in the quoted excerpt from this year’s speech. Yes, the word “race” was used now for the first time, however, it is highly unlikely that this reflects an ideological shift in Orbán’s views. It simply implies a newfound carelessness or appetite for further deliberate provocation in terms of how he can express his thoughts.

This, out of all the examples shows the most clearly how much Orbán is not afraid of the consequences of anything that he says. It is welcome that some are beggining to realise that Orbán’s ideology has racist elements (even one of Orbán’s advisors and close friends, Zsuzsa Hegedüs resigned after his speech). Outrage about racist notions is, of course, always justified, but perhaps the individuals who dismissed those who warned that Orbán’s previous statements might have been racist would have benefitted from paying closer attention to what the Hungarian prime minister has been saying for the past seven years.

Dismissing his closest allies

The only element that was new in his speech content-wise is how comfortable the prime minister was with dismissing his allies within the EU. He criticised the Czech Republic and Slovakia for allying themselves with Western European countries, which he compared to keeping your horses in a burning stable. Even more surprisingly, Orbán even made a dig at his ideologically closest allies in the Polish government.

He stated that with them, the problem is with the heart, implying that the Polish government is not thinking rationally about the war:

When it comes to matters of the head, the interests that I have talked about are clearly aligned; but the problem is matters of the heart. The problem in Hungarian-Polish relations is one of the heart. We Hungarians see this war as a war between two Slavic peoples, and as one which we want to stay out of. But the Poles see it as a war in which they are also involved: it is their war, and they are almost fighting it. And since this is a matter of the heart, we cannot come to an agreement with each other on it, but must use our intellect to salvage everything we can from the Polish-Hungarian friendship and strategic alliance for the post-war period.

Orbán has always paid particular attention to not alienate his closest allies. Now his post-election confidence prevents him from doing so, arguably at the time when he would need these skills the most, with his complete isolation in the EU due to his position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Hungarian entitlement

One final noteworthy element in his address was towards the end of the speech. Orbán openly expressed an attitude that has existed on a certain section of the Hungarian right since the 1920s. In relation to Hungary, he said “The world owes us and we’ll get what we are owed.” The thinking of this ideological tradition embraces the entitlement of Hungarian cultural imperialists from the 19th century and the perpetual sense of victimhood of a county losing ⅔ of its territory and then being de-facto colonised by the Soviet Union.

Add a pinch of inferiority complex Fidesz politicians developed after getting a dose of the perceived and actual arrogance of SZDSZ figures from the 1980s-90s and you’ll get Orbánism.

Viktor Orbán is more bullish because he knows he can get away with it. But he should be careful. He is a well-read man so he must know that many political careers ended prematurely due to hubris. Despite winning his greatest ever victory a few months ago, he’ll never be entirely safe from this fate either.

By Ábel Bede

Ábel Bede was born in Budapest and has two degrees in History from Durham University. He specialised in Central Europan history and has been contributing to Kafkadesk since 2019. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here!

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.