Budapest, Hungary – As Polish, Czech, and Slovenian leaders made a perilous journey to Kyiv on Tuesday in a show of support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was in Budapest rallying tens of thousands of supporters in advance of elections next month.
Speaking in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building, Orbán used the occasion to justify his arms-length response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. “We cannot get between the Ukrainian anvil and the Russian hammer,” he told the crowd who had bused in from across the country to hear the illiberal icon speak.
Although Budapest has supported EU sanctions on Russia and allowed NATO troops to be deployed to the country’s west, Orbán and his Fidesz government have described any sanctions on Russian oil and gas as a “red line”.
Russia’s assault on Ukraine has forced Orbán, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office next month, to adjust his campaign strategy from highlighting alliances with Moscow and Beijing to promoting security as the war continues to threaten Hungary’s eastern frontier.
“It’s in our interest not to be pawns in someone else’s war. In this war we have nothing to gain and everything to lose,” the prime minister said before reiterating his position that Hungary will not send any military assistance to Ukraine.
“Balance of power”
Tuesday’s so-called “Peace March”, which was organised by a pro-Fidesz civic group, also commemorated the 1848 revolution against Hamburg rule. Among the crowd waving Hungarian flags was Peter Kalmar, a 28-year-old Fidesz supporter who felt drawn to the party’s “traditional values”.
“This government is representing family values and religion in the most honest manner,” he told Al Jazeera. “I’m in the process of building a family and it’s really nice to have the financial and value support Fidesz offers”. Since returning to power in 2010 Orbán has offered generous packages to young Hungarian couples looking to start a family which range from tax breaks to loan benefits.
For 20-year-old Gabor Tasnadi, the government’s decision to wave personal income tax for under-25s was a big incentive to back Fidesz. “This is a huge opportunity for us, obviously it has a downside as well as it can drive inflation, but it’s good,” he said between swigs of beer in the sun.
Across the Danube River Hungary’s united opposition also staged a rally on Tuesday, although the crowd was significantly smaller. Led by small-town mayor Péter Márki-Zay, the six parties came together in December 2020 and have slipped in the polls after gains earlier in the year.
Several opposition supporters Al Jazeera spoke to felt the chances of Márki-Zay defeating Orbán were slim but hoped the mayor could do enough to break the government’s two-thirds majority in parliament that has allowed Fidesz to tamper with the country’s constitution.
“This government is copying Putin’s Russia,” said Peter Zalai, an opposition supporter who wore a symbolic blue ribbon for the event. “If the opposition could get 49 percent of the parliament that would be a big victory for us. We just want a balance of power.”
Hours after his speech in front of parliament Orbán received his second endorsement from former US President Donald Trump. “Now with what’s going on with Russia and Ukraine… the great and wonderful people of Hungary need the continued strong leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán more than ever. He is TOUGH, SMART, AND LOVES HIS COUNTRY,” Trump said in a statement.