Mayor of Budapest: "I Do Feel Shame Orban's Hungary Seen as Country Siding With Russia"

Monday, 28 November 2022 — , European Pravda, Budapest - Kyiv

Ukraine sees Hungarian politics as monolithic. There is irremovable Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who won the elections for the fourth time and obtained a constitutional majority with the slogan "enemies surrounding Hungary." Therefore, he has the support of his people and represents their position.

In reality, the situation is much more diverse. The best indicator is that, winning in villages, small towns, among the "diaspora", Orbán has almost lost control over the educated capital.

Elected in 2019, the mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, remains the most popular city politician and represents the "other Hungary", which position is almost unknown in Ukraine.

"European Pravda" had a conversation with him in Budapest. You can either watch a video or read the text version. This interview will show you the attitude towards Ukraine in Hungary in a much clearer way.


"Orbán has accused us of being pro-war"

-  Mister Mayor, is Hungary pro-Russian?

- Hungarian Society is an extremely divided society. To a large extent, influenced by Hungarian government propaganda. The Hungarian government always tries to position itself as the representative of the Hungarian people. If we look at Hungarian society, the government is never the same as its people.

So I think the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian people show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. There is very efficient government propaganda and Russian fake news. That's why some people believe that the US is behind everything. The government is also trying to position itself sometimes as a friend of Russia, but Hungarians are more pro-Ukrainian. 

You say that society is divided, and your public surveys also show that it's half-half. One half, I would not say pro-Russian, but it believes propaganda, and another half does not. What makes these people different? They live in the same country. They watch the same TV channels.

- There's a group that always supports Fidesz. Some of them do believe propaganda.

But if you look at Fidesz voters, they are not pro-Russian. I mean, the majority of them are not pro-Russian.

The Hungarian government is not trying to look pro-Russian. They're trying to look like they are for peace. But this is a pro-Russian aspect. 

The Hungarian opposition, which I am a part of, shows solidarity with Ukraine. We have been accused of being pro-war. It's also very important to note that when Ukrainian refugees fled to Hungary, Hungarians welcomed them warmly. People in Budapest welcomed them very warmly. They were very proactive in accommodating Ukrainians. Just today, we have started handing over generators, heaters, and food to Ukraine. You have to see that Hungarian people are helping the people of Ukraine.

Of course, there is a small minority that believes Russian propaganda, but if you look at the majority of people, their heart is with Ukraine.

Unfortunately, this minority is present. We hear statements that call into question Ukrainian sovereignty. They even state they want to take part of Ukrainian territory. Do you see a real danger in it?

- I don't want to underestimate such sentiments. I do feel shame that my country is seen internationally as one that is siding with the Russians. I hope that the war will be over very soon and the Russians will return to Russia. Then the Hungarian government can return to prioritising humanity and being humane. At the moment, they are prioritising short-term economic interests.

Their rhetoric has simply failed. Not only are we on the wrong side in this conflict, but also are we not getting any economic gains. We're being sold energy for a much higher price than the rest of the world. We can see now that the government rhetoric is collapsing. It was kind of a telling sign when Putin said that Romania, Poland, and Hungary have territorial claims against Ukraine.

Unlike the governments of Romania and Poland, our government did not take a firm stance nor condemn this (we should note that Hungary's objected, but it did not condemn Putin's words and instead called for a "ceasefire" that would fix the Russian occupation. - EP). That shows how Putin really knows how to manipulate the public opinion of some countries.

If you look at the Hungarian electorate, there are some groups that you can appeal to with such claims and promises.

I also think it is more important for the Hungarian speakers in Transcarpathia to live in peace and prosperity than redraw the borders of Hungary. If you look at the press, which is critical to the government in Hungary, you can read a lot about those Hungarians in the Ukrainian army fighting against the Russians. These acts of heroism were a real example.

What can we do in Ukraine, and what can you do in Hungary to prevent such rhetoric of change of borders? When we see such rhetoric, even if it is not an official governmental policy, it ruins relations, especially when we are at war with a country aiming to change our borders.

- When it comes to Hungarian public opinion, our immediate task is to guarantee the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine. What could help the relationship is that Hungarians in Transcarpathia should also feel that it's their war in their state. 

 "Orbán always needs an enemy"

What drives Orbán to be so much dependent on Russia?

- It's incredibly difficult to say why Orbán has changed his politics. He was strongly against Russia, not just when the regime changed but also just immediately before he won the elections.

It is very difficult to see the reasons, but it has to be economical. 

The Hungarian government is in perpetual conflict with the European Union, fighting against the rule of law and European values. Orbánmight have thought he could strengthen his position against the EU if he looked for allies in the East, like an alliance with Russia and China. Then this relationship changed because Russia recognised that they could use Orbán to block and veto decisions in the EU that were not beneficial to Russia.

Orbán is now using his Eastern allies, and Putin is using Orbán.

I don't want to defend the Hungarian government, but we also have to look at it in a broader context.

If you look at the consensus led by Chancellor Merkel when the annexation of Crimea was more or less accepted, it really created a precedent in the EU. We saw how the Russian influence could actually become more and more dangerous. Nobody could control it. There's another global aspect that, as a green politician, I would like to mention.

As long as the world economy is based on fossil fuel, not democracy, which has an abundance of fuel, will use its power to blackmail other countries politically.

I do hope that the EU and the world will realise that you cannot accept other countries threatening another country's territorial sovereignty and integrity. They should also realise that we must loose the world's fossil fuel dependency.

- Do you realise that Hungarian-Ukrainian relations are in crisis?

- Yes.

- Do you see a chance to overcome this crisis with your current government?

- What a very good and very difficult question to answer. I know for sure that Orbán tends to change his opinion even on very fundamental issues.

You also have to see how they represent completely different things, going against each other. Orbán voted in favour of all the EU sanctions and, after, created this incredibly expensive propaganda campaign with billboards against the sanctions. I'm sure that when we talk about rebuilding Ukraine, Orbán will lobby corporations connected to Fidesz.

His politics is not based on the national interest but on his power circles' very short-term economic interest.


Are some Hungarians perceiving Ukrainians as a threat or an enemy?

- The Hungarian government always needs an enemy that can be blamed for not going well things. Otherwise, they would have to admit they can't govern.

He attempted to position Zelenskyy as his political opponent. He did not succeed. Lately, he has compared Zelenskyy with our martyr Emre Nagy who was executed following the 1956 revolution. This enemy does not work and he returned to his old enemy - Brussels and the sanctions. Even though Orbán voted in favour of all the sanctions.

Will Hungary stay in the EU for sure, or Orbán can it even lead to your expulsion?

- As I said, Orbán is always driven by short-term economic interest. The EU gives us a tremendous amount of money.

Unfortunately, there are also some values that Orbándoes not like. As long as Orbán gets some positive sum, he's not going to leave the EU.

Interviewed by Sergiy Sydorenko

"European Pravda" editor

Budapest - Kyiv

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