Hungarian government remains silent after Capitol riots

Hungarian government remains silent after Capitol riots
Donald Trump reportedly called Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban his twin
By bne IntelliNews January 8, 2021

Senior Fidesz politicians so far have not commented on Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol Hill by a pro-Donald Trump mob, but opposition leaders have pointed to similarities between the US president and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has also stoked violence in the past, and questioned whether he would ever agree to concede power peacefully. 

Orban was the only EU premier in 2016 to come out in full support of Trump, which finally earned him a visit to the White House in May 2019. The Prime Minister endorsed the incumbent again in September, and in an interview, he expressed his optimism that Trump would be re-elected, saying he had "no plan B" should the Democratic candidate come out on top.

Bilateral ties flourished in the last four years after rocky relations during the Barack Obama administration. Former US ambassador David Cornstein recalled that at the end of their meeting in Washington Trump told Orban, "You know, it’s like we’re twins!".

In October, Orban’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto struck back at criticism by then-presidential nominee Joe Biden by repeating corruption allegations against Biden’s son in Ukraine. The government felt angered by his comments when Biden grouped Poland and Hungary with the authoritarian regime in Belarus.

During his regular Friday morning interview, Hungary's strongman did not speak about the events in Washington. After Biden's election win, Orban was amongst the last EU leaders to congratulate the 78-year-old politician. Even then, his comments were ambivalent. "Allow me to congratulate you on a successful presidential campaign. I wish you good health and continued success in performing your extremely responsible duties," Orban was quoted as saying by state news agency MTI.

Other Fidesz figures have refused to blame Trump for stoking the riots, merely expressing bland opposition to the ensuing violence. "Shocking pictures from  Capitol Hill. Democracy should be safeguarded before, during, and after the elections all over the world", said Family Minister Katalain Novak, who is also the vice-president of Fidesz on Twitter.

Others gloated and recalled the violent protests tied to the Black Lives Matters (BLM). Fidesz European Parliament head  Tamas Deutsch, who was nearly kicked out of the EPP last month for derogatory comments against top EPP officials, wrote on Facebook: "First Black Lives Matter, now Nothing Matters. United States of Anarchy".

Mouthpiece media of the government had covered the events live, as did many independent sites but with sketchy details, leaving out important elements of the story. The underlying tone was condemning the violence but without criticising Trump too much, as if they were trying to relieve him of his responsibility for fuelling the riots and questioning the elections results. 

Another recurring trend in the comments was the comparison to the BLM movement, which has led to some twisted reasoning. Talking heads of government-funded think-tanks such as Levente Boros Bank showed a perfect example of that.

"I think everyone who has supported or even accepted BLM antifa violence is now on the side of all the protesting Americans seeking their justice", he wrote sarcastically. 

Another influential background figure, head of the government-funded Basic Rights Institute, Istvan Kovacs, said he had a problem with the lack of police action during violent BLM protests.
"Where was the National Guard when the BLM-Antifa coalition besieged the Federal Court building in Portland on a daily basis?", he asked. He didn't stop to consider what would have been the police reaction if a black mob had attacked the Capitol instead.

By contrast, the Hungarian opposition condemned the siege of the Capitol and warned of a similar scenario unfolding should Fidesz lose the crucial elections due in 2022. The Hungarian opposition has gathered strength from the November US elections in the hope that the defeat of Donald Trump will weaken populists, including Orban.

Head of Hungary’s leading opposition party Ferenc Gyurcsany said Trump leaves an important legacy behind in enhancing understanding of what nationalist, narcissistic populism brings to people. In 2006 a leaked recording of the then Socialist PM triggered riots in Budapest, encouraged by Fidesz. The radical rightwing party, then in opposition, has never condemned the violence; instead, it  exploited the opportunity and used it as a platform to bring down the government. This and the 2008 global economic crisis helped Orban seal his first supermajority in 2010, followed by two more.

"We witnessed what happens when someone uses his power to turn people against each other, demolish democratic institutions and disregard the rules, refusing to accept when they are defeated in a free and fair election," Liberal Momentum MEP Katalin Cseh wrote on social media. 

Independent MP Akos Hadhazy wrote on social media that "when we try to get to know the near future of our country, we need to pay close attention to what is happening in Russia and Turkey." According to Hadházy,  Orbán mainly copies Putin’s and Erdogan’s systems and methods, even if in a more restrained way, but "for a few years, however, he also had a role model in America", which he finds particularly unsettling in light of yesterday’s events.

According to centre-right Jobbik MEP Marton Gyongyosi, riots and the deaths of protesters are the results of the politics of Orban’s role model,  Trump, who questioned whether the election was fair in advance and then refused to acknowledge his defeat. Comments by Hungarian government officials showed "interesting similarities" with the US.

MEP of Dialogue Javor Benedek said the silence by leading government figures means tacit support for questioning the election results and the ensuing attacks on democracy. He also warned of the same scenario unfolding in Hungary should Fidesz lose the 2022 elections. But he said the situation in Hungary is more worrying as the Orban government has removed the checks and balances of democratic institutions, which are no longer independent. We have no clear answers to the question, which side state run institutions would take if the government were unwilling to accept election results, he wrote.