The Hungarian Way: a strategic tactic for achieving national sovereignty

The Hungarian Way: a strategic tactic for achieving national sovereignty

Hungarians love order, peace and, to say it frankly, they are also people of pleasure. Therefore, they instinctively distrust revolutionary movements… but they nonetheless cannot go for long without reacting to foreign oppression and domination. Whoever rules in Hungary must understand that Hungary – once a major European power – is always willing to fight for her freedom, identity and sovereignty, but in her own way.

Hungary was a major European power during the second half of the Middle Ages. Some have forgotten, most never knew, but the Hungarians themselves are very keen on this history. History in Hungary is taught with care, and a great sense of duty: it is the key to understanding the Hungarian tragedy, as well as defining the Hungarian spirit – a mix of pride, sadness and anxiety. Their pride relies on the great Kingdom that Hungary once was, the great fighters that cherished her, as well as her brilliant intellectuals, poets, writers, musicians, fantastic inventors and great athletes, the beauty of the countryside and of Budapest… not to mention the cuisine. Their sadness comes from the wounds of the past and present: the downfall of Hungary as a major European power, the pain of Trianon, the bleeding memories of the uprisings, the long lost image of greatness and prosperity. Their anxiety rests on something that many other Central European feel and understand deeply: the permanent danger of being wiped out, of their culture being erased, and their people submitted to the domination of a foreign power.

The Hungarians also have the specificity of being neither Germanic nor Slavic – even if, genetically speaking, they are highly mixed with these two ethnic groups. Their peculiar culture is tinted with an Asian reminiscence, and their incredible language makes Hungarians a truly unique people. It is exactly for this reason that they fear losing their particularity, and why they very early on developed a strong sense of national identity, even before the massonic nationalism of the XIXth century emerged.

Gifted with this strong sense of identity, Hungarians became somehow immune, or rather less responsive, to acculturation– but this also came with the fear of disappearing. There has been a permanent anxiety toward future in Hungary since the XVIth century, when the nation lost its empire and fell under the rule of the Ottomans.

From that time on, Hungary has not been a major power in European politics, but rather a nation of rebels. The Ottomans, Habsbourgs, the Third German Reich, the USSR, all the masters that have ruled over Hungary for half a millenium, eventually failed. Hungarians themselves often played a key role in their collapse.

Disillusionment and business as usual

After the fall of communism, Hungarians genuinly believed that the time of subservience had ended. They believed the western narrative, thinking that within a decade or two, they’d be living according to western standards. They trusted their neighbours from the “free world” naively – or perhaps only for their personnal interest, as some former communists even helped open the markets to the West.

Two decades after the regime change, Hungarians understand they have not joined the “free world” on equal footing. They have been bought out, and are once again being ruled from abroad.

Of course, this is likely the least violent form of foreign domination they country has experienced… but the fact remains. In 2010, Viktor Orbán won the elections and started his current cycle, laying the foundations of todays “Orbanism”… which has had serious consequences for the entire sphere of European politics. It is back to business as usual.

Orbanism, or the XXIth century’s expression of the Hungarian fight for sovereignty

Viktor Orbán himself was an early opponent of communism… he was actually the first to ask publicly for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary in 1989. He became the youngest Hungarian Prime Minister in 1998, and served as one of the most active craftsmen in Hungary’s conversion to liberalism.

But age, personal experience and “socialist” governance from 2002 to 2010 cause him to change his mind about liberalism. In 2006, after the – likely organized – leak of controversial remarks by the Hungarian PM Ferenc Gyurcsány, riots shook Hungary. Viktor Orbán let the nationalist take the lead role, and built up his image as an opponent of socialist chaos and lies.

Starting in 2010, he began massive economic reforms, leading the country from 1.3% GDP  growth in 2010 to more than 4% this year. This allowed him to implement many other reforms and initiate new policies such as his natalist policy aiming to let the Hungarian nation naturally – that is, without relying on immigration – grow, or at least stagnate demographically.

He started a protracted fight to gain control over the media, only succeeding this summer at developing a predominetly pro-Orbán orientation in the press. He also continues to increase the role of the army and of the Church in education, and supports the “cultural war” against liberalism.

In the meanwhile, he has been looking for allies everywhere, but first of all in his immediate vicinity. He ressurected and strenghtened the V4 (the Visegrád Group, a – less and less – informal bloc of cooperation between Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary), wanting to “build up the Carpathian bassin” by making new energy and transportation connections while supporting local leaders in the Balkans, Romania, and even, as we have seen most recently, in Austria and Italy.

All the reforms he has implemented are, in the eyes of the majority of Hungarians, a smooth transformation which is leading the country back to normality. Western arrogance, the liberal agenda, LGBT madness, insane pro-immigration policies… all of this has contributed to driving a fault line between Hungary – and Central Europe in general – and the West, which once served as something of an Eldorado for Central Europeans. Today, Hungarians see a decadent, liberal, multiracial and anti-Christian West with countries becoming more and more like police states, operating through censorhip and authoritarianism.

Hungary does not intend to comply with this new master, who has in turn become more and more aggressive and coercive. Hungarians, as I stated earlier, will fight for freedom, peace, order and a pleasant life. Viktor Orbán is building up a new political system within the framework of the IIIrd Hungarian Republic. The radical liberal philosopher Agnes Heller has correctly noted this as a process of “refeudalization”. Viktor Orbán is fullfilling the traditional image of the strong ruler, able to defend the country, who doesn’t get stuck into petty political question, but remains concerned with history. One of the keys to achieving this was forcing oligarchs to depend on politicians, and not the other way around. For this reason, many of Orbán’s opponents have compared him to Russian President Vladimir Putin, or Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan– these comparisons are hardly insulting to Mr. Orbán.

Limited sovereignty

Despite all of this, Hungary is not going to leave the EU, and is not going to leave NATO. They will not be expelling German car makers. Hungary has ten million inhabitants, tranks 48th in GDP/inh. In the world and has basically no army. They have no oil or natural gas, no access to the sea, and are almost totally dependent on Russian energy.

Under socialism, the concept of “limited sovreignty” came into prominance. The term, to a large degree, speaks for itself. What was conceptualised by the Soviets existed before them and survived them. Hungarians, with their long lasting memory and deep knowledge of their history, understood, more or less consciously, that they are once again experiencing a situation of limited sovereignty. Viktor Orbán knows what lines not to cross in order to have more say on topics which attract less attention; using crises (migration, conflict with Soros, …) to fulfil his agenda, and providing Hungary with tools to avoid acculturation and decay, while avoiding being destroyed by larger countries who retain there hold on power.

This paradoxical behavior could accurately be called the “Hungarian way”, a term which refers to the  Hungarian political strategy of acting like a small rock in the shoe of the powerful, and bullying the master whenever possible and without drawing enough attention to getting wiped out in response, although knowing how to rebel when the situation gets too desperate to continue the poking game. Mastering this borderline policy led Habsburg to change from the Austrian Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It allowed Horthy to help the Poles while he should have been attacking them on Hitler’s orders, and it helped them to win back territories in Romania populated by Hungarians while mainting the countries’ alliance.It led to ’56 and the implementation of gulash socialism… and now, it has led to Orbanism.








Ferenc Almássy
Journalist, political analyst based in Budapest, Hungary. French and Hungarian, he is the editor in chief of the Central European news and analysis portal Visegrád Post and permanent correspondent for the French webmedia TV Libertés

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October 2023