Pro-Putin Leaders in Hungary and Serbia Set to Win Re-election

BUDAPEST – Overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, Sunday’s elections in Hungary and Serbia appear to have extended the tenures of two of Europe’s most Kremlin-friendly leaders, both followers Populism is underpinned by their overwhelming control over the media and cheap energy from Russia.

With more than 60% of votes counted in Hungary, preliminary results show Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary since 2010, and Europe’s longest-serving leader, has won a fourth consecutive term. despite accusations by the opposition that he triggered Russia’s military offensive by sticking for years with Russian President Putin.

“We’ve won a victory so big you can see it from the moon, and definitely from Brussels,” Mr Orban told a jubilant crowd late Sunday, joining the League of Nations. European Union, which he has long accused of promoting LGBTQ and migrant rights despite the democratic will of Hungarian voters.

Preliminary results dashed the hopes of Mr Orban’s political enemies that an unusually united opposition could break the ruling Fidesz party’s increasingly authoritarian grip on the central European nation. next to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President, Volodymr Zelensky, speaking early Sunday morning in his capital Kyiv, described Mr Orban as “the only person in Europe who openly supports Mr. Putin”.

Asked about Mr. Zelensky’s assessment after voting in Budapest on Sunday morning, Mr Orban said curtly: “Mr. Zelensky did not vote today. Thank you. Any other questions? ”

President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia, who is also pro-Moscow, has ruled Serbia since 2012 and is expected to win re-election after rallying his nationalist and pro-Russian base. by refusing to join the European Union to impose sanctions on Russia. Serbia hoped to become a member of the European bloc, but its application has stalled.

Unusually high turnout in Serbia, near 60%, has forced officials to keep polling stations open until late at night in some areas. Amid complaints about the opposition’s foul play, the central election commission in the capital Belgrade said it would not announce the results until Monday morning.

But opinion polls indicate that Mr. Vucic will win a new presidency and that his Serbian Radical Party will keep its seat in Parliament, albeit with a falling majority. The opposition says it has gained control of the city government in Belgrade.

Hungary and Serbia have very different histories. Mr. Orban runs a country that, until he came to power, he viewed Russia with extreme distrust as a result of the past suffered at the hands of Russia, most notably when Moscow sent troops in. to quell an anti-communist uprising in 1956. Vucic’s. However, the nation – Slavs and Orthodox Christians, like Russia – has long considered Moscow as its ally and protector.

But under two powerful leaders, both countries have over the past decade drastically reduced the space for critical media voices, turning nationally active broadcasters into propagandists. and move towards authoritarian rule. Once had a close relationship with Mr. Putin, who supported the Hungarian leader’s election campaign when he visited Moscow in February just before the invasion of Ukraine.

Serbia refused to impose sanctions on Russia while Hungary, a member of the European Union since 2004, agreed to an initial round of European sanctions but has strongly opposed opening expand them to include restrictions on energy imports from Russia.

In contrast to the leaders in neighboring Poland, formerly a close ally of Orban by virtue of their shared hostility to liberal values, the Hungarian leader also refuses to let his weapons go to him. Ukraine passes through his country.

Ahead of Hungary’s election, Mr Orban hit back at opposition accusations that his policy towards Ukraine betrayed not only foreign allies but also Hungary’s painful memories of the fall. Russian invasion. Mr Orban mobilized the news media, mostly controlled by the state and friendly oligarchs, to view his opponents as fanatics who wanted to send the Hungarian army to fight against Russia. . Pro-government media warned the election presented a “choice between war and peace”.

The campaign appeared to have been successful, even among some older voters, who remembered the suffering caused by Moscow’s troops in 1956. “Why should the Hungarian boys fight for Ukraine? ” asked Janos Dioszegi, 13 years old at the time of the Hungarian uprising and whose father was imprisoned for 14 years by Soviet-backed authorities for participating in the anti-Moscow uprising. He said “of course” he chose Orban’s Fidesz party when he voted in Nagykovacsi, a small town near Budapest.

In a statement that is regularly broadcast in the media controlled by Fidesz, Mr. Dioszegi said there is no need to help Ukraine defend itself because it has provoked war by becoming “a US military base”. .

Until Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, the heart of Orban’s campaign was a bitter referendum, scheduled for parliamentary election day, on whether young children can should be taught in schools about sex reassignment surgery treatments, and unrestricted exposure to pornographic material.

However, the ensuing war in Ukraine derailed Mr Orban’s efforts to appeal to transgender and gay-focused voters, forcing a reboot focused on painting his opponents. he was eager to bring Hungary into the war.

As hundreds of pro-Ukrainian Hungarians and refugees from Ukraine gathered on Saturday in central Budapest to denounce the government’s barricade of war, the main state-controlled broadcaster, M1, described the event as a “pro-war protest”. Anna Olishevska, 24, a Ukrainian from Kyiv, took part, praising ordinary Hungarians who she said helped her after she fled across the border. More than 500,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Hungary in the past month, far fewer than the more than two million who have entered Poland but still a large number for a country where ferocious hostility towards foreign migrants has long been known. became the basis for Orban’s often xenophobic nature. political platform.

While delighted at her reception in Hungary, Olishevska said the government was so tentative in condemning the Russian invasion and protesting against helping Ukraine defend itself that she was worried about staying in return to Hungary if Mr. Orban is elected for another term.

“I can’t stay in a country where the government is pro-Russia,” she said, waving a hand-painted sign telling Putin where to keep her rockets.

Some prominent supporters of Mr Orban’s party even blamed Ukraine for the bloodshed in 1956, with Maria Schmidt, a historian and museum director, false statement on Saturday that Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who sent troops into Hungary that year, was Ukrainian. He is Russian. Ms. Schmidt misrepresented the Soviet leader’s origins in response to a Tweet by British comedian John Cleese, who urged Hungarian voters to consider whether Russia or Ukraine invaded Hungary in 1956.

The storm of disinformation and falsehoods in the Hungarian news media controlled by Fidesz has left opposition supporters desperate.

“They just repeat the same lies, day in and day out,” said 81-year-old doctor Judit Barna, outside a central Budapest polling station, where she had just voted for a unanimous opposition vote. headed by Peter Marki Zay, a small conservative town. mayor.

Referring to Orban’s early political career as an anti-Moscow firefighter who asked Soviet troops to leave in 1989, she asked: “How is that possible after 40 years of the Soviet Union? Soviet occupation and 30 years of democracy that the very person who once shouted, ‘Russians, go home’ can now say that Russia is fighting justly in Ukraine? “

Thanks to Fidesz’s tightening of the media, she added: “Half of the Hungarian population eats all these lies. This is the shame of Hungary”.

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