The reception of Viktor Orbán’s speech in the West and in Romania

The world is in such a turmoil that although Viktor Orbán’s open admission of his goal to eliminate the “liberal” component of western-type democracy might be considered a watershed both domestically and in Hungary’s relation with the European Union, it is receiving scant attention. After all, the armed conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East are serious current problems, while Viktor Orbán’s threat to Hungarian democracy and to the European Union would have  negative implications only in the future.

In English I managed to find only a couple of news items about Orbán’s speech. The Associated Press published a short summary which was then picked up by ABC. Zoltán Simon’s reporting from Budapest for Bloomberg was more detailed and to the point: “Orbán Says He Seeks to End Liberal Democracy in Hungary.”  This article must have had a large readership judging from the number of comments. quotes an important passage from the speech: “I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations.” Actually, I trust that this will be a sticking point soon enough. The author of the article also takes issue with Orbán’s contention that illiberal states are economic success stories; they are in fact doing a great deal worse than liberal states. Russia, Turkey, and China are all poorer than Croatia, Poland, or Hungary for that matter.

The German and Austrian papers that are usually full of news about Hungarian politics are silent. Perhaps everybody is on vacation. I found only one German article and even this one only through a Hungarian source. It appeared in the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung. The title of the piece is “Enough!,” a reference to the question of how long the European Union will tolerate Viktor Orbán’s anti-democratic policies that have already transformed Hungary into a non-democratic state. “One must urgently pose the question whether Hungary led by Viktor Orbán wants to remain part of the European Union or not.” And while he was at it, the journalist suggested that the European People’s Party should expel Hungary from its delegation.

On the other hand, interest in Orbán’s speech was great in Romania. After all, it was delivered there and its implications can already be felt. Romanian-Hungarian relations are at an all-time low.

Before I turn to the Romanian press I would like to talk about Viktor Orbán’s contradictory messages and how they affect the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries. Let’s start with Romania. The Hungarian minority in Romania is large: 1.2 million people or 6.4% of the population. Yet, according to the Romanian constitution, Romania is a “nation-state.” The Hungarian minority would like to have Romania be officially transformed into a multi-national state.

Orbán should know full well that the highly charged nationalism he is advocating is not in the interest of the Hungarians in the neighboring countries. Nationalism on one side of the border evokes nationalism on the other side. This is exactly what happened in Romania. Bogdan Diaconu, a nationalist politician and member of parliament, published an article in Adevarul, a leading Romanian newspaper, which was subsequently translated into Hungarian. The nationalistic hate speech of Diaconu there was countered with obscene, equally hateful comments by Hungarians.


Surely, Orbán’s nationalism does not make the life of the Hungarian minority any easier in the neighboring countries. Just the opposite. Great suspicion follows every word Orbán utters in connection with his plans for the “nation.” And that is not all. Orbán’s attack on Hungarian NGOs that receive foreign money was also a double-edged sword. He argued that this money is being used to influence the Hungarian government, which cannot be tolerated. But the Hungarian government is financing Hungarian NGOs and parties in Romania and Slovakia. Thus, the Hungarian government is trying to influence the Slovak and Romanian governments on behalf of the Hungarian minority. What will happen if Romania or Slovakia follows Orbán’s example and refuses the receipt of any money from Budapest destined for the Hungarian NGOs? In fact, one of the Romanian articles that appeared in Romania Libera talked about the incongruity of Orbán’s stance on the issue. According to the journalist, if Orbán tries to silence the NGOs financed from abroad, “the bad example” might be imitated in other Eastern European countries where democracies are not yet sufficiently stable. We know which countries he has in mind.

In any case, although for the time being it is unlikely that either the Slovak or the Romanian government will try to imitate Viktor Orbán, Romanian commentators are worried that Hungarian bellicosity will have an adverse effect on the stability of the region. Romanian papers talk about an “illiberal” state’s possible revisionist tendencies which could upset the stability of the region given the presence of Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia.

All in all, Orbán with this speech declared war on several fronts. Against his own people, against the European Union, against Hungarian civil society, and last but not least by his overcharged nationalist rhetoric against the amity of nations in Eastern Europe.


I would like to call everyone’s attention to Hungarian Free Press, a new English-language news portal from Canada. Here are some introductory words from the editor-in-chief:

The Hungarian Free Press, an online newspaper published by Presszo Media Inc., a Canadian federally-registered company based in Ottawa, was launched this morning. The HFP aims to offer informed opinion on current events in Hungary and East/Central Europe, and to expose to a broader English-speaking audience the explicit move away from liberal parliamentary democracy, which now appears to be the overt policy direction of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.

While pro-government English-language publications, such as the newly launched Hungary Today site, as well as Mandiner’s English-language blog, The Hungarian Globe, aim to create the impression that Mr. Orbán’s government is really no different than any other right-centre or conservative administration and is simply “attacked” by the left for the same ideological reasons, this is not an accurate reflection of the situation. A good case-in-point is Hungary Today’s coverage of Mr. Orbán’s Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad) speech, where the prime minister formally declared that the days of Hungarian liberal democracy were over and that his preferred authoritarian political model was similar to that found in countries like China, Russia and Singapore. Hungary Today, in its coverage, made it appear that Mr. Orbán, like most right-centre politicians, was merely challenging the welfare state and was attacked for this reason by the left-centre opposition, thus making the speech and the reactions that followed seem like “business as usual” in the world of parliamentary politics.

In 1961, American President John F. Kennedy was among the most articulate in expressing the media’s role in the long-term survival of multiparty democracy. Kennedy, addressing the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27th, 1961 noted:

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

The HFP joins a very small handful of English publications in exposing the danger that Mr. Orbán and his avowedly illiberal, anti-democratic and openly authoritarian government represent in the heart of Europe.
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God bless Canada.

Do Hungarians really inhabit the same globe?


If you speak Hungarian appease take a look on two videos. THe first interview is from 1989 with Orban. The second will start automatically after the first finished.

I accessed the WSJ article via a google search on the terms “wall street journal orban”. I reached the article without an account. When I followed the link I posted to HS above, it required an account. So, try the google path if you have trouble. For those of you who can not access the article, here is a key excerpt: …snip… In a speech delivered near Baile Tusnad, part of neighboring Romania with large numbers of ethnic Hungarians, Viktor Orban pointed to Singapore, China, India, Russia and Turkey as examples of countries that he said were successful on a global scale while not being liberal. “Understanding [political] systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies and in some cases probably not even democracies, but are still making nations a success is a top issue these days,” Mr. Orban said. “Breaking away from the accepted dogmas and ideologies, we will seek out and hammer out a new form of a Hungarian state that could make our community a success for decades to come in the global race,” he said. …snip… Commanding a two-third majority in parliament, Mr. Orban said Saturday Hungary will be “a workfare state,” respecting Christian… Read more »

Despite of what he and his worshippers think, the Stadiumbuilder viktor isn’t an important man abroad. Also, despite the common belief of the inhabitants, Hungary is not the center of the World, even when mentally, they want to add to it part of Romania. There is no reason for any international journalist to travel to the picturesque Băile Tușnad (Tusványos, Tusnádfürdő in Hungarian) in Harghita County, Romania, just to see and listen to a half-wit, Hungarian chauvinist, supposedly the Prime MINIster of Hungary make an ass of himself. Such a performance by him can be observed in Budapest or Felcsút, in Hungary on a daily basis, and even there it is not a worthwhile news item any more.

Kim Lane Scheppele

We are in great debt to you for the links. I was curious of the response abroad for Viktor Orban’s vision. (I tend to think of it as a “Nachtmare”)


Viktor is a sick man. And his followers are sick, sick, people.

Justin Ungaro

Apropos your Einstein quote on nationalism, tell it to Netanyahu and the Israelis in general.


You are referring to Israel in your comment, as if it was only a nation of homogeneous people, born within the same general area, as in France, Sweden, Norway, etc. It is not such a nation and you know it. You just want to sneak in a snide and untrue comment, depicting the J
ewish State to be at fault, defending itself. The citizens and inhabitants of Israel were born in many different countries, many came as adults and citizens of other countries so it is their common religion that brings then together, not nationalism an/or chauvinism. Once they become Israeli citizens and they are developing a genuine feeling of being part of the nation of Israel, they can become as nationalist, as any Hungarian, as he/she sheds a tear, when the water polo team looses and gets the silver medal or when the Hungarian team gets a gold in swimming or as in 1956, when they rose up against the Russians and carried the national flag with the center torn out!


Nationalism is on the rise everywhere and it works politically, latest in India whose voters got fed up with the MSZP-like directionless, leaderless Congress party.

Japan and Chine have gradually been moving towards nationalism/racism in the last 20 years. And the list goes on. Putin has never been more popular.

Nationalism pays and it is extremely difficult to oppose it politically, after all would a politician be against the nation, the most sacred things of all?

Orban just uses that wisdom, and he doesn’t care because he can afford not to care: he uses any and all means to keep his power. Everything is legal, so he can do whatever he wants.


As a transylvanian jewish romanian I feel offeneded everytime this man opens his mouth.
I remember Ferenc Salasi when I see his rethorics and bertstare

D7 Democrat

“Despite of what he and his worshippers think, the Stadiumbuilder viktor isn’t an important man abroad”

Rest assured every insane utterance of the regime and its leading thug are reported back pronto by the various embassies in Budapest back to their governments.

Hence Viktor’s distinct lack of invitations to meet the PMs and presidents who matter- to his chagrin, he is regarded by most as a far-right loon in charge of a country which has close to zero political/economic importance.


London Calling!

The speech was covered well by the World Service of the BBC – and not by Nick Thorpe!.

The discussion centred on Orban stirring up Nationalism in Romania; modelling Hungary on countries like Singapore (with a “very strict regime”); the wisdom of stirring up things whilst Ukraine is in turmoil; and Hungarian’s penchant for displaying ‘greater Hungary’ on t-shirts and car stickers. The listeners were provided with a mini-history of Trianon.

Unusually fulsome for the World Service which doesn’t usually show interest in affairs Hungarian.



Jonas Schaible

Is there an english translation at least of wider parts of the speech? The quoted remarks are quite telling, nevertheless I would like to have some context. Any chance, anywhere?


While trying to find something in the English press this morning, on Viktor Orban’s recent speech, I came across a whole collection of articles on Hungary (all from various sources, such as Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal…) Really worth having a look at:


Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)

The Polish and Austrian press gave a wide coverage. Of course, as far as the former is concerned, OV’s Russian fancy sounds awfully bad.

OT – for which I apologise – but possibly of interest.. The situation in Ukraine is deteriorating rapidly if our family experience is typical. Up to now Western Ukraine has been largely unaffected, but my wife’s friends and family in and around Ungvár (about as far from Eastern Ukraine as you can get) are now reporting serious problems related to the crisis. Mostly things like administration and money matters, but also more direct. One of the current rumours going the rounds is that coffins of young men involved in the fighting came home and, when they were opened, the bodies were found to be headless, As with all such stories, there are no verifiable facts and the details vary depending on who’s telling the story, but such stories are still enough to ramp up the tension and convince people that things are getting a lot worse. Unfortunately, the consensus, at least among my wife’s family and friends, is that all the problems are down to the West and the US – they are provoking, funding and orchestrating the whole thing in order to make Putin look bad. In reply to my claims that it is in fact Putin who is… Read more »

Wrote that in a rush, so didn’t have time to compose/edit – two things I left out.

1) The Hungarians in Ukraine seem to be mostly pro-Fidesz, and are certainly following the Fidesz propaganda line (pro-Putin, anti-West).

2) My wife’s response on being told of Orbán’s ‘illiberal democracy’ speech was “who needs democracy, what’s it ever done for us?”. Such is the power of propaganda and family – my wife grew up in the USSR, and has spent longer in the UK than in Hungary, and yet is still capable of, not only making such a crass statement, but also of believing it.

If our experiences are typical, things are going to get a lot, lot worse in Ukraine, and quite possibly Hungary is going to get dragged into it.

Eva, You wrote: “The author of the article also takes issue with Orbán’s contention that illiberal states are economic success stories; they are in fact doing a great deal worse than liberal states. Russia, Turkey, and China are all poorer than Croatia, Poland, or Hungary for that matter.” I agree that it doesn’t make sense to credit the illiberal aspects of those systems with their economic success, but not because they are not as rich as Hungary, Poland and Croatia, The thing to remember is that they have, in the past decade or so, grown much faster than the countries you mentioned, and faster than most of the liberal western democracies, too, but from a much lower base. There is a lot of interest in copying the growth of those countries, especially in Latin America and parts of Asia, but the main reason for the high growth is not the political system, but the policies of the government and the circumstances of each country. China has a large market, which attracts a lot of investment, but it is willing to drastically increase wealth inequality while degrading the environment and threatening the health of its citizens. Russia has benefited from huge… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)

The Austrian agency issued a dispatch either Sunday evening or Monday morning, which was republished by economic news outlets such as the WitrschaftBlatt & Börse Express. And a tabloid is calling him a … Sultan.

PS about the name Orbán & sports: I know the feeling, there’s also an Argentine football player by that name in the French championship …



It makes sense that ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine are pro-Putin, since they probably yearn to rejoin their mother country, and there is a lot of Ukrainian nationalist rhetoric happening all over Ukraine right now. Once the war is over, things for Hungarians will probably get better, and go back to how they were before, since they are not really a threat to Ukraine as a whole.

Have you tried to explain to your wife how Putin benefits from this war, both domestically and economically (gas pipelines and gas deposits in the Black Sea, etc)? Explain what happened in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria, and how his approval rating has jumped, then point out how many little “republics” there are in Russia, and how easily they could be incited to start seeking their own independence if Russia is seen to back down too easily in Ukraine.

I am so grateful that my wife shares my political views and comes from a left-wing family. I would be in misery in a situation like yours!


“I am so grateful that my wife shares my political views and comes from a left-wing family.”

Me too! Though she wasn’t happy under the communists either because her father had owned a small bakery (which the Russians of course took away from him …) she wasn’t allowed to go to university – her sister only managed to become a teacher by joining the MSZMP …

It still is incomprehensible to me that so many Hungarians seem to agree with Orbán’s crazy views – and they don’t see that he’s (at least partially) responsible for the dire situation they’re in. Everybody we meet is struggling to make ends meet – with a second and maybe even third job …

Re the reaction to the speech in the West:

That article in the Austrian Krone is really scathing – calling Orbán a “Führer” …

You know that the last German/Austrian Führer was Adolf – sometimes called “Gröfaz” i e Größter Führer aller Zeiten, Greatest leader of all times …

Well now he would have Putin and North Korean Kim as contenders ..


“Re links. As you can see all the articles with the exception of The Wall Street Journal appeared only yesterday. Three days after the event. I don’t quite understand. Do they have to wait until Hungarian Spectrum reports on this very important speech?”

Their space is limited and probably there are more important events in the world than Orban’s speech.


HVG and are about to close down or sold to some Fidesz-front company. Needless to say, because it is really needless to say, the lefties and liberals don’t even have ideas, they just don’t care. (Népszabadság to follow soon).


wolfi: “You know that the last German/Austrian Führer was Adolf – sometimes called “Gröfaz” i e Größter Führer aller Zeiten, Greatest leader of all times …”

As I have heard the story, the top brass of the German army coined Gröfaz as an acronym for Größter Feldherr aller Zeiten.


Maybe Orbán or Kövér should dictate something like this (of course for everyone, not just women …):

“Women should not laugh out loud in public, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has said while complaining about “moral corruption” in Turkey. ”

And then he goes on about “that people had abandoned their values today.” and ” that there had been a regression on moral grounds.”

Ain’t that strange? If you exchange “Traditional Christian values” with “Traditional Muslim values” you get about the same ideas – back to the Middle Age!

The Turkish opposition leader Buldan had the right answer:

“From now on, we will respond to all statements by Arınç by laughing,” Buldan tweeted.

D7 democrat

“Three days after the event. I don’t quite understand.”

1. The “illiberal democracy” side of it certainly wasn’t covered by the regime’s MTI English service or indeed Fidesz’s poodle at the BBC, Thorpe. Takes a while to translate.

2. It occurred at the weekend and the various embassies wouldn’t have reported back to their respective foreign offices until Monday afternoon at the earliest. Those embassies then brief interested journalists I guess. So Tuesday before you start reading reports

3. It’s summer, there are not that many journos anyway who have the misfortune to specialize in Orban’s rantings and a large number of them could be on holiday.

4. in the big world picture at the moment, another tinpot dictator spouting off nonsense just doesn’t register that much on the importance scale.

“Do they have to wait until Hungarian Spectrum reports on this very important speech?”
Quite possibly.