Viktor Orbán’s favorite party failed to gain the Austrian presidency

On Tuesday Viktor Orbán, who seems to have an iron constitution, took the day off because, as his office announced, he was sick. Yesterday a humorous little piece appeared in Sztarklikk with the title: “That’s why Orbán fell ill.” Surely, the author said, Orbán needed to be revived with smelling salts after learning that Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), had narrowly lost the Austrian presidential election. Well, smelling salts might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Orbán’s disappointment had to be great because it is a well-known fact that Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of FPÖ, and Viktor Orbán greatly admire one another.

At the end of September when Viktor Orbán visited the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann (SPÖ), and his deputy, Reinhold Mitterlehner, in order to temper months of quarreling between the two countries, the Hungarian prime minister was also planning to meet Strache. Unfortunately, apparently to the great sorrow of Orbán, the planned meeting had to be cancelled in the last minute. The reason was straightforward enough. Strache is persona non grata in mainstream Austrian political circles, and when the Austrians found out about Orbán’s plans they expressed their strong disapproval. In fact, Deputy Chancellor Mitterlehner, whose party, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), just like Fidesz, belongs to the EU’s European People’s Party, refused to meet with Orbán if he insisted on going through with his original plan. Reluctantly, Orbán cancelled the meeting.

Apparently Orbán is convinced that Strache is a man of the future. Strache’s threat to build a fence between Austria and Hungary to keep Hungarian workers out of his country didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for the man. Strache might not like Hungarians working in Austria, but several times he expressed his admiration for Orbán, who is “one of the few honest politicians who don’t want to sell out or destroy Europe.” He added that Orbán is the only European politician who has any brains when it comes to the migrant issue.

The Hungarian government has had strained relations with Austrian politicians of the two governing parties, SPÖ and ÖVP. Even a cursory look at the political news of the last few months reveals repeated insults being exchanged between Werner Faymann and Péter Szijjártó. Although Faymann resigned as chancellor on May 9 of this year, most likely to the great relief of Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó, it looks as if his successor, Christian Kern, will be no better from the Hungarian point of view. In fact, I suspect that the new Austrian chancellor will be an even more severe critic of the Hungarian prime minister, whose views are practically identical to those of Heinz-Christian Strache.

A few days ago Kern announced that “it is an illusion to think that the refugee problem can be solved by European countries adopting authoritarian systems as the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has done.” Szijjártó, as is his wont, responded immediately and rashly. According to him, what is an illusion is any hope that with a change in the Austrian chancellorship insults from Austria will cease. Kern’s statement, he said, compared Hungary to Hitler’s Germany. “It is unacceptable for anyone to use expressions in connection with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that are in any way attached to the most monstrous and darkest dictatorship of the last century.” Not the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Magyar Idők, the government’s fervent supporter and often unofficial spokesman, followed the Austrian presidential race with great interest, keeping fingers crossed for Norbert Hofer. A day before the second round of the presidential election, Magyar Idők was pretty certain that Hofer would win. The paper also noted that The New York Times compared FPÖ to the Hungarian, Polish, and Slovak government parties. (I don’t know whether the author of the article considered this an insult or not.) An opinion piece that appeared on the morning of the presidential election ran under the headline: “The Freedom Party is the symbol of success while the left is that of failure.”

Heinz -Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer before the presidential elections / Photo APA / Hans Klaus

Heinz -Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer before the presidential election / Photo APA / Hans Klaus

After the election Mária Schmidt, a historian who has great influence over Viktor Orbán, bemoaned the fact that public discourse in Austria is now dominated by baby boomer leftist politicians of the pro-German tradition. She recalled that Orbán in his first term was the first foreign leader to receive Chancellor Wolfgang Schlüssel of Austria, who was at that time considered a pariah in the West because he included the Freedom Party of Jörg Haider in his coalition government back in 1999.

Viktor Orbán’s friend Zsolt Bayer is also disappointed, but he is optimistic that “a new healthy young Europe is coming” that will replace the 70-year-old dying Europe that is full of bedsores. This youthful new Europe will come “from the mountains of the Alps, the fields of Burgenland, from Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland.” For Bayer, the Freedom Party of Strache and Hofer is not the depository of far-right views but, on the contrary, the embodiment of “normalcy.” So it’s no wonder that Viktor Orbán and his fellow “normal” far-right friends were disappointed by the election results.

May 26, 2016
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May 26, 2016 9:20 pm

Just a few things: It is truly a stretch to call Maria Schmidt a historian. Her falsification of history and childlike handling of any serious historical matters makes her a wannabe but not a historian. We also learned about the the fantastic reputation of those scholarly government sympathizers that Fidesz likes to keep around. Any real professionals would and should stay away from being endorsed by Fidesz as long as their own reputation do matter. (Pal Schmitt’s eduction?)

Why wouldn’t Orban love Strache? Both of them are hypocrites of the finest kind.

Zsolt Bayer deserves no mentions, and I truly wonder why is his name ever relevant on this blog. He is not even a politician but a very disturbed minded individual who is incapable for serious journalism and can only be employed but such petty publications as his current “paper”. The paper probably is as popular as the current “revamped” government television portal M1 News that hit rock bottom since Orban’s maffia took it over. From 1,000,000 news channel viewers, about 8 – 9,00,000 watches M1.

May 27, 2016 2:33 am

Is this correct?

M1 has gone from 1m to between .8m and .9m viewers? From 1,000,000 to 800,000-900,000?

Between 10% – 20% drop?

Your misplaced comma casts doubt!

If so the fall is hardly dramatic?

May 27, 2016 2:43 am

Obviously a typo. According to ( ), on Friday the 55-minute prime-time news broadcast of the “royal” (“királyi”, as they call it) TV only had some 90,000 watchers. And already in April, the average numbers had gone down to 137,000, from more than 300,000 last year when the revamped MTV1 channel started.

May 27, 2016 3:47 am

My wife and I call M1 “North Korean State TV” – the only difference being that you’re not forced to watch it in Hungary – yet!
It’s so abominable that we haven’t watched it at all in the last years …

May 27, 2016 4:04 am

Actually, in a fit of masochism I watched the M1 news on the Internet to see what they reported about the results of the Austrian election. There was a political scientist who, of course, started with the immigrants: the first reason why so many people voted for Van der Bellen was, well, VdB got the most votes in major cities and in those districts where many “migrants” live.
The obvious MTV1 interpretation: “They” want to bring more “migrants” in to get more votes for left-wing and liberal candidates.
While it is actually the other way round: parties with xenophobic agendas get their votes from those areas where people do not have real contacts with real flesh-and-blood immigrants but vote on the basis of their prejudices, fears and ignorance.

May 27, 2016 7:24 am

Re: MTV1 ‘interpretation’ of news

Brings me back to an interview I saw back in the 80’s where a news editor (I believe he was from MTV at the time) was asked a question regarding the ‘reporting’ of news and ‘censorship’ in Kadar’s country. The core of the response was along the lines of not having to worry about it per se. Why? Because we already ‘know’ how far we can go or what to say when it comes to news.

So once again it would seem that in today’s reporting its not about news that’s ‘ fit to print’ unencumbered by meddling overseers but rather news that needs to know which way the winds blow before bestowing interpretive forecasts. Same old same old. The bosses change but the game’s the same.

May 27, 2016 7:48 am

“…Parties with xenophobic agendas get their votes from those areas where people do not have real contacts with real flesh-and-blood immigrants…” — 65% of the vote was “blue” in the Burgenland. The highest proportion nationwide, and of course that province was the site of the first reception camps. Those facts seem to permit argument against your claim.

May 27, 2016 8:00 am

There always are exceptions to the rules …
The Greens are strongest in the regions next to Switzerland – and the right wingers are strongest in the formerly Hungarian parts of Austria.
Now what might that tell us?

Both these regions have lots of tourists – just like Bavaria which is also very xenophobic in parts.
Ain’t that strange?
Maybe because it is so overwhelmingly “Christian”?

May 27, 2016 10:37 am

Burgenland was Hofer’s home turf (VdB also collected the majority of votes in his home region Kaunertal in Tyrol). I don’t quite see the logic in “reception camps”; the locus of the most acute refugee crisis was at the Slovenian border in Spielfeld, Styria (68,6% for Hofer), while the oldest and best-known reception centre for refugees is in Traiskirchen in Lower Austria (53,7% for Hofer). Within Vienna, in the 15th district which is generally known for its large proportion of immigrants, Hofer only got 30,7% of the votes.
Real contacts with real immigrants are seldom formed in the first weeks after the arrival of asylum applicants. It takes weeks, months and years to get to know and get used to each other. Xenophobia typically arises from the fear of the unknown.

May 27, 2016 2:20 pm
This is sophistry. How is it that you are the person who defines the criteria by which a contact is “real”, an immigrant is “real”? If you dismiss as “not real” all contacts, all immigrants, that do not meet your criteria (which in this forum you have not set out and which may be arbitrary), why, of course you can claim what you like, because you will have massaged the data to be those that you like. This approach of yours may or may not be patronising, but it certainly reminds me of jokes in the former German Democratic Republic: The Communist-party government — infallibly representing the people, but perpetually at odds with them — was counselled to elect itself a different Volk. That stance of “We are justified ini our attitudes by our scientific study of history on Marxist-Leninist principles, whilst others’ opinions arise from ignorance” is evoked by the pat-on-the-head, there-there, of “If you just live with them you’ll come to love them. Trust us. You’ll see.” That was what the mainstream Austrian parties have told the Austrian electorate. But: Nearly half of Austrian voters said, We do NOT trust you, and we want nothing to do with… Read more »
May 28, 2016 12:54 am

Remember where this discussion started? The Hungarian MTV1 news claiming that Van der Bellen got the votes from where the immigrants are. Now you claim that Hofer got the most votes from where the immigrants are. Both claims are partly true, and the difference between them is not sophistry. It’s really about the difference between “migrants” and “migrants”, that is, between areas where there are many established residents with immigrant background and areas where there traditionally were few immigrants and where people traditionally have (partly irrational) fears and prejudices.
And please don’t set up the usual straw Marx. I never studied Marxism-Leninism, nor did a majority of those who voted for Van der Bellen in Austria.
I agree that the votes for Hofer very much signal the defeat and moral bankruptcy of the two traditional ruling parties in Austria. But remember that these parties also started building fences and introducing more and more rigorous immigration policies. Reducing the ideological division in Austria into a simple pro-migration / anti-migration issue is misinformed and dangerous, but this is what the MTV1 news are doing, and this is what my comment was about.

May 27, 2016 8:03 am

Thank you.

May 27, 2016 6:20 am

Yes. Ok

Down to 80,000 – to 90,000 then.

That is ‘rock bottom’.


May 27, 2016 8:06 am

No. It is down 70% year to year but even lower if you compare it to prior Fidesz takeover. Maybe it could go lower so it is not rock bottom…

In previous years the M1 News held 30% or more of the market, as of today it is 10% or less.

May 27, 2016 8:02 am

Yes. Sorry. Typo.
About 105,000 watched M1, while 8-900,000 people watched other news channels.

Last year 332,000 watched the M1 news in March (and that was already lower number then in previous years).

That is a huge drop even from year to year.

May 27, 2016 2:20 am

Speaking of “young Europe”: according to election polls (see e.g. ), Hofer got the majority of the votes from the middle-aged (30 to 49 years) – and also from less educated and male Austrians and those living in smaller towns and in the countryside. The majority of Austrians under 30 years (and also of female, urban and highly educated Austrians) voted for Van der Bellen. Zsolt Bayer is wrong in generalizing the popularity of extreme right-wing ideas among Hungarian youth to the neighbouring countries.
And speaking of “pro-German tradition”: of course, this is “pro-German” in a different meaning, but Hofer, actually, has his intellectual background in the extreme-right-wing academic “Burschenschaft” organizations which are traditionally “deutschnational”. Hofer’s own “Burschenschaft” pledges allegiance to “the German fatherland irrespective of the present state borders” and “denies the counter-historical fiction of an ‘Austrian nation’” ( ).

May 27, 2016 2:38 am

London Calling!

Magyar Idők:

“The Freedom Party is the symbol of success while the left is that of failure.”

Is this where all our trolls come from?

May 27, 2016 3:40 am

Since Eva mentioned Jörg Haider I can’t resist bringing up my favourite joke (Haven’t seen it any where else – so it’s my invention …):

Beware of Austrian politicians whose name starts with an H!
Now Hofer, 20 years ago Haider – and wasn’t there someone else a long time ago???

A bit OT:
Haider was an even worse xenophobic racist homophobic creature and probably a closet gay!

This reminds me of Finkelstein, the Orbán propagandist and of Peter Thiel (the German born entrepreneur in Silicon Valley) who is a Trump supporter.
These powerful/rich/important people seem to lose all feeling for underprivileged minorities that they are/were a part of …
Here’s some info on Thiel:

And here from the site of a pop music manager/insider who’s very outspoken – I really like his “rantings”:

May 27, 2016 4:36 am

“Now Hofer, 20 years ago Haider – and wasn’t there someone else a long time ago???”

May I remind you about Andreas Hofer who was executed in Mantua in 1810. Commemorated in the famous poem “Zu Mantua in Banden der treue Hofer war” by Julius Mosen.

May 27, 2016 5:30 am

Actually I was thinking of someone who was born in Braunau (a nice Austrian town, still fighting for its image …) and moved to Germany later …

May 27, 2016 3:25 pm

I have no fear of mentioning Hitler’s name, and I had no doubt that you were thinking about Hitler. I just wondered whether you would consider the Tyrolian-Austrian nationalist Andreas Hofer an example or an exception to your rule about Austrian politicians whose names begin with an H.

May 27, 2016 4:37 am

The bigger question is why the People’s Party still tolerate this disgusting toad? Orban is obviously only there because of the influence he can exercise within the People’s Party. And of course the People’s Party also needs Orban’s votes. It’s really a repulsive case of co-dependence.

But, truth be told, it’s quite natural, most Republicans also convinced themselves that Trump is the man of the future and actually if the GOP unites behind him it may be the Democrats who will split (if Sanders wins in California and Hillary’s email problems continue). Whatever the polls say there is no way a radical Socialist could defeat Trump in the US.

Otherwise Orban’s naturally allies would be the Russian-financed extreme parties of Europe. But wait, could it be that Orban is also being financed by Russia?

May 27, 2016 5:59 am

The US election is rather simple: there is one establishment candidate (Hillary) and two anti-establishment (Trump, Bernie). The sub-prime scandal has infuriated and motivated the electorate as never before–as well it should–and an anti-establishment candidate will prevail. Trump will win over Hillary; but of the two
men, Bernie would beat Trump.

May 27, 2016 8:21 am

A. Lincoln

‘I have endured a great deal of ridicule without much malice; and have received a great deal of kindness, not quite free from ridicule. I am used to it’

In the drive to be POTUS, Lincoln also noted how character presents itself in context of having power. With the triumvirate, we will undoubtedly see if there is any substance of ‘gravitas’ left in one of them after all the groveling in the mud gets ostensibly washed away in glittering victory.

May 27, 2016 6:01 am
Unfortunately the underlying trends do favor the Freedom Party. Orban sees that clearly. That’s the big issue and there seems to be no solution for that anywhere in Europe or elsewhere (US, the Philippines etc.). Perhaps with the exception of Germany where there is still a very strong pressure to remain politically correct and gentlemanly and more importantly which is still prosperous. The era of – visible – growth is over, there is a sense that the future will be worse, there is a palpable economic polarization of the society and there is too much immigration from out of Europe which, fair or not, logical or not, creates enormous resentment especially as the European societies age and thus become more conservative (old folks just don’t want to see young Arabs running around in their communities). Until now the constitutional systems and election systems worked pretty well whether in Austria, France or the UK and unlike in Hungary which made the power grab of Fidesz possible. It is also my feeling that any Western European extremist party would be way better than any lunatic Eastern European party (Fidesz, Jobbik etc.). But we are missing the point if e think this just… Read more »
May 27, 2016 6:10 am

“Strache’s threat to build a fence between Austria and Hungary to keep Hungarian workers out of his country didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for the man.”
Nor does it disturb Orbán that his favourite candidate Hofer comes from Pinkafeld/Pinkafő in the province of Burgenland, that is, the westernmost part of historical Hungary which after Trianon was annexed to Austria. And that Hofer’s ideological background is in a “deutschnational” organization, representing the same ideology which after Trianon contributed to the massive suppression of Hungarian in Burgenland.

May 27, 2016 7:04 am

Hofer’s party FPÖ has a long racist tradition – I still remember seeing the pictures of Haider tearing down road and city signs in two languages wher there was a Slovenian minority.
And of course he was against teaching the “foreign language” …
Now if something similar happens in Transsylvania Hungarians are up in arms of course.

It’s really funny in a way (but sad):
All these right wingers are against “foreigners” – it just depends on geography who the foreigners are …

But of course they won’t ever get it – as Einstein is supposed to have said:
There are two concepts which are infinite – the universe and stupidity!
Though we’re not sure about the universe …

If racism, xenophobia, homophobia etc really are on the rise again – then I give up humanity.
Maybe it’s time then for the extraterrestrials to finish the experiment humanity – and let us destroy ourselves. Maybe Putin is willing to go the first step …

May 27, 2016 7:48 am

Re: all those ‘ far right’ parties

Putin should be so lucky to have them added to his bag’o’tricks to get back into the game he apparently lost in the contest with the West. Strategically, the parties are a gold-mine where he can attempt to inject influence in European political matters. If initially governments are off his grid well he must be absolutely loving the opportunity to have all those disgruntled masses pushing the envelope against status quos in Europe. From his point of view, the ‘people’ can do good work for him.

At this point I think he’s got the Magyars as ‘jo barats’. With Austria, he just missed perhaps another opening in his quest to pick most if not all the locks on the political doors in democratic Europe. Vlad usually thinks ‘big’.

May 27, 2016 1:02 pm

OT: check out this twitter post just put up by gov’t spokesman Zoltán Kovács:

When I read his question “Who thought that was a good idea to go out of your way to offend a close ally?” I actually thought he was criticizing his own government’s attack on the US, but he’s actually referring to Bill Clinton’s criticism of Hungary!

I love the conceit in Kovács’s question, which suggests that Hillary Clinton is going to be punished for her husband saying something bad about the Hungarian government :))