BUDAPEST – The war in Ukraine overshadowed Sunday’s elections in Hungary and Serbia and appeared to extend the terms of two of Europe’s friendliest Kremlin leaders, both populist strongmen entrenched with their crushing control of the media and cheap energy from Russia.
With more than 60 percent of the votes counted in Hungary, preliminary results indicated that Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister since 2010 and already Europe’s longest-serving leader, had won a fourth consecutive term despite opposition accusations that he enabled Russia’s military offensive. . By tolerating years of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, certainly from Brussels,” Orban told a cheering crowd of supporters late Sunday, as he was researching the European Union, which he has long accused of pushing for LGBT rights and the rights of immigrants to A challenge to the democratic will of the Hungarian electorate.
The initial results dashed the hopes of Orbán’s political opponents that an unusually united opposition camp could break his ruling party’s authoritarian grip on the central European country bordering Ukraine.
Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking early Sunday in his capital, Kyiv, described Mr. Orban as “the only one in Europe who publicly supports Mr. Putin”.
Asked about Mr. Zelensky’s assessment after casting his vote in Budapest on Sunday morning, Mr. Urban said curtly: “Mr. Zelensky is not going to vote today. Thank you. Are there any more questions?”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, also a friend of Moscow, has ruled Serbia since 2012 and was expected to win re-election after mobilizing his nationalist and pro-Russian base by refusing to join the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia. Serbia hoped to become a member of the European bloc, but its request was held up.
And Serbia’s unusually high turnout, around 60 percent, forced officials to keep polling stations open late into the evening in some areas. Amid complaints of fraud by the opposition, the Central Election Commission in the capital, Belgrade, said it would not release results until Monday morning.
But opinion polls have suggested that Mr Vucic will win another term as president and that his Serbian Progressive Party will retain its grip on parliament, albeit with a low majority. The opposition said it had taken control of the municipal government in Belgrade.
Hungary and Serbia have a very different history. Mr. Orban rules a country that, until he came to power, viewed Russia with great suspicion as a result of its past suffering at the hands of Russia, most notably when Moscow sent troops to brutally crush an anti-communist uprising in 1956. However, the nation – Christian Slavic and Orthodox, like Russia – She has always viewed Moscow as her ally and protector.
But under the two strong leaders, both countries over the past decade have dramatically reduced the space for critical media voices, turning television stations of national reach into propaganda megaphones and edging toward authoritarian rule. Both have forged close ties with Mr. Putin, who backed the Hungarian leader’s election campaign when he visited Moscow in February shortly before the invasion of Ukraine.
Serbia has refrained from imposing sanctions on Russia while Hungary, a member of the European Union since 2004, has agreed to an initial round of European sanctions but has strongly resisted extending them to include restrictions on energy imports from Russia.
Unlike leaders in neighboring Poland, a former close ally of Mr. Orban thanks to their shared hostility to liberal values, the Hungarian leader has also refused to allow weapons destined for Ukraine to pass through his country.
Ahead of Hungary’s elections, Mr. Orban responded to opposition accusations that his Ukraine policy had betrayed not only foreign allies but Hungary’s painful memories of Russia’s aggression. Mr. Orbán mobilized the news media, mostly state-controlled and friendly money tycoons, to portray his opponents as warmongers bent on sending Hungarian troops to fight against Russia. Pro-government media warned that the elections offered a “choice between war and peace”.
The campaign appears to have worked, even among some older voters who remember the suffering caused by Moscow’s forces in 1956. “Why should the Hungarian boys fight for Ukraine?” wondered János Diozie, who was 13 at the time of the Hungarian uprising and whose father was imprisoned for 14 years by Soviet-backed authorities for his role in the anti-Moscow uprising. “Of course,” he said, he chose Mr. Orban’s party at Fides when he voted in Nagykovacsi, a small town near Budapest.
Echoing what was repeatedly broadcast in the media controlled by Fides, Mr. Diozigi said there was no need to help Ukraine defend itself because it had provoked the war by turning it into a “military base for America”.
Until Mr. Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, the focus of Mr. Orban’s election campaign was the fiery referendum, set on Parliamentary Election Day, on whether young children in school should be taught about the treatment of gender transition surgery, and offered without restrictions. on sexually explicit material.
The neighboring war in Ukraine, however, derailed Orbán’s efforts to get voters to focus on transgender and gay individuals, forcing a reboot focused on portraying his opponents as eager to push Hungary into war.
When hundreds of pro-Ukraine Hungarians and refugees from Ukraine gathered Saturday in central Budapest to denounce the government’s moratorium on the war, the main state-controlled television station, M1, described the event as a “pro-war rally”. Anna Oleshevska, a 24-year-old Ukrainian from Kyiv who took part, praised the ordinary Hungarians she said helped her after she fled across the border. More than 500,000 Ukrainians crossed into Hungary in the past month, far fewer than the more than 2 million who entered Poland, but still a huge number for a country where toxic hostility to foreign immigrants has long been the cornerstone of Orbán’s often xenophobic nature. . political platform.
While she was happy to receive her in Hungary, Ms Olishevska said the government had been so reluctant to condemn the Russian invasion and Ukraine’s resistance to defend itself, that it was worried about staying in Hungary if Mr Orban won another term.
“I can’t stay in a country where the government supports Russia,” she said, waving a hand-drawn sign telling Mr. Putin where to stick his missiles.
Even some prominent supporters of Mr. Urban’s party blamed Ukraine for the bloodshed in 1956, with Maria Schmidt, a historian and museum director, falsely claiming On Saturday, Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who ordered troops to be sent to Hungary that year, Ukraine. He was Russian. Ms. Schmidt misrepresented the origins of the Soviet leader in response to a Tweet by British comedian John Cleese, Which urged Hungarian voters to consider whether Russia or Ukraine invaded Hungary in 1956.
The storm of distortions and lies in the Fidesz-dominated Hungarian news media has left opposition supporters in despair.
“They repeat lies over and over, day in and day out,” said Judit Barna, 81, a doctor, outside a polling station in central Budapest, where she had just voted for a united opposition ticket headed by Peter Markie Zay, a conservative small town. mayor.
Referring to Mr. Urban’s early political career as an anti-Moscow hooligan who in 1989 demanded the departure of Soviet forces, I asked: “How is it possible after 40 years of Soviet occupation and 30 years of democracy that the same man who once shouted, ‘Oh! Russians, go home ‘Can they say now that Russia is fighting a just war in Ukraine?’
Thanks to Fides’ grip on the media, she added: “Half of Hungary’s population devours all these lies. This is Hungary’s shame.”
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