Most of the articles written about Viktor Orban’s visit with President Trump yesterday described him as a “far-right leader of Hungary”. That classification was agreed upon by venues ranging across the political spectrum, from Fox to NPR.
Most of the articles then went on to discuss accusations of human rights abuses and negative language about immigrants.
Fox News, as an example, quoted the President:
Like Trump, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has espoused hard-line anti-migration rhetoric. The president described his guest this way: “Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK. That’s OK. You’ve done a good job and you’ve kept your country safe.”
Asked about democratic backsliding in Hungary, Trump called Orban “a tough man,” but added that he’s “a respected man,” too.
“He’s done the right thing, according to many people on immigration,” Trump said. “You look at some of the problems they have in Europe that are tremendous, because they’ve done it in a different way than the prime minister.”
By focusing on rhetoric instead of policy, it undersells the brutality of Orban. This is a man who organized the passage of a law which, while continuing to allow immigrants entry as required by its membership agreement in the EU, punished with fines and prison time any instances of providing them with food… including food that they purchased. Reuters reported on the EU courts reinforcing the requirement that people not be forcibly starved.
This is a man whose recent hosting of Italy’s Matteo Salvini prompted the state-controlled Hungary Today to posit, hopefully, the beginning of “A New Axis”.
Hungary Today isn’t unique in being state-controlled; a media law placed into effect in 2011 requires scrutiny and guidance by a governmental body of any media… television, radio (including songs), print (including books and comics) and any other form of content transmission. That which is deemed harmful to the population, under very nebulous terms, triggers fines and restrictions. The opinion piece referenced above is not one person’s disturbing hope, it is an idea cleared and promoted by the Orban government.
This is Orban’s preferred technique. By altering the law to trigger harsh penalties against those who act against him, he has generally avoided having direct responsibility for ever-more-restrictive rules. When some new laws cause a public outcry despite the media control, the laws are eased or revised, just enough to tamp down the furor.
He is an authoritarian, steadily and slowly seizing utter control over his nation in the style of Duterte and Erdogan, but using imprisonment and fiscal ruination over direct violence as preferred techniques of repression.
Orban is a close friend of Vladimir Putin, who controls Russia using a similar managerial style. DW.com has previously compared their relationship to the one historically shared between the U.S. and the United Kingdom… particularly bothersome to those Hungarians who suffered under Soviet domination and who championed Orban as an early fighter against the Soviets.
Orban was Prime Minister from 1998 through 2002, during which time President George W. Bush declined any meetings with him. He again gained the Prime Minister position in 2010, after which President Obama declined any meetings with him. This was not accidental. Trump arranged a meeting at the White House. That was not accidental, either.