Last week, thousands of Hungarians marched for academic freedom and against the ‘forced’ relocation of the Central European University (CEU) from Budapest. It is the latest casualty in the long-running attack by prime minister Viktor Orbán to George Soros, a Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist who founded the university.
‘The English language used to be forbidden in communist Hungary because it was considered a dangerous, capitalist language. CEU was giving US accredited English programmes, which is why it was a liberal, and also attractive university to go to.
Since 2014 or so, prime minister Viktor Orbán put up huge billboards of George Soros along with headlines saying things like he’s an infiltrator, he’s responsible for bringing the migrant crisis to Hungary and so on. Orbán is attacking Soros to get people on his side, and people buy into that because he uses fear.
Orbán first became prime minister in 1998. There was a complex transition in politics, but the overall sentiment in Hungary was that “we are worth less than western European countries, because we are a post-communist satellite state, we don’t have the capital or the economy, and we’re on life support from the European Union”. Orbán came back to power in 2010 and he made Hungary a proud country again – he made people feel that they belong. In the 2018 election, he won two-thirds of the votes.
From what I can see in western media such as Dutch and German news, Orbán is portrayed as a dictator like Putin or Erdogan. A lot of critique from western media is valid, but I think they over-generalise, and Orbán uses that to say to the Hungarian people, “look what they’re saying about me, they’re attacking our nation”. It just feeds the hate against EU initiatives such as opening up borders for migrants, and that’s dangerous. Erdogan in Turkey is using a similar narrative against the EU.
In Hungary Orbán is actually a centre-right politician, we just don’t hear about the real right extremist parties there, who actually won 17 per cent of the votes in the last election. Hungarian people aren’t as racist or afraid of immigrants as they are portrayed – or else those parties would have the majority now. They’re just more conservative and they like things how they are.’