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Hungary: Orban calls for voter support to 'occupy Brussels'

March 15, 2024

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has given a fiery speech on the anniversary of Hungary's 1848 revolution. He railed against EU policy, and said he'd need voters' support to "occupy" Brussels and change it from within.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses a crowd
Orban's speech also comes as he tries to steady his own political ship at home. Image: Szilard Koszticsak/MTI/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban lobbied for public support for his under-fire Fidesz party in European Parliament elections this summer during a speech in Budapest on Friday, saying it was necessary to "defend Hungary's freedom and sovereignty" in Brussels. 

Right-wing or far-right parties are likely to fare better in several EU countries during the elections this summer, meaning Orban, a nationalist in power for 14 years, might find more allies in the next parliament. 

However, the Hungarian Prime Minister was addressing the crowd amid considerable unrest at home, in the aftermath of the sudden resignation of the former president in a scandal over pardoning somebody involved in facilitating child abuse ahead of a papal visit.

Hungarian parliament approves Sweden's NATO accession

'No choice but to occupy Brussels' 

March 15 marks the anniversary of the start of the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Although the revolution failed, it was still pivotal in creating the modern Hungarian national identity and the aspirations for statehood that would be realized with defeat in World War I and Hungary declaring independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Orban sought to touch on this history, and use it to send a message about the present, in his address.

"Brussels is not the first empire that has set its eyes on Hungary," Orban told the gathering of about 1,000 of his supporters.

"The peoples of Europe today are afraid that Brussels will take away their freedom ... If we want to defend Hungary's freedom and sovereignty, we have no other choice but to occupy Brussels."

"We will march to Brussels and bring change to the European Union ourselves," he said.

Fidesz, Orban's party, currently sending the majority of Hungary's 21 MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg, has much at stake ahead of the June vote.

As well as wishing to defend its own strong representation, amid trouble domestically, Fidesz is current not aligned with any bloc in the European Parliament and could choose or seek to join one either during the campaign or after the vote.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L), European Council President Charles Michel, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (3rdR), Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a multilateral meeting on the sidelines of a European Council meeting at the European headquarters in Brussels, on February 1, 2024.
Recently, many European summits have focused around what the remainder of the bloc's leaders can convince Orban either to agree to — or to leave the room and not vote on it if all else fails, as was the case with naming Ukraine a candidate EU memberImage: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine, Sweden, Russia, rule of law, Trump — Hungary at odds with EU, NATO allies

Orban has long been at odds with EU members over a range of issues, the longest-running being his own domestic policies on issues like gay rights and the rule of law that have prompted rebuke and the long-term withholding of EU funds from the government in Budapest. Orban has managed to secure the release of some of these in recent years, possibly in connection to his other quibbles with western policies.

More recently, though, the divisions have taken on more of a foreign policy flavor, and not just at the European level. 

Hungary is arguably the EU and NATO member retaining the closest ties to Russia amid the invasion of Ukraine. Orban advocates peace talks and has refused to send weaponry to Kyiv. 

He drew a sharp contrast in Friday's speech between Hungary the "western world," which he called a source of rootlessness and destruction. 

"They start wars, destroy worlds, redraw countries' borders and graze on everything like locusts," Orban told the crown. "We Hungarians live differently and want to live differently." 

Hungary was the last country to approve Sweden's bid to join NATO, over a year after it applied

Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, left, listens his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban during a press conference at the Carmelite Monastery in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Feb 23, 2024.
A fighter jet deal with Sweden was announced as Orban said he'd instruct parliament to stop stalling on Sweden's bid to join NATOImage: Denes Erdos/AP Photo/picture alliance

Orban also ruffled feathers at the White House last week by visiting former President Donald Trump in Florida and promoting his trip with a degree of enthusiasm.

Many of these issues were raised in a recent speech by US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman, marking a quarter century since Hungary joined NATO.

Pressman highlighted concerns over Hungary's reliability as an ally, saying that Orban's government "appears to have little interest in constructive dialogue" with its partners. He also questioned Orban's pursuit of close ties with Russia, and China, saying Hungary "labels and treats the United States as an 'adversary' while making policy choices that increasingly isolate it from friends and allies.

Domestic disapproval Orban's other mover at present? 

However, Orban's domestic speech also comes as he tries to steady his own political ship at home. 

Pressure on his government has been at its highest in years in recent weeks, amid the resignation of Orban's ally, former President Katalin Novak, and a former justice minister from a Fidesz government. 

Novak faced public outrage over her issuing a pardon to a convicted accomplice in a child sexual abuse case at a state-run orphanage, a decision made shortly before a papal visit to Budapest last year that came to light early this year.

Hungary pardon scandal tests PM Viktor Orban's hold on power

msh/wmr (AP, Reuters)