What does Orbán’s victory mean for Hungary and the West?

Hungaryorban_full_380Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was elected to a second consecutive term on Sunday, amid criticism from international observers that the ruling party “enjoyed an undue advantage” during the campaign, according to reports.

The early vote count showed that Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party and a small conservative ally would keep a two-thirds majority, with 133 seats in the country’s 199-member Parliament, The New York Times reports:

The vote, held Sunday, showed increasing support for the radical right Jobbik party, which won just more than 20 percent of the vote on national party lists, 4 percentage points higher than in 2010, and was expected to have 23 seats in Parliament. …..On Monday, a statement from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe echoed worries some observers had expressed about the election, saying that the new electoral rules gave Mr. Orban’s party an advantage and citing what it called “biased” media coverage and “the blurring of the separation between a ruling political party and the state.”….

Experts said the results showed the maturation of the radical-right Jobbik party, known for its paramilitary arm and openly anti-Semitic and anti-Roma views.

“Jobbik’s improved electoral turnout shows not only a strengthening of the party but also a mainstreaming of the party,” said Erin Saltman, an expert on Hungarian politics based in London. “More Hungarians are seeing Jobbik as a legitimate party option.”

Vladimir Putin will doubtless send congratulations as the weekend re-election of Orban’s Fidesz government assures the Russian president of a sympathetic voice in the councils of Europe, writes FT analyst Philp Stephens:

Orban has drawn closer to Moscow. Last week he accepted Mr Putin’s offer of a €10bn long-term credit to finance new Russian-built nuclear power capacity….

Once a ferocious critic of the Soviet Union and of post-communist Russia, Mr Orban now shares Mr Putin’s cultural conservatism and disdain for western “decadence”. Both leaders subscribe to a collectivist state capitalism that sets the state above private enterprise. As in Russia, foreigners who invest in Hungary cannot expect the protection of the rule of law. Once among the most promising former communist states, Hungary has become a backwater.

But the EU cannot continue to look the other way as a member undermines its democratic standards, Stephens contends, echoing fears that Hungary is becoming Putinism’s ideological outpost.

In the next four years, Orbán will try to consolidate his power by rooting out challenges and challengers to his authority, says Charles Gati, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins’s Foreign Policy Institute, and the editor of Zbig: The Strategy and Statecraft of Zbigniew Brzezinski:

Having lost faith in the value of Western-style democracy, he’ll deprive the country’s Constitutional Court of its residual authority and he’ll stamp out what remains of the small Budapest-based free press. Although he has so far accepted NATO’s security umbrella and the E.U.’s financial benefits, he’ll continue to ignore Western advice and warnings about his policies.

“Preoccupied with more pressing problems, Western governments don’t seem to see the need to revive and, indeed, deepen the post-World War II integrationist momentum that has brought peace, prosperity and democratic values to Europe, including Central Europe,” Gati writes for The Washington Post.

“Yet if they pay no attention to anti-Western trends in Hungary, Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere in Europe and its periphery — a trend some fear might soon spread to Poland — they, and the United States, will find themselves isolated from a growing number of their allies in an increasingly hostile world.” RTWT

Ukraine slams Russian attempt to ‘tear country apart’


Several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators who have seized government buildings in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, urged President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force, and they demanded a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, The New York Times reports:

The renewed unrest in eastern Ukraine, which flared on Sunday with coordinated demonstrations by thousands of pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, reignited fears in Kiev and the West about Russian military action

Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said he believed the protests represented “the second wave of Russia’s special operation against Ukraine, aimed at destabilization, toppling the current government, thwarting elections and tearing the country apart.”

“The enemies of Ukraine are trying to play the Crimean scenario, but we will not allow this,” Turchynov said….The FT reports

….warning that an operation had been launched to arrest perpetrators and the military presence along Ukraine’s borders had been beefed up. Mr Turchynov, also speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, said draft legislation banning parties that back separatism had been submitted for consideration.

“This is not politics. This is a serious crime. We will act swiftly against criminals,” he said.

There is evidence that pro-Russia demonstrators in Ukraine’s east are getting support from Russians inside Ukraine, USA Today reports:

Ukrainian authorities say Russia is working behind the scenes to inflame separatist tension and destabilize eastern Ukraine, where half of the population is Russian-speaking, to create a pretext for sending in Russia troops as was done in Crimea.

“They don’t make up a big share of the demonstrators, but there are up to a thousand Russian volunteers in Ukraine,” said analyst Sergei Markov, a backer of the Russian government who has advised the Kremlin on Ukraine.

Asked if those volunteers would be willing to take up arms if a conflict broke out, Markov said “of course.”

Defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper said there could be a full-fledged Russian military incursion into the three eastern Ukrainian cities, VOA’s Michael Eckels reports:

“The real factor is the battle readiness of the troops that are designated there. And battle readiness seems to be right now at its highest,” he said.

However, that battle readiness can’t be sustained indefinitely, Felgenhauer said, meaning that Russia has a window of opportunity to invade eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament will push through anti-separatist legislation.

“So it’s either now or never. Not maybe never, but at least the same level of battle readiness we have right now will be maybe again reached somewhere in August.”….

Mark Galeotti, a security expert and professor at New York University, said it is within Ukraine’s abilities to use force to remove the pro-Russia activists from the buildings they have seized.

“Kyiv needs to show that it has strength and determination. If it doesn’t, it will embolden the protesters all the more,” said Galeotti.

Only 14 percent of Ukrainians support federalization, according to a poll released Saturday by the International Republican Institute. Federalization was more popular in the south, 22 percent, and the east, 26 percent, The Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports.

The poll, which included Crimea, was carried out from March 14 to 26 as Crimea was being annexed by Russia. The results contradict the assertions Russia has made to justify its annexation of Crimea and its threats to intervene in eastern Ukraine, instead finding widespread opposition to Russian incursion and a growing preference for ties to Europe rather than Russia….

Russia has described what it calls “atrocities” against Russian-speakers, issuing warnings that suggest it is building a case to send troops into eastern Ukraine as it did in Crimea. The IRI poll released Saturday, however, found Ukraine’s Russian-speakers did not feel under threat. Even in the Russian-speaking east and south, including Crimea, 74 percent said they felt no threat.

“The issue of federalization is absolutely artificial,” said Yuriy Yakymenko, a political expert at the Razumkov think tank in Kiev. “It’s part of Russia’s plan to impose control over Ukraine and prevent it from integrating with Europe.”

IRI is one of the National Endowment for Democracy’s core institutes.


Putin rejects the West – in writing

Putins-InterestWhat kind of country is Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

The third year of his third presidential term has offered plenty of clues: the Crimea invasion, the shuttering of uncensored media outlets, prison terms for protesters. Now, Putin is planning to put the intellectual and ideological foundations of the new regime into words, writes Leonid Bershidsky:

A document called “Foundations of the State Cultural Policy” has been under development since 2012. A special working group under Putin’s chief of staff Sergei Ivanov will soon roll it out for a month of “public debate” before Putin gets to sign it. Quotes from the culture ministry’s draft, presumably the basis for the final one, have leaked out.

“Russia must be viewed as a unique and original civilization that cannot be reduced to ‘East’ or ‘West,’” reads the document, signed by Deputy Culture Minister Vladimir Aristarkhov. “A concise way of formulating this stand would be, ‘Russia is not Europe,’ and that is confirmed by the entire history of the country and the people.”

Russia’s non-European path should be marked by “the rejection of such principles as multiculturalism and tolerance,” according to the draft. “No references to ‘creative freedom’ and ‘national originality’ can justify behavior considered unacceptable from the point of view of Russia’s traditional value system.” That, the document stresses, is not an infringement on basic freedoms but merely the withdrawal of government support from “projects imposing alien values on society.”

The draft goes on to explain that certain forms of modern art and liberal Western values in general are unacceptable and harmful to society’s moral health, Bershidsky notes::

Although Putin has mentioned Russia’s “civilizational differences” with the West in his speeches, Russia has never asserted, in so many words, that its ideology is based on the rejection of the European path and of universal values such as democratic development and tolerance toward different cultures. If “Foundations of the State Cultural Policy” is adopted in the form proposed by the culture ministry, isolationism and, yes, intolerance of anything “alien” will be enshrined on an official level.


Ukrainian Struggle Explained: Maidan Revolution, Resistance to Military Intervention and Citizens’ Organizing


A webinar discussion moderated by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict will bring together four Ukrainian guests with backgrounds in academia, journalism, activism, and policy to talk about the political conflict in Ukraine. A number of false narratives have emerged that branded the Maidan Revolution as violent, driven by radicals and external powers. After the invasion of Crimea and its annexation to Russia some commentators suggested that the outcome of the referendum reflected the preferences of the majority of the Crimean population and the political change represented by the annexation of Crimea to Russia was in fact engineered peacefully, which contrasted with the supposedly violent nature of the Maidan Revolution that brought down the Yanukovych regime.

This webinar will address the prevailing misconceptions that emerged around the conflict in Ukraine. It will discuss the origin, goals, strategies and tactics behind the Ukrainian Maidan movement, as well as its composition and its responses to the state-sponsored repression. Webinar discussants will talk about the role of a violent minority – a radical flank in the movement – and reflect on the impact of external actors in the Ukrainian struggle. How, and more importantly why was the Yanukovych regime ultimately brought down? In the final part of the conversation, the speakers will offer their views on the ongoing mobilization of the Ukrainian society against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and against a possible Russian invasion of other parts of Ukraine, as well as civic organizing to support but also pressure the Ukrainian government to implement needed reforms. 


-Nataliya Gumenyuk, Ukrainian journalist, Co-Founder of Hromadske.TV

-Olga Onuch, Newton Fellow, University of Oxford / Research Fellow, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute

-Dmytro Potekhin, Trainer and consultant in strategic planning and nonviolent resistance

-Olena Tregub, Policy expert of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation and a writer for Kyiv Post


Please share with others using the link: http://bit.ly/ukrainewebinar

Who’s the fascist? Putin’s ideologists court Europe’s far right

DUGIN-150x150Today’s Russia lacks the sort of coherent ideology provided by Soviet Communism, but if there is a conceptual thread running through Putin’s rhetoric and actions, it is that of Eurasianism, says analyst Jamie Kirchik…..

….characterized recently in Foreign Affairs by Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn as “authoritarian in essence, traditional, anti-American, and anti-European; it values religion and public submission. And more significant to today’s headlines, it is expansionist.” The man at the forefront of this movement is Alexander Dugin, a “conservative revolutionary” in the fascist mold who frequently appears on Russian state television egging on Putin’s neo-imperialist agenda. In 2005, Putin oversaw the creation of the Nashi youth movement, essentially a personality cult, which, in its idolization of the leader, nationalistic rhetoric, and confrontational approach toward critics bears, as some have noted, more than a passing resemblance to the Hitler Youth.

If Ukraine’s fledgling democracy survives the Russian threat, its extremist problem will likely be contained. Not so in Russia, where the rot of far-right nationalism currently starts at the top, Russia-watcher Cathy Young notes:

Writing in Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s surviving dissident media outlets, journalist Alexander Lipsky has pointed out that smearing opponents as “fascist” was a standard Soviet propaganda ploy. Its revival is particularly ironic today, when some Russians using this slur may fit it far better than their targets do. Take Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who recently lamented on Twitter that Ukrainians, his Soviet-era compatriots, had turned to “Nazis all around.” Rogozin first entered politics as a leader of the nationalist bloc Rodina (Motherland), which got booted from local Moscow elections in 2005 over an ad—featuring Rogozin himself—that used blatantly racist caricatures of Azerbaijani migrants. In 2011, he was the subject of a glowing tribute on the American “white identity” site Occidental Observer.

A far more sinister figure is Alexander Dugin [above left], founder of the “Eurasian movement,” which defines its mission as opposing “liberal hegemony” and modernity. In the 1990s, Dugin, a college dropout active in marginal ultranationalist groups, wrote essays openly advocating fascism as a “third way” alternative to communism and capitalism. Dugin argued that real fascism had never been properly tried (an argument usually made on behalf of communism) and would eventually emerge in Russia; while disavowing the racist “excesses” of Nazism, he also praised the SS as an “intellectual oasis” in the Third Reich and fantasized about the rise of “a race of Nordic warrior priests.”

Last year, Gabor Vona, leader of Hungary’s fascist Jobbik party, met with Dugin as well as leaders of the Russian Duma and spoke at Moscow State University, analyst Kirchik writes for The Tablet: .

There he said that Hungary should leave the European Union and join Putin’s proposed “Eurasian Union” instead. “The role of Russia today is to offset the Americanization of Europe,” Vona declared. It is “clear that Russian leaders consider Jobbik as a partner,” the party boasted on its website. Jobbik applauded the sham Crimean referendum that led to the region’s annexation as “exemplary,” which is hardly surprising given that it too has revisionist aspirations for Europe’s borders. Jobbik speaks openly of regaining the territories Hungary lost after World War I and in which a significant number of ethnic Hungarians still reside, and Putin’s rationale for seizing Crimea is precisely the sort of reasoning that Jobbik uses in its own, ill-fated quest to restore “Greater Hungary.” When I reported on Jobbik for Tablet two years ago, several Hungarians shared their suspicion that the Kremlin is secretly funding the party.

All this would make Dugin merely an odious crank if, by the mid-2000s, he had not emerged as a leading “intellectual” in Russia’s Putin-era political establishment, with ties to top politicians and members of the official media, Young writes for The Weekly Standard:

Dropping the word “fascist,” he began to style himself a “traditionalist”; he also procured a Ph.D. and became the head of the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University. In 2009, his International Eurasian Movement counted among its board members Alexander Torshin, Duma vice speaker and a leading figure in the ruling United Russia party, and Nikolai Yefimov, editor in chief of the army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star). Dugin was cited as an intellectual guru by Ivan Demidov, who headed United Russia’s ideology section in 2008, and currently serves as an adviser to the chairman of the State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin.