Viktor Orban’s nationalist sovereignty jelly

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban presents himself as the European Union’s leading voice for nationalism and sovereignty. Orban’s anti-immigration and pro-family policies certainly support his argument here, bucking as they do the majority EU executive view that national sovereignty should come second to EU priorities. And the EU election results on Sunday prove that Orban’s domestic approach is the ascendant one. It was a mix of right-populist and far-right parties that secured major gains on Sunday. What began with the 2016 Brexit vote is now expanding: More voters want more control over their borders and greater independence from the EU political center.

Still, Orban’s nationalist sovereignty narrative has the form of jelly regarding his foreign policy. Orban has long put the Chinese Communist Party’s interests before those of Hungary’s national security (something Orban hopes former President Donald Trump won’t notice and too many American conservatives choose to ignore), even welcoming Chinese espionage tools into his society. But Orban’s selective interest in sovereignty is also clear in his approach toward Russia. Orban emphasized as much on Monday, pledging to advance Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests in Ukraine. As Orban put it on X, “Europe’s political landscape has shifted to the right and towards peace. We will build on these results in the coming months to achieve our goals, as Hungary takes over the Presidency of the EU.”

Do not mistake this rhetoric as a call for serious peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Orban’s obstruction of EU defensive military aid packages to Ukraine joins his continuing insistence that all military aid to Ukraine should be ended. He believes peace should come only through the barrel of a Russian gun. Orban’s promise to use his EU presidency for peace is a promise to attempt to gut Ukraine’s defensive power. It’s thus a peace process that would inevitably end with Ukraine forced to choose between surrendering its national sovereignty and becoming a Russian colony or seeing its people continue to be annihilated.

Orban’s glistening hypocrisy, proclaiming nationalism at home while agitating for the sacrificed sovereignty of other European powers, underlines why he is so disliked by Poland, Estonia, and Finland. Like Ukraine, each of those nations faces overt Russian ambitions to subjugate their democracies. Each of those nations faces a direct Russian threat to their nationalist sovereignty. A threat, then, to the exact same interest that Orban claims to most treasure.

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Orban’s interest in putting Russian nationalist interests before the nationalist interests of at least still-nominal Hungarian allies is escalating. He is now pursuing policy changes that would restrict Hungary from participating in military action outside of NATO territory, for example. Considering that this would presumably limit the Hungarian air force from taking action over the neutral Baltic Sea, it would render Hungary’s continued NATO membership absurd in military terms and unsustainable in political terms. Orban knows this, but he doesn’t care.

He doesn’t care for the same reason that he welcomes Chinese espionage tools in his economy and society — namely, that his intellectual concept of sovereignty is ultimately made of jelly.

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