Hungarian opposition candidate Marki-Zay calls Orban a ‘traitor’ for the war in Ukraine

Peter Marki-Zay, the man who challenged Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the April 3 national election on behalf of a united opposition, has warned of deepening isolation under the ‘illiberal’ model d’Orban and compared him to a “traitor” putting Hungarians in danger.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine five weeks ago, Marki-Zay has suggested that “Orban’s betrayal” of EU and NATO interests had led to “international exile and exclusion” and could even lead to the imposition of sanctions on Hungary. .

“I keep saying we have to stop Putin, not Brussels. Let’s be on the right side of history for once, for once on the winning side,” Marki-Zay told RFE/RL’s Hungarian service in a in-depth interview this week.

Polls have given Orban’s Fidesz alliance a narrow lead over the opposition at six ahead of Hungary’s 8 million registered voters, but a significant part of the electorate is believed to be undecided in the final days of the election. campaign.

Fidesz has ruled for the past 12 years with a so-called supermajority of at least two-thirds of parliament, enabling it to pass sweeping changes while bypassing the opposition.

Hungarians will also vote on April 3 in a referendum on discussing sexual orientation in schools in a move experts say Fidesz was planning in part to help boost its voter base of traditional values.

Marki-Zay, 49, won a united opposition primary last year after capturing national attention by beating a candidate from the ruling Fidesz party for mayor of the southeastern town of Hodmezovasarhely of the country in 2018.

He is a co-founder of the Hungarian Movement for All (MMM) whose Catholic faith and conservatism could draw centre-right voters from the national-populist Fidesz in what will likely be the tightest elections since 2010.

Orban condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but avoided blaming Moscow directly. He agreed to join unprecedented Western sanctions against Russia while saying Hungary will not directly help arm Ukrainian defenders.

Marki-Zay criticized Orban not only for his policy towards Moscow but also towards Beijing. “While that would mean a huge market and a strategic opportunity, over the past 12 years Orban has failed to show that he has secured any market, whether in China or Russia,” he said. he declared. “It is not at all visible that Orban developed the Hungarian economy.”

In a speech delivered on March 15 on the occasion of the National Day, accompanied by a slogan “peace and security”, Orban declared that Hungary was “on the border between the worlds: between East and West , the North and the South” and that whoever won wars in the region, “we would lose. »

“Central Europe is just a chessboard for the big world powers, and Hungary is just one piece of their game,” he said.

Around 150,000 Ukrainians described themselves as ethnic Hungarians in the 2001 census, one of the largest diasporas in the world and a source of bilateral irritation, as Budapest has accused kyiv of seeking to deprive this minority of language and other rights.

“The [politician]… who, like Orban, puts the Hungarians of Transcarpathia in great danger and does not support them even when the Russians bomb and shoot at them, is a traitor,” Marki-Zay told RFE/RL.

Marki-Zay and his opposition allies described the race as a contest of Eastern or Western orientation and an opportunity to root out entrenched political interests and corruption.

Orban, whose perceived pushback on democratic standards and wooing of Moscow and Beijing in recent years has angered Brussels, added in his March 15 speech that “we will fight” elements including “bureaucrats in Brussels.”

Orban’s government is embroiled in a major dispute with the European Union over the bloc’s withholding of billions of euros in pandemic aid due to perceived breaches of the rule of law in Budapest. In February, the European Court of Justice upheld the EU’s conditioning of funds to democratic standards, saying the bloc “must be able to uphold those values”.

Marki-Zay has also taken aim at Orban’s political vision and tactics since he came to power in 2010. The opposition challenger told RFE/RL that Orban had “lost battles” over the debt of the state, COVID-19 and inflation, adding: “He will lose the fight against Brussels. Orban again ruled Hungary from the wrong side.

Marki-Zay cited a “bad Hungarian tradition” of winking and nodding while feigning left and right, and suggested that even the other national populists ruling Poland had lost patience with Orban.

Orban once described his own political maneuverings as a “peacock dance” in which he seeks to counter challengers before stepping back slightly to pursue larger goals.

‘Illiberalism’ is no longer a common interest, at most with Poland,” said Marki-Zay, quoting a famous speech d’Orban in 2014. “But the Poles got so angry with Orban because of his pro-Putin betrayal that they don’t even talk to the Hungarians [any more].”

Marki-Zay attributed Hungary’s failure so far to participate in the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) to fears of potential lawsuits against “family and friends” of Orban. He did not specify.

Twenty-two of the 27 EU Member States cooperate fully with the EPPO, and two others have so-called opt-out options based on freedom, security and justice. Only Poland, Sweden and Hungary, members of the EU, have categorically refused to be part of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office but could join it at any time.

Marki-Zay has pledged to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office if his opposition alliance forms a government, saying the move could help free up more than $8 billion in COVID-19 relief funds that Brussels has suspended.

The opposition candidate also spoke about Hungary’s energy policies, including its dependence on Russia for around 90% of its natural gas.

Marki-Zay said any new coalition “should recognize some of the steps taken by the Fidesz government” to strengthen energy independence, although he accused it of “willingly serving Hungary’s dependence on Russian gas”.

He cited progress on interconnectivity and transit conditions for gas and electricity with neighboring countries, and said liquefied natural gas (LNG) could be imported from Croatia or Poland.

But more can be done, he said. “If Bulgaria, which in the EU was even more dependent on Russian gas than us, said that it can solve its energy purchases even without Russian gas, then Hungary can already do it too,” said said Marki-Zay.

Marki-Zay has said that if his coalition wins, it will “immediately” extradite fugitive former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who was convicted of corruption and fled to Hungary with the help of the Hungarian government in 2018 .

Laura T. Thrasher