The Wild West is a familiar element of Viktor Orbán’s annual assessment speeches, just remember the iconic Dakota proverbs. In his opening speech of the 2023 season today, he quoted the opening scene of Once Upon a Time in the Wild West.Listening to the Prime Minister’s speech, however, we are reminded of the final scene of another classic western: when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid burst out of cover, knowing they are certain to die, and into the Mexican army that is lined up outside.
But Viktor Orbán’s speech began differently: in the first ten minutes it was as if he was leafing through the Prime Minister’s memoirs, listing the successes achieved during his government since 2010.We have gone from cleaning up the damage caused by the left-wing governments before 2010, to creating a work-based economy and eliminating sky-high utility bills, to a renewed Hungary with a new constitution. In the meantime, he also mentioned the full list of those who are making the nation-building work more difficult: the left, Brussels, uncle Gyuri and finally “Feri”.
But after the introduction, it became clear that the speech would be about something else. According to Orbán, last year was the most difficult year in decades, and 2023 will be the most dangerous, because the world is no longer a peaceful place, and history has shifted towards the Wild West. He sees the reason for this clearly in the Russian-Ukrainian war. He reiterated the elements of his position on the conflict: it is in Hungary’s interest to have peace, peace requires a ceasefire, and the US and Russia need to come to the negotiating table. Sanctions do not work, they only benefit Russia, while in Europe they cause serious difficulties. The war will only get longer with sanctions from Brussels. Hungary maintains its relations with Russia, not only because it needs Russian energy resources, but also because it believes that the war in Ukraine is not a battle of right and wrong, but a battle between two Slavic peoples, in which Hungary has nothing to do.
In the rest of his speech, Orbán shifted up a gear in his assessment of the war situation. What is unusual is not the specific content of what he said, but his style, which is unusually blunt and provocative, even for him. The European Union is clearly on the side of the war, he says, and it was Brussels ‘that did not isolate the conflict but elevated it to a pan-European level’. The allusion to Nazi Germany in the context of European leadership does not stop at this veiled allusion. As for the German government, he explained that they have gone from helmets to sending tanks, “in a few weeks Leopard tanks will be marching across the land of Ukraine eastwards, down towards the Russian border. They may even have the old maps.”
The Hungarian Prime Minister also did not spare the US Democratic leadership on the current situation. He made jokes about the Obama administration’s subtle attempts to influence Hungarian decisions through a “good friend” – André Goodfriend. Now, however, the Biden administration is applying harder pressure, and a press man to match – David Pressman – has been sent to Hungary. And one can only hope that the next US ambassador will not be a Puccini.
But let no one get carried away by the idea, so often pervading opposition sentiment, that Viktor Orbán is completely mad when he says things like this. That is not the case. It was clear from the speech why this style is necessary. Speaking to his supporters, Orbán made it clear that the West is doing everything it can to force Hungary into the ranks of the supporters of the war, by pressure and even blackmail. He saw withheld EU aid as a clear means of doing so. At one point in his speech, Viktor Orbán made it clear that Brussels is even capable of giving the aid withheld from the Hungarians to Kiev. In Orbán’s view, in the context of the economic difficulties caused by the EU’s sanctions-induced inflation, if EU aid does not arrive, it is no longer the government’s fault.
Viktor Orbán – like a proper hero of the Wild West – does not bargain, does not care about being outnumbered, and is a lone gunfighter against an army, even if he has only one bullet left. Butch Cassidy died in such a confrontation. But Orban will survive his own, because he has already successfully passed the blame, as he has done so many times before.
But if the film is anything to go by, at least Butch Cassidy was a good guy, not to mention the Sundance Kid.