Putin’s Aggression Is Isolating the New Nationalists

In a decree announced quietly via government gazette on Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán reversed his recent position by authorizing NATO troops to be deployed to western Hungary and weapons shipments to cross Hungarian soil, though not directly across the country’s 85-mile border into Ukraine.

The latest tap dance is not only for Hungary’s top politician but also for all the anti-multilateral European nationists who, over the years, have been cozying with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Orbán, who as recently as five weeks ago visited Moscow and described Putin’s demands on Ukraine as “normal,” has, since the invasion, expressed support for the same European Union economic sanctions he had previously predicted were “doomed to failure.”

This flip-flop is simple to comprehend. Orbán faces an uncomfortably close election on April 3, and Hungarians have some of the sharpest memories on the continent when it comes to the horrors of an invading army from Moscow using overwhelming force to put down a ragtag rebellion in an allegedly sovereign country. According to the Hungarian newspaper Pesti HírlapIt was featured on the cover for its February 24, edition.

This phrase is resonant in Hungarian politics because it was chanted during demonstrations against the Russian embassy in Budapest. Not only was it a rallying cry during the 1956 Revolution, but it was also re-popularized during 1989 protests by a rising young political star named Viktor Orbán. While adopting multiple personae throughout his 34-year political career, Orbán has never wavered from being venerator-in-chief of 1956. Political suicide would be to choose the Russian side in this latest invasion.

Similar come-to-Jesus moments have recently visited such longtime Putin pals as Czech President Miloš Zeman and French nationalist Marine Le Pen. The E.U. and NATO are now the top priorities for shared complaints, as well as the new anti-Russian alliance. This includes politicians who benefit directly from Putin’s oligarchical regime. A cheeky headline was published in recent weeks: “How Putin made EU great again” Politico Europe.

Russian intrusion exposed one of the major dissonances among the right-wing and populist nationalist movements throughout the industrialized world. Having long made the argument—with some cause—that multilateral institutions are elite, anti-democratic bodies corrosive to national sovereignty, the populists have never gotten around to proposing a replacement, but have instead cheered on whichever local strongman shares their critique.

It turns out, nationalists who are not tethered to mediating institutions don’t make the most pleasant neighbors. Their commitment to sovereignty is not superficial.

Former Vice President and putative 2024 presidential contender Mike Pence raised some eyebrows in September when he traveled to Hungary to kiss Orbán’s ring and participate in a gruesome gathering of Euro-nationalists titled the Budapest Demographic Summit. Pence was able to see how American conservatives have different views about Beijing and Moscow even though he tried to applaud the “stand” line.[ing]”With the U.S. versus China” was met by stony silence. The client-state corruption of small-country nationalism just awaited to occur.

Putin and his oligarchical family have spent over two decades cultivating politicians, purchasing media outlets and signing gas long-term contracts across Europe. It is a good idea to do this with friends who are equally hostile toward post-World War II multilateral institutions, which were designed to counter Russian-dominated communism. Putin’s foreign allies are more concerned about 2022 domestic popularity than they are Putin.

For the tiny group of Putin-curious Americans who are politicians or pundits, there are many lessons here. Will the New Nationalists follow the lead?