In the midst of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Viktor Orbán does not stop invoking the historical revisionism of the Greater Hungary, which includes territories of neighboring countries lost after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in World War I. The Hungarian Prime Minister posted a video on his Facebook profile on Monday in which he displays around his neck a scarf with the map of the Greater Hungary on the occasion of a friendly match of his team against Greece held on Sunday in Budapest. Immediately, this gesture has inflamed the authorities of the neighboring nations. The first to react have been the representatives of Romania, to which Transylvania belongs, a region that Budapest claims as its own.
The Romanian Foreign Ministry expressed its “strong disapproval” to the Magyar ambassador in Bucharest, calling the images unacceptable. “Any revisionist manifestation, regardless of the form in which it is presented, is unacceptable, contrary to current realities and the commitments assumed jointly by Romania and Hungary,” the institution said in a statement. Hours later, the Government of Ukraine announced that it will summon the Hungarian ambassador to offer explanations. “Promoting revisionist ideas in Hungary does not contribute to the development of Ukrainian-Hungarian relations and is not in accordance with the principles of European policies,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Oleg Nikolenko wrote, also on Facebook.
Faced with an avalanche of criticism, the ultranationalist leader denied the accusations of revisionism on Tuesday in a brief message on Facebook: “Football is not politics. Let’s not see something that doesn’t exist. The Hungarian national team is the team of all Hungarians, wherever they live, ”he wrote. At the end of World War I, Hungary saw two-thirds of its territory cut up—today belonging to Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, and Poland—, which led to the existence of significant Magyar minorities in the neighboring states. . More than 1.2 million people are of Hungarian origin in Romania (6% of the country’s population); half a million make up the population of Hungarian origin in Serbia and Ukraine; and many others in Slovakia. It is estimated that some three million live abroad, the majority in central and eastern European countries.
For Valentin Naumescu, professor of International Relations at Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj, Orbán is following in the footsteps of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Raising such weak issues, which only feed absolutely useless discussions in the region, means playing into Putin’s game,” considers the academic, who believes that this demand does not help Hungary. Since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, Orbán has confronted his community partners over the delivery of arms to kyiv and the imposition of a veto on the purchase of Russian oil. The current situation is damaging the Hungarian economy, which registered inflation of 21.1% in October, the highest since 1996.
It is not the first time that Orbán has used images and symbols prior to the Treaty of Trianon, signed in 1920 between the allies and the Kingdom of Hungary and in which the new map of Europe was drawn after the disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Hungarian leader had already sent slightly masked messages to revisionism, but now they take on another symbolism in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview with state broadcaster this spring, Orbán declared that countries with “seas and ports can transport oil by tanker,” alluding to Croatia, which would have “parts” of the Adriatic coast that was part of the Greater Hungary. “If they hadn’t taken it away from us, we would also have a port,” she emphasized. In addition, the president uploaded to Facebook in 2020 an image of the globe in which the Greater Hungary. The publication was accompanied by a text about the students’ history exams. The Hungarian Executive has also approved public policies to try to recover the “Hungarian nation”. A recent educational reform forces the Romanian region of Transylvania to be presented as the home of the Hungarians.
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The Hungarian authorities have been promoting historical revisionism for years. In June 2019, Romania and Slovenia condemned the publication on the hungary.hu website, managed by Orbán’s cabinet, of a map of the Greater Hungary in which neighboring states each “break off” a piece of the country, like Romania taking Transylvania. At the end of the same year, Orbán drew the ire of the Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, after the Hungarian leader chaired a meeting of his Fidesz party with the geographical representation of the Greater Hungary as a backdrop. The Hungarian historical space also contained parts of present-day Croatia.
Orbán often presents himself as the leader not only of Hungary’s nearly 10 million people, but also of the “millions” of ethnic Magyars living in neighboring countries, who have been granted citizenship and status by his government. right to vote. In 2010, the Hungarian Parliament passed a controversial law making it easier to grant nationality to people of Hungarian ancestry. This summer, the ultra-conservative leader starred in another scandal by assuring that Hungary does not want to become a country of “mixed races” and charge against the “mixture of races” in Europe. His illiberal rhetoric has sparked outrage in community institutions. “There are countries where non-European peoples mix with Europeans, while in Central Europe (only) Europeans remain. We are not of mixed races and we do not want to be either,” Orbán asserted in the Transylvanian town of Baile Tusnad.
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