Prime Minister Orbán returns greeting from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, Latvia (photo: AFP).
On May 21, 2015, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the top European Union-level official, individually greeted the heads of all delegations attending the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, Latvia.
Standing on stage between Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland and Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma of Latvia, Juncker commented in a loud, jocular voice as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary approached: “the dictator is coming.” Juncker then extended his arm to shake hands and addressed Orbán directly as “dictator” and playfully slapped him on the side of the head (see video of greeting).
On January 23, 2015, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held talks with European Union officials in Brussels during which they discussed his recent comments against non-European immigration (see Je Suis Viktor) and the impending official visit to Hungary of Russian President Vladimir Putin (source in Hungarian).
After the talks Prime Minister Orbán and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shook hands and smiled for the cameras. However, instead of loosening his grip at the end of the joint photo-op, Juncker said “Let’s go now!” and led Orbán off stage by the hand in a gesture calculated to symbolize the assertion of European Union authority over the previously defiant, euro-skeptic prime minister of Hungary (see video below).
Until recently, Orbán would not have allowed himself to be placed in a position of such blatant and humiliating subordination, particularly toward an official from the European Union.
However, over the past couple of months his position has weakened considerably both internally and externally:
According to all five major polling companies in Hungary, the popularity of the prime minister’s Fidesz–Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) governing alliance has declined sharply among Hungarian voters since October (source in Hungarian);
Unprecedented public conflict has taken place among Fidesz government and National Assembly officials since November, suggesting that the Orbán administration’s previously rock-solid internal cohesion is diminishing (see Another Cleft in the Monolith);
Officials from the dominant countries within in the European and Euro-Atlantic alliances that provide Hungary with vital developmental funding and military protection—Germany and the United States—have sent strong messages to the Orbán government that they will no longer tolerate its autocratic and explicitly illiberal domestic policies (see Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State) and reluctance to support collective measures designed to penalize the Putin administration for Russia’s occupation of Crimea and proxy attacks on Ukraine (see Teutonic Shift and The Spectacular Fall);
And the main foreign-policy endeavor of the Orbán government, building (economic) ties with the rapidly developing states of Asia, Eurasia and the Middle East through in what it refers to as Eastern Opening [keleti nyitás], has failed to produce the anticipated results (source in Hungarian).
The above factors, coupled with the greater emphasis that European states have placed on internal unity to combat Jihadist terrorism following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in early January 2015, have apparently compelled Prime Minister Orbán to at least temporarily steer Hungary back toward the western political sphere.
The political force in Hungary that stands to benefit the most from Orbán’s volte-face: the radical-nationalist Jobbik party, which opinion polls show has gained popularity among Hungarian voters as that of Fidesz-KDNP has declined (see source in Hungarian and 24 Bastions). Jobbik will likely generate significant political profit from the anti-liberal, anti-capitalist, anti-European Union, anti-West sentiment that Prime Minister Orbán has so proficiently incited among Hungarians over the past five years in order to legitimize his authoritarian domestic policies, though now appears ready to moderate or abandon.