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Sensemaker: Orbán does Dallas

Sensemaker: Orbán does Dallas

What just happened

Long stories short

  • China announced live fire military exercises in a ring of exclusion zones round Taiwan after Nancy Pelosi flew in to pledge US support.
  • Mexico said former president Peña Nieta was being investigated for money laundering.
  • Laurence Rudolph, an American dentist and big game hunter, was found guilty of killing his wife while on safari to collect her life insurance policies.

Orbán does Dallas

Hungary’s provocateur prime minister flies to Texas today to give a keynote address to America’s biggest annual conference of conservatives. Will he go full tonto? The question arises because last week he absolutely did. In a speech in Romania he said Hungary should not become “mixed-race” and that countries that allowed Europeans and non-Europeans to mix were “no longer nations”.

That led to calls for his appearance tomorrow to be cancelled, but it wasn’t. “Let’s listen to the man speak,” said Matt Schlapp, chair of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “We’ll see what he says.”

The adulation Orbán can expect at the conference is in stark contrast to the welcome he receives in Europe, where he’s become a byword for bigotry and seems to be deliberately sabotaging EU efforts to stand up to Putin as a bloc. Last week he was

  • condemned by Romania’s foreign minister for his “mixed race” speech, which the International Auschwitz Committee called “ignorant and dangerous”; 
  • booed by protesters in Vienna; and
  • rebuked for aiming the speech at “the most vile racists”, according to one of his own close advisors, who then quit.

The response from the EU itself was more muted. It wasn’t until 30 July that Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, reminded Orbán that race-based discrimination is against EU law. “All EU member states, including Hungary, signed up to common global values,” she said.

Enfant terrible. Orbán is now the longest-serving leader in the bloc, and has vexed the EU executive since his return to power in 2010. Soon after taking office he drafted a new constitution that undermined key EU laws on the judiciary and economic governance. Since then he has proudly described Hungary as an “illiberal democracy” and aligned with other populist European parties, notably Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, with each side using a veto to shield the other from official censure. 

A key source of tension has been Hungary’s efforts to cosy up to Putin’s Russia:

  • Orbán travelled to Saint Petersburg in 2009, when Putin was prime minister, and is believed to have used the visit to reassure Moscow that Budapest would be an ally in the years to come.
  • When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Orbán disapproved of EU sanctions, arguing they would damage the European economy. Weeks before the annexation, he signed an agreement with Russia to expand Hungary’s only nuclear power plant.
  • In February 2015, Putin received a warm welcome in Budapest much to the ire of Hungary’s European allies.

The close relationship has continued. While Poland has backed tough action against Putin since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Orbán delayed a package of EU sanctions until he had negotiated an exemption on Russian oil imports.

On Saturday Poland’s prime minister said “the paths of Poland and Hungary have diverged” due to Budapest’s position in the war.

What next? There are concerns about Budapest potentially blocking Ukraine from progressing to the pre-accession stage of the EU enlargement process over the approximately 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the western Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia (Ukraine, alongside Moldova, received EU candidate status in June).

There is precedent. Since 2018 Budapest has blocked Ukraine’s attempts to join Nato over allegations that Kyiv is abusing the rights of Hungarians in Transcarpathia due to a language law which made teaching in Ukrainian mandatory in secondary schools. This position prompted many policy makers to regard Orbán’s Fidesz government as a Russian trojan horse within the EU.

Despite an economic downturn, Orbán remains in a strong political position having just won a fourth successive term in office. The EU has to maintain unity as war rages on in Ukraine. Orbán says he’s merely acting in the interests of the Hungarian people. It’s an argument very few are buying in Europe, but Dallas might be more indulgent.

Amanda Coakley is a central Europe correspondent based in Budapest.


CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE

Not levelling down
Liz Truss may be cruising towards Number 10 but that doesn’t mean she can’t make spectacular rookie errors on the way. Having promised immediate tax cuts she needed to find savings in public expenditure. She backed regional pay deals, which her advisors said might yield a useful £8.8 billion, but failed to realise she was in practice advocating pay cuts for teachers and nurses outside London during the worst cost-of-living squeeze in memory. When this was pointed out she lied that the policy had been misrepresented, but dropped it as if scalded anyway. Team Sunak was delighted, but the hyper-quick damage limitation (the whole affair lasted 12 hours) may be what counts here. Who cares about policy when politics comes naturally?


TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THINGS

QAnon’s truth 
After being banned from Twitter and Facebook, Donald Trump’s response was to build his own social media mouthpiece, Truth Social. Getting users onto a new platform isn’t easy even for a former US president with a vocal base, but something seems to be working. Although it’s a far cry from the 88.7 million followers Trump had on Twitter before being banned post-January 6, he has 3.63 million followers on TS, and this analysis from Media Matters suggests a reason: Truth Social has been deliberately firing up QAnon followers – who believe a global cabal of elites is running a Satanic child sex-trafficking and cannabilism ring and that Trump is leading a holy war against them – to sign up to the platform. One of the first accounts set up by its administrators was “@Q”, a reference to the namesake of QAnon, who soon began using the platform to promote the conspiracy – and by extension Trump. Truth Social’s CEO, the former Republican congressman Devin Nunes, has also tagged the @Q account in multiple posts and amplified messages from the original QAnon forum. The account is unlikely to be run by the “real” Q – but that’s beside the point. One QAnon influencer posted that Nunes’ interactions were giving her “hope”, and the feeling of being “one step removed” from talking with Trump. 


The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Kansas votes 
In the first state-level electoral test of abortion rights since Roe v Wade was overturned, Kansans voted by a large majority in favour of abortion rights. Projections suggest 60 per cent voted to uphold a constitutional right to abortion in the state. The referendum was included on the primary day ballot and Kansas officials said voter turnout was significantly higher than expected in a state where Republicans usually outnumber Democrats by two to one at the ballot box. The result is likely to inspire hope in the Democratic camp that the Supreme Court’s Roe decision will galvanise voters in the forthcoming midterms. It will also encourage groups working to use state legislatures and constitutions as defenders of abortion access. It’s a significant defeat for Kansas anti-abortion campaigners, who had Republican representatives behind them and $3 million in funding from the Catholic Church. 


Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Dung battle
Farmers’ protests have turned violent in the Netherlands, where undercover police staged an arrest on Monday and climate deniers have found a new focus for a rearguard action against EU-backed emissions policies. The arrest took place during a demonstration at Almelo, almost a week after highways in the central and eastern parts of the country were blocked by manure and garbage. The protesters have transcended their initial goal of opposing the Dutch government’s climate agenda – which includes cutting nitrogen-based fertiliser usage in favour of manure – and are now seen by some as part of a movement to defend farmers’ traditional identities. Globally, populists have weighed in in support: Trump and Le Pen have accused the Dutch government of “climate tyranny”. As Biden’s climate agenda gains steam, fears mount of a similar response in America. 


CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING

Pelosi to Taiwan
There are two ways of looking at Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan: hers or Biden’s. Vital or crazy. An essential stand against autocracy, or a needless provocation just when Washington needs Chinese cooperation over Ukraine. The former is articulated in her own Washington Post op-ed, published as she landed yesterday with the highest level US delegation to Taipei in 25 years. She says America’s 43 year-old vow to support Taiwan as a beacon of “peace, security and economic dynamism” needs renewing, now more than ever. The latter is set out with feeling (and impeccable sourcing) by Tom Friedman in the NYT. Friedman says only strenuous backchannel diplomacy by the Biden administration has prevented China arming Russia in Ukraine with its best drones, for instance. And that diplomacy could now unravel. Maybe, but get this: Congress is remarkably united behind Taiwan as it is behind Ukraine. Is it too much to hope that the warmongering dictatorships threatening these two countries might have jolted American democracy out of its polarised paralysis?  

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what you think. Send an email to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Amanda Coakley
@amandamcoakley

Jessica Winch
@jswinch

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images


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