Will Russia meddle in Hungary’s upcoming election?

October 13, 2017

Will Russia have to meddle in Hungary’s upcoming election?
Photo: Kremlin

Will Russia meddle in Hungary’s upcoming election?

Probably not. Hungary’s ruling party and Jobbik, the country’s second-largest party, are about as pro-Kremlin as they get. This, combined with Hungary’s government-dominated media landscape, will ensure that the Kremlin’s talking points flow to the Hungarian electorate without much resistance.

And that pretty much summarizes a new study by Political Capital, a Budapest-based think-tank and consultancy, on Russian influence in the Czech, Austrian, and Hungarian elections.

According to Political Capital,

  • Hungary’s pro-Russian government dominates the country’s media landscape;
  • The Hungarian government’s hostile attacks on civil society already play out according to the Kremlin playbook;
  • In Hungary, there is almost no information warfare because there is practically no opponent in the mainstream media to fight, and pro-Russian disinformation comes directly from government-organized media;
  • Of the three countries assessed by Political Capital, Hungary is the least likely to experience election meddling given the strong pro-Russian stance of the ruling Hungarian Fidesz-KDNP, and its main challenger, the far-right Jobbik; and
  • Lucrative business deals between Russia and Hungary have a tendency to pop up before elections. These deals may incentivize Hungary’s ruling party alliance to play by the Kremlin’s rulebook, as in the case of the Paks 2 deal in 2014 and a recent agreement between the Hungarian state and Gazprom for the use of gas storage facilities in Hungary.

In other words, Russia does not necessarily have to meddle in the spring 2018 election. It is in the Orbán government’s interest to make sure that things in Hungary continue along this path.

According to Political Capital, there are about “100 locally-operated, Hungarian-speaking, Russia-linked disinformation sites present in Hungary, selling pro-Kremlin narratives within the more attractive, tabloid conspiracy package.”

Coupled with the Hungarian government’s own strongly pro-Russian narratives (which are promulgated by the vast pro-government media establishment), there really is no reason for Russia to push the envelope when it comes to injecting the Kremlin’s agenda into the minds and hearts of the Hungarian electorate.

The Hungarian-Russian echo chamber

“Russian disinformation is expected to amplify the government’s domestic propaganda against its possible rivals as it happened with the anti-migration, anti-George Soros campaign,” Political Capital writes.

The think-tank adds that the Kremlin is already quoting Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s views on George Soros – namely that Soros is “driving the invasion” of mass migration into Europe – on the Russian state-owned media outlet Russia Today.

“This narrative partially comes from Russia, thus creating an echo chamber between Hungarian government-organized media and the Kremlin-controlled media outlets,” Political Capital writes.