Orbán and Vučić in the 2022 electoral campaign: A mutually beneficial partnership

Since they came to power in 2010 and 2012 respectively, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and President Aleksandar Vučić have developed a strong political partnership. Both leaders have been classified as illiberal, populist, and authoritarian by international organizations, such as Freedom House and V-Dem Institute. These characteristics can partially explain their inclination to cooperate, especially in the context of criticism coming from the European Union. Orbán and Vučić provide each other with international legitimization and support, which they have partially lost over the years due to the way they have governed their respective countries.

Cooperation between the two leaders has significantly intensified in recent years. Since the start of 2020, there have been eight official bilateral meetings, often coming at crucial political moments, such as the introduction of states of emergency in Hungary and Serbia at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Cooperation between Orbán and Vučić has taken multiple forms and has been especially relevant in the context of Serbia’s EU accession process. European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement since 2019, Olivér Várhelyi, who is widely seen as being influenced by the government in Budapest, has been accused of influencing reporting on the candidate countries, Serbia in particular, with the aim of removing or toning down critical assessments.[1] Members of the European Parliament from the ruling Fidesz party have likewise spoken and voted against critical assessments of Serbia in the annual reports on the country. Until 2021, both Fidesz and Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) were also members of the European People’s Party (EPP) until the former withdrew to avoid expulsion. SNS remains an associated member of EPP, but it has kept a low profile within the organization in recent years.

In June 2021, the Government of Hungary published several full-page advertisements in high-profile European newspapers, outlining Orbán’s priorities for the future of the European Union. The final, seventh point, urged for the immediate accession of Serbia to the EU. No other candidate countries were mentioned. This position of the Hungarian government was not new, and Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó had already stressed it on several occasions, including in his speech at a pro-government rally organized by the SNS in April 2019 as a reaction to the large-scale anti-government protests in Serbia.

An important mediating role in the relationship is played by the dominant Hungarian minority party in Serbia, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMSZ). Its leader István Pásztor often points out that he had first introduced Vučić and Orbán to each other. The VMSZ has been for some time a dominant party representing the Hungarian national minority in Serbia, and the only Hungarian national minority party to win seats in the national and provincial assembly of Vojvodina in 2020. It strongly supported both leaders, urging its voters with Hungarian citizenship to vote for Fidesz in the 2022 Hungarian parliamentary election, as well as for Aleksandar Vučić in the 2022 presidential election.

The political partnership between Vučić and Orbán was also in evidence during the 2022 election campaign, which took place simultaneously in Hungary and Serbia, as elections were held on the exact same day, 3 April. One of the high points of the campaign in Serbia was the opening of the new high-speed railway between Novi Sad and Belgrade, in which Orbán also participated. In addition, the coverage of the Hungarian election campaign in the pro-government Serbian media was very biased towards Fidesz and Orbán, creating a positive image of the Hungarian prime minister. In fact, according to the June poll by Demostat, Orbán is by far the most popular leader of a neighboring country among Serbian citizens.

[1]  Allegations of this practice have been made by several high- profile media, including Der Standard, Politico and Deutsche Welle.

Aleksandar Ivković, Nikola Burazer
European Western Balkans

 

The link to the original publication can be found: here.

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"Election Monitoring in Hungary and its Diaspora" research is conducted with the support of the International Republican Institute's Beacon Project. It is conducted in Hungary and select countries with a significant Hungarian diaspora: Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not reflect those of IRI.