Hungary’s western media coverage often makes it seem like Hungarians live under some kind of soft totalitarian regime and the vast majority outright despises the Fidesz government. Who in their right mind would support pro-family right-wing nationalists anyway? And when I claim that western bias against Hungary in most legacy media outlets is real, I am not referring to subjective perceptions, but a phenomenon that was already objectively measured back in 2021. Later, when the Fidesz government scored another historic landslide victory in April 2022, after recovering from their initial shock, the same pundits who had suggested the ruling parties were losing support either silent or blamed the outcome on unfair election practices, extreme gerrymandering and widespread suppression of the opposition. Nothing that we have not heard before. The truth is, those familiar with Hungarian politics could easily foresee another term for Fidesz, simply because people tend to favour certainty in uncertain times. The war in Ukraine and the subsequent economic crises made everyone think twice before voting for the unproven and untested mystery box of the six-party coalition the united opposition chose to run with. Especially against the economic growth and political stability they came to associate with Fidesz over the last decade.
Now, we have a new study to prove Hungarians are in fact satisfied with their government, and more so than any other people in the region. The Nézőpont Institute’s new poll, published in July 2022, examined satisfaction levels in twelve Central European countries, and some of the results might come as surprise. The study used a sample of a thousand individuals in each country, representative of age, sex, region, type of settlement and education level. Topping the twelve-country list is Hungary – with 61 per cent satisfied and only 31 per cent dissatisfied with the government’s job – followed closely by Serbia, then Austria, while the most dissatisfied turned out to be Slovakia and Bulgaria, where less than a quarter approve their country’s current direction.
The study used a sample of a thousand individuals in each country
If we chart the results one by one in order of percentage of ‘satisfied’ answers, the differences are even more striking. One thing that immediately stands out is that only the Hungarian and Serb governments have a positive balance. Everywhere else, including Austria, the majority expressed discontent with their governments’ performances, with less than a third of the population approved of them in half of the countries surveyed.
The safety and security of their own people come first
Now, there could be a myriad of country-specific reasons behind these results, so any attempt to identify them all would be futile. Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that the current economic situation (heavily affected by the certain countries’ response to the war in Ukraine) plays a major role in how people evaluate their governments. Coincidentally, that is the area where Hungary and Serbia are the most apparent outliers too. For instance, the Serbian government not only ignored all the EU sanctions against Russia but managed to close an ‘extremely favorable’ deal on the importing of Russian natural gas in May. In a similar move, Hungary was able to secure opt-outs from the European Union’s recent oil embargo in order to make sure the country continues to have access to a steady and affordable supply of hydrocarbons. To be fair, Hungary’s and Serbia’s stance on the Russian invasion is quite different – the former condemns the aggression and supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, while the latter found itself in some sort of grey area between the West and the East, where war is morally unacceptable but bad memories of Belgrade’s NATO bombing still linger; nonetheless, their practical position is the same: the safety and security of their own people come first, everything else later. Meanwhile, the other side of the same spectrum seems to be crawling with everyone else; the vast majority of western countries have signed up on the endless succession of sanctions and embargoes aimed to cripple the Russian economy, regardless of how harmful they are to our own.
The financial, energy and food security crises ahead of us will likely dwarf everything this generation saw before. In times like this, as shown by these results as well, people expect their leader to prepare for and do everything to alleviate the coming hardships, and not to partake in senseless moral posturing. Yes, sanctions do hold certain strategic values and so does supporting Ukraine with all the aid we can muster – but only for the time being. We are fast approaching a threshold after which our grand actions of solidarity no longer hold any benefit to speak of, besides boosting our egos. And when Europeans are feeling the effects of our own sanctions come winter, then saving Ukraine at whatever cost will suddenly be much less appealing. It seems like Europeans already know that only their leaders are reluctant to listen.