This is how the Russian press sees Hungary and the Hungarian government

2022-01-10

While much of the Western press has a negative view of the Hungarian government, Russian media is almost exclusively positive about the Hungarian government's actions. To help understand this contradiction, Political Capital's latest study, which includes a detailed content analysis of Russian-language media coverage of Hungary, provides a comprehensive consideration of this issue.

In Russian media space, most of the influential Russian-language media outlets with wide public reach are directly or indirectly controlled by the Kremlin. Therefore, articles reporting and evaluating Hungarian government decisions in this media space are essentially a reflection of the Kremlin leadership's attitude towards its Hungarian partners. According to the study, this attitude is positive: in Russian media space, the Hungarian government does not need to fear "attacks".

The study, which uses qualitative methods, narrative analysis and fact-checking, concludes that the positive attitude of the Russian media is largely determined by the Hungarian government's political-ideological proximity to that of the Putin regime. Researchers also found that Russian media perceive the Hungarian government's actions almost exclusively in the European or Ukrainian context, and local opinion polls show that the public pays little attention to Hungary. All this suggests that Russian government propaganda basically sees Hungary and the Hungarian government as an instrument in its own aggressive foreign policy toolkit.

 

Main findings of the study

  • Supporting Russia’s attempt to break out of the diplomatic isolation. While the Hungarian government often accuses Western media of attacks against Hungary, it has absolutely no reason to fear such "attacks" from the mainstream Russian press, where media outlets mostly convey a positive or neutral image of the country and the current Hungarian government. The presentation of the Hungarian government's very friendly policy towards Russia is useful for the Kremlin because it can counter concerns about Russia's isolation from the West with the friendly attitude of an EU and NATO member state. In this respect, the Hungarian government receives a lot of attention in Russian media, where the overwhelmingly positive news, opinions and assessments of Viktor Orbán and his government's policy towards Russia are frequently reported. However, this harmony is broken by the Kremlin's mouthpieces whenever it suits the Putin regime: for example, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Rossiya 1 television branded the uprising as the first colour revolution, while Sputnik International's online columns called on Hungary to veto EU sanctions against Russia. Another prime example was presented in the infamous "tank scandal" triggered by an article in Hídfő in 2014 that falsely asserted Hungary was providing tanks to Ukraine.
  • The role of the "battering ram". The Hungarian government's conflicts with the European Union have also generated extensive coverage in the Russian media, which seeks to support the Kremlin's narrative of a divided and incapacitated Europe. In this context, Hungary often appears as an instrument of Moscow. An article in Sputnik is telling in this respect: 'Russia is preparing to use Hungary as an anti-sanctions battering ram.' In the examined media, Hungary is presented as the defender of a “traditions-based” Europe. Russian media regularly present Western criticism of the Hungarian government's actions, and then defend the Hungarian government's position in support of the traditional family model. In these materials, Hungary is praised as a follower of the Russian example. It is important to note that the current Hungarian parliament has on several occasions passed legislation similar to Russian laws restricting fundamental rights: the 2017 “NGO-law” was in several points identical to its Russian counterpart, and the "Child Protection Law" on LGBTQ people is stricter than its Russian example.
  • Disinformation to sour Hungarian-Ukrainian relations. The conflict in eastern Ukraine is one of the main topics of Kremlin-directed propaganda. As part of the information warfare, the pro-Kremlin media seek to discredit Ukraine on the international stage, absolve Russia of its active role in the conflict and portray the Kiev government as the aggressor. The strident tone of the Hungarian-Ukrainian dispute, which has escalated in recent years, helps the Kremlin to use the disagreement between Budapest and Kiev in its own anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Material published in the Russian-language media with the assistance of Hungarian "experts" sometimes leaks into the Ukrainian media, which can then have an impact on the Ukrainian majority and the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia. An example of this is a Hungarian "expert", unknown in our country: In 2018, Miklós Keveházy appeared on the TV channel Rossiya 1's 60 Minutes program, where he claimed, among other things, that Viktor Orbán was being urged by his pseudo-advisors to "just try" to occupy Transcarpathia. These statements, which completely contradicted facts, quickly found their way into the Ukrainian media, providing ammunition for the Ukrainian far right. Keveházy has since become part of the Kremlin's general propaganda, recently claiming to small Russian portals, for example, that George Soros was behind the Pegasus affair or the crisis in the Bulgarian government. The Russian media have invested a lot of energy in selling him as a "Hungarian political advisor", so if the Kremlin needs to stir up trouble in Hungarian-Ukrainian relations again, they can pull out the "Keveházy card" at any time.

 

This project was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.