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Hungarian Prime Minister Shows Why American Right Embraces Him

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban received a warm reception Thursday in Texas, where he was a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a major event on the calendar of the right wing of the Republican Party.  

 

In remarks that ran for approximately 30 minutes, Orban demonstrated why he has become popular among American conservatives, rattling off a litany of claims and accomplishments that dovetailed with many American conservative voters’ priorities.  

 

Orban touted his country’s low crime rate, its success at preventing immigrants from crossing its borders, its crackdown on the political left, its restrictions on the rights of gay and transgender individuals, and its low taxes. 

 

He cast liberals and progressives as history’s great villains and urged audience members to fight to place “Christian values” at the center of their politics.  

 

“The horrors of Nazism and communism happened because some Western states in continental Europe abandoned their Christian values,” Orban said. “And today’s progressives are planning to do the same. They want to give up on Western values and create a new world — a post-Western world. Who is going to stop them if you don’t?” 

Seen as strongman

Orban, 59, began his career as a radical liberal, but over the years he steered the political party Fidesz, which he had helped found, in a more populist and conservative direction. He remains president of the party. 

 

When he became prime minister for the second time in 2010 (he had held the office from 1998 to 2002), Orban moved quickly to consolidate both political and cultural power in Hungary, facilitated by Fidesz’s two-thirds majority in parliament, which allowed it to draft a new constitution.  

 

The revised constitution, which went into effect in 2012, wrote Hungarian nationalism and Christianity into the country’s laws and helped cement Fidesz’s political dominance. A new electoral system was put in place that allowed the party to retain more than two-thirds of the body’s seats in the 2014 elections despite earning 44.5% of the votes cast. 

 

Transparency International has characterized Hungary’s elections as “free but not fair.” Citizens can cast votes, and the votes are accurately counted, but the structure of the system ensures that Fidesz consistently wins representation that far exceeds its share of the votes. 

 

Judicial, press freedom curtailed

In addition to dominating parliament, Orban has restructured the Hungarian judiciary, reducing its independence and installing judges sympathetic to his administration.  

 

At the same time, the government has passed laws limiting freedom of speech and cracking down on independent media. Allies of Orban, meanwhile, have created a pervasive conservative media ecosystem that dominates the airwaves and generally echoes the positions of the Orban government.  

“Since returning to power in 2010, Orban has unceasingly attacked media pluralism and independence. After public broadcasting was turned into a propaganda organ, many private media were taken over or silenced,” according to the organization Reporters Without Borders. “The ruling party, Fidesz, has seized de facto control of 80% of the country’s media through political-economic maneuvers and the purchase of news organizations by friendly oligarchs.” 

 

The prime minister’s many critics argue he is an autocrat who has turned his country of 10 million people in the heart of Europe into a near-dictatorship. Orban has also been widely criticized for appointing friends and relatives to positions of authority and for turning a blind eye to corruption among senior leaders. 

 

U.S. President Joe Biden, when campaigning for the presidency, characterized Orban as a “totalitarian” and a “thug.” 

 

Multiple controversies

Under Orban’s leadership, Hungary has passed laws discriminating against LGBTQ people and has made preserving Hungary’s culture — as Orban defines it — a key element of his mission as prime minister. 

 

His defense of Hungarian culture has, according to his critics, frequently come close to explicit racism. 

 

In a 2018 speech, for example, he said, “We must state that we do not want to be diverse and do not want to be mixed: We do not want our own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others. … We do not want to be a diverse country.” 

 

Just last week, in a speech delivered in Romania, Orban criticized other European countries for allowing the “mixing” of people of different races. Referring to Hungary, Orban said, “We are not a mixed race, and we do not want to become a mixed race.” 

 

Those remarks prompted widespread denunciations from other world leaders, particularly within the European Union. One of Orban’s own senior advisers resigned, calling the speech “pure Nazi text.” 

 

Asked about Orban’s comments, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted, “All EU member states, including Hungary, signed up to common global values.”

“Discriminating on the basis of race is to trample on those values,” she said. “The European Union is built on equality, tolerance, justice and fair play.” 

 

American following

Over the past several years, Orban has amassed a considerable following among U.S. conservatives, chief among them former President Donald Trump. Comparing their governing styles, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has described Orban as “Trump before Trump.” 

The former president has personally praised Orban on a number of occasions, and on Wednesday he posted pictures of himself with the prime minister, who visited Trump in Florida, on the social media site Truth Social. 

 

“Great spending time with my friend, Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary,” Trump wrote. “We discussed many interesting topics — few people know as much about what is going on in the world today.” 

 

Major figures in American conservative media frequently praise Orban and his policies. Fox News host Tucker Carlson has produced a documentary on Hungary under Orban, met with the leader in Budapest, and even filmed his nightly television show there for a week last year. 

 

‘A lot to learn from Orban’

Rod Dreher, an editor at The American Conservative magazine, characterizes himself as an Orban “booster.” Writing from CPAC in advance of the Hungarian leader’s speech Thursday, he said, “American conservatives have a lot to learn from Orban.”  

He continued: “The United States is not Hungary, and some of what works there would not work here. Nevertheless, I appreciate Orban’s aggressive conservatism, especially his social conservatism, when compared with the all-hat-no-cattle version we tend to get from American conservatives. And, I appreciate how Orban instinctively knows that we are in a struggle for the future of Western civilization — and acts like it.” 

 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who some point to as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, is also an admirer of Orban, according to his press secretary.  

 

Last year, DeSantis signed a bill into law that barred public school employees from discussing topics such as homosexuality and transgender identities. The restrictions were so broad that the legislation became known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. 

 

At the time, DeSantis’ press secretary suggested the effort was modeled on Orban’s laws in Hungary, saying, “We were watching the Hungarians and were inspired by their legislation.”

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Erdogan and Putin to Meet in Sochi for 2nd Time in a Month

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. A just-concluded deal on freeing up Ukrainian grain, along with Russian backing for a new Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces will be on the agenda.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Friday meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the Black Sea resort of Sochi will be the second time the two leaders have met in a month.

The meeting comes just after the first ship carrying Ukrainian grain left the Black Sea under a Turkey-U.N.-brokered deal between Kyiv and Moscow.

Analyst Ilhan Uzgel of the Duvar news portal said Erdogan’s success in brokering the U.N. deal and the Sochi meeting sends a powerful message to Turkey’s western allies about the Turkish leader.

“It helps to ameliorate his troublemaker image internationally and regionally. He is still trying to show that he can make deals with Putin, showing to the United States and Biden administration that Putin is a close ally and friend of Erdogan. He can meet Putin twice a month,” he said.

Zaur Gasimov, a professor of history at Bonn University and a specialist on Turkish-Russian relations, said, with Ankara pursuing a balanced approach to the Ukrainian conflict, the grain deal will further deepen ties between Russia and Turkey.

“The current Turkish Russian relations have definite bonds with the current war in Ukraine. Ukraine wheat exports is a new chapter for the region, and Turkey plays a quite significant role as an intermediary. And also, close military cooperation between Ukraine and Turkey and the aspect of Turkey not joining the anti-Russian sanctions all that results in dynamics that are of importance to Moscow and for Ankara,” he said.

Turkey-Russia relations are intertwined from North Africa to the Middle East, to the Caucasus, in a mixture of rivalries and cooperation. The two also have a deepening partnership on energy.

Analyst Uzgel said Erdogan hopes the Sochi meeting will help resolve an impasse with Putin over Syria. The Turkish leader is looking to launch a major offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces, which Ankara accuses of being linked to an insurgency inside Turkey.

“They have already met in Tehran two weeks ago. It seems that Erdogan could not get what he wanted from Putin. The permission for a Turkish incursion in northern Syria, where he openly stated the names of two places, Tel Rifat and Manbij. Most likely that he is looking for the possibility of such a military move into Northern Syria,” he said.

Ankara needs Moscow’s cooperation for its military operation, given that Russia controls Syrian airspace.

Analyst Gasimov said Putin is wary of Turkey’s growing military presence in Syria but says the two leaders are experienced in managing differences.

“Definitely, we see certain inconveniences on both sides but also the very huge readiness to discuss it with each other,” he said.

That readiness to talk and the growing list of common interests across the region means the frequent meetings between the two leaders may become a regular thing.

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Months Into War, Ukraine Refugees Slow to Join EU Workforce

Liudmyla Chudyjovych used to have a career as a lawyer in Ukraine and big plans for the future. That was before the Russian invasion forced the 41-year-old to put her daughter’s safety first and leave both her job and home behind.

Since fleeing the town of Stryj in western Ukraine in May, Chudyjovych has found a new job in the Czech Republic. But instead of practicing law, she’s had to settle for work as a housekeeper at a hotel in the capital, Prague.

“It’s just a different stage of my career,” she said. “That’s simply how it is.”

One of the millions of refugees who have fled Ukraine since the Feb. 24 Russian invasion, Chudyjovych considers herself lucky to have a job at all. Not fluent enough in either Czech or English, Chudyjovych said she didn’t mind the work as long as she and her daughter are safe.

Although the European Union introduced regulations early in the war to make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to live and work in its 27 member nations while they decide whether to seek asylum or return home, many are only now starting to find jobs — and many are still struggling.

Some 6.5 million Ukrainians, have entered the EU since February, according to Frontex, the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency, streaming into neighboring countries before many moved on to more prosperous nations in the West. Around half have since returned to Ukraine.

Only a relatively small number of those who stayed had entered the EU labor market by mid-June, according to the European Commission.

A recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report looking at the potential impact Ukrainian refugees will have on the EU workforce projected it will be about twice as large as the 2014-17 inflow of refugees, which included many fleeing war in Syria.

The study estimated the Czech Republic, which has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe, would add the most Ukrainians to its workforce by the end of the year, with an increase of 2.2%, followed by Poland and Estonia. About 1.2 million workers would be added to the European workforce overall, mainly in service occupations, the report said.

Still, the influx is unlikely to drive down wages or boost unemployment in European countries, many of which face labor shortages due in part to their aging populations.

“Considering the labor needs of the main host countries, a negative impact in terms of employment or wages for the resident population … seems very unlikely,” the report concluded.

The EU effort to help the Ukrainians has won praise from the U.N. Refugee Agency and other rights groups dealing with migration. But they also note a major difference in the treatment of people fleeing wars or poverty in the Middle East, Africa or Asia, who often have to wait years before overcoming the hurdles for acquiring residency papers or work permits.

Still, there are many challenges ahead for Ukrainian refugees looking for work.

In addition to language barriers, skilled workers from Ukraine often lack documentation to prove their professional credentials to get better-paid employment. Their diplomas may not be recognized in their host countries, meaning many have to take language and training courses before they can seek professional opportunities.

Because men between the ages of 18 and 60 are banned from leaving Ukraine, many refugees are women with children, which can be an additional obstacle for trying to find work. Many women are still weighing their options and might decide to return home for the start of the school year in September, officials say, despite the war being far from over.

In Poland, which has taken in about 1 million Ukrainian refugees, more than any other EU nation, just over a third have found work, according to the Polish minister of labor and social policy, Marlena Malag. Some have gotten jobs as nurses or Ukrainian language teachers in Polish schools, while others are working as housekeepers or waitresses.

In Portugal, some of the country’s largest companies have special job recruitment programs for Ukrainians, while the Institute for Employment and Professional Training offers free Portuguese language classes.

In Germany, about half of some 900,000 Ukrainian refugees have registered with the country’s employment agency, though no figures are available on how many have actually found jobs. The Mediendienst Integration group, which tracks migration in Germany, says about half have university degrees, but doesn’t specify how many have been able to work in their professional fields.

Natalia Borysova was chief editor of a morning TV show in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv before fleeing with her daughters, 11 and 13, in March, and settling in the German city of Cologne. She applied for low-paying jobs such as housekeeping, but ultimately decided to turn them down to focus on learning German.

“I’m an optimist and I am sure that I will find a job after learning the language,” the 41-year-old said via WhatsApp. “Perhaps on a different level than in Ukraine, but in the same field. Now it just doesn’t make sense for me to work for the minimum wage.”

Borysova, like other Ukrainian refugees, receives an allowance from the German government that helps the family pay for food and housing, but said she wants to return to work as soon as she masters German.

Chudyjovych is among some 400,000 Ukrainians in the Czech Republic who have registered for special long-term visas that grant access to jobs, health care, education and other benefits. Nearly 80,000 have already found work, the government said.

At the Background café in Prague’s Old Town, 15 Ukrainian refugees work with the Czech staff as part of a project sponsored by the Mama Coffee chain. The refugees also receive free language classes and other programs.

Lisa Himich, 22, from Kyiv, likes it and says “it feels like home here.”

For Chudyjovych, working as a housekeeper is far better than living in fear and under the constant sound of air raid sirens.

“I thought I would miss Ukraine and be homesick but that hasn’t happened at all,” Chudyjovych said. “It’s peaceful here, and I feel like a human being.”

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Closing Arguments Expected in Griner’s Russia Trial

Closing arguments are expected Thursday in American basketball star Brittney Griner’s drug trial in a Russian court.

Griner is facing a potential sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted.

She was arrested at a Moscow airport in February with what she has acknowledged were vape cannisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.

Griner’s lawyers argued she had no criminal intent and had been prescribed the cannabis to treat pain. U.S. officials said she was wrongfully detained.

Russian officials have said Griner violated Russian law.

In a call last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to accept a prisoner swap that would send Griner and accused spy Paul Whelan – who U.S. officials say is also wrongfully detained – to the United States.

People familiar with the matter say the U.S. proposal would include releasing arms trader Viktor Bout to Russia.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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Iceland on Code Red as Volcano Erupts

A code red alert has been declared in Iceland after a volcano erupted Wednesday near the capital, Reykjavik, at a site that erupted last year, the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) said.

The IMO said the eruption took place in an unpopulated area 30 kilometers from the capital city and that no lives were in danger. 

The eruption is near the site of the Mount Fagradalsfjall volcano, which had been active from March to September of 2021.

If Wednesday’s volcanic activity is confirmed to be similar to the fissures seen last year, the code red aviation alert could be lowered to orange, signaling less danger, an agency spokesperson said.

Lava is reportedly coming from a crack in the ground, according to natural hazard specialist Einar Hjorleifsson, who spoke to Bloomberg.  

Iceland is also known for earthquakes that sometimes cause volcanic eruptions because two of the earth’s largest tectonic plates lie under the country.

Iceland has 32 volcanic areas that are currently active, the highest number in Europe. 

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Jews’ Silence Undermines Russia’s Claim of ‘Denazifying’ Ukraine

From the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Jewish community in Russia has not explicitly supported the military actions of the Kremlin, thus undermining President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russian forces are on a mission to denazify Ukraine. Russian Jews avoid talking about this issue, and many have chosen to leave the country. Marcus Harton narrates this report from VOA’s Moscow Bureau.

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Cold Showers, No Lights: Europe Saves as Russian Gas Wanes

PARIS – Fanning out like urban guerrillas through Paris’ darkened streets well after midnight, the anti-waste activists shinny up walls and drain pipes, reaching for switches to turn off the lights.

Click. Click. Click.

One by one, the outdoor lights that stores had left on are extinguished. It’s one small but symbolic step in a giant leap of energy saving that Europe is trying to make as it rushes to wean itself off natural gas and oil from Russia so factories aren’t forced to close and homes stay heated and powered.

Engineer Kevin Ha and his equally nimble friends had been acting against wasteful businesses in Paris long before Russia started cutting energy supplies to Europe in a battle of wills over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. As such, the campaigners were precursors of the energy economy drive becoming all the rage in France, Germany and elsewhere. Their message — that everyone can contribute — is almost word-for-word what public officials from cabinet ministers to mayors are saying now, too.

“Everyone can have a positive impact at their own level, by adopting good practices, by doing the right things to reduce their overall energy footprint,” the 30-year-old Ha said on a recent night of light-extinguishing on the Champs-Élysées boulevard.

The stakes are high. If Russia severs the supplies of gas it has already drastically reduced, authorities fear Europe risks becoming a colder, darker and less-productive place this winter. It’s imperative to economize gas now so it can be squirreled away for burning later in homes, factories and power plants, officials say.

“Europe needs to be ready,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “To make it through the winter, assuming that there is a full disruption of Russian gas, we need to save gas to fill our gas storages faster. And to do so, we have to reduce our gas consumption. I know that this is a big ask for the whole of the European Union, but it is necessary to protect us.”

And although Europe is scrambling to get energy from elsewhere, any difficulties this winter could be a harbinger of worse to come if Russian gas supplies are completely severed and stay off through 2023, said France’s minister overseeing energy, Agnès Pannier-Runacher.

“If gas deliveries are cut by the end of the year, that will mean we’ll have a full year without Russian gas, so the following winter could be even harder,” Pannier-Runacher told French senators.

Hence the mounting appeals — already familiar to exasperated parents of wasteful teenagers everywhere — for Europeans to take shorter showers, switch off power sockets and otherwise do what they can.

Germany had been getting about a third of its gas from Russia, making the EU’s biggest economy and most populous nation conspicuously vulnerable. Energy saving is in full swing, with lights going off, public pools becoming chilier and thermostats being adjusted.

The glass dome of the Reichstag, the parliament building in Berlin, is going dark after it closes to visitors at midnight, and two facades will no longer be lit. Legislators’ office temperatures will drop by 2 degrees to 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) this winter. Berlin City Hall, the Jewish Museum, two opera houses and the landmark Victory Column with panoramic views are among about 200 sites in the German capital that will no longer be lit at night.

Saunas are closing in Munich’s municipal swimming pools, which have chillier water now, too. There’ll only be cold showers at public pools in Hannover, part of a plan by the northern city to cut its energy use by 15%.

“The sum of all the contributions will help us get through this winter and be prepared for the next one,” said Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister. He also told news weekly Der Spiegel he has slashed the time he spends showering.

“It will be a demanding, stony road, but we can manage it,” he said.

With a campaign dubbed “Flip the Switch,” the Netherlands’ government is urging showers of no more than five minutes, using sun shades and fans instead of air conditioning, and air-drying laundry.

Under a law passed Monday in often-sweltering Spain, offices, stores and hospitality venues will no longer be allowed to set their thermostats below 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer, nor raise them above 19 degrees Celsius in winter.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez asked office workers to ditch neckties, presumably to lessen the temptation to use air conditioning. He led by example, appearing at a news conference in an open-necked shirt.

The Italian government also is recommending limits on heating and cooling in public buildings.

In France, the government is targeting a 10% reduction in energy use by 2024, with an “energy sobriety” drive. Mayors are also waging their own war on waste, with fines introduced for air-conditioned or heated stores that leave front doors open; others are working to limit the pain of soaring energy prices.

The 8,000 residents of Aureilhan, in the foothills of the Pyrenees in southwestern France, have been adjusting to nights without street lights since July 11. Extinguishing all 1,770 of them from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. will save money that Mayor Yannick Boubée would rather spend on roads and other maintenance. Otherwise, he said, the town’s 84,000-euro ($86,000) lighting bill in 2021 was on course to nearly triple next year.

“When it comes down to it, there’s no reason to keep the lights on at night,” he said by phone. “It is shaking up our way of thinking.”

Next will be convincing townspeople to agree to less-heated classrooms when schools reopen.

“We’re going to ask parents to put a pullover on their children, all measures that don’t cost anything,” he said. “We have no choice, unfortunately.”

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Britain’s Conservative Party Voting for Next PM Delayed After Hacking Alert

Voting by Britain’s Conservative Party members to pick the next prime minister has been delayed after a British spy agency warned that cyber hackers could change people’s ballots, The Telegraph reported on Tuesday.

There was no specific threat from a hostile state, and the advice was more general and about the voting process and its vulnerabilities, report added.

As a result of the concerns, the Conservative Party has been forced to abandon plans to allow members to change their vote for the next leader later in the contest, according to The Telegraph.

Postal ballots are also yet to be issued to the around 160,000 party members who have now been warned they could arrive as late as Aug. 11, the report added. The ballots were earlier due to be sent out from Monday, The Telegraph reported.

Former Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are competing in the leadership contest to succeed Boris Johnson as the next British prime minister.

Truss leads in opinion polls among Conservative Party members, who will decide who becomes the next prime minister on Sept. 5 after weeks of voting.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) gathers communications from around the world to identify and disrupt threats to Britain. A spokesperson for the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is a part of the GCHQ, said that it provided advice to the Conservative Party.

“Defending UK democratic and electoral processes is a priority for the NCSC and we work closely with all Parliamentary political parties, local authorities and MPs to provide cyber security guidance and support,” an NCSC spokesperson told Reuters.

“As you would expect from the UK’s national cyber security authority we provided advice to the Conservative Party on security considerations for online leadership voting,” the spokesperson added.

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