Opinion |

Viktor Orbán’s Unsettling Similarity to Romania’s Deposed, Executed Dictator

Orban's recent racist outbursts sharpen his resemblance to Nicolae Ceausescu, who shared his nativism, ultranationalism and antisemitism, loathing for democracy and penchant for rehabilitating war criminals, but ended up in front of a firing squad

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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Romania's President Nicolae Ceaucescu: Separated at birth
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Romania's President Nicolae Ceaucescu: Separated at birthCredit: Bertrand Guay, Pool via AP; AP

That Viktor Orbán is today’s Nicolae Ceausescu is not a new assessment. Ten years ago, the distinguished Hungarian dissident László Rajk coined the phrase in an article published in the French daily Le Monde, arguing that Orbán is an “enemy of Hungary” and an “enemy of Europe,” and that his regime most closely resembles Ceausescu’s.

A closer look at Orbán’s more recent provocative statements and actions bring this comparison between Hungary’s prime minister and the Romanian communist maverick who was deposed and then executed, into particularly sharp relief.

Ceausescu aggravated the Soviet Union with his nationalism, independence, and sovereignty. Orbán systematically opposes and sabotages freely-chosen partners and allies, in Brussels and Washington, claiming that he is the sole defender of Western civilization against “non-European” migrants, “the mixing of races,” “gender ideology,” and “post-Western values.”

Orbán’s courtship of Putin and Moscow, through which he undermines both the EU and NATO, strongly resembles with Ceausescu’s, who defied COMECON and the Warsaw Pact to side with communist China. Just like Ceausescu, who faked support for Vietnam in its war against the U.S., Orbán gives bare lip-service to supporting Ukraine, while siding in fact with Russia.

Just like Ceausescu, Orbán talks resentfully about “imperialism,” meaning the alleged coercion of Hungary to accept a foreign policy it rejects. More precisely, he states that “[H]istorically the Americans have had the ability to pick out what they identify as an evil empire and to call on the world to stand on the right side of history – a phrase which bothers us a little, as this is what the communists always said...” With satisfaction, Orban greets the “multipolar world order” which is overtaking U.S. “imperialism.”

Ceausescu, who was an antisemite, denied that Romanians had participated in the Holocaust in Romania, and purged Jews from the leadership of Romania’s Communist Party. But he cultivated ties with Israel out of cold pragmatism, financial reward and because he believed in the antisemitic cliches about Jewish world dominance.

Billboards in a Budapest subway station with the caption: "Let's not give Soros the last laugh," promoting the Orban government's anti-migration policiesCredit: AP

Orbán organizes antisemitic campaigns, falsifies Hungary’s Nazi and collaborationist history, and undermines or sabotages every educational Holocaust-related institutions and projects in his country. At the same time, he fakes being Hungarian Jews’ greatest defendant and champion of the State of Israel in various international settings.

Both Ceausescu and Orbán are on record as rehabilitating fascist intellectuals and politicians, some of them documented war criminals.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban kisses the hand of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen at a meeting of European conservative and right-wing parties in Warsaw, PolandCredit: WOJTEK RADWANSKI / AFP

Economically, Orbán tries to play Russia and China against the U.S. and Europe, emphasizing Hungary’s urgent need for financial agreements with them. Just like Ceausescu, Orbán states that he is against any economic blocs, although sometimes Ceausescu seems slightly more rational than Orbán: he bought keenly-priced Canadian nuclear plants for his country, when Orbán deliberately overpays for a Russian one.

When it comes to national education programs, both Ceausescu and Orbán are very similar: nationalism, chauvinism, xenophobia, the cult of “pure” ancestors were/are the values prioritized and cultivated with great fanfare. Ceausescu cut his people’s access to Western publications and Orbán kicked a Western university out of the country, replacing it with a Chinese one.

Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu, with his wife Elena, is applauded at the last convention of Romania's ruling Communist Party in November 1989. In December, he was deposed and both were executed by firing squadCredit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Orbán’s demographic policies, which aim to increase his country’s “indigenous” population, echo those of Ceausescu, although in all fairness, in spite of similar rhetoric, the latter’s were crudely criminal (banning abortions and refusing medical help for women who resorted to illegal abortions) and Orbán’s are more racial and fiscal.

Obsessed with soccer, both Ceausescu and Orbán built extraordinarily oversized stadiums in their home villages, with no reference to local needs and realities, and both ensured the aggrandizement of their roots by securing a place for their home teams in national premier leagues.

Orbán’s most recent racist statements, made in the Transylvanian resort of Băile Tușnad (Tusnádfürdő), Romania and rightly described by an aide who then resigned in protest as “Goebbels like…pure Nazi speech” emphasized once more who he really is: a populist ultranationalist with strong Nazi leanings. The condemnation of these outrageous statements by various EU bodies, by the U.S. State Department and by Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust authority, mean nothing to their expounder.

Anti-migration Hungarian government billboard on a street in Budapest, Hungary. One of Orab's policy and rhetorical touchstones is warning of a migrant invasion threatening Christian EuropeCredit: Darko Vojinovic /AP

In all likelihood Orbán will not end up like Ceausescu, in front of a firing squad. At some point, he will have to choose between a Hungarian prison or a nice villa in Brazil, Turkey, or Russia. His legacy will, however, taint Hungary for a long time, but it will also tar the Western world if it does not stand up decisively and urgently against him. At this point Orbán’s Hungary has become the cancer of the EU and of NATO.

The solution to this situation is radical surgery. Hungary and its prime minister needs to be isolated and punished for their deeds. The European Commission should penalize the Orbán regime’s repeated violations of the political criteria on which EU membership is based. Major Western companies, especially those from Germany, should clearly reconsider their Hungarian investments.

This language of liability, accountability and pressure is the only language that Orbán, who destroyed Hungary’s free media, its independent justice system, as well as its democratic system of checks and balances, will understand. Otherwise, his anti-democratic model will spread, destabilizing first its neighbors and ultimately the whole of Europe.

Professor Zoltán Tibori-Szabó head of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies of the Faculty of Political, Administrative and Communication Sciences of the Babeș–Bolyai University from Cluj, Romania, co-author of "The Geographic Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in Hungary" (2013)

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