BUDAPEST — Overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine, elections on Sunday in Hungary and Serbia seem to have prolonged the tenures of Europe’s two most Kremlin-friendly leaders, each populist strongmen fortified by their overwhelming management of the media and low cost power from Russia.
With greater than 60 % of the votes counted in Hungary, preliminary outcomes indicated that Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister since 2010, and already Europe’s longest serving chief, had received a fourth consecutive time period regardless of accusations by the opposition that he has enabled Russia’s navy onslaught by cozying up for years to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“We received a victory so huge you could maybe see it from the moon, and definitely from Brussels,” Mr. Orban advised a jubilant crowd of supporters late Sunday, taking a dig on the European Union, which he has lengthy accused of pushing L.G.B.T.Q. and migrant rights in defiance of the democratic will of Hungarian voters.
The preliminary outcomes dashed the hopes of Mr. Orban’s political foes that an unusually united opposition camp may break his ruling Fidesz get together’s more and more authoritarian grip on the Central European nation subsequent to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, talking early Sunday in his capital, Kyiv, described Mr. Orban as “just about the one one in Europe to brazenly assist Mr. Putin.”
Requested about Mr. Zelensky’s evaluation after casting his vote in Budapest on Sunday morning, Mr. Orban mentioned curtly: “Mr. Zelensky just isn’t voting in the present day. Thanks. Are there every other questions?”
President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia, additionally Moscow-friendly, has ruled Serbia since 2012, and was anticipated to win re-election after rallying his nationalist and pro-Russian base by refusing to hitch the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia. Serbia hopes to develop into a member of the European bloc, however its software has stalled.
An unusually excessive turnout in Serbia of almost 60 % pressured officers to maintain polling stations open late into the night in some areas. Amid complaints of foul play by the opposition, the central election fee in Belgrade, the capital, mentioned it will not challenge outcomes till Monday morning.
However exit polls indicated that Mr. Vucic would win a brand new time period as president and that his Serbian Progressive Occasion would retain its maintain on Parliament, albeit with a decreased majority. The opposition mentioned it had received management of the municipal authorities in Belgrade.
Hungary and Serbia have very totally different histories. Mr. Orban governs a rustic that, till he got here to energy, considered Russia with nice mistrust because of its previous struggling at Russia’s arms, most notably when Moscow despatched troops to brutally crush an anti-communist rebellion in 1956. Mr. Vucic’s nation, nonetheless — Slavic and Orthodox Christian, like Russia — has lengthy regarded to Moscow as its ally and protector.
However below the 2 strongmen leaders, each international locations have over the previous decade drastically decreased the area for vital media voices, turning tv stations with nationwide attain into propaganda bullhorns and transferring towards authoritarian rule. Every has cultivated shut ties with Mr. Putin, who endorsed the Hungarian chief’s election marketing campaign when he visited Moscow in February shortly earlier than the invasion of Ukraine.
Serbia declined to impose sanctions on Russia whereas Hungary, a member of the European Union since 2004, agreed to an preliminary spherical of European sanctions however has strongly resisted extending them to incorporate restrictions on power imports from Russia.
In distinction to leaders in neighboring Poland, beforehand an in depth ally of Mr. Orban because of their shared hostility to liberal values, the Hungarian chief has additionally refused to let weapons destined for Ukraine go although his nation.
Earlier than Hungary’s election, Mr. Orban hit again to counter opposition expenses that his coverage on Ukraine had betrayed not solely overseas allies but additionally Hungary’s personal painful reminiscences of aggression by Russia. Mr. Orban mobilized the information media, most of which is managed by the state and by pleasant tycoons, to forged his opponents as warmongers bent on sending Hungarian troops to combat towards Russia. The election provided a “alternative between conflict and peace,” pro-government media warned.
The marketing campaign appears to have labored, even amongst some older voters who bear in mind the struggling attributable to Moscow’s troops in 1956. “Why ought to Hungarian boys combat for Ukraine?” requested Janos Dioszegi, who was 13 on the time of the Hungarian rebellion and whose father was imprisoned for 14 years by Soviet-backed authorities for his half within the anti-Moscow rebellion. He mentioned “after all” he selected Mr. Orban’s Fidesz get together when he voted in Nagykovacsi, a small city close to Budapest.
Echoing a line often aired in Fidesz-controlled media retailers, Mr. Dioszegi mentioned there was no want to assist Ukraine defend itself as a result of it had provoked the conflict by turning into “a navy base for America.”
Till Mr. Putin despatched troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, the centerpiece of Mr. Orban’s election marketing campaign was an inflammatory referendum, timed for the day of the parliamentary election, on whether or not younger youngsters needs to be taught in class about gender transition surgical procedure remedy, and uncovered with out restriction to sexually specific materials.
The conflict subsequent door in Ukraine, nonetheless, derailed Mr. Orban’s effort to get voters to concentrate on transgender people and gays, forcing a reboot centered on portray his opponents as wanting to take Hungary to conflict.
When lots of of pro-Ukrainian Hungarians and refugees from Ukraine gathered on Saturday in central Budapest to denounce the federal government’s fence-sitting on the conflict, the primary state-controlled tv station, M1, described the occasion as a “pro-war rally.” Anna Olishevska, a 24-year-old Ukrainian from Kyiv who took half, praised the extraordinary Hungarians who she mentioned had helped her after she fled throughout the border. Greater than 500,000 Ukrainians have crossed into Hungary over the previous month, far fewer than the greater than two million who’ve entered Poland however nonetheless a big quantity for a rustic the place venomous hostility to overseas migrants had lengthy been the cornerstone of Mr. Orban’s usually xenophobic political platform.
Whereas delighted by her reception in Hungary, Ms. Olishevska mentioned the federal government had been so tentative in condemning Russia’s invasion and immune to serving to Ukraine defend itself, that she worries about staying in Hungary if Mr. Orban received one other time period.
“I can’t keep in a rustic the place the federal government helps Russia,” she mentioned, waving a hand-painted signal telling Mr. Putin the place to stay his rockets.
Some outstanding supporters of Mr. Orban’s get together have even blamed Ukraine for the bloodshed in 1956, with Maria Schmidt, a historian and museum director, claiming falsely on Saturday that Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet chief who ordered troops into Hungary that yr, was Ukrainian. He was Russian. Ms. Schmidt misrepresented the Soviet chief’s origins in response to a tweet by the British comedian John Cleese, who urged Hungarian voters to contemplate whether or not it was Russia or Ukraine that invaded Hungary in 1956.
The blizzard of distortions and falsehoods in Hungarian information media retailers managed by Fidesz has left opposition supporters in despair.
“They only repeat lies time and again, day after day,” Judit Barna, 81, a physician, mentioned outdoors a central Budapest polling station, the place she had simply voted for a united opposition ticket headed by Peter Marki Zay, a conservative small city mayor.
Referring to Mr. Orban’s early political profession as an anti-Moscow firebrand who in 1989 demanded that Soviet troops go away, she requested: “How is it potential after 40 years of Soviet occupation and 30 years of democracy that the identical man who as soon as shouted, ‘Russians, go dwelling’ can now say that Russia is combating a simply conflict in Ukraine?”
Due to Fidesz’s stranglehold on the media, she added: “Half of Hungary’s inhabitants eats up all these lies. That is Hungary’s disgrace.”