BUDAPEST — Overshadowed by the struggle 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 p.c 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 gained a fourth consecutive time period regardless of accusations by the opposition that he has enabled Russia’s army onslaught by cozying up for years to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“We gained a victory so huge that you would be able to 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 might break his ruling Fidesz celebration’s more and more authoritarian grip on the Central European nation subsequent to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymr Zelensky, talking early Sunday in his capital, Kyiv, described Mr. Orban as “just about the one one in Europe to overtly assist Mr. Putin.”
Requested about Mr. Zelensky’s evaluation after casting his vote in Budapest on Sunday morning, Mr. Orban stated curtly: “Mr. Zelensky will not be voting at this time. Thanks. Are there some 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 turn out to be a member of the European bloc, however its utility has stalled.
An unusually excessive turnout in Serbia of almost 60 p.c 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, stated it might 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 Get together would retain its maintain on Parliament, albeit with a diminished majority. The opposition stated it had gained management of the municipal authorities in Belgrade.
Hungary and Serbia have very completely different histories. Mr. Orban governs a rustic that, till he got here to energy, seen Russia with nice mistrust because of its previous struggling at Russia’s fingers, 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 appeared to Moscow as its ally and protector.
However underneath the 2 strongmen leaders, each nations have over the previous decade drastically diminished the area for crucial 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 due to their shared hostility to liberal values, the Hungarian chief has additionally refused to let weapons destined for Ukraine move although his nation.
Earlier than Hungary’s election, Mr. Orban hit again to counter opposition fees that his coverage on Ukraine had betrayed not solely overseas allies but additionally Hungary’s personal painful recollections of aggression by Russia. Mr. Orban mobilized the information media, most of which is managed by the state and by pleasant tycoons, to solid his opponents as warmongers bent on sending Hungarian troops to combat in opposition to Russia. The election provided a “alternative between struggle and peace,” pro-government media warned.
The marketing campaign appears to have labored, even amongst some older voters who keep in mind the struggling brought on by 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 stated “in fact” he selected Mr. Orban’s Fidesz celebration when he voted in Nagykovacsi, a small city close to Budapest.
Echoing a line regularly aired in Fidesz-controlled media shops, Mr. Dioszegi stated there was no want to assist Ukraine defend itself as a result of it had provoked the struggle by changing into “a army 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 kids ought to be taught in class about gender transition surgical procedure therapy, and uncovered with out restriction to sexually specific materials.
The struggle subsequent door in Ukraine, nonetheless, derailed Mr. Orban’s effort to get voters to deal with transgender people and gays, forcing a reboot centered on portray his opponents as desperate to take Hungary to struggle.
When tons 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 struggle, the principle 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 strange Hungarians who she stated 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 stated 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 gained one other time period.
“I can’t keep in a rustic the place the federal government helps Russia,” she stated, waving a hand-painted signal telling Mr. Putin the place to stay his rockets.
Some distinguished supporters of Mr. Orban’s celebration 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 12 months, 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 shops managed by Fidesz has left opposition supporters in despair.
“They simply repeat lies again and again, day after day,” Judit Barna, 81, a health care provider, stated 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 doable after 40 years of Soviet occupation and 30 years of democracy that the identical man who as soon as shouted, ‘Russians, go house’ can now say that Russia is combating a simply struggle 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.”