Trump Ally in Europe Uses COVID-19 Fears to Grab Power

Hungary’s nationalist prime minister just sidelined his own parliament.

President Donald Trump welcomes visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to the White House in Washington, Monday, May 13, 2019. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The coronavirus is a rapidly developing news story, so some of the content in this article might be out of date. Check out our most recent coverage of the coronavirus crisis, and subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

On Monday, Hungary’s parliament awarded its nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, the power to rule by decree until his government decides the coronavirus crisis has passed. The move effectively eliminates any democratic opposition, and critics have already assailed it as an authoritarian power grab. Orban doesn’t have many friends in Europe—he is staunchly anti–European Union and has condemned the concept of open European borders, claiming “mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life, but a lower one”—but he has found one in Donald Trump. 

Trump met with Orban last spring, over the objections of his then–national security adviser, John Bolton. He praised Orban and drew comparisons between himself and the Hungarian.

“You’re respected all over Europe. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK,” Trump told his guest. “You’ve done a good job and you’ve kept your country safe.”

At the time, a group of US Congress members objected to the meeting, expressing “deep concern about Orbán’s crackdown on democracy, increased Russian and Chinese influence, and use of anti-Semitic and xenophobic language.”

Orban, who has cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is known as one of Europe’s fiercest critics of Ukraine, which borders Hungary to the east. According to testimony last fall during the buildup to the impeachment trial, Trump aides were concerned about Orban trying to influence the president against Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Several witnesses testified that they believed Orban was responsible for Trump’s belief that Ukraine was corrupt and set against him.

The new law gives Orban wide-ranging emergency powers and the ability to prosecute people who he says are spreading misinformation about the pandemic. It also suspends elections and referendums. There is no expiration date on the emergency powers.

Kim Lane Scheppele, a Hungary expert at Princeton University, told NPR that Orban is leading the way among likeminded world leaders in using the virus to push for more power:

“Bolsanaro in Brazil, Kaczynski in Poland…Trump in the United States, all of them have thought about using emergency powers. But no one has yet gone as far as Orban to really shut down democracy as anybody knew it in Hungary before.”

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.