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The coronavirus is a rapidly developing news story, so some of the content in this article might be out of date.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 the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

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.”

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up to $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Corporations and billionaires don’t fund journalism like ours that exists to shake things up. Instead, support from readers allows Mother Jones to call it like it is without fear, favor, or false equivalence.

And right now, a longtime friend of Mother Jones has pledged an incredibly generous gift to inspire—and double—giving from online readers. That's huge! Because you can see that our fall fundraising drive is well behind the $325,000 we need to raise. So if you agree that in-depth, fiercely independent journalism matters right now, please support our work and help us raise the money it takes to keep Mother Jones charging hard. Your gift, and all online donations up $94,000 total, will be matched and go twice as far—but only until the November 9 deadline.

$400,000 to go: Please help us pick up the pace!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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