The Orbánesque Problem

Rising up under the shadow of Putin, this world leader may present a big problem.

You probably haven’t heard of Viktor Orbán. As the leader of the small Central-European country of Hungary that many would deem insignificant, Orbán is overshadowed by more well-known European politicians, including the infamous Vladimir Putin. However, his story is, if not more, as interesting as those of the high-profile diplomats in the spotlight now.

Orbán’s political career started out when he co-founded his political party, Fidesz (he still controls it to this day), successfully unifying the democratic students that were persecuted by the government. Until one of its leaders, Peter Molnar, joined the Hungarian Parliament, the youth opposition group could only meet in small, secret groups. However, even though Fidesz became more recognized, its results in the domestic field were disappointing, almost bordering on failure when the party only won a few seats in parliament in 1994. As a result, Fidesz changed its ideology dramatically from liberal-leaning moderate to extreme conservative; many of Fidesz’s leaders left (including the aforementioned Molnar) the party. So where does Viktor Orbán come in?

The young Orbán, dressed informally, became the internationally-known face of Fidesz in 1989 when he, as the organization’s spokesman, gave a rousing speech demanding free voting and departure of the Soviets at the reburial of Hungarian freedom fighter Imre Nagy who resisted Soviet rule. The Soviets left just one year later. While he stood for democratic ideals then, Orbán is the trademark European far-right politician. Through this enigmatic change, the only thing that can be agreed on is that Viktor Orbán is a skilled and successful politician, managing to hold on to leadership in his party and keep his position for more than a decade through times of instability; moreover, he is the 3rd longest-serving Hungarian Prime minister. Now, under his leadership, Hungary is a bastion for all things we can classify as “far-right.” Estranged in their country, far-right activists migrate to Hungary in order to continue their operations more freely without much opposition.

The Prime Minister’s stance on immigration follows the far-right norms, announcing and showing off the barbed wire fences and water cannons installed on his borders, mocking the other Europeans about their inability to stop the flow of refugees and border policies so much that the European countries started thinking about stopping immigrants instead of letting them inn. This extreme implementation of national sovereignty is so popular due to Hungary’s painfully recent history of Soviet occupation that carries no nostalgia for many, and Orbán’s hate for the liberal elite comes from the also-recent economic decline that plagued the country which the Hungarians do not want to experience again.

So, what should we do about him? Even if Orbán may seem isolated, his memberships in the European Union and NATO make him a dangerous force to be reckoned with. Even then, he sticks out like a sore thumb as an ultra-conservative member in a democratic (and also somewhat liberal) organization. Considering that fact, Orbán’s membership is confusing. As a potential Russian ally, Hungary would have faced intense opposition from Putin before joining NATO; this behavior became evident when pro-Russian forces (that were likely backed by Putin’s government) unsuccessfully attempted a coup in Montenegro to stop the country from joining. However, Putin may want to have Orbán (the Hungarian leader criticized E.U. and U.S. sanctions on Russia after Putin attacked Ukraine and applauded the Russian leader’s leadership) in NATO because the latter could present a good way for Putin to covertly influence NATO and even receive information about NATO’s activities without telegraphing any clear intentions. Orbán also has no place in NATO, an organization for democratic countries with goals that oppose those of Orbán’s Hungary. His membership may undermine the legitimacy of the organization and may present significant opposition and obstacles to productive decision-making. What the EU and NATO should do is keep careful watch on Orbán’s activities and keep some pressure on him to intimidate him and ultimately prevent the budding authoritarian from gaining more influence; letting Orbán amass more power could be disastrous for the free world.

-William Cho (’21)

Image: Francois Lenoir from The Atlantic

Russia Partially Decriminalizes Domestic Violence

“If he beats you, it means he loves you.” In Russia, where old proverbs and traditions are still relevant today, the parliament voted to decriminalize domestic violence. Read on to find out what this means for the victims and the aggressors.

Late January, the Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma, voted 380-3 to decriminalize domestic violence unless it causes serious damage to the victim or happens more than once a year.  The bill will punish violations with a $500 fine or a 15-day arrest except in the cases of domestic abuse not subject to this law. If this bill takes effect, first-time offenders that do not cause harm severe enough to send the victims to the hospital will receive no penalties.

If this bill is approved by the upper house, the Federation Council, and signed by President Putin, Russia will become one of only three countries in Central Asia and Europe that does not have any laws specifically targeting domestic abuse. No or minimal opposition is expected in the Federation Council, and President Putin has already expressed his support for the bill.


The amendment will overrule a ruling by the Russian Supreme Court that took effect last July that eliminated criminal liability for domestic violence that results in no physical harm but kept criminal charges for battery against family members. As soon as it began to be enforced, the law faced fervent opposition; Russian lawmaker Yelena Mizulina described it as “anti-family” and “undermining the parents’ ‘right’ to beat their children.”

Human rights activists argue that the government should be protecting the victims from more domestic violence; however, the Russian parliament has chosen “protecting the family unit as an institution” over protecting the women and children whose rights are violated every time they are assaulted by their own family. Other critics of the amendment claim that the passing of this bill will send a message to the Russians that domestic violence is not a crime and will fuel the rate of battery against family members, which is already high in the country.

According to the Russian government, 36,000 wives are beaten by their spouses every day, while 26,000 children are abused by their parents every year. In order to escape domestic violence, 2,000 adolescents commit suicide and 10,000 run away every year. However, 60-70% of victims do not seek help, so 97% of domestic abuse cases never appear in court.


Archaic ideologies have been gaining traction in not only Western Europe but Russia as well recently. Specific laws criminalizing domestic abuse and other “private affairs” are increasingly perceived as nosy meddling in household matters by the government. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, stated that family conflicts are “not always equivalent to domestic abuse,” and a state-run survey in January found that 19% of Russians believed that it can be acceptable to beat a wife or child in “certain circumstances.” Even some Russian police officers are reluctant to get involved in domestic violence cases, which they view as meddling in family affairs.

The Russian cultural and political establishment has always upheld traditional values, but they have become increasingly conservative in the past few years, especially under President Putin. New restrictions on protests and political liberal opponents have already been passed, so the Russian government’s backtracking on their domestic violence policy has not proved to be a surprise although it has worried human rights activists.

Domestic violence, however, is not an unfamiliar problem to us as well. According to South Korea’s Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, 60% of all domestic violence cases were dropped from prosecution charges in 2015, while only 15.6% went through the indictment proceedings. A total of 118,178 cases were reported, but only 8762 arrests were made. In our country, domestic abuse is also widely perceived as a private matter that law enforcement should not pry into, and the perseverance of the family unit is often valued more than the victims of “family conflicts.”

How many more pleas from the victims of domestic abuse will convince societies with deep patriarchal roots that domestic violence is unclear, but it is clear that it is a severe issue that must be tackled by the government. The safety and quality of the lives of the citizens should be prioritized over the set ideals of political parties. So far, many conservative governments have not fulfilled their own duty by not taking enough action or actually backtracking in their efforts to progress towards social justice; however, governments must start listening to their own people before the voices of victims are completely silenced by their aggressors.

– Kristin Kim (’20)

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