The Geopolitics of Hungary, Ukraine, and Russia

Hungary Election Poster

Hungarian Election Poster

As an American expat living in Budapest, it’s hard to ignore the geopolitics of the region.   I’m not so politically minded, but with Hungary’s parliamentary elections a month away and the Ukrainian crisis escalating, one wonders about the fate of Central Europe.  In some aspects the Hungarian and Ukrainian political dynamics over last 25 years resemble that of the U.S.  But there are also drastic and alarming differences.

The below political timeline is overly simplistic, based on my armchair analysis and augmented by Wikipedia.

Hungary

  • In 1989, Hungary transitioned from under post-WWII Soviet control.

  • From 1989-2010, unable to regain faith in national governance, the country jockeyed between parties.

  • In 2004, Hungary joined the EU.

  • In 2010, Hungarians ousted the MSZP party, some say because of alleged corruption, and elected the more conservative Fidesz party.  Fidesz also secured a parliamentary supermajority in this election.

  • As a supermajority, the new government immediately started tweaking the constitution and redistricting the voter base.  They also agreed to a controversial 10B € loan from Russia (10B € is ~10% of Hungary’s GDP) to upgrade Hungary’s nuclear power plant, which supplies ~40% of Hungary’s electricity but purportedly doesn’t need to be upgraded for another two decades.

  • On April 6th, there’s another election.  And while there is heightened distrust of the current administration, word on the street is that redistricting and MSZP’s tarnished reputation will result in Fidesz’s reelection.

Ukraine

  • In 1991, Ukraine became an independent nation just before the dissolution of the USSR.

  • Between 1991 and 2004, Ukraine was governed by two presidents who remained closely allied with Russia.

  • In the 2004 presidential election run-off deemed a victory for Viktor Yanukovych, accusations of voter fraud erupted in the Orange Revolution.  A new run-off overturned the previous results with an overwhelming victory for pro-West candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.

  • During Yushenko’s presidency, relations with Russia were strained.

  • In 2010, a 3-way race divided the vote and the election narrowly went to the pro-East candidate, none other than Viktor Yanukovych.

  • Yanukovych began strengthening ties with Russia.  He also jailed Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the candidates who had run against him.

  • In Novemeber, 2013, a 6-yr campaign to align Ukraine with the EU fails, and in December Yanukovych signed a treaty that gave Russia Crimea’s Kerch peninsula (with naval access to the Mediterranean).

  • Over the last several weeks, with Arab Spring-like protests, Ukrainians drove Yanukovych from office.  He fled to Russia.

As an American who grew up in the Cold War era, it’s hard not to be concerned with Russia’s influence in Hungary and aggression in Ukraine.  Living in Budapest with Hungarian and Ukrainian friends and a husband who’s a quarter Hungarian and a quarter Ukrainian only makes this concern more acute.

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