Hungary and Serbia are choosing between the European Union and Russia

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Friday during his last pre-election rally called on his compatriots not to experiment with the new leadership during the crisis.

Orban, who has been in power since 2010, told his supporters that only his government could ensure Hungary’s security, arguing that the opposition would drag the country into military confrontation. According to him, the armed conflict in Ukraine “changed everything, it also changed our campaign.”

In his campaign address, Orban presented himself as a reliable leader at a troubled time for the region. “We have already seen several crises,” said the Hungarian prime minister. “I suggest that Hungarians not experiment now.” He added that the country will be better off with people with experience and predictability.

According to POLITICO, although Orbán’s Fidesz party is leading in the polls, the opposition claims that the electoral system is unfair, and the Hungarian prime minister himself has faced criticism from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In recent years, Viktor Orban has enjoyed a reputation as a leader who maintains close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while maintaining difficult relations with neighboring Ukraine. But when Russia launched a special military operation in Ukraine a few weeks before Hungary’s election, the prime minister turned around, signaling to voters that it was in Budapest’s interests to be neither pro-Ukrainian nor pro-Russian.

“Ukrainians cannot ask us for help in such a way that we are ruined in the meantime,” Orban said. And although he told Kiev “Our heart is with them”, he added that “Hungary must defend its interests and must stay out of the conflict.”

In the run-up to the election, Viktor Orban accused the Hungarian opposition of concluding a deal with the Ukrainian government, as well as of being willing to provide Kiev with weapons and support sanctions on energy imports from Russia if they come to power. However, the opposition rejected the allegations as “propaganda”.

According to the POLITICO poll, Fidesz is gaining 50 percent of the vote and the opposition is gaining 44 percent.

Ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Orban also mentioned a referendum to be held in parallel with the election, which the government is promoting as child protection, but which critics say is fanning the flames of homophobia in Hungary.

“We must also make it clear on Sunday that the mother is a woman and the father is a man, and leave our children alone,” Orban said, adding that “gender madness” must be stopped.

Opposition politicians, meanwhile, have urged their supporters not to lose hope, despite what they call an unequal playing field. Ahead of the vote, POLITICO writes, both sides have accused each other of fraud, and Orbán’s opponents have expressed concern, in particular over a report that said some ballots filled in by Hungarian-speaking Romanians had been found in a landfill.

Peter Marki-Zai, the opposition candidate for prime minister, called the race a battle between David and Goliath, citing fraud, an “army of paid trolls”, a “propaganda machine” and “unlimited financial resources”.

Presidential elections are being held in neighboring Serbia on Sunday. And as POLITICO notes, “there is no doubt who will win” – namely, incumbent President Alexander Vucic. But one big question loomed over the Balkan country: will Vucic be able to maintain friendly relations with both Moscow and the EU after the start of the military conflict in Ukraine?

The poll shows that Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNA) are tens of percentage points ahead of their rivals, despite holding presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections on the same day.

Vucic has been a dominant political figure in Serbia for the past decade. During this time, he was increasingly accused of autocratic rule, aided by government-friendly media and widespread nepotism, according to POLITICO. But while his prowess on the domestic political scene is close to absolute, Vucic finds himself in an extremely awkward position in the international arena due to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

Throughout his tenure in power, Vucic maintained close ties with both the EU and Russia, changing his loyalty between them whenever he saw an opportunity to gain great benefit and support from Serbia. Now he is under pressure to choose the side, writes POLITICO.

Initially silent on the Ukrainian crisis, Belgrade eventually backed a UN resolution condemning Russia’s actions, but refused to join Western sanctions against the Kremlin. The EU has made it clear that it expects candidate countries such as Serbia to follow Brussels’ common line on sanctions and foreign policy in general. How Vucic will orient himself in this geopolitical landscape will be the defining task of his forthcoming term.

According to POLITICO, Belgrade’s close ties with Moscow are often mistaken for persistent Russophilia among the Serbian political class and society as a whole: “But the truth is much more pragmatic: Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, which it receives at a special low price. Ardent pro-Russian supporters are a high-profile minority who receive disproportionately broad media coverage. ”

This is reflected in a study published earlier this week by the Belgrade-based polling agency Demostat. Asked whether Serbia should side with Russia or the EU in the Ukraine crisis, 50 per cent of respondents said the country should remain neutral, even if such a position leads to sanctions and a shortage of goods on a scale similar to those that occurred during the Balkan wars. 1990s. Only 21 and 13 percent supported Russia or Europe, respectively.

Leading Demostat researcher Srecko Mikhailovic said such a preference for neutrality reflected a deep-seated long-term trend dating back to Yugoslavia’s leadership in the Cold War Non-Aligned Movement. “The concept of neutrality and bloc non-alignment remains in the minds of Serbian citizens, regardless of everything that has happened during that time,” Mikhailovic said. “A significant number have always maintained neutrality, regardless of the consequences.”

However, admits POLITICO, the question remains whether Vucic really wants to fully accept the position of the EU and the West. Brussels can test its readiness in two ways – by offering Serbia more incentives to make progress in its long-running EU membership talks and by providing support to reduce energy dependence on Russia. Earlier this month, the EU took steps in the latter direction, offering the Western Balkan states the opportunity to join its voluntary joint purchases of liquefied natural gas.

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