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None of this, however, is to justify his campaign of vilification of George Soros, the man who once provided Orbán with a scholarship to Oxford and who symbolises the liberal internationalism which Orbán despises, or indeed the pursuit of his vendetta against the financier through moves to close the Central European University, which Soros created and continues to fund.

Orbán is sometimes compared to Putin, but a more apt comparison may be with János Kádár, the Hungarian Communist chief who helped the Soviets to crush the 1956 revolution but who subsequently enjoyed a considerable degree of popularity within Hungary during his three decades of office. Indeed, Kádárism may still be the country’s strongest political tradition, as one perceptive Hungarian analyst has suggested.

As during the Kádár era, the authority of the leader remains unquestioned within a highly-disciplined party that gives every impression of lacking splinter groups, factions and dissent. The interests of the party and leader are identified with those of the nation; there is consequently a marked tendency to regard those who oppose the leader or party not merely as political opponents but as enemies of the people and the nation, and to treat them accordingly, which is how Orbán’s Communist predecessor regarded matters, only more so. Moreover, Orbán’s has an innate understanding of the public’s yearning for the stability and predictability of the Kádár years of goulash socialism, a period during which other central and east Europeans experienced socialism without the goulash.

This, however, is combined with a recognition of the enduring public regard and admiration for Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian regent from 1920-1944, among many Hungarians. Horthy struggled to restore lost Hungarian land, pride and identity following the Treaty of Trianon of 1920 which forced his country to cede two-thirds of its territory to its neighbours, but went on to forge an alliance with Nazi Germany when a determined attempt to bring about an alliance with the Western powers proved impossible. Orbán’s recent praise for Horthy’s patriotism, leadership and statesmanship has puzzled many observers since it did not appear to serve any obvious political purpose, but his exploitation of public attitudes to the two longest-serving Hungarian leaders of modern times is an important key to his political success. As Petho Tibor, a contributor to Magyar Nemzet, the Hungarian daily, put it: “The feelings of nostalgia for Horthy and Kádar are not mutually exclusive . . . they splendidly co-exist in the average Hungarian soul.”

The enduring regard for Horthy among elements of Hungarian society may reflect the fact that the Horthy era was one of rare national independence, a period of economic and industrial advance about which Hungarians may feel pride. It is understandable that Orbán should wish to acknowledge his contribution to history. But the Horthy years also witnessed the introduction of numerus clausus, restrictions placed on the entry of Jewish students into higher education, of which there was no mention in Orbán’s speech. It was inevitable, therefore, that Orbán’s description of Horthy as “an exceptional statesman” would provoke an outcry from Jewish groups within Hungary, despite the “clarification” issued subsequently by the foreign minister.

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