The two faces of Orban’s Hungary: Christian and neo-Ottoman


Mosques for money

Orban is far from the only one who uses religion to defend his authoritarian views for us, and one of his closest partners in the region is none other than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After nearly 20 years of rule, Erdogan’s Turkey has also been accused of turning its back on liberal values ​​and using religion (it is telling that there is no Christian equivalent of “the Islamism ”by Erdogan for Hungary) to support his increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Erdogan has also strived to improve regional ties, building strong relationships with other strongmen such as Oran, around a broad program of state-backed foreign investment, largely led by the Turkish state agency TIKA.

This program has been called “neo-Ottoman” by some, and it is clear that the restoration of the remaining Ottoman heritage is as essential a priority for Erdogan’s Turkey as investment in infrastructure or industry.

Likewise, attracting such investments has been an important target for Orban’s Hungary, and as Turkey has funded heritage initiatives such as the restoration of the tomb of Gul Baba and the excavation of Szigetvar, the Turkish government has also felt that Turkey’s direct investment in Hungary has grown from $ 100 million to a total of $ 2 billion over the past five years.

So it may be that this liberal attitude of Budapest towards Hungary’s Ottoman heritage is just a calculated bet, a “mosques for cash” scenario in which Budapest tolerates Turkey’s neo-Ottoman claims by exchange for a lucrative source of investment.

Granted, Orban has more leeway to woo Turkey than many of his neighbors. The catastrophic reverse defeat of the Ottomans in the Second Battle of Mohacs in 1687 effectively ended Ottoman rule in Hungary almost a century before other parts of Europe. While the surprising strength of maintaining tourist sentiment in Hungary – a long discredited pannationalist theory that espouses the common origin of the Magyars (Hungarians) and modern Turks in the Eurasian steppe – as well as the lesser cultural significance in Catholic Hungary of ” -national covenants associated with autocephalous churches in the Orthodox world suggest that Hungarians have always had a less hostile view of the Ottoman period than their neighbors to the south.

Indeed, Orban’s government invested much more of its political capital in stoking nationalist sentiment against the highly controversial Treaty of Trianon of 1920 (which saw the Kingdom of Hungary lose around two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its territory. its ethnic Hungarian population) than against Ottoman invasions – an anti-Western parallel that fits Orban’s contemporary anti-EU agenda far better than any anti-Turkish sentiment in Hungary.

We should not insist too much on the cultural dimension of this Ottoman sanitization to the detriment of the political. Orban’s Hungary is likely to have little or no interest in truly questioning traditional anti-Turkish sentiments surrounding Ottoman heritage and is only truly motivated by the prospect of further investment in other sectors. amid his increasingly friendly ties with Ankara.

Having said that, it’s also clear that Orban’s Christian rhetoric should not be taken at face value. He is a populist and a chameleon who speaks Christian values ​​to his fellow Christians while hurting his Muslim counterparts of Hungary’s Islamic heritage.

The potential cultural impact of this potential ‘Ottoman renaissance’ in Hungary remains to be seen, but I think we can say with certainty that any growing interest in the Ottoman period in Hungary is an unintended consequence of Orban’s policies.

Jacob Todd recently graduated from KULeuven with a Masters in European Studies. His thesis, entitled “Mosque and Monuments: Re-examination of Ottoman Heritage in Contemporary Europe”, focused on the current state and perceptions of the Ottoman heritage remaining in Europe.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

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