A Muslim Invasion of Hungary? Orban Raises Spectre of Ottomans to Solidify Iron Rule

Viktor Orban’s third successive election victory has led to warnings that this self-styled ‘illiberal democrat’ will remove Hungary from the yoke of the European Union (EU) for good, upsetting the harmony of the regional bloc in the process.

Orban is the current bad boy of European politics

Adding to his crackdown on the free press, the independence of the judiciary, and the NGOs and universities linked with George Soros, Orban has set his dictatorial course. He has even promised retribution on those who opposed and mocked him during his latest campaign.

The most notable facet of Orban’s recent rule has been his vehemently anti-migration stance, which have directly contravened the hopes of the EU in general, and Angela Merkel in particular. Border walls have sprung up and asylum seekers been turned away as Orban warns of a ‘Muslim invasion’. To him, Hungary is for Hungarians…that is, Christian Hungarians.

Asylum seekers at Hungary’s border wall

This stark message has seemingly engendered popular appeal, even more so than his Fidesz party’s efforts to boost growth and employment after years of economic stagnation. Perhaps the Hungarians remember their history. Orban is certainly doing his best to make sure that they do.

It was in the 16th century that the mighty Ottoman forces of Suleiman the Magnificent plundered into Medieval Hungary, capturing Buda in 1541 and establishing Turkish overlordship across much of the kingdom.

Siege of Estolnibelgrad by Ottoman forces in 1543

During their period of rule, the Ottomans committed the sorts of atrocities typical of distant sovereigns. Deportation and massacres significantly reduced the ethnic Hungarian population, whilst the economy of the territory was allowed to slump into ruin. Buda, a once magnificent medieval citadel, became an impoverished backwater.

Orban sees parallels between the vicious Ottoman conquest and the mass migration from the Middle East today:

We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim…That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots…I have to say that when it comes to living together with Muslim communities, we are the only ones who have experience because we had the possibility to go through that experience for 150 years. (Washington Post, 4th September 2015)

Likewise, Orban can see in himself, and the other members of his Visegrad Group, a Christian bulwark to Muslim invasion, comparable with the Holy Roman Empire. It was Habsburg forces, along with their Polish allies, that finally ran the Ottomans out of Hungary in the late 17th century. A victory for Christendom over the evil forces of Islam, invoking the spirit of the earlier Crusades.

The Holy League fighting to recapture Buda in 1686

Of course all of this is somewhat ridiculous. Hungary has a population in decline (30,000 a year), with many frustrated citizens emigrating in the hope of finding better life in other European states. What an influx of youthful labour could do for an economy reliant on state employment and a low-skilled workforce.

Orban, however, is both stubborn and resilient, not to mention manipulative and vindictive. Everything he does is geared towards maintaining power and moulding the Hungarian state into a compliant tool for exercising that power.

Protesters rallying against Orban’s re-election and undermining of Hungarian democracy

It is sadly ironic, for this is a man who rebelled against communist rule in the name of democracy and imbued a generation with hopes of inclusive and free politics.

By defying his former self, and ignorantly casting Muslim migrants as bloodthirsty successors to the Ottoman Turks, Orban is threatening to isolate himself. The EU will not stand for continued disobedience – however ponderous and pithy its mechanisms for meting out punishment are – nor can Hungary live without its generous subsidies. Russia and its ailing economy can hardly be expected to fill the gap this leaves.

Asylum seekers at a Hungarian camp; hardly the villainous Ottomans of the 16th century

Populism, nationalism and authoritarianism can paper over the economic and political void for only so long. For Viktor Orban the test will be to come up with a new enemy when he seeks yet another re-election in 2022.


Quedar Bien: Costa Rica Looks Beyond Divisive Election to Unite in the Name of Progress

One of the more divisive presidential election campaigns in Costa Rica’s recent history has ended with victory for centre-left candidate Carlos Alvarado. He won a run-off with right leaning evangelical Francisco Alvarado by a surprisingly convincing margin.

Carlos Alvarado has promised a ‘government for all’

A couple of months ago I wrote about the forthcoming run-off and the potential repercussions of a pro-gay marriage ruling by the regional human rights body, which Costa Rica would be required to abide by. The two Alvarados had centred their campaigns on very different stances towards the ruling, Carlos backing it in the name of progress and liberal equality, Francisco vehemently opposed on religious and traditional grounds.

As it transpires, it seems that economic stagnation and rising crime levels played a greater part in deciding the outcome of the election. Carlos Alvarado, who has government experience as a Labour Minister, was seemingly the more trusted candidate to resolve these issues.

It also says a lot about the history of social and religious expression in Costa Rica, not to mention tolerance. Whilst a predominantly Catholic country with a strong church attendance – like much of Central America – it is not one where religion dominates every sphere of life.

A derelict church in San Jose: March 2018

Like most New World territories, Costa Rica was the scene of fervent attempts by the Spanish clergy to proselytise in the name of God and the Catholic Monarchs. As elsewhere success was limited, with indigenous belief systems proving difficult to supplant.

This perhaps accounts for the persisting influences of Amerindian spiritualism and occultism in Costa Rican religion, reflecting the Ticos’ ‘inclinations towards fatalism, their insistence on individual freedom…their indifference to authority’.

Spanish missionaries failed to completely detach the natives from their indigenous beliefs

Costa Rica was noted for its poor church attendance during the 18th and 19th centuries, religious expression and practice taking place on a much more personal, private level. There was a tolerance for Protestant interlopers that was uncommon in the Spanish Empire, and the Catholic Church remained a poor institution with only minimal political influence.

Whilst the Church grew in stature in the 20th century, permeating parts of Costa Rican society with its rural outreach and educational activities, non-interference in one’s personal beliefs remained paramount.

Ricardo Jimenez Oreamuno, three times Costa Rica’s president in the early 20th century, was an atheist. In many other Catholic-majority countries this would have been, and remains, unthinkable. Even American presidents are expected to have a church affiliation and express unflinching belief in the will of the almighty.

Ricardo Jiménez Oreamuno

Jimenez, however, espoused a ‘balanced liberalism, extremely compliant with all religions and political views’. How could the state, or the church, enforce a particular belief system on the individual?

This sentiment has persisted to the present day. Catholic festivals may be an essential feature of Costa Rican life and religious iconography remains prevalent. Yet freedom of belief trumps all.

Commented a San Jose taxi driver:

A good Catholic is one who stays on the good side of God and doesn’t get too involved with anyone, especially in discussions of religion, which may lead to arguments. 

Religion acts as guide and succour to those who want it; it remains an essentially personal endeavour, not to be belittled or manipulated by man or institution.

It all plays into the Tico notion of quedar bien (to get along), a desire to avoid confrontation and maintain friendly relations with all whenever possible. Criticism of others and their beliefs is to be reserved to the private sphere.

This mindset was very much reflected in a recent visit I paid to the country. Expecting to encounter locals spewing vitriolic tirades against their unfavoured candidate, the presidential run-off was not mentioned once. Nor was politics more broadly, nor religion.

Such an approach is not restricted to interactions with foreigners, but with fellow Ticos. Yes, people from both sides took to the streets to celebrate and bemoan the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) and express their feelings towards either candidate. Yet the distasteful outbreaks of abuse and violence that such passionate topics can engender in other countries were refreshingly absent.

Celebrating the decision of the IACHR in San Jose

The call by Carlos Alvarado for the country to unite and face their challenges together is likely to be heeded, even for those opposed to gay marriage. A more relaxed and reserved people you’ll struggle to find and a more refreshing approach to public life it is difficult to imagine.


Biesanz, M et al. The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica (1999)