The West fails to understand the fears of Central Europeans about war with Russia

Protests and demonstrations have been very much in the news lately, from the vast numbers supporting Palestinians (or Hamas) to Gay Pride events. But a large and family-friendly “Peace Walk” on June 1, numbering between 100 and 200,000 in Budapest, Hungary, has been ignored in Western mainstream media.

Why would CNN or the BBC ignore something this big? The answer is simple: it doesn’t fit into their narrative.

Some background is needed to appreciate why Hungarians were so enthusiastic about the Peace March.

The event was organised by the CÖF-CÖKA, or Civil Union Forum Movement. First, a word about the meaning of ”Civil” or ”Civic” in Hungarian. The Hungarian word is polgár which means ”burgher” or ”citizen”, but its meaning is very significant in Hungarian.

From the middle of the 16th century, for 150 years, Central Hungary was occupied by the Ottoman Empire and its population was severely reduced by war and slave-taking.

Later, members of the Habsburg dynasty were elected as kings of Hungary but they did not observe to the country’s constitution, provoking many uprisings. These rulers held Hungary back, regarding it as an agricultural storehouse for their broader empire. Hungary’s leaders wanted to modernise, but they were frustrated by this policy.

Then came the Revolution and Independence War of 1848-49, which saw Hungary defeat the Austrian Empire but experience defeat at the hands of the Russian Empire.

After the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, which Austria lost, Hungary’s liberal leaders demanded autonomy from Austria, resulting in the “Austro-Hungarian Compromise” of 1867. This created the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy -- Austria and its territories were ruled by the Emperor and the same man ruled Hungary as a king. Official letterheads bore the letters ”K.U.K.”, or Kaiserlich und Königlich.(Imperial and Royal.)

With the Compromise, Hungarians ruled Hungary (the historical country, not the present one) and were able to industrialise, modernise and create Budapest and other impressive Hungarian cities. This period was known as the polgáriasodás or something like ”becoming civic”.

In Hungarian, therefore, the term ”Civic Democracy” means the same as ”Liberal Democracy” does in English. (In conservative circles the word ”liberal” is not a compliment, for it implies that one might have been a Communist collaborator.)

Therefore, the Civil Union would be called a ”Democratic” or ”Liberal” Union in English, if the organisation were in an English-speaking country.

Media distortions

Interestingly, the few news outlets that did cover this march got it wrong. Voice of America (VOA)  said that its organisers called the demonstration a “peace march”. But CÖF events have been called “Peace Marches” for years --  this is the tenth one. The article ignored what the march was about and concentrated on party politics.

Even Reuters claimed: “Tens of thousands of Hungarians marched through downtown Budapest on Saturday in support of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban”.

This is very coloured language. The hundreds of thousands became tens of thousands. Orban became a “nationalist Prime Minister”. Is he a “nationalist”? Compared to what? The average American? I doubt it. Reuters goes on:

“Orban, in power since 2010, hopes his Fidesz party, which is not affiliated with any grouping in the European Parliament (EP), will benefit from a rise in far-right support across Europe as he prepares to take over the European Union's rotating presidency in the second half of the year.”

“Far-Right” according to whom? If holding on to the country’s 1000-year-old Christian heritage, rejecting unlimited migration, rejecting the LGBTQ ideology; and resisting being dragged into a Europe-wide war is “far-right”, than chalk me up as “far-right”! Has US President Joe Biden also become “far-right” after signing an executive orderlimiting the number of illegal migrants into America?

As the classic American journalism textbook author Melvin Mencher wrote in his News Reporting and Writing: “One of the best preventatives for imbalance and lack of fairness is the advice a senior copy editor gave: ‘Eschew adjectives’”. The reporter and editors at Reuters clearly failed the “balanced and fair” test in this case!

Hungarians as a whole, and CÖF in particular, were not acting because they are” pro-Putin”, but because of recent statements by Western leaders that sound very much like calls for widening the Russia-Ukraine war.

A century of tears

To understand Hungary’s reluctance to bang war drums and the popularity of CÖF’s Peace March, it is necessary to know that for Hungary, the 20th century was disastrous. Hungary did not wish to get into World War I. Its Prime Minister, Count István Tisza, voted against going to war, to no avail. In World War II, Hungary succeeded in staying out of the war until 1941 but was forced to participate by a combination of a Soviet air attack and Nazi German pressure.

After World War I, Hungary was partitioned; many towns and cities were cut in half much as Berlin was during the Cold War (and remain so today). Three million Hungarians were separated from their kith and kin by international borders and subjected to brutal treatment by the ”successor states”, invented by the Western Allies.

The states were similar to those African and Middle Eastern states which had nothing to do with the realities on the ground. The key Allied principle was to avoid asking the people what they wanted. Woodrow Wilson’s “self-determination” was a joke. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia have disappeared, but minority rights are still largely ignored, notably in Ukraine.

World War II was far worse. Hungary had 250,000 killed and wounded soldiers; Nazi Germany killed more than 500,000 Jews and many other civilians. When the War ended, the killing did not. The Soviets deported between 600,000 and 1,000,000 men, women and children from Hungary, of whom fewer than half ever returned. During “liberation” by the Soviet Red Army 700,000 women were raped.

No West European nation had anywhere near such serious and tragic losses.



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Fear of war

It cannot be a surprise that French President Emanual Macron’s declaration that deployment of Western troops to fight Russia on the ground cannot be ruled out” has caused serious concern in Hungary.

Of course, there is much more than that. In February, NATO and EU members began discussing whether to send troops on a bilateral basis to Ukraine, as the Guardian reported.

Along with Viktor Orbán, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico said he would not send weapons or troops to Ukraine. Fico was shot by a lone gunman on May 15, spent weeks in hospital and recently returned home and continues as an out-patient. In a 15-minute televised address he severely criticised those “big countries” that put pressure on Slovakia to get into the war, among other things.

Other nations opposed to supporting the expansion of the war include Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia.

However, countries with similar experiences, such as Poland and the Baltic States, have been enthusiastic supporters of Ukraine, ignoring their previous and often tragic experiences at the hands of Ukrainians, and hoping to weaken Russia.

At first glance, it seems difficult to understand the differences, but a glance at a map helps. Lithuania and Poland have a border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg, which the Allies gave as a present to Stalin at the end of WWII, just as they gave Hungary’s former territory of Sub-Carpathia to Soviet Ukraine. This is how that unfortunate land became arbitrarily part of Ukraine. Also, Latvia and Estonia border Russia proper. Thus, a weakened Russia is clearly something they would prefer.

None of this applies to France, Britain or the United States, or at least, not nearly in the same measure. True, Britain and France suffered in WWI and France in WWII was occupied while Britain was bombed, and both lost their empires as a result of the war.

But the US has no experience of being bombed – apart from 9/11, which by European standards was quite minor. Considering these facts, it is hypocritical to ask small European countries to put their populations on the line while the US, France and Britain have both nuclear arsenals and air defences to protect themselves.

From a purely military point of view, if Russia has been unable to defeat Ukraine despite the latter’s disadvantages in numbers and weaponry, it is not a plausible threat to the vast power of NATO!

Therefore, the Peace March, numbering hundreds of thousands of Hungarians, Slovaks, Italians and others, makes a lot of sense in the local and regional context, and while Western powers might expect small and tormented Central European countries to snap to attention when they “make suggestions”, they should consider the realities on the ground.

Hungary has broken ranks with other EU members? Does this make sense? Tell us in the comments below.  

Christopher Szabo is a freelance journalist based in Pretoria, South Africa.

Image credit: the Peace March in Budapest in early June /



Showing 15 reactions

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  • David Page
    commented 2024-06-18 09:38:47 +1000
    Russia is a dictatorship. Russia has an “open window” policy for all those who oppose Putin. The Ukraine is a democracy (fledgling, to be sure). Where is the argument? If Russia attacks a NATO country then NATO troops will respond, of course. If they don’t then they have nothing to worry about. Is the Ukraine challenging Russian sovereignty anywhere? Help me out here?
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2024-06-17 06:12:37 +1000
    Only a few days ago, on June 12, Russia Day (Den Rossii), the first national holiday of the post-Soviet era, was celebrated with grand displays of collective joy in the streets and squares. It is, in fact, the holiday marking the fall of the Soviet Union, which Vladimir Putin has called the “most tragic event in all of contemporary history,” and at the same time, it celebrates the pride of Russia transitioning from a Republic to a State and Federation, carrying with it all the contradictions inherited from the decades of “salvific” communism. Today, these contradictions drive Russia to create a new world order, positioning itself back at the center of history through force of bombs and nuclear threats.

    To avoid getting tangled in ambiguous interpretations about the origin of the holiday, Putin wisely chose to invoke Prince Rurik, the mythical Varangian leader who, according to ancient chronicles, began the history of Rus’ in 862 in Novgorod. As sociologist Igor Eidman comments, the solemn awards given on this Russian holiday serve to “give a pendant to every sister” (razdat vsem sestram po sergam), a Russian saying meaning to satisfy all social categories, demonstrating their loyalty to the established power, regardless of their condition or occupation—a habit typical of Soviet times. The awardees are carefully chosen to represent a complete showcase of a “pure” populace, immune to any “external influence,” the infection from which only Russians are capable of healing other peoples.

    President Putin extended his congratulations to Patriarch Kirill, reminding that Russia and the Church are two overlapping concepts: one does not exist without the other, and the “true faith” can only be expressed within the vision of a superior entity—state-federal-cosmic—Russia is Orthodoxy incarnate.

    But no man and no people are capable of writing the entire history of the world on their own.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-06-16 19:29:39 +1000
    Dear Mr Gasparini, the warnings from Fatima against Russia are related to and explained by the ideas Russia was spreading. These ideas are communism and socialism. With the bancruptcy of the Soviet Union Russia has liberated itself from these indeed diabolic ideologies.

    So: no need to fear the “antichrist”-Russia. The antichrist is not using Russia anymore.

    With regard to these antichrist-ideologies, I am more concerned about the west. Here, in our countries, these evil ideologies are ganing strength and popularity almost everywhere.
  • Angela Shanahan
    commented 2024-06-15 23:03:18 +1000
    But the US has no experience of being bombed – apart from 9/11
    Are you kidding? Heard of Pearl Harbour?
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2024-06-15 17:13:25 +1000
    Two concrete episodes. The death of Navalny and a testimony by Berlusconi, in my opinion, clearly and indisputably prove the antichrist nature of the current “power” in Russia.

    Navalny had exposed the oligarchic nature of the system, which is increasingly authoritarian and has now become totalitarian, excluding any opposition.

    But Navalny also criticized the top Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities, accusing them of being complicit with the oligarchy. Since the 1990s, he called Patriarch Kirill, when he was a metropolitan, the ecclesiastical oligarch because he was involved in all sorts of trafficking and went around with expensive watches, flaunting obvious signs of luxury. One of his slogans was: “Christianity, if it is not free, becomes fanaticism.”

    Navalny is a classic figure in Russia: a martyr protesting against power, like Solzhenitsyn in the USSR, like others before him, to whom one can refer. Even if he had remained alive, it was unthinkable that he could lead a movement from the prison camp that would bring about change. Putin, in the meantime, has made a point: “We do not tolerate any dissent.”

    However, another episode, unluckily less known, Mr. Siemer, reveals the shamanic, diabolical, antichrist nature of power in Russia.

    (Catholicism is classified as a tolerated religion, in third place: two years after the inauguration of President Vladimir Putin, Russian policy indicated a clear stance in defense of Orthodoxy as the “State religion,” which in fact had already been elevated above all other confessions in the reformed law on religious freedom in 1997, proposed by the communists and inspired by the Moscow Patriarchate. In the prologue of that law, it was proclaimed that the historical religion of Russia was precisely Orthodoxy, while four other religions were recognized as “secondary traditional”: Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and… Christianity, obviously meaning Catholics and Protestants, who have been present in Russia for centuries but are distinct from the Orthodox as another religion. It was not a slip, and indeed that wording has never been corrected: Russian Orthodoxy is, in effect, a distinct spiritual dimension, where Christian dogmas mix with pagan, shamanic residues – as in the episode that follows – much more than in other branches of Christianity, and above all, reformulate into universal national ideals, indicating Russia as the “salvific people” for all humanity.)

    The episode was recently recounted by Fabrizio Cicchitto, the former leader of the People of Freedom party in the Chamber of Deputies. In the years when Berlusconi was close to the Russian president, often his guest in Sardinia and his residences, it happened that the leader of the former USSR – in great confidence with the Italian – invited him for a hunting trip together, during the vacation at the dacha of the founder of Forza Italia, invited to Russia.

    “Putin looked at me satisfied and said, ‘today I will offer you an extraordinary meal.’ He went down the slope towards the animals, wielding a knife, and gutted a beast, extracting its heart. Then he had a wooden tray handed to him by a security man, gave it to me, and put that piece of bloody meat on it and said, ‘it will be an exceptional meal.’ I was shocked. I hid behind a tree and vomited.”
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-06-15 00:46:00 +1000
    Dear Mr Gasparini,

    More than 20 years ago, when I was on a business trip to Russia I met a young Russian who then took me around to show me the revival of Christianity in Russia. The church of Christ the Savior in Moscow was still a construction site at that time.

    The most interesting point in the explanations he provided was that the Christian revival was driven by many young Russian.

    I think that Putin supports this revival.

    Extra for you I did some research but unfortunately could not find useful statistics on the development or rebirth of Christianity in Russia.

    But there is a nice video on YouTube from 2022. It is called “back in business: Christianity’s second coming in Russia”. It is made by 60 Minutes Australia.

    Please, watch it. It should give you hope.

    With kind regards.
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2024-06-14 04:43:21 +1000
    Russia has been chosen as the fundamental anti-christic instrument to destroy the Catholic Church in the world, but it will not succeed and in the end, it will convert and become part of the Catholic Church. This means that Russia will renounce its militaristic messianism.

    The West, undoubtedly, with its relativism, modernism, and rejection of the grace of Christ, represents the “iron cage” of postmodernity (as Max Weber would say), with its total closure in technocratic, scientistic, evolutionist, and materialistic immanence, both on the liberal (conservative) side and the post-Marxist (progressive) side.

    But the Madonna, at Fatima, and, indirectly, multiple times at Medjugorje, never mentions the West, but only Russia. This is my conviction. The solution, the reset to the impasse of the Hegelian dialectical upset, will come from the Madonna, from the renewed faith of believers, both in the East and the West.
  • Christopher Szabo
    commented 2024-06-13 21:17:24 +1000
    Dear Colleagues,
    May I be allowed to make a few comments?
    1. Russian schoolchildren have, for centuries, been brought up on the idea that Russia has no natural boundaries and therefore the only protection for Russia is the sacrifice of its sons.
    2. Many political factions in the West feel Russia is a threat, and it must be stopped at all costs. They point — legitimately — at certain aggressive Russian actions and extrapolate this to fearing Russian invasion of the Baltic States, Poland etc.
    3: Now combine the two sets of fears: Russia fears Western expansion in the form of NATO and the EU. (Primarily the U.S.) Many Western leaders fear a Russian expansion into Moldova, Georgia, the Baltics and more.
    It is, in my opinion, not unbelievable to see a potential threat of a real war breaking out based on this total lack of comprehension of each other.
    I hope and pray that political leaders will not believe their own propaganda, but act with cool heads to avoid a wider war.
    The war in Ukraine has already claimed far too many lives and is achieving nothing. Advances are literally counted in meters and city blocks.
    Thank you!
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-06-13 21:02:59 +1000
    I would really appreciate if you presented a fact against which there is no argument.

    Is it the fact of the Russian ships in Cuba? Well, there is also the fact of the large NATO training exercises / maneuvers in the Baltic, a few km away from St.Petersburg, which ended only a few days before the trip of the Russian ships.

    And how do you interpret this fact: the Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian long range radars in May.

    My interpretation is that this radar is used for detecting intercontinental missiles flying towards Russia, that this radar had very little use for the war in Ukraine, that the Ukrainians could have done these attacks only with US support, eg satelite data.

    My conclusion is that there are forces in the US and in Ukraine that want to provoke a larger war, possibly a WW3.

    Your interpretation and conclusion of these facts?
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2024-06-13 14:41:29 +1000
    Contra factum, non valet argumentum (Against a fact, there is no valid argument.)
    The G7 will start today, and Putin has set sail with his neo-imperial aspirations. Last night, Ukraine managed to shoot down a Moscow hypersonic missile. But in the Kremlin, they seem calm, bolstered by a European result that, thanks also to the massive Russian disinformation campaign, has seen political forces favorable to Moscow gain strength. And, to put even more pressure on the West, initiatives are being launched that recall a past many thought was closed but is more alive than ever for Putin.

    The latest, in chronological order, is the mission to Cuba of three Russian ships and a nuclear-powered submarine. They arrived at their destination on Wednesday, June 12, just yesterday, entering the port of Havana, and are preparing to conduct military exercises in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of the United States. A situation that, with due differences, recalls the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and is being used by Moscow as a psychological pressure weapon in a non-linear warfare perspective, not only towards governments but especially towards public opinion, to foment protests within individual countries and influence their voting choices, as happened during the European elections."
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-06-13 07:11:52 +1000
    Mr Gasparini, Russia today is not the Soviet Union!

    When and where has Putin blackmailed the West?

    You are not honest!
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2024-06-13 05:45:05 +1000
    The existence of two wars, in Ukraine and the Middle East, threatens the freedom of the West.

    In the 1980s, Soviet propaganda invented the slogan “Better Red than Dead” to push the European left and pacifist movements to oppose the installation of American Pershing 2 missiles, which were meant to counter the SS20 missiles deployed by the Russians to target Western Europe. The psychological blackmail was to spread the false alternative between Soviet peace and nuclear war within public opinion.

    Today, the Soviet Union has collapsed, but Vladimir Putin, its heir, has goals that would have seemed unattainable back then: the dismantling of NATO, the isolation of Europe from the United States, and the neutralization of countries that were part of the former Iron Curtain. In one word, the subjugation of Europe to the Russian hegemonic project. To achieve this goal, the weapon is, as it was then, primarily psychological. The propaganda: “peace, not nuclear catastrophe.”

    There exists a natural and divine law that cannot be transgressed with impunity, and only a return to this law represents the path to finding the only true tranquility in order, which is the peace of Christ. If this does not happen, the path towards the self-destruction of the West, which also involves yielding to Putin’s blackmail, will relentlessly follow its course.

    It is primarily the Church’s responsibility to remind us of these truths. Pope Francis will participate in the G7, which will be held from tomorrow until June 15 in Puglia, under Italy’s leadership. This is the first time a Pope will attend the summit of the group, which also includes the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. What better occasion to do so?
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-06-12 20:17:01 +1000
    Mr Gasparin, there is a Youtube-Video, where Putin addresses your point. He, I am summarizing, says that there are voices in the West claiming that we want to attack the west. He goes on, asking: us attacking NATO? Are they out of their mind? Then he knocks on the table and adds: “dumb as the table”.

    Indeed: Russia has enough difficulties in Ukraine, which proves, that a continuation of the war into Poland and Germany is not in Russia’s interest.

    You should be able to find the clip.

    So, if you cannot substantiate your claim, you should apologize to the readers of mercatornet.
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2024-06-11 23:01:05 +1000
    The history of Russian Christianity has always been one of great opposition to Catholicism because it considers itself the third Rome, the Theodosian incarnation of the throne-altar union, of the Imperial ideal wedded to the Christian ideal. It is increasingly clear, even in Putin’s own statements from three weeks ago, that he intends to occupy Europe. He says he has the means to do so, because it is clear that if he has the means to win in Ukraine, as he has stated, without needing atomic bombs, imagine the other neighboring countries like Moldova, Georgia, then Serbia, or Hungary, which are notoriously pro-Russian. Putin can reach Europe whenever he wants, always with the threat of atomic bombs. This is the danger looming over Europe, and those who have just been elected to the European Parliament need to know that Brussels is in the crosshairs. They should not be under any illusions.
  • Christopher Szabo
    published this page in The Latest 2024-06-11 09:10:53 +1000