Dark Christmas Signals Tough Times for a Prosperous City in Hungary

Skeptical that the reason for this was a Europe-wide energy crisis, he blamed Fidesz and the city’s mayor, Mr. Dezsi, an eccentric, parrot-loving cardiologist who took over after the previous mayor, Zsolt Borkai, also from Fidesz, became entangled in a sex scandal and resigned in 2019.

The scandal did little to dent the city’s overwhelming support for Fidesz, partly because it was largely ignored by Hungarian media outlets loyal to Mr. Orban. Bad economic news has been similarly obscured, presented as “fake news” ginned up by political opponents, or blamed on European sanctions on Russia.

To rally the public behind its narrative, not dissimilar from that of the Kremlin, Mr. Orban’s government is now holding what it calls a “national consultation” — a vote on a series of leading questions intended to show that “sanctions are destroying the economies of Europe.”

The European Union has imposed no sanctions on Russian natural gas, and Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom, has itself driven up the price by cutting supplies to many customers. Hungary, which sent its foreign minister to Moscow this summer to beg Russia to keep gas flowing, has not been hit by these cuts, but still has to pay more because the price Gazprom charges is largely set by market rates.

“The power and effect of propaganda is tremendous,” said Bulcsu Hunyadi, a senior analyst at Political Capital, a Budapest research group that is often critical of Mr. Orban. Hungary, he said, has created a system of “informational autocracy” that allows the government to “create an alternative reality.”

A recent Political Capital study found that a majority of Hungarians think sanctions over Ukraine have hurt Europe more than Russia and that half of Fidesz voters believe that Hungary has not endorsed them. In reality, Hungary has voted for each of nine sets of E.U. sanctions since February, including a new round approved by Mr. Orban and other leaders on Thursday in Brussels.

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