Hungary PM Viktor Orbán has only just joined Twitter. Why now?

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By Sophia Khatsenkova
Hungary prime minister Viktor Orban
Hungary prime minister Viktor Orban   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

When Viktor Orban made his first posts on Twitter this week, one of them gave us a clue as to why Hungary's PM has chosen now to join the social media platform.

"After my first day on Twitter, there's one question on my mind. Where is my good friend @realDonaldTrump?"  read the post, showing a gif of John Travolta.

With Hungarians generally preferring Facebook, there is seemingly little domestic motivation for Orban to join the rival platform.

Experts have told Euronews Orban's arrival points to the fact he is keen -- amid the fallout from Russia's war in Ukraine and a long-running dispute with Brussels over access to EU funds --  to influence opinion in the Anglo-Saxon world. 

Why is Orban so late to Twitter?

Back in September, the European Commission proposed to suspend 65% – amounting to €7.5 billion – of the bloc’s cohesion funds to Hungary over corruption concerns. 

It's the latest development in a long-running dispute between Brussels and Budapest over whether the latter adheres to core EU values. 

If Budapest fails to unfreeze the funding that could cause problems for Orban with Hungary heavily reliant on money from Brussels.

“There's a sword hanging over Orban's head if these funds are cut,” Kim Lane Scheppele, sociology professor at Princeton University, told Euronews.

In addition to Mr Orbán’s new Twitter account, his communications team has also launched a podcast called “The Bold Truth about Hungary”.

The first episode aired this Tuesday and focused on EU funding. 

“Join us now for the Hungarian position in our debate with the EU Commission and our proposals for finding a mutually beneficial resolution,” tweeted Zoltan Kovacs, the Secretary of State for International Communication and Relations. 

"It's a great way to reach Western politicians and international media," Zoltan Kiszelly, a political analyst from the conservative pro-government think tank Századvég, told Euronews. "Twitter has a better outreach in the Anglo-Saxon world, which is the priority right now for the government.

"As international and specifically EU issues are becoming increasingly important for Hungary, it's crucial to present the government's reasoning and background when it comes to decisions on the European level, like the rule of law procedures." 

But for Professor Scheppele, an outspoken critic of Orbán's government, it's merely a coordinated PR campaign in a desperate attempt to salvage EU funding. 

"He wants to look like an ordinary European conservative who happens to be attacked by ordinary European liberals. If he can get his government assessed on these ideological grounds, he may escape EU punishment," she said. 

Ties with Russia

Hungary is also largely reliant on Russian oil and gas and has been the most vocal critic of sanctions against Russia in the EU.

Early in October, an agreement has been reached to defer payments to Russia's energy giant Gazprom for winter gas supply. 

It's a move that could ease pressure on the country's widening current deficit after the country's Central Bank called for the government to stabilise its finances - the worst since the financial crisis in 2008.

According to Prof Scheppele, these funds are therefore crucial to maintain Orbán in power.

"He is desperate for cash and that's why he is doing this big PR offensive for EU funds and also negotiating deals with Russia to be able to get cheaper energy and delay payments," she said. "Otherwise the Hungarian government may fall because it doesn't have enough money to sustain itself."

Circumventing mainstream media

Another reason behind the newly launched Twitter account is the strategy of bypassing Western mainstream media.

"He is looking to build alliances with like-minded EU leaders and sway public opinion of him. With this new account, he can address Western audiences directly," said Kiszelly.

Yet his account will not provide a window into the Orban's soul, as was the case with former US President Donald Trump, say, experts. 

"This is a very concerted and well-honed PR campaign with a very specific goal to get money," said Prof Scheppele.