A search for the right historical analogy should focus on the events of Rome in 1919 rather than Sarajevo in 1914. It won't take long for those who step inside the world of echo chambers and metaphors that color Putin's thinking to identify traits that were also present at the birth of fascism. There's Putin's cult of the body, the lofty rhetoric of self-assertion, the denigration of his opponents as degenerates, his contempt for democracy and Western parliamentarianism, his exaggerated nationalism.It's not a new comparison (ahem). However, I've just been reading Yegor Gaidar's thoughts on post-imperial nostalgia and the greater difficulty territorially integrated empires have letting go compared with maritime empires. Budapest 1920 (and Budapest 2014) might offer an even closer analogy than Rome 1919. Just as there are plenty of Russian nationalists mourning the collapse of the USSR, some of their Magyar counterparts are still cut up about the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And Putin feels their pain.
In the aftermath of the First World War, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory at the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians were reduced to ethnic minority status in neighbouring countries. This loss of historic land caused many Hungarian nationalists to feel such a revulsion for Europe that they turned to a Eurasian ideology, Turanism, which claimed the Magyars were possessors of a unique culture, a superior blend of East and West. Fears of Hungarian irredentism were so great that Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia formed the Little Entente, an alliance to guard against Budapest's claims on their territory.
Eurasian ideas appeal to Jobbik, the Hungarian Far Rightists who maintain a close but ambiguous relationship with the ruling Fidesz party and who gained 20% of the vote this April. And - surprise, surprise - Jobbik appeals to Vladimir Putin and his friends, as Mitchell A. Orenstein explains:
In Hungary, for example, Putin has taken the Jobbik party under his wing. The third-largest party in the country, Jobbik has supporters who dress in Nazi-type uniforms, spout anti-Semitic rhetoric, and express concern about Israeli “colonization” of Hungary. The party has capitalized on rising support for nationalist economic policies, which are seen as an antidote for unpopular austerity policies and for Hungary’s economic liberalization in recent years. Russia is bent on tapping into that sentiment. In May 2013, Kremlin-connected right-wing Russian nationalists at the prestigious Moscow State University invited Jobbik party president Gabor Vona to speak. Vona also met with Russia Duma leaders including Ivan Grachev, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Energy and Vasily Tarasyuk, deputy chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources and Utilization, among others. On the Jobbik website, the visit is characterized as “a major breakthrough” which made “clear that Russian leaders consider Jobbik as a partner.” In fact, there have been persistent rumors that Jobbik’s enthusiasm is paid for with Russian rubles. The party has also repeatedly criticized Hungary’s “Euro-Atlantic connections” and the European Union. And, more recently, it called the referendum in Crimea “exemplary,” a dangerous word in a country with extensive co-ethnic populations in Romania and Slovakia. It seems that the party sees Putin’s new ethnic politics as being aligned with its own revisionist nationalism.Of course, the Hungarian Far Right are relatively impotent. They don't have the resources to send "little green men" to Transylvania or Vojvodina. They are forced to take out their post-imperial frustrations on their own national minorities, Jews and gypsies. This loses them the sympathy of Guardianista types who have no problem showing understanding for Putin's irredentist fantasies and his annexation of Crimea. They also have little access to hydocarbons and are not big in the banking sector, so there's nothing there to attract practitioners of Realpolitik. But if Jobbik needs a shoulder to cry on, luckily Vladimir Putin is there to offer support.