Opposition parties were desperate to unseat incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. During Hungary’s parliamentary elections on April 3, six of them ran together as a united opposition. Analysts predicted that the race would be close. It wasn’t.
Orbán’s Fidesz party won 53 percent of the vote (even more than in the last election); the opposition got 35 percent. Orbán won his fourth consecutive term.
His victory signaled the transformation taking place in Hungary that will soon affect the rest of Europe—and the world.
There are widespread allegations that Orbán stole the election. Little evidence of outright destruction, altering or falsification of ballots has surfaced, although bags containing burned ballots for the opposition were reported in a Romanian city where Hungarians are eligible to vote. Still, it is hard to deny some of Orbán’s other election-influencing tactics.
Months before the election, the Fidesz-controlled parliament changed the legal definition of a “residence” from the place a person resides to any address a person uses for official communication. A voter’s residence determines his eligibility to vote in that district, so this change enabled “voter tourism”: people voting for candidates in districts where they don’t live. Excess supporters in one district, for example, could save a struggling candidate in another.
Moreover, most Hungarian news media are either controlled or funded by the government or run by Orbán-friendly oligarchs. This certainly helped boost his vote share.
Orbán also used government resources for his campaign. A government website designed to provide covid-19 updates claimed Orbán’s opponents were trying to involve Hungary in the war in Ukraine. Klára Dobrev, a European Parliament member targeted in the e-mail, called this “using public money for obviously party propaganda.”
The government gave one of Orbán’s main opponents, Péter Márki-Zay, as little time as possible to campaign on state media. Márki-Zay was given only one opportunity to speak on Hungary’s biggest public television station, less than three weeks before the vote. Radio Free Europe obtained a recording from the editor of state broadcaster mtva, in which he instructed staff about mtva’s policy of not supporting opposition candidates. Those who objected were told to resign immediately.
Hungary’s election was concerning enough for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that it took the unprecedented step of sending in a full election monitoring mission. After saying the elections were “well run” and “offered distinct alternatives,” the organization did report that “while competitive, the process was marred by the pervasive overlapping of government and ruling coalition’s messaging that blurred the line between state and party, as well as by media bias and opaque campaign funding.”
Orbán’s victory was not from outright rigging, but it was hardly a fair fight in a free democracy.
Despite his undemocratic methods, Orbán is still immensely popular in Hungary and would likely have won regardless. In 2014, he famously declared he was turning Hungary into an “illiberal state.” He has been fairly blatant about using the press and government agencies to bias the election and the electorate in his own favor. Hungarians can clearly see that Orbán is becoming an autocrat, and they like what they see.
This is a concerning development in what is supposed to be a free European democracy.
So is Orbán’s relationship with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Though Orbán is not an outright dictator and his government does not actively support Russia’s war on Ukraine, both he and Putin are strongmen undermining democratic institutions. Both dislike aspects of modern Western liberalism, such as multiculturalism and acceptance of homosexuality. Orbán’s assistance to Putin, though limited, has been enough to alienate Hungary from its traditional Western allies. This is where things get interesting.
Eastern Europe has political traditions quite distinct from those of Western Europe. Many East Europeans have a more conservative outlook. Poland is ruled by the Law and Justice party that serves Catholic interests rather than social liberals. Top politicians in Slovenia, the Czech Republic and elsewhere see Orbán as a leader of their clique of anti-establishment leaders in the East.
But some of these most prominent politicians, like Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, have been voted out. Poland is considered Orbán’s warmest important ally, but his position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is straining that relationship. When Orbán refused to condemn the massacre of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, by Russian troops, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński lambasted him on radio. “My assessment is unequivocally negative—I must admit that it is all very sad,” Kaczyński said. “When Orbán says that he cannot see what happened in Bucha, he must be advised to see an eye doctor.”
Since 2010, Orbán’s first trip abroad after each election victory had been to Poland, a show of solidarity. But this year, Orbán went instead to Vatican City.
Pursuing the Pope
Pope Francis is well known for his support of European unity, integration of Muslim refugees into Europe, and many other traditionally liberal causes that Orbán opposes. Nevertheless, on April 21, Orbán had an audience in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, his first since Francis was elected pope in 2013.
Francis and Orbán last met in September 2021 in Hungary, where the pope spent just seven hours in the capital city on his way to a multiday trip to Slovakia. The tension between them was noticeable. During mass, Francis called Hungarians to become more “open” and “considerate” and said “the cross … extends its arms toward everyone.” Many interpreted this as a criticism of Orbán’s restrictions on Middle Eastern refugees. Orbán gave the pope a thinly veiled message of his own: a copy of a 13th-century letter from Hungary’s king to Pope Innocent iv requesting help to fight off Mongol invaders. Orbán later stated that he “asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.”
None of this hostility was noticeable in Orbán’s Vatican trip. The two men concluded the meeting in English, with Orbán inviting Francis to visit Hungary. “God bless you, your family and Hungary,” Francis said. Orbán responded: “Your holiness, we are waiting for you.”
Balkan Insight wrote on April 22, “Orbán’s Vatican visit suggests he is trying to close the huge gap he has created between himself and other European leaders. Despite his recent landslide victory in the Hungarian election, Orbán faces headwinds.” Balkan Insight described how other former allies of Orbán, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have relatively new prime ministers who are much less supportive of him than their predecessors.
There may be more to Orbán’s Vatican visit than meets the eye.
‘The Key to Europe’s Renewal’
Balázs Orbán, one of Viktor Orbán’s political advisers (no relation), uploaded several Facebook posts relating to the meeting. “The institution of the papacy and person of the Holy Father have played a prominent role in the life of Hungary since the founding of the state by St. Stephen [Hungary’s first king],” he wrote before the meeting. “This close bond has been the key to Europe’s renewal on countless occasions. Our common causes continue to bind us together.”
Hungary is historically Catholic and was formerly one of the two main pillars of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by the Catholic Habsburg monarchy. Before Austria-Hungary, the Habsburgs ruled the Holy Roman Empire for centuries. The Holy Roman Empire, whose emperor was crowned by the pope, was guided by Roman Catholicism.
This could be the “close bond” Balázs Orbán is referring to. But the Holy Roman Empire is responsible for some of Europe’s worst atrocities, such as the Inquisition and the religious wars against Protestants. Austria-Hungary is partially responsible for starting World War i. And the Holy Roman Empire was an inspiration to Adolf Hitler for building the Third Reich. Yet Orbán’s Hungary, and apparently the Vatican, see this “renewal” as positive.
Francis champions European unity. In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Charlemagne Prize for his contributions to European unity. The pope is also notorious for his hostility to the American-led world order and his calls for global financial and political revolution. Francis and Orbán have their disagreements, but they seem to share the goal of “renewing” Europe.
Is Viktor Orbán hoping to use this “key to Europe’s renewal” one more time? Does he want the Catholic Church to help him “bind Europe together” in more than just a general way? When he told the pope, “We are waiting for you,” he could well have meant that all of Europe is waiting for the papacy to rebuild Europe into a strong, Christian, illiberal power bloc.
Europe’s ‘Church-Shaped Hole’
The Trumpet and our predecessor magazine, the Plain Truth, have forecast the unification of Europe for decades. We have also forecast that the European nations will be utterly unable to unite politically without some stronger force. That stronger force is religion.
Plain Truth founder Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in 1980 that European leaders “talk continually of political union—which means, also military. So far they have been unable to bring about full political union. This will be made possible by the ‘good offices’ of the Vatican, who alone can be the symbol of unity to which they can look” (The United States and Britain in Prophecy).
“Will Europe Rediscover Its Christian Identity?” was the cover story for the November-December 2016 Trumpet. It stated that Europe’s “Christian, Roman identity solves the two biggest problems facing Europe right now: how to face radical Islam and how to unify the Continent. Nothing else fits the problems that Europe faces today so perfectly. … There is a Catholic Church-shaped hole in the heart of Europe. It’s only a matter of time before a new Napoleon tries to fill it.”
This may still seem unlikely to many. Europe has been a bastion of secularism for more than a lifetime. The era of popes and cardinals presiding over European politics seems like ancient history. But the Plain Truth and the Trumpet have been relying on a timeless source, one that affirms this “Catholic Church-shaped hole in the heart of Europe” will be filled. That source is the Holy Bible.
The book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John around a.d. 90, at the height of the old Roman Empire. In chapter 13, John describes a “beast,” a biblical symbol for an empire. It has fearsome war-making power (verse 4). It persecutes and martyrs God’s people (verse 7). It has great authority and rules the known world (verses 2, 8). Studying this chapter with related prophecies in Daniel 2 and 7, the identity of this beast becomes clear: It is the Roman Empire. (Request Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast? by Herbert W. Armstrong.)
Rome fell centuries ago. How is this prophecy relevant to modern Europe? Notice that the beast has seven heads and 10 horns (Revelation 13:1). This is an important detail that ties Revelation 13 in with another prophecy in Revelation 17.
This chapter features a “beast” (empire) with seven heads and 10 horns (verse 3). But this beast is ridden by a “woman,” a biblical symbol for a church (see Ephesians 5:22-32; 2 Corinthians 11:1-2). She is extremely wealthy and dressed in lavish apparel (Revelation 17:4). She has influence over many peoples around the world (verse 15). She reigns from a “great city” situated on seven hills (verses 18, 9).
Like the Plain Truth, the Trumpet identifies this “woman” as the Roman Catholic Church.
Revelation 17 interprets the seven heads as seven consecutive incarnations of the Holy Roman Empire—the union of a European power with the Catholic Church (verse 10). Verse 14 shows that the last incarnation will rise up and exist up to Christ’s Second Coming.
History records six such resurrections of the Holy Roman Empire. The last of these six resurrections was Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. This means there is one more resurrection to come.
Verse 12 gives another key detail about the seventh and final resurrection: “And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.” The last resurrection will consist of 10 independent nations pooling their strength together into one supranational empire. Like the previous resurrections, they will be guided by the “woman.”
The Trumpet expects Hungary to be one of these 10 kings.
“Is the acceptance of Orbán’s dictatorship in the EU a sign that the time has come for Europe’s 10 kings to emerge?” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry asked in his article “Coronavirus and the Holy Roman Empire.” “It is almost certain that Hungary will be part of the coming 10-nation European superpower” (Trumpet, July 2020).
The Vatican meeting shows that the Catholic Church has also accepted Orbán’s place in Europe. And it looks like Orbán and the papacy are ready to work together more closely for the shared goal of one more “renewal” of Europe. History proves that this doesn’t bode well for Europe or the world.