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Orbán And Kaczynski, A Duet In The Key Of Fascism

As the populist leaders face sinking poll numbers and the nearby war in Ukraine, they turn to the tactics of racism and transphobia, which ultimately adds up to fascist tactics.

Caricature featuring Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynsk​i

Caricature featuring Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Wojciech Maziarski


WARSAW — Soaring inflation, economic stagnation, pressure from Brussels and the blockade of European funds, war on the eastern front...

The autocratic governments of Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are facing a wave of adversity they have not faced before.

Their governed subjects are starting to get fed up, taking to the streets, blocking bridges (in Budapest), and chanting: "You will sit!". Poll ratings for Orbán's Fidesz party in Hungary and Kaczynski's PiS in Poland keep falling.

So the pair of autocrats are reaching for a tried-and-true method of distraction: inventing alleged "enemies of the nation" and pointing the blame at them.

Kaczynski has taken aim at transgender people to rouse the attention of the God-fearing masses — even if some voters from his party are forced to listen to the leader's stories with amazement and slight distaste.

Orbán, on the other hand, brought out an artillery of a heavier caliber. Last month, in his annual keynote speech he reached for arguments from the arsenal of 20th-century racism and — yes, let's not be afraid of the word — fascism.

He said that soon more than half the population of major Western cities would be from outside Europe and that the races should not be allowed to mix in Hungary. He suggested that inside Europe's open-border Schengen zone, at Hungary's borders, non-white foreigners should be turned away, even if they have the right to stay in the EU. Otherwise, he argues, the foreign element will occupy the Carpathian Valley, homeland of Hungarians.

\u200bHungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orb\u00e1n at the European Union leaders' summit

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the European Union leaders' summit


Racism or transphobia, or both?

Orbán chose his words carefully. He thought through his ideas and prepared his speech. This was, after all, his annual keynote address, which is always watched with great attention. It was here in 2014 that he gave his famous speech, in which he announced the construction of "illiberal democracy."

It now remains to be seen what will be the results of the tactics employed by these two well-practiced autocrats, who have taken cues from each other often the past. If I had to guess which of them will turn out to be more efficient, I would bet on Orbán. It seems that the racism he presents can mobilize and fuel public hysteria much more effectively than Kaczynski's absurd transphobia.

And that means that this time the Polish party leader, who after all has already spoken about the germs spread by immigrants, will be the one imitating his Hungarian counterpart.

So listen well to Viktor Orbán's racist theses, for in all probability it will be the leitmotif of the Law and Justice Party's 2023 campaign.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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