Public statements made by politicians, built on revanchism, are inherently criminal and contribute to fostering a desire for intentional harm inflicted by one group of people upon another. The most eloquent example, of course, is the political speeches of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, the criminal political discourse of representatives of the Russian regime extends far beyond the borders of Russia. Frequent statements by leaders of Hungary and Serbia indicate that Russia employs this toolkit of imposing corresponding complexes on the population in countries still influencing political regimes.
However, these statements are nothing new.
One of the most infamous speeches by the President of the Russian Federation, V. Putin, concerned the collapse of the USSR, which he characterized as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Another message from Putin complements the previous one is that “Russia has to be a great power.”
These messages from the Russian leader are, in fact, manifestations of Russian revanchism, around which further narratives, including ones such as, “Lenin invented Ukraine” and recent insinuations regarding territorial claims to Poland, are formed.
Revanchism as a policy first emerged in France in the late 19th century, when a group of bourgeois nationalist reactionaries opposed the liberalism of the Second Republic.
Therefore, Russia is neither the first nor the second in this regard. The policy of revanchism, which involves seeking revenge for an imagined or absolute defeat, is characteristic of many chauvinistic circles, and an orientation toward the past is an obligatory feature of this phenomenon.
When considering revanchism, it is essential to understand the mechanism that is practically embodied in the political discourse, which, as a result, becomes hostile rhetoric towards other states.
For example, territorial claims, denial of other nations’ right to have their condition, or refusal of international law, attributing it to “historical” circumstances, all contribute to this manipulation of concepts. In other words, all these characteristics are inherent in the state communication in Russia.
Thus, the critical elements of revanchism embodied in political statements that shape the general political discourse are an orientation toward the past, a connection to a particular historical event, and the cultivation of a desire for revenge, which, in turn, has complex psychological underpinnings. All of this is seasoned with a tendentious substitution of concepts.
Moreover, the psychological aspect of revanchism largely explains the criminal nature of such discourse. On the one hand, human desires are based on impulses, inclinations, and motives. On the other hand, revenge involves intentional harm or offense in response to feelings of injustice (i.e., revenge, in this case, is a filling of the motivational core). Thus, the orientation of revanchism involves cultivating a sense of injustice and inciting deliberate harm, that is, starting the commission of crimes on a mass scale. And the key here is intent.
These characteristics somehow account for such public statements’ irresponsibility and criminal nature. Therefore, general statements by politicians that contain signs of revanchism should be analyzed separately as calls for the commission of war crimes.
However, on the other hand, such mass complexes are the sacrifice their societies bring to authoritarian leaders to stay in power. Similar statements by Putin, who has been in power for almost a quarter of a century, largely explain the reason for his popularity in Russia.
The thoughts expressed by the Russian President are shared by the absolute majority of his fellow citizens, for whom Putin, who transformed from a little-known director of the Russian FSB in 1999 into the de facto ruler of Russia, embodies the hope for the restoration of Russia’s lost greatness.
One of the most scandalous examples of hostile revanchism towards Ukraine from Russia was the provocation by the leader of the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
In 2014, when the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs received a letter from the State Duma of Russia proposing the division of Ukrainian territory, Zhirinovsky, in his letter, which was coordinated with the higher leadership of the country, suggested holding a referendum in western regions of Ukraine on joining Poland. Poland and Romania received similar proposals.
However, the provocation by this marginal politician is not the only example of such rhetoric. During the NATO Bucharest Summit in 2008, Putin directly voiced this idea.
“Ukraine, in general, is a very complex state. Ukraine, as it exists today, was created during Soviet times; it received territories from Poland – after World War II, Czechoslovakia, and Romania – and there are still unresolved border issues in the Black Sea with Romania… Huge territories were received from Russia in the east and south of the country. This is a complex state formation. And if we add NATO’s problematic presence there… it could put the state’s very existence at risk… We have no right to veto; we cannot have it and do not claim it. But I want all of us, when we decide on such matters, to understand that we also have our interests there… Seventeen million Russians live in Ukraine… The south of Ukraine is entirely Russian, there are only Russians there, and Crimea was given to Ukraine by the decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union). No state procedures were even to transfer this territory”(Putin, Bucharest, 2008).
These words were spoken by the Russian leader not only before Zhirinovsky’s provocation but long before the annexation of Crimea, the outbreak of war in Donbas, and the full-scale invasion. Therefore, Russia’s example gives reason to consider revanchism not just provocative rhetoric but also a potential course that the country is moving towards.
Methods of Russian Revanchism:
- Formation of a community of “compatriots” as carriers of the “Russian world” abroad and policies aimed at “protecting” their rights.
- Promoting a “Russophobia” narrative intensifies the maladaptation of “compatriots.”
- Conducting active influence activities to promote Russian interests abroad under the guise of cultural diplomacy.
“Orbán’s Greater Hungary”
Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, is another eloquent example who uses revanchist discourse to maintain power. Still, Russian influences, which remain present in Hungary, also play a significant role. “Orbán’s Greater Hungary” and his party Fidesz are a key ideological concept in the communications of the current Hungarian leadership. This thesis has been present in the politician’s election campaigns and the activities of his party and government for many years.
The office of Zoltán Kovács, the spokesperson of the Hungarian government, with a map of “Greater Hungary.”
Orbán constantly emphasizes that neighboring countries with Hungary have no right to certain territories within their borders.
The screenshot contains a quote from Viktor Orbán stating that “Slovakia is a breakaway part of Hungary,” https://dailynewshungary.com/pm-orban-slovakia-is-breakaway-part-of-hungary-bratislava-outraged/
Because of such statements regarding Croatia, Slovakia, and Romania, Viktor Orbán gets involved in scandals and faces criticism from the respective countries’ Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
And there are many such examples. For instance, last year, Orbán appeared at a football match wearing a scarf with a map of the Hungarian kingdom that included territories now part of Ukraine, Croatia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Austria.
This act received a highly adverse reaction from Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. Regarding Croatia, this was not the first provocative action by Orbán, who occasionally mentions in his statements the lack of access to the sea for Hungary. He alludes to the fact that the country once had access to the Rijeka port, but after World War I, the port, and city were ceded to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (the former name of Yugoslavia).
Orbán uses this fact as manipulation when demanding that Croatia reduce the price of gas transportation to Hungary from the Croatian port of Omisalj. Orbán and his government ministers argue that this makes the country a hostage of official Zagreb and historical injustice.
A few days ago, Viktor Orbán cast doubt on the territorial sovereignty and integrity of two neighboring countries – Romania and Slovakia. And this is not the first time the Hungarian Prime Minister has done so, directly stating that these countries illegally acquired part of their territories.
According to Orbán’s beliefs, Romania has no right to Szeklerland, where the Hungarian national minority, the Szekelys, live. He referred to Slovakia as “separated” from Hungary’s territory. Hungarian ambassadors to Romania and Slovakia were summoned to the respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs, but Budapest did not offer any apologies.
Brussels has not reacted appropriately to Orbán’s openly provocative statements, which are motivated by the desire for Hungarian revanchism.
Furthermore, in addition to Hungary’s willingness to undermine the EU’s regional security system, other countries’ national interests are also at risk. In recent years, the Hungarian Prime Minister has not hidden his desire to redraw Hungary’s borders by annexing territories lost after World War I.
The Trianon Trauma” and Hungarian Revanchism
Viktor Orbán, who has been in power since 2010, enjoys great popularity among voters by highlighting the so-called “Trianon trauma.” In 1920, the victorious countries signed the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary on June 4, 1920, under which Hungary lost significant territories. Lands were ceded to Austria (Burgenland), Czechoslovakia (Carpathian Ruthenia or Subcarpathia), Romania (Transylvania and Eastern Banat), and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Vojvodina, Western Banat, Croatia).
Also, Hungary was forced to recognize the independence of the Kingdom of SHS (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) and cede the port of Fiume (Rijeka), now part of Croatia.
Currently, the lands separated from Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon are part of six countries, and practically to each of them, Budapest claims some form of sovereignty. The most frequent manipulative statements from Orbán and his ministers are directed toward Ukraine, Croatia, and Romania.
To spread their narratives, the party of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Fidesz, uses the diaspora and local politicians. The main emphasis is on granting special status and the right to become one of the nation-building nations in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Austria, and Serbia to ethnic Hungarians living abroad.
Methods of Hungarian revanchism include:
- Gathering all ethnic Hungarians worldwide under a unified legal framework.
This involved granting ethnic Hungarians abroad the same rights as Hungarian citizens. In 2001, the country’s parliament passed a Law on Status that allowed diaspora members to work and study in Hungary, enjoy privileges, and receive free medical services.
Special attention was given to working with teachers from the diaspora and developing cultural, educational, and media networks.
- Obtaining particular documents confirming Hungarian ancestry.
- Forming the concept of the “Trianon trauma” in society, which serves as the official justification for Orban’s revanchism.
In 2010, when Viktor Orban first assumed the position of Prime Minister, Hungary introduced the Day of National Unity (June 4). This new national holiday aimed to restore a sense of national pride among Hungarians that the Trianon Treaty destroyed.
- Created the Prime Minister’s reputation as the defender of all Hungarians.
- Placing maps depicting the “Greater Hungary” in specific country regions. Similar symbolism is used in tourist products.
- Using words such as dictatorship, trauma, and tragedy in the informational, media, and scientific spheres regarding the Trianon Treaty.
The English version of Wikipedia has an article titled “Trianon trauma/syndrome,” which describes a specific social phenomenon unique to Hungarian society.
In this way, Orbán avoids making direct statements about the need to revise the unfair conditions of the document. Constant use of these methods spares the politician from having to make explicit statements about reclaiming lost territories. This request is already present in Hungarian society and politics due to continuous manipulation and revisiting of the past.
In the Balkan region, the danger of revanchism exists in Serbia. In the 1990s, the authorities in Belgrade attempted to revive the idea of “Greater Serbia.” At that time, Slobodan Milošević became the carrier of this concept, later accused by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of war crimes.
In 1989, during his speech at Gazimestan (Kosovo Polje), Milošević declared that he would no longer allow the Serbs to be insulted and oppressed. He instantly positioned himself as the defender and representative of the interests of the Serbian people. His most radical representatives – Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić, Vojislav Šešelj, and Biljana Plavšić – led the fight for the reunification of Serbian lands under Belgrade’s rule.
Screenshot of Slobodan Milosevic’s speech at Kosovo Field on June 28, 1989, http://www.slobodan-milosevic.org/spch-kosovo1989.htm
This has led to wars in Croatia (1991-1995), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995), and Kosovo (1999). Serbia, which was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at that time, did not regain the lost territories but managed to have the Bosnian Serbs’ self-proclaimed entity, the Republika Srpska, recognized as a legitimate entity in post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Republika Srpska is one of the strongholds for promoting Greater Serbian chauvinism in the former Yugoslavia and is an essential component of the so-called “Serb world.”
The most challenging problem that Serbia has been unable to resolve in its favor is the partially recognized state of Kosovo. The Serbian authorities tolerate the myth within society that Kosovo is the cradle of Serbian statehood and spirituality to legitimize their claims over the self-proclaimed republic.
To destabilize the political situation in Kosovo, the Belgrade government actively demands the implementation of points 1-6 of the Brussels Agreement of 2013, which relates to the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo. The current Serbian leadership explains this as necessary to protect the rights of ethnic Serbs living in ten municipalities within the self-proclaimed republic.
Lately, there have been more frequent accusations from the Serbian government and politicians regarding Pristina’s persecution of Kosovo Serbs. Belgrade accused the Kosovo Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, and the country’s president, Vjosa Osmani, of ethnic cleansing, which, according to international humanitarian law, is a form of war crime.
Such connotations were typical for Serbia in the 1990s when Slobodan Milosevic and his entourage “rushed” to defend the rights of ethnic Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The result of this policy was the establishment of the separatist states of the Republic of Serbian Krajina in Croatia (which existed until August 1995, when it was eliminated during Operation “Storm”) and the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina (legitimized after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in November 1995).
If Serbia fails to extend its version of revanchism to Croatia, it continues to strive to reclaim control over other countries in the post-Yugoslav space.
Methods of Serbian Revanchism:
- Forming the image of Serbia as the sole defender of the Serbian people within the state’s borders and beyond.
To achieve this, Belgrade recalls that the Serbian dynasty stood at the head of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, established after World War I and that representatives of this ruling house protected Serbs and other nations. The Serbian leadership continues to support the narrative of Yugoslavia as the home for all Serbs, where they lived in “good” relations with Bosniaks, Croats, Slovenes, Albanians, Macedonians, and Montenegrins.
- Implementing the concept of the “Serb world,” as announced by the head of Serbian intelligence, Aleksandar Vulin, in June 2022. He stated that the creation of this “world” is already unstoppable.
- Strengthening Serbia’s role in the Balkan region.
President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, initiated regional cooperation called “Mini-Schengen,” later known as “Open Balkans.” Vucic insisted on neighboring countries – Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and North Macedonia – joining his initiative.
Serbia was supposed to assist other “Open Balkan” participants in democratizing and implementing reforms for rapid EU integration. Only Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia became full-fledged participants in the initiative. Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina rejected Vucic’s proposal due to fears that Serbia would attempt to revive an updated version of the Yugoslav Federation.
- Using the Serbian Orthodox Church to promote the idea of a unified “Serb world.
The Serbian Orthodox Church is not just a religious institution in the former Yugoslav territories. It involves political processes, which must be considered when forming the government and addressing internal and external issues.
The Serbian Orthodox Church holds significant influence not only in Serbia but also in Montenegro. In late December 2019, the then-president of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, signed a law on religion and the legal status of religious communities.
According to the provisions of the law, religious communities were required to prove their right to own property that they had used before 1918. The Serbian Orthodox Church faced the threat of losing a considerable portion of its property, which could have been transferred to state ownership.
The Serbian authorities in Belgrade opposed the law, leading to months of protests and liturgies in Montenegro and worsening the political situation there. Ultimately, in 2021, the new government, formed due to the 2020 extraordinary elections with pro-Serbian politicians, repealed the law.
While there was no official intervention from Serbia in Montenegrin affairs, Belgrade acted through the Serbian Orthodox Church, which officially supported the course of the acting Serbian government.
This situation highlights the complex relationship between religious institutions and political influence in the region.
Risks of Revanchism
- Statements by Viktor Orban find a positive response among representatives of right-wing movements.
For example, in Italy, the politics of the Hungarian Prime Minister impress the participants of the Italian irredentist movement (Movimento irredentista italiano). They believe their country unjustly lost Dalmatia and Istria – Croatian coastal regions.
- The activation of Russian propaganda and the strengthening of pro-Russian parties’ positions in Europe, which rely on ideas of border revision and protection of Hungarians or Serbs in Serbia, Kosovo, and Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina) from persecution and destruction.
- The strengthening of Russia’s “soft power” strategy involves spreading “correct narratives” and incorporating the Balkans and Central Europe into a unified information space along with Russia.
- The legalization of Russian hybrid wars and aggression against Ukraine, as well as the legitimization of unrecognized republics like Donetsk/Luhansk People’s Republics, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.
- Supporting the separatist aspirations of the Bosnian entity Republika Srpska (BiH) and its president Milorad Dodik regarding separation from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Attempts to revise the Dayton Peace Agreement conditions to form a third entity – the Croatian one – within Republika Srpska.
Given the challenges of the current political environment, it is essential to understand that monitoring and analyzing political discourses play a significant role in ensuring stability and healthy societal development.
Firstly, monitoring political discourses helps timely identify and respond to signs of radicalization in society. The rise of political radicalism can become a breeding ground for conflicts, violence, and divisions, threatening peaceful coexistence.
Actively observing the statements of political leaders, activists, and civil society organizations can identify the surge of radicalized ideas and take measures to counter this phenomenon.
Secondly, analyzing political discourses helps understand societal evolution trends and forecast possible scenarios. Tracking changes in political views and ideologies can reveal which directions gain popularity and support and which are losing their positions. This enables predicting potential changes in the political landscape and avoiding negative consequences that may arise due to unexpected shifts.
Thirdly, a thorough analysis of political discourses helps detect threats to democracy and possible power usurpation by certain political groups. Through analyzing the rhetoric and actions of political actors, intentions and strategies aimed at restricting democratic institutions, violating human rights, and other negative phenomena can be identified. This allows timely responses and measures to preserve democracy and the rule of law.
All these measures aim not only to prevent potential threats but also to promote the positive development of society by strengthening its foundations and improving the quality of political discussion. The active role of the public, researchers, and experts in this process is crucial for ensuring transparency, accountability, and democratic governance.