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Pro-Putin leaders in Hungary and Serbia win reelection as Europe grapples with war

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (R) shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after a joint press conference in Belgrade on May 15, 2020. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shake hands after a joint press conference in Belgrade in 2020. Both men won reelection over the weekend.

Two far-right political leaders friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin have won reelection in Europe, even as Moscow's largely unpopular war in Ukraine drags on.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban easily sailed to victory against a coalition of political opponents from both the left and right, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic won a second term with 60% of votes.

Though much of the European Union and the world have condemned Russia over its ongoing war in Ukraine, the two victories suggest that some Europeans still back nationalist leaders with close ties to the Kremlin.

Orban, who has urged peace in Ukraine, also used his victory speech to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy an "opponent" of Hungary. European leaders have criticized Hungary for attempting to walk a tightrope of neutrality regarding the war.

In his 12 years in power, Orban has often clashed with the EU over what critics have called his increasingly undemocratic tendencies, such as gaining influence over a majority of Hungary's legacy media and cracking down on the country's LGBTQ population.

"Orban has built ties with autocrats, like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, while rejecting liberal democratic principles of the West," NPR's Rob Schmitz said on All Things Considered last week.

Orban's Fidesz Party took 135 seats in Hungary's 199-member parliament, compared to an expected 56 seats for the opposition.

In Serbia, Vucic has boasted about his personal ties to Putin, the Associated Press reported. The populist leader also has refused to condemn Russia or impose sanctions on the country after it invaded Ukraine earlier this year, the outlet said.

Meanwhile, voters in France who head to the polls on Sunday will see far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour on the ballot. Zemmour, who has been convicted of using hate speech at least three times, has previously expressed support for Russia, though he condemned its invasion of Ukraine. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.