The danger of leaders like Viktor Orbán and Aleksandar Vučić isn’t just ideology but the ruthlessness with which they exploit public opinion

Two weeks before securing his latest electoral victory, Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, travelled to the northern Serbian town of Subotica to meet his close friend, Aleksandar Vučić, the president of Serbia. Outside the region, few people pay much attention to the bond between these two men. Yet overlooking it would be hazardous. A close look at this duo can reveal a lot about the nexus, in today’s Europe, between political engineering, nationalism, and how demagogues can thrive.

Orbán and Vučić like each other because they have much in common, although one has made the EU an enemy while being part of it, while the other remains outside and aspires to join the club. They’re roughly of the same generation – one that entered politics in the turbulent era of the crumbling of the communist bloc. They both pander to nationalist sentiment, while toeing a fine line trying to preserve a functional relationship with important players within the EU – not least in Germany. And they are strongmen, with little interest indeed for checks and balances, liberal democracy or free media.

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Read More Beware the chameleon strongmen of Europe | Natalie Nougayrède

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