The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, will be celebrated today in Warsaw. This is a mistake, the Visegrad Group could rebuild its reputation and position in the EU by temporarily excluding Hungary.
The future of the Orbán era was outlined by the Prime Minister himself in a speech inaugurating his fourth term in office, less than a week ago. By 2030, he intends to stay in power thanks to generous subsidies from the European Union – Hungary is the largest beneficiary of these funds per capita.
Lacklustre development, corruption, centralisation
By staying in power this year, he would break the 20-year record of Sir Robert Walpole, 18th-century British Prime Minister. When counting Orbán’s (more) positive attributes, one should include a unique political imagination and his continued momentum. Orbán as one of the few contemporary politicians who actually has a plan for Europe, but with this you can finish the praise.
Lacklustre development and corruption at the highest levels of power does not help the prosperity of Hungarians, especially when compared to their European counterparts. In the last three decades, Poland has shortened the prosperity gap between the “Old Guard” of the EU and the newer member state by half (GDP per capita) and recently it even overtook Hungary. Orbán’s plan to keep his 99% dependency on Russian energy sources – which could be diversified if there was the political will – is exactly the opposite direction that Poland is pursuing not only for itself, but for the whole continent.
The centralisation of power, admittedly carried out in the white gloves of the constitutional majority, is a contradiction of the Polish political culture based on effective self-government (according to CBOS research, Poles have not trusted the central authority for years, and by large trust local governments). This could be doubted considering events that have unfolded in the current administration, but it must be remembered that PiS is trying to implement an assault on the constitutional order through trickery – this was not promised to voters in the election campaign – while Fidesz has accurately foretold what it plans to change.
Hungary is becoming dangerous to the West
During the inaugural address in parliament, Orbán spoke about the spiritual and cultural community of Central Europe and the need for new economic cooperation in the region – a project also financed by Polish taxpayers. At the same time, he described the geopolitical autonomy of the Hungarians and the growing distance between themselves and the transatlantic community of democracy. There is no other NATO and EU country leader that would so often demand more respect for Putin and Erdogan.
Hungary under Orbán’s rule has become dangerous to the West, and thus for our region and Poland, specifically. The existing political borders of Hungary are not enough for him – geopolitical revisionism and anti-democratic ideology are everything that Central Europe has been trying to escape for hundreds of years.
Poland must cease indulging in such a policy. It was regretful that in April, on the Friday before elections, Mateusz Morawiecki was photographed with Orbán standing next to a historical map of “Greater Hungary”. On this map, there is no Slovakia, which is not only the nearest neighbour, but the most dynamic economy of the V4 Group so far. Poland cannot afford to make erroneous, symbolic gestures that will cost us dearly in the future.
Revisionism is a real threat to the security of our countries – this is the basis for the new US security doctrine announced this year. Mind that the real security guarantee for us is the alliance with the United States, not some autocratic leader by the Danube.
It is worth adding that today’s political position of the V4 is dictated to Poland by an economic dwarf. The Visegrad Group without Hungary still has a greater economic turnover with Germany than Germany with France, and without Orbán it would be easier to get along with Berlin.
We handed over the reins to Budapest
Exclusion from the V4 club does not necessarily mean breaking the bonds but redefining them. Poland was seduced by Orbán’s diplomacy and gave control to Budapest. In his speech last week, Orbán said that Poland plays a major role in the region but it is counterfactual – the political framework of the Polish European policy has been defined by a country that has a set of goals opposite to our interests.
Poland cannot just leave the Hungarians alone; we are connected by real cultural and economic ties, and Orbán is changing the nature of our social relations. Hatred against strangers, against open Europe and social polarisation have become the new credo of Hungary. That is also why Poland has to stop the ‘Budapest-Warsaw express train’ (a metaphor often used to describe copy pasting policies by the two countries).
We should cut ourselves off from Orbán’s political project for all the reasons above. But even more so, we should because today Hungary is allowing the Russian influence to grow, and this goes precisely against the Polish raison d’etat. If you read messages about Europe written by the Kremlin and the words of the Hungarian Prime Minister and his Minister of Foreign Affairs – for many of them – the similarity is striking.
A time to lead, not be led
Yes, we have to build North-South connections (gas, energy, roads), and the European Union has given us a historic opportunity to overcome the domination of East verses West. After 2030, these connections should enable a real choice for the future Hungarian elites if they will be willing to reverse the current Russification of the country. Realistically, however, let us assume that the reign of Orbán in Hungary is toxic, not only for Poland and the Visegrad Group but the EU and NATO as well.
In the 1990s, the Visegrad Group suspended Slovakia’s membership rights in the club due to the autocratic rule of Vladimir Meciar. Today, this retired autocrat is primarily concerned with his private garden and has left the realm of politics. And Slovakia, despite its recent problems, is the most integrated country in the region with the EU.
Poland must show real leadership in the group and define new paths for regional cooperation – it cannot be taken by the nose of Budapest or Moscow. Whichever of the Polish governments will win this has to change for good.
The article begins the cooperation between POLITYKA and the #DemocraCE Visegrad/Insight project conducted by the Res Publica Foundation in cooperation with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and editors of leading newspapers in Central Europe. More information can be found: http: //
Wojciech Przybylski is the editor-in-chief of Visegrad/Insight.
First published in Polish