Orbán and Visegrad: Hungary repurposes an old alliance

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán certainly found his groove in the last few months, since the refugee crisis and the election in Poland of the populist Law and Justice Party, headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his ally, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło. The ruling Fidesz party went from an increasingly tired clique that had been in power too long and one which was bleeding support to Jobbik, to a re-energized cabinet, thanks to foreign affairs developments that so far have worked in Mr. Orbán’s favour. Nearly all domestic woes (angry teachers and parents fighting a heavily centralized educational system, terribly underpaid nurses working in dismal conditions and a looming railway strike) can be overshadowed and pushed to the backburner by presenting images on Hungarian state-run television of the challenges surrounding the housing and integration of Syrian and other refugees in Germany, Sweden or elsewhere, or replaying news reels from the violence in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

The Economist published an insightful column today entitled Big, bad Visegrad, in which it notes that the refugee crisis and the rise of populist governments in Budapest, Bratislava and Warsaw have infused this very loose alliance (which was going nowhere fast in recent years) with a new purpose. And there is little question that Mr. Orbán is setting the tone and pulling many of the strings.

Visegrád 4

Visegrád 4

“Fidesz, Mr Orban’s party, pioneered Europe’s illiberal wave: when it came to power in 2010 it limited the constitutional court’s powers, packed it with cronies and introduced a new constitution. Fidesz changed the electoral system, helping it win again in 2014, says Andras Biro-Nagy of Policy Solutions, a think-tank. A new media regulator was set up, headed by a Fidesz stalwart. Public television channels were stuffed with pro-Fidesz journalists, while foreign media were taxed more heavily than domestic ones,” writes the Economist.

The Economist quotes Jobbik MP Márton Gyöngyösi, who observed that the “only good thing” that has come out of the whole refugee and migrant crisis was that it managed to re-energize the Visegrád Group and created a new sense of unity amongst political leaders in Budapest, Bratislava, Prague and Warsaw. But ironically, the Visegrad Group once served as a vehicle to expedite the process of democratization, the transition to free market capitalism and the integration into the liberal democratic West in former Soviet satellite states. This was the unifying force then.

“The Visegrad group once aimed to accelerate its members’ integration into the EU. Its turn towards illiberalism presents Europe with a problem. Since new rules came into force in 2014, the group no longer has a blocking minority in the European Council. But it can cause headaches, particularly if it influences neighbours such as Romania or Bulgaria”, writes the Economist.

But, to put things crudely into perspective: money talks. And there are already signs that Germany will push to reward those EU member states that played a part in constructively managing the refugee crisis, when it comes to determining the budgets of future fiscal years in the European Union. And all Visegrad states, but especially Hungary, rely very heavily on EU funds.

One Comment

  1. The article you quote from is extremely biased, and is littered with EU Liberal catchprases like “illiberal” and “populist”. It tries (unsuccessfully) to paint the members of the Visegrad Group as authoritarian brutes flouting the rule of law. In fact, the governments in both Hungary and Poland were freely elected in fair elections, and both are now majority government capable of passing legislation without the need to form coalitions with smaller splinter parties.

    This is bad news for EU Liberals because majority governments in Eastern Europe are anathema to Western European political correctness.

    I would encourage readers on this site to all look at the comments attached to The Economist article. You’ll get a much more balanced picture of the Visegrad Group reading comments from ordinary “folk” who are untainted by politically correct thinking:

    http://www.economist.com/node/21689629/comments#comments

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