Home News Hungary in the dead end of war – György Dalos

Hungary in the dead end of war – György Dalos

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Hungary in the dead end of war – György Dalos

08 August 2022 09:58

In strictly geographical terms, nothing has changed with the change in the social system in Hungary: the country still covers an area of ​​93 thousand square kilometers. On the other hand, however, today the former People’s Republic of Hungary (as it was called from 1949 to 1989, under communism) borders on five new countries born from the dissolution of larger and multiethnic entities. To the north, the former Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic was replaced by the Slovak Republic and Ukraine, at the time part of the Soviet Union and now independent. To the south, the collapse of the former Yugoslavia led to the birth of three new states: Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.

What links most of these realities to Hungary and its old neighbors, such as Romania and Austria, is membership of the European Union. Serbia and Croatia, in fact, are on the waiting list, while Ukraine is considered a desirable candidate by Brussels. Two of the former Eastern Bloc states, Slovakia and Slovenia, have adopted the euro as their currency. Serbia and Croatia, on the other hand, have their own national currencies.

A dispersed people
In the nineties these countries have become parliamentary democracies where the rivalries between the groups of power are manifested publicly and, not infrequently, in a violent way. Every social transformation and conflict taking place within them affects the interests of Hungary due to the number of Hungarians residing there: 1.5 million in Romania, 500,000 in Slovakia, 150,000 in Ukraine, 300,000 in Serbia, 16,000 in Croatia and 15,000. in Slovenia.

These minorities are a legacy of several postwar agreements that resulted in territorial losses for Hungary, such as the Trianon Treaty of 1920 and the Paris Treaties of 1947. And the problems of Hungarians abroad, be they linked to linguistic rights or to the educational institution, they also have consequences on internal politics. Secular hostilities are often exhumed and exploited. Of course, some of Hungary’s neighbors also sometimes adopt similar attitudes, but so far all these conflicts have nevertheless remained within peaceful borders, and have only had an indirect impact on Hungary’s security.

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The Yugoslav wars between 1991 and 2001, however, demonstrated how fragile the stability on which the entire region rests is, and what happens when world superpowers meddle in national disputes.

Politically, the war raises uncomfortable questions: Hungary’s relations with Russia and Ukraine are far from balanced

On 24 February 2022 it will enter the annals of European history, and therefore also of Hungarian history. Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine changed east-west relations prevailed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, casting an almost apocalyptic shadow over world politics. It is difficult to predict when and how the conflict will end, but it is certain that it will take a long time before a new balance is established to ensure peace. At the very least, the countries of the European Union and NATO now have to deal with a hostile power that borders on them and prepare for a new phase of the Cold War.

As for how the devastating “special military operation” underway in Ukraine may have influenced the Hungarian elections on 3 April (which clearly reconfirmed Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, in coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party), it is logical to assume that, given the current climate of fear, voters have preferred to keep Fidesz in power rather than rely on a shaky coalition of six parties.

This assumption is also at the basis of what Orbán himself has openly declared, namely that he wants to “exempt” Hungary from the conflict. This position has been heavily criticized by the opposition and condemned as a betrayal by Hungary’s western allies, but in reality it only materializes in two areas: in Budapest’s refusal to allow weapons destined for Kiev to pass through Hungarian territory, and in that to extend the sanctions envisaged by the European Union against Russia to the energy sector. In particular, this second decision would allow the already controversial Russian-Hungarian project for the expansion of the country’s only nuclear power plant, a few kilometers from the town of Paks, to proceed unaltered. But while there are also specific political interests to take into consideration, this request for “exemption” goes further.

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The ambiguity of Orbán
Hungary, in fact, borders for 136 kilometers with Ukraine (or the former border with the Soviet Union), where, in Transcarpathia, about 150 thousand people of Hungarian ethnicity live, many of whom are married to Ukrainians. As a result, nearly 200,000 refugees – Hungarians, Ukrainians and citizens of other countries residing in Ukraine – have entered Hungary through six border crossings so far. And while most of them do not intend to stay in Hungary, the logistical deployments needed to accommodate them will have a huge and unpredictable impact on national finances. Without the selfless assistance of non-governmental organizations and private citizens, as well as the support of the European Union, it would be difficult to deal with this emergency.

Politically, too, the war raises uncomfortable questions, because Hungary’s relations with Russia and Ukraine are far from balanced. In 1991 the government of József Antall signed a friendship treaty with Ukraine which, among other things, guaranteed the elimination of visas for those traveling between the two countries. Then relations cooled mainly due to the restrictive language policies of Kiev, which negatively affect both the Hungarian and the (much more conspicuous) Russian minority in Ukraine. In the meantime, with Orbán’s arrival in government, ties with Putin’s Russia have developed, thanks above all to the affinities between the two politicians, who share an authoritarian attitude and place illiberalism at the basis of the conception of the state.

Their closeness, made evident by the Hungarian premier’s visit to Moscow at the end of January 2022 and heralded as a “peace mission”, is not a habit but an integral part of the “special route” between east and west that Orbán seeks to follow. The facade declarations on the fundamental values ​​of Europe and the signing of joint documents against the Russian invasion, in fact, do not cancel the impression that Hungary is increasingly sliding towards the status of an irrelevant member of the European Union.

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Thus, while the gruesome images of the war shock public opinion and the end of the conflict, with its devastating economic consequences, may not be far off, the Hungarian prime minister preaches “strategic calm”. Whatever the idea that citizens may have, this rather nebulous concept could cover up the uneasiness of Fidesz’s elites. In fact, in the thirteenth year of the Orbán era, the system is facing ever greater difficulties due to its own economic and social policies. The national currency continues to lose value (today one euro is equal to about 400 florins, in 2010 just 285) and the cost of food is rising.

The government has imposed a temporary freeze on prices, especially affecting small and very small businesses, and which in the case of gasoline has led to many service stations in bankruptcy. Orbán pointed to only one cause behind the high inflation rate of 10.7: “We have managed to stay out of the war, but we will not be spared its consequences. Prices are pushed up partly by the conflict and partly by the sanctions imposed by the West ”.

It is clear that the Hungarian premier is preaching a “strategic calm” for himself, by placing the responsibility for the financial crisis on the “West”. It remains only to understand how long a small country like Hungary, with scarce energy resources and few raw materials, will be able to continue to stand by.

(Translation by Davide Musso)

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