What is Hungary usually associated with? The virtuoso rhapsodies of Franz Liszt, the cheerful operettas of Imre Kalman, sweet marzipan, Tokai wines and the neo-Gothic parliament building, which is particularly impressive in the evenings, when it is reflected in the stormy Danube waters with the bright lighting were previously mentioned.
Nowadays, when talking about Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is often mentioned, who has been in power for 15 years (with a break) and consistently pursues ultranationalist policty. According to George Clooney, American actor and director, V. Orbán has become an example of anger and hatred around the world. He turned Hungary into an extremely unattractive enclave in the middle of a free liberal United Europe. Thus, today, the associative flow related to Hungary is represented by such things as “mafia state,” total corruption, fully controlled media, well-run propaganda machine, and informal militaristic organizations. Hungarian chauvinism, anti-Semitism, Roma crackdown, anti-immigrant sentiment, hatred of other races and harsh rejection of the LGBT community members dominate in the country.
Generally, after two hundred years of experiments in state-building, which provided for the inseparable unity of territory, population, language, culture and religion, most political elites in the EU dropped the policy of creating homogeneous societies by ironfisted methods. The principle of “unity in diversity” now prevails. Sure enough, the policy of tolerance is exposed to many challenges, primarily related to terrorist attacks and the behavior of some migrants who defiantly resist to integration into an open society and create their own closed societies in voluntary ghettos. However, European elites well remember the 85-year-old story framed up by the slogan “One People, one Nation, one Leader”, and most of them are not guided by the goal of “marching together”.
Currently, the main success criterion of the state is the sustainable development of the economy, preferably – not agricultural, raw materials, industrial, and innovative economy of the knowledge society. Well, the leaders of Russia and Turkey right close to the EU as well as outland Iran, China, North Korea are dead keen on spectacular processions of patriotic citizens. However, when ardent fans of patriotic marches rise inside the EU, in Hungary it looks like an unpleasant anachronism.
The fact that the Orbán government has been in conflict with the EU institutions for many years due to the erosion of democratic standards is not all bad news. In addition, Budapest managed to break up with half of its neighbors. Hungary shares borders with seven countries – Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Ukraine. Well, as a result of an aggressive policy on supporting of foreign Hungarians, Budapest has seriously deteriorated relations with many of them.
Obviously, all European countries with a diaspora try to support it in some way. However, the case of Hungary is special because it provides assistance to Hungarian minorities abroad in an extremely challenging way.
For example, Budapest issues passports of Hungarian citizens to the diaspora members in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine using a simplified procedure, and encourages claims of influential Hungarians to areas of compact settlement of their compatriots.
During the Orbán ruling, the main fact of national history was the Treaty of Trianon of 1920, imposed on the Kingdom of Hungary by the victorious powers in the First World War. As a result, Hungary lost 71.5% of its territory, and almost 3 million Hungarians found themselves outside the country. In 2020, the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of a humiliating agreement. In this context, V. Orbán, wishing success to senior pupils before the history exam, encouraged them to study well the historical map of the Kingdom of Hungary. The revision of Trianon is an unofficial and silent, though quite real guide to the actions of modern Budapest.
Today, the Hungarian diaspora ranks first in Romania with 1.4 million people, representing 6.6% of all citizens and 19.6% of Transylvania’s population.
The Hungarian minority in Slovakia – 600 thousand Hungarians takes the second place, which is 11% of the total population. Given that the population of Slovakia is 5.4 million (as opposed to 19.4 million in Romania), the fact that every eleventh citizen of the country is an ethnic Hungarian is very noticeable. To this day, Hungarian chauvinists call Slovakia “Hungary’s most backward village.” All this causes considerable tensions in the relations between Budapest and Bratislava.
The third place Hungarian diaspora takes in Serbia, where they make up 3.9% of the total population and 14.3% of the population of Vojvodina. Budapest has slightly fewer claims against Belgrade than against other neighboring capitals, as the Hungarian minority lives in Vojvodina, which has the status of an autonomous province since 1944, and in 2011 the rights of autonomy were further extended. Instead, Budapest insists on granting autonomous status to Hungarian minorities from Bucharest, Bratislava and Kyiv.
The fourth largest Hungarian community is in Ukraine – 150 thousand people, which is 0.3% of all citizens and 12% of the population of Transcarpathian region. At the same time, the Hungarian media has made a strong anti-Ukrainian fuss, which, according to a recent poll, caused 55% of Hungarians to call Ukraine the country with the largest number of Hungarians abroad. Naturally, this media effect did not arise out of nowhere, but became a reflection of the policy of the Orban’s government towards the neighboring state.
In the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine, graduates of Hungarian-language schools may receive a certificate of secondary education having absolutely no knowledge of the state language, i.e. Ukrainian. Obviously, such graduates can neither successfully find employment nor enter a higher education institution in Ukraine. In fact, they have only one way – to move to Hungary, which is, of course, very profitable for Budapest.
In an effort to rectify this situation, the Ukrainian government has obliged minority schools to switch to teaching most subjects in Ukrainian starting in 2023.
In response, Budapest is seeking from Kyiv to identify the status of the Hungarian language as the language of one of Ukraine’s indigenous peoples in Ukrainian law. If Kyiv agrees to this step, it will be obliged to maintain a local Hungarian-language educational network in Transcarpathia.
Meanwhile, Budapest is trying to achieve its goal through brutal blackmail. Unlike Romania and Slovakia, Ukraine is only attempts to become a candidate for EU and NATO membership. Taking advantage of this, Hungary is blocking its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and refuses to support Ukraine’s foreign policy unless Kyiv makes concessions in the linguistic, educational and administrative-territorial issues. Generally, the Hungarian authorities promise to stop their anti-Ukrainian information campaign provided that Ukraine sets about protection of the rights of national minorities in accordance with democratic standards. Well, the situation in which Hungary does not adhere to the rule of law in its domestic policy, however, demands that Hungarian communities in neighboring countries be granted all possible rights, is the height of cynicism.
Recent scandal involving V. Orbán’s government concerns the fact that Budapest is threatening to block the EU budget process.
Hungary (together with Poland) is going to veto the EU budget for 2021-2027 estimated at €1.1 trillion and a €750 billion post-pandemic economic recovery fund (i.e. a €1.8 trillion package), as far as the EU’s main financial document for the next seven years contains a new clause on establishing a direct relationship between Member States’ access to EU money and the rule of law within those countries. In particular, as of today, European institutions have official claims against Hungary (and Poland) regarding violations of the principles of independence of courts, media and non-governmental organizations.
A possible veto of Budapest (and Warsaw) during the EU summit on December 11-12 will mean that: special extraordinary summit will have to be convened to resolve the issue of the seven-year budget; from January 1, the EU will be coerced to operate under the emergency financial plan; the allocation of funds for post-recession economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic will be postponed for indefinite period of time (it was anticipated that the funds will be allocated from mid-2021); Erasmus (exchange of students and professors) and Horizont (research and innovation funding), as well as cheap business loans, local government support programs, etc. will be suspended.
While MEPs in Strasbourg are waiting for important financial documents to be voted, politicians in Brussels and other European capitals are considering how to tackle the situation. Berlin is committed to maintain a dialogue with Budapest (and Warsaw) to find a compromise, while Paris is inclined to develop a new voting scheme that will allow the adoption of the EU budget and economic recovery plan without the participation of the Hungarian government (and those who decides to join it). In turn, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen invited all those who doubt the legitimacy of the mechanism that makes the payment of EU funds dependent on the rule of law, to challenge this innovation in the European Court.
George Clooney said he was looking forward to the day when it would be possible to walk along the Danube embankment in a truly democratic Hungary. Well, obviously, this may happen only under the rule of another government and after V. Orban’s power will come to an end.