At the beginning of his Kötcse speech Viktor Orbán pondered the significance of his political struggles over the years. At each stage, after each achievement, he thought he had reached the pinnacle of his political career. But after a while he realized that there are yet higher mountains to climb, and now he thinks that his crowning achievement will be the replacement of liberal democracy with a national-Christian system throughout the European Union. He will be the savior of a weak Europe.
He looks upon the current refugee crisis not as the personal tragedies of many thousands of people and as a daunting challenge for the European Union but as an opportunity to achieve his latest harebrained scheme of transforming Europe into an illiberal state. Something similar to what he has done to Hungary since 2010. I think we can safely predict that this ambitious plan will never materialize. Even if we disregard its inherently unacceptable goal, due to his ill-conceived attempts to save his country from the Muslim invasion his standing among EU leaders has plummeted. Practically any plan he would put forth would be dead on arrival.
Orbán’s short-term goal was to keep Hungary pristine–white and culturally uniform–by spending billions of forints on a double fence, 175 km long, to prevent all the undesirables from crossing into Hungary. The policemen guarding this barrier were reinforced by about 4,000 Hungarian soldiers, practically all the enlisted men in the tiny Hungarian army, including members of the army band. And it was still not enough. Yesterday the new minister of defense called up the 2,000 reservists. The result? Mighty little. The refugees changed their route to go through Croatia, arriving in Hungary from two different directions. First, with the assistance of the Croats they came from the south, crossing from Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor to Magyarbóly in Baranya County, and later the Croat authorities moved some of them through Zagreb to the Croatian-Hungarian border on the west through Gyékényes and Letenye, just south of Nagykanizsa. Although the Hungarians began extending the original flimsy fence another 41 km westward, unless they are ready to erect a double-fence along the entire Croatian-Hungarian border, the refugees will continue to pour in. And even if they build this enormous fence, who will guard the borders? Despite the costly efforts of the Hungarian government, nothing has fundamentally changed. Just the initial crossing point. Refugees are now arriving in Hungary from Croatia, and from Hungary, with Hungarian help, they move on to Austria.
The government’s fence-building, as predicted, was a waste of money, but that is the least of its problems. More devastating is the hit the country’s reputation has taken. Hungary is now a defiant country isolated within the European Union. The chief culprit, of course, is Viktor Orbán himself, but the fact that Péter Szijjártó, a man without any diplomatic experience or finesse, is running the show in the ministry of foreign affairs doesn’t help the situation. He talks about foreign presidents, chancellors, prime ministers, and foreign ministers the same way Fidesz politicians talk at home about opposition politicians. As if they are dirt. So now the whole world is learning about Fidesz’s style of political discourse.
Szijjártó lashed out when he learned that the French and Swedish prime ministers had criticized the Hungarian government. Here is Szijjártó’s response: “We would have liked to hear the opinions of the French and Swedish prime ministers on whether they would find it acceptable that aggressive immigrants throw rocks at Hungarian policemen.” He immediately called in the French and Swedish ambassadors. A few hours later he was after the Croatian prime minister, Zoran Milanović, who is “a liar and whose behavior is pitiful.” Soon after, he sent a démarche to Zagreb because in his opinion the Croatian minister of interior “lied” about an understanding with his Hungarian counterpart, Sándor Pintér. Yesterday Hungary threatened to block any future Croatian application to join the Schengen zone.
After the Hungarian government announced that it was planning to extend the infamous fence eastward along the Romanian-Hungarian border just a few kilometers beyond the Maros/Mureș river, the Romanian foreign minister expressed his misgivings about building a fence between two member states of the European Union. And that was just the beginning. Soon enough the Romanian prime minister on his Facebook page wrote that “the leaders of Hungary bring shame to the values and culture of the European Union” and compared the mentality and attitude of these leaders to those of politicians of the 30s and 40s of the last century. That really riled Szijjártó, and he retaliated by calling Ponta’s style “boorish.” The Romanian ambassador was called in and Undersecretary Levente Magyar paid him back in kind. In his opinion, Ponta is trying to restore his questionable moral authority with his anti-Hungarian lies. A few hours later Szijjártó sent a démarche to the Romanians, who refused to accept it.
The formerly friendly relations between Serbia and Hungary have also soured since the decision to build a fence between the two countries. Nebojša Stefanović, interior minister, as reported by the Serbian English-language site b92.net, said: “What we expect from the EU is to tell us what the form of good European behavior is – is it what Germany is doing, where refugees are welcomed with medicine and food – or is it the one where they are welcomed with fences, police and tear gas.” The Serbian president didn’t mince words either. Tomislav Nikolić reflected on the absurd situation Serbia is facing. Serbia, while not a member of the European Union, “respects all standards” more than those who are members and who are now “almost out of control–without receiving any criticism, advice, or order from Brussels.”
These incidents are the byproducts of the Hungarian government’s decision to handle the refugee crisis according to the ideas of Viktor Orbán. But Hungary’s relations have deteriorated not only with her eastern and southern neighbors. Earlier the Hungarian government severely criticized Angela Merkel, holding her responsible for the refugee crisis. Currently German-Hungarian relations are severely strained. The situation is even worse when it comes to Austro-Hungarian relations. Ukrainian-Hungarian relations have been bad ever since Viktor Orbán began courting Vladimir Putin, who subsequently annexed the Crimea and intervened militarily in the Ukrainian civil war. That leaves Slovakia as the only neighbor that has refrained from any criticism of Hungary. In fact, right now the two prime ministers are great friends. What binds them together is their stand against a joint EU solution to the problem. We will see how long that will last.
Yesterday Péter Szijjártó admitted that Hungary is now completely alone. Now, after Croatia abandoned her, she must solve the problem of the refugee crisis on her own. I wonder how long it will take Viktor Orbán, a man on a mission to change the political landscape of Europe, to realize that his task is hopeless.