It was telegraphed way before yesterday’s summit of the European Council that the key question would be how the European Union could entice Turkey not to allow the unlimited exodus of Pakistani, Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees from its territory. It is only Turkey that can play a meaningful role in stemming the refugee tide because defending the borders of Greece would be a hopeless undertaking given its 6,000 km shoreline. Yet, hopeless or not, this was one of the demands of Viktor Orbán already at the last Brussels summit.
Naturally, under these circumstances Turkey is in an ideal position to push for its long-standing political demands vis-à-vis the European Union, such as renewing negotiations for Turkey’s EU membership. Of course, Turkey will need other enticements to take care of ever larger numbers of refugees. The Hungarian government as a friend of the present Turkish regime is supportive of Turkey’s aspirations and is ready to follow whatever common policy the EU comes up with.
The summit, however, didn’t support Orbán’s suggestion for the common defense of Greece’s borders. Instead they opted to strengthen Frontex, an agency whose mission “promotes, coordinates and develops European border management in line with the EU fundamental rights charter applying the concept of integrated border management.” After the meeting Donald Tusk explained that the decision was made to endow Frontex with greater powers than what it now possesses to ensure “the defense of the European community.” But, he added, a humane and effective solution must be found because otherwise “others” will find inhumane, nationalistic, un-European solutions. I wonder whom Tusk had in mind.
By last night we knew that although Viktor Orbán had voted for the proposals that included the strengthening of Frontex, he would act unilaterally. The fence between Croatia and Hungary was complete, the troops were ready to move. He said that his decision on whether to close the border between the two countries would depend on the agreements the European Council reached at the summit that ended late last night. Right after the meeting the Hungarian prime minister was accosted by a few reporters, and he indicated that he was very unhappy about the summit’s failure to adopt his suggestion for the defense of Greece’s borders. Therefore there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that by this afternoon, shortly after his arrival in Budapest, the border with Croatia would be sealed.
We know two persons whom Viktor Orbán met while in Brussels because we have photos of the meetings. One was with Angela Merkel at a gathering of EPP leaders before the summit began. We don’t know whether he warned the German chancellor about his impending plans, but if he did, I’m sure the announcement was not met with her approval.
The other meeting was with Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović, who is just as forceful a man as Orbán is. It was not a formal encounter, but whatever transpired couldn’t have been the friendliest. I gather that this time Orbán did tell Milanović about his plans because after the summit the Croatian prime minister announced that he doesn’t care what Hungary does. He said that “Hungary’s solutions didn’t find supporters in the European Union.” It seems, however, that the two men agreed that “Hungary will not send soldiers to the Croatian-Hungarian border.” Well, that agreement was short-lived: thousands of Hungarian soldiers, policemen, and TEK forces are now stationed along the border.
As of midnight refugees can enter Hungary from Croatia only through two official gates, one at Beremend and the other at Letenye. Readers of Index and Magyar Idők spotted TEK convoys moving toward these two border crossings, one in the southern and the other in the western section of the Croat-Hungarian border. We can only hope that this time members of TEK will be less brutal than they were a month ago in Röszke on the Serb-Hungarian border.
The opposition parties condemned the decision to seal yet another border, and Együtt and DK accused the Hungarian government of meddling in Croatian domestic affairs. On November 8 there will be national elections in Croatia where the fate of the ruling Kukuriku coalition of four center-left and centrist parties hangs in the balance. (Yes, “kukuriku” in Croatian means exactly the same thing as in Hungarian [kukurikú] “cock-a-doodle-doo.” The coalition was named after the restaurant where they first met.) The right-of-center Patriotic Coalition, headed by Tomislav Karamarko, is challenging the socialist Zoran Milanović. Polls show that the election will be close.
Fidesz’s sympathies lie with HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), the largest party in the Patriotic Coalition. In the last few days the Hungarian government has lavishly courted the conservative Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who spent three days in the Hungarian capital and held long, friendly conversations with President János Áder. Her win in January was a great surprise to everyone, but from the little I know about Croatian politics her win didn’t signal a serious turn to the right in Croatia. Moreover, according to the latest polls, since Zoran Milanović decided to pick a fight with the Hungarian prime minister the Kukuriku Coalition’s popularity has only grown. Although the Orbán government is hoping to strengthen HDZ with its policies, its anti-Croatian rhetoric may backfire. Of course, a win for the conservatives in Croatia would be considered a triumph for Viktor Orbán and would mean a new ally in the region.
As far as we know, preparations are in place to move the refugees from Croatia to Slovenia. For the time being most people consider building a fence between Slovenia and Hungary, two Schengen countries, outside the realm of possibilities. I don’t want to give any tips to the Orbán government, but I heard a Hungarian international lawyer who is convinced that it could be done legally. Let’s hope he is wrong because otherwise there will be no end to Orbán’s fence building, which has so far cost Hungarian taxpayers 100 million dollars.