Polish-Hungarian friendship in action

The situation in Poland has become a serious concern not only for the politicians of the European Union but for the whole western world. The largest East European country among those that joined the European Union in 2004 is rapidly following Hungary on the road to becoming an “illiberal democracy” while the European Commission is trying to find proper answers to the emasculation of Poland’s Constitutional Court and the government’s attack on the freedom of the media.

Two important articles about the situation in Poland appeared yesterday, one by R. Daniel Kelemen and Mitchell A. Orenstein in Foreign Affairs and another by Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian. The Foreign Affairs article draws attention to the parallels between Kaczyński’s Poland and Orbán’s Hungary, with emphasis on the inaction of the European Union in the early years of the second Orbán government. Brussels did very little to make clear to Viktor Orbán that his destruction of Hungarian democracy cannot be tolerated by the member states of the EU. To a large extent the European People’s Party (EPP) was responsible for this shameful behavior. Fidesz’s delegation in the European Parliament is large, and its votes were deemed more important to the European Christian Democrats than was democracy in Hungary.

Meanwhile, in the last almost six years, Jarosław Kaczyński carefully watched the Hungarian prime minister’s masterful parrying with the western politicians who didn’t know how to deal with him. But although Kaczyński may have wanted to follow in Orbán’s footsteps, he doesn’t have the same political allies in the European Parliament. The Christian Democrats of EPP are a great deal more enthusiastic about “disciplining” Poland for the simple reason that Kaczyński’s party, Law and Justice / Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), decided to join the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) instead of EPP. I’m certain that if PiS’s 19 members sat with EPP, the Christian Democrats would be more understanding and forgiving of Polish events of late. But luckily for Polish democracy the large Polish delegation of the Civic Platform / Platforma Obywatelska (OB), now in opposition, sits with EPP.

This time there is a better chance for more forceful action against Poland than was the case with Hungary. As Kelemen and Orenstein warn, “if the European Union allows a second, much larger state to turn away from pluralist democracy and the rule of law, then the EU’s standing as a union of democracies and a beacon for liberty in the region will be damaged irreparably.” They urge the leaders of the European Union to act quickly and forcefully.

Polish demonstration, December 2015 / news.yahoo.com

Demonstration in Warsaw, December 2015 / news.yahoo.com

The message of Timothy Garton Ash in his article “The pillars of Poland’s democracy are being destroyed” is similar. “The voices of all allied democracies, in Europe and across the Atlantic, must be raised to express their concern about a turn with grave implications for the whole democratic west.” Ash wants the traditional friends of Poland to speak up: France, Spain, Italy, Canada, and naturally the United States, “especially as Poland prepares to host an important NATO summit this summer and wants NATO forces permanently based in the country.” Ash also talks about Cameron’s role in this affair. “And what about Britain? Realistically, Cameron is the politician least likely to criticize Kaczyński at the moment, because he desperately needs a deal over in-work benefits for (mainly Polish) migrants in the UK, so as to win his referendum on Britain’s EU membership. But it’s worth putting Cameron on the post, if only to hear his weasel words in reply. So will a British MP please challenge him about Poland in parliament at the next prime minister’s questions?”

How effective can outside pressure be, even if the EPP joins the others in censuring Kaczyński’s illiberal Poland? Especially after this morning, when Viktor Orbán announced in his regular radio interview that “it is not worth it for the European Union to rack its brains over any sanction against Poland because that would require full agreement. Hungary will never support any sanction against Poland.”

Viktor Orbán’s reaction is perfectly understandable. There is a strong ideological bond between him and Kaczyński. They see the world very similarly, and Kaczyński is now implementing most of those constitutional and administrative changes that Orbán introduced in Hungary, but at a much greater speed. He obviously admires Orbán’s political skills, and Orbán is most likely flattered to no end. This ideological bond itself would be enough for Orbán to stand by Kaczyński, but what reinforces these ties is the traditional Polish-Hungarian friendship. The importance of such historical traditions might be overstated, but Polish-Hungarian friendship over time has become part of the national ideologies of the two countries. A given. It is a romantic notion of long standing which, true or not, still makes an impact.

I  found a quotation from StanisƗaw Gabriel Worcell, a Polish revolutionary, written in 1849 which should make clear the depth of that feeling. “Hungary and Poland are eternal oak trees which have grown two separate branches, but their roots underground have been linked and invisibly intertwined over the years. Therefore, the existence and strength of one is the precondition of the life and health of the other.” Surely, an exaggeration but even recent history demonstrates that the two countries usually come to one another’s assistance in case of trouble. For example, Donald Tusk, who is certainly no Kaczyński, usually refrained from criticizing Viktor Orbán. As for Orbán, already in 2010 he was dreaming of an East European alliance system forming a corridor between the Baltic and the Adriatic. In order to demonstrate the seriousness of this vision, instead of going to Brussels after winning the election in 2010, Orbán’s first trip was to Warsaw. Donald Tusk, the prime minister at that time, didn’t show much inclination to make regional deals of this sort. As opposed to Orbán, he was developing good relations with Brussels.

If Hungary has the ability to veto any sanctions against Poland, then Brussels cannot rely on those countries Timothy Garton Ash suggested as possible pressure points. It is probably just as well, since we know from Hungary’s experience that a government that is bent on building an illiberal state can always outfox its critics. Orbán in the past proudly announced that, while they changed some of the wording in a piece of legislation to which EU officials objected, they managed to smuggle in something else that from Brussels’ point of view was even more objectionable. With governments like those in Poland and Hungary, only domestic forces can achieve results.

It looks as if the Poles aren’t taking Kaczyński’s autocratic rule lying down. While Hungarians passively watched the dismantling of the country’s democratic institutions, in Poland judges of the constitutional court and heads of the public media outlets resisted. If Kaczyński is not careful, he might find his hand-picked prime minister, Beata Szydło, out of office soon enough.

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January 8, 2016 8:22 pm

I think it is sheer insanity to have incorporated East Block countries and Greece in the EU – with veto powers to boot! – a triumph of eager, but surprisingly naive hope over common sense and good judgement.

Given the inescapable realities on the ground – a bunch of “inconvenient” issues that are utterly insolvable – it is highly unlikely that EU will not seriously fracture sooner, rather than later, along its East-West divide, ultimately dicing the likes of Hungary and Greece, although appearances might be kept up for a long time thereafter by the European elites even after all actual substance had evaporated from their USE experiment.

Because if not, what next, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Eritrea?

Beholding the utter impotence and confusion of the West European political elite, and its seemingly congenital incapacity to square the circle of fateful challenges facing the EU, one cannot help but ponder that “aki hülye, az hülye, nem lehet rajta segíteni.”

January 9, 2016 1:19 am
And may I add that Hungarian attitudes to the EU are like the “se vele, se nélküle” attitudes in bad romantic relationships. Let’s do a small thought experiment. If the EU had refused to even entertain the thought of accession of Hungary and the rest of the East Block to EU membership because of the dramatic differences between the respective mentalities, political cultures and levels of development between the East and West Blocks of Europe, then that would have no doubt been the cause of endless bitter recriminations against Brussels. On the other hand, now that the EU had hastened to incorporate as many cousins from the East Block as it could, the complaint is about the unwarranted interference of the club’s rules in internal national affairs, notwithstanding that the club’s rules were made perfectly clear to all who were desirous of joining. Thus, in the first case the plaintive wail was about why don’t those selfish beasts in Brussels allow us to join, whilst in the second case the angry growl is about why these club rules and not others (while bagging as much structural funds doled out by Brussels as they can, and doubtlessly channeling massive portions of… Read more »
January 10, 2016 4:06 am

Turkey is a way better country than your hungary

January 8, 2016 8:31 pm


A fascinating article about the consequences of Jobbik’s infatuation with Islamism:


January 8, 2016 8:44 pm


A fascinating insight into an expressly liberal Muslim perspective on the challenges facing Europe in coping with the mass influx of Arabs and Afghans:


January 9, 2016 1:33 am


And another good one on the same subject, this time the German perspective from an editor at Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin:


January 9, 2016 5:12 am

London Calling!

One of the many consequences of allowing Orban to drive a horse and coaches through the democratic values of the EU is that the ‘cancer’ would spread to other members.

And so it has.

As many of us warned on here.

As you sow, so shall you reap, Brussels.

It’s not looking good for the ‘Brexit’ referendum.



January 9, 2016 5:13 am

Have we finally lost the five-minute edit function?

itt az szcsp
itt az szcsp
January 9, 2016 5:14 am

Just a note, 24.hu which until now was a more or less independent site is now firmly pro-Fidesz, pro-government.

It’s actually a very popular site (previously known as hir24.hu). The site was purchased by a Hungarian entrepreneur and – as was expected – made a nice pro-government site out of it.


January 9, 2016 5:22 am

You must be joking. 24.hu was NEVER an independent site. From the first minute of broadcasting, it was solidly pro-Fidesz.

January 9, 2016 5:23 am

and it was never popular. Look at ratings.

January 9, 2016 8:36 am

You know it will be interesting to see how the purported ‘Poland-Hungary’ friendship plays out with another important variable and that is Mr. Putin, the Yogi bear of Europe. I’d think his machinations will give both something to think about with him in his Eastern lair and with each other.

Poland surely with a much more underlying enmity against its former oppressor cannot and won’t practice the type of accommodation that Orban gives to Yogi. Perhaps that state of affairs will be a form of a check to keep Poland’s right to be always thinking ‘how far can they go’ in pushing things in the country without increasing the dread of democrats or developing divisions in the country.

And I think we know that Hungary knows all about that kind of politics both presently and from the past. The bad thing here though is the EU really can’t want the ‘friendship’. Hungary has too many things to teach Poland on ‘how far to go’. I hear that music and it’s nothing but ‘baj, baj, baj’.

January 9, 2016 9:26 am
Eva@, well done, I fully agree, with the exception of your last paragraph. Three short remarks: 1.) Warnings about elections in Poland appeared considerably earlier than the one (two) you are quoting now. I mean FP, WaPo, NYT, even CEPA. I am not sure about Europe, but I have no time to look it up now. Similar concerns were shared earlier by DoS officials and Eleni (Kounalakis), among others, about the brewing effects of illiberalism. 2.) The EU has considerably more instruments in hands than just the so called Article 7 (TEU) http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv%3Al33500 It could be counterproductive though to start with this drastic measure. However, many fields require just qualified majority that some call EU imperialism when they don’t like the decision. 3.) Kaczynski is the same reckless and shameless guy as his Hungarian counterpart. What makes you think that anyone can force a resignation of a PIS PM? Is there a revolution looming? Definitely not. You are right, they are the same opportunistic people as Homo Hungaricus: lack Solidarność and fearful of fears and their family. As I said, democracy and rule of law are very fragile in ALL of these countries (Central Europe, the Balkans). BTW, the EU’s… Read more »
January 9, 2016 4:00 pm

I hope that the Polish people have more common sense than their Hungarian ‘brothers’!

“It’s not Budapest here, it’s Warsaw,” youth protestors shouted outside the presidential palace in Warsaw last month, during a rally against the government’s controversial reforms of the constitutional court.

And the whole article: