I think the best description of the joint statement of Helmut Kohl and Viktor Orbán after their meeting at Kohl’s residence in Ludwigshafen is “baffling.” In Hungary at least, neither the right nor the left can decide what to make of it. The pro-government papers use the very first sentence of the communiqué “Europe cannot be the new home of suffering millions” as their headline while Népszabadság found another sentence from the text more to its liking: Kohl and Orbán “are in complete agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel as far as her goals are concerned.” On balance, Viktor Orbán signed a document that goes against everything he previously stood for.
Until now, humanitarian considerations did not enter Viktor Orbán’s mind. Currently hundreds if not thousands of refugees camp outside the barbed-wire fence on the Serb-Hungarian border without food or drink for days on end. Last year the government made almost no effort to give food and temporary shelter to the refugees. Now, however, Viktor Orbán signed a document that emphasizes “the humanitarian aspects” of the question. What’s going on is about “the future of Europe and the peace of the world…. Angela Merkel’s efforts are toward these goals.”
The statement also talks at some length about the irresponsibility of politicians who try “to create political conflicts.” These conflicts certainly don’t help the handling of the refugee issue, which after all involves the fate of millions. Let me note in passing that, earlier, Viktor Orbán judiciously avoided describing the new arrivals in Europe as refugees.
There was an interview today on Deutschland Radio with Michael Rutz, a well-known journalist. In his opinion Kohl does not share Orbán’s policies, and therefore Rutz thought that Helmut Kohl would “send a signal of his concern at the meeting with Orbán.” From MTI’s summary of the statement it looks as if he did. My impression is that most of the conversation between the two men was about Europe today and tomorrow. Orbán seemed to agree with Kohl that “the fate of European people depends on the political union of Europe.” Also, Europe must urgently revive the idea of solidarity because the “unification of Europe” can be done together or not at all. The member states must work together. Kohl added that “solidarity is the most important prerequisite for solving the refugee crisis, terrorism, the stability of the euro and the Eurozone.
Orbán’s answer to this lecture by Kohl was, at least in my reading, ambivalent because I don’t know what to make of the following: “Viktor Orbán again assured the former chancellor that Hungary naturally wants to contribute toward solidarity (szolidáris hozzájárulás).” This sounds to me as if the only solidarity Orbán has in mind is the amount of money he has already promised toward the 6 billion euros the EU member states will pay Turkey in exchange for giving shelter to additional refugees. As for his own thoughts, he offered his Schengen 2.0 plan as a constructive first step toward common action.
A few words about Schengen 2.0. First of all, trying to depict his ten-point plan as tangible assistance to a common policy borders on the bizarre. He himself said in Lisbon, where he presented his plan at a meeting of the Centrist Democratic International, that his proposals are necessary because the European Commission’s solutions are “wrong-headed.” The action plan is in no way a departure from Orbán’s earlier position. It is in no way based on common action. “We think that there are countries that want to solve their problems one way and there are others who think in different terms.” No solidarity here. Each nation according to its own selfish interests.
Yet after the meeting Orbán made some gestures, indicating that he might have been urged by Kohl to show a more positive attitude toward Angela Merkel’s efforts at solving the crisis. He gave an interview to Bild after the meeting in which he said, “I would like to wish all the best to Chancellor Angela Merkel. Hungary and I as the country’s prime minister stand by Berlin, and we will support Angela Merkel with further suggestions as our action plan shows.” I’m afraid his action plan is a non-starter, although Merkel graciously called Orbán’s meeting with Kohl “useful and sensible.” She found the topics covered indispensable.
Viktor Orbán has been a constant critic of Angela Merkel for years and rarely spared words when it came to the German chancellor’s refugee policies. The latest attack against Merkel came from Zsolt Bayer of Magyar Hírlap, one of the co-founders of Fidesz and a friend of Orbán. Bayer is well known for his unspeakable verbal attacks on practically anyone whose ideas or actions don’t appeal to him. It was only a few days ago that Bayer wrote a piece in which he called Merkel “a vile, lying, rotten wench … who dared to show her pharisaical mug” in the first row in the demonstration after the Charlie Hebdo attack. If Orbán wanted Bayer to stop his disgusting outbursts it would take only a telephone call. But obviously he thinks that Bayer can say certain things that he himself cannot. His old friend serves a useful political purpose: to keep the far-right of his party in line. But the somewhat more moderate pro-government paper, Magyar Idők, is not much kinder to Merkel. In one of its opinion pieces the author talks about the mediocre politicians who cannot be compared to Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and others. In this article Angela Merkel is sarcastically called “the chosen representative of the Brussels aristocracy.” The author of another opinion piece in the same newspaper is outraged that Merkel didn’t apologize to Viktor Orbán for all those attacks on Hungary in the German press.
According to a long opinion piece that appeared in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today titled “The Teacher and His Student,” Thomas Gutschker claims that while in Germany Orbán wanted to have meetings with Winfried Kretschmann (Green), minister president of Baden Württemberg, and Hannelore Kraft (Social Democrat), minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, but apparently he was rebuffed by both. So, for the time being he will have to be satisfied with a meeting of the prime ministers of the Visegrád 4. Unfortunately, his staunchest ally, Robert Fico, will not be able to attend since he is recuperating in a Bratislava hospital from a heart attack. Next week Orbán is apparently planning a whirlwind trip to several capitals to promote his Schengen 2.0 plan. I’m curious who will be ready to meet him. Maybe his hearty greetings via Bild to Merkel was an opening bid for a talk. We will see whether he succeeded.