Viktor Orbán turns his back on the Polish government

Although Viktor Orbán’s press conference this morning was anything but upbeat, a few hours later both the Polish left and right in addition to the Hungarian government media were full of praise for the prime minister’s superb diplomatic talents. In a Polish conservative opinion piece he was called the Talleyrand of our times who has been winning every major battle with “raging liberals and the Left in Europe.” He is a man who knows what Realpolitik is all about. Why this praise? Orbán had the good sense not to support the Szydło government in its hopeless fight against the reelection of Donald Tusk as president of the European Council.

Donald Tusk, who served as prime minister of Poland between 2007 and 2014, is the bête-noire of Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of the Law and Justice party. Kaczyński’s enmity toward Tusk has a long history. First of all, at one point the two men were political rivals. Second, Kaczyński, who is convinced that the Russians were responsible for the death of his twin brother, President Lech Kaczyński, in 2010 when his plane went down in Russia, considers Tusk “politically responsible” for his brother’s death by allowing the Russians to investigate the case ahead of the Poles. But perhaps what is even more important, the far-right Polish government accuses Tusk, as president of the European Council, of wanting to bring down the right-wing Szydło government. The current Polish leadership decided to resist the reelection of the man who dared to criticize the present government in defense of democracy. Mind you, Tusk is not a “flaming liberal.” His party, the Civic Platform, is right of center.

Warsaw put up a counter-candidate–Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, like Tusk a Civic Platform member of the European People’s Party. To understand the dynamics of the situation we must keep in mind that the EP members of Kaczyński’s Law and Justice party belong to the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), basically a Euroskeptic lot. ECR doesn’t have the gravitas of EPP, to which Fidesz EP representatives also belong.

The Polish plan to block Tusk’s reelection didn’t go as planned. As soon as Saryusz-Wolski’s nomination was announced, he was removed from Civic Platform. And EPP removed him from all responsibilities within the party.

After this somewhat lengthy introduction let me turn to Viktor Orbán’s role in this ill-fated Polish political maneuver. Apparently, Warsaw was counting on Great Britain and the Visegrád Four for support. But it became apparent soon enough that neither Slovakia nor the Czech Republic would support Saryusz-Wolski’s nomination. The Polish government still hoped that Viktor Orbán would stand by their side, especially since, as we learned this morning from Viktor Orbán himself, at one point he promised that he would vote against Tusk. Orbán didn’t keep that promise.

As Orbán explained at his press conference in Brussels, since EPP’s only candidate was Tusk and since Fidesz is a constituent part of EPP, he had no choice. This is how the European Parliament functions, he explained. Otherwise, he claimed that he had tried his best to broker a deal but, unfortunately, he failed. He added that a couple of days ago he had informed the Polish government of his decision to vote for Tusk because circumstances didn’t allow him to do anything else.

Well, as usual, Viktor Orbán didn’t tell the whole truth. It wasn’t party protocol that forced him to vote as he did since there was another important European Council vote where he did not support the EPP candidate. I’m talking about the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission in June 2014. Juncker was EPP’s candidate for the post. At that time David Cameron and Viktor Orbán voted against Juncker, which didn’t prevent him from getting the job. Then, perhaps feeling safe under the protective wing of Cameron, Orbán had no trouble voting against the favored candidate. So his decision had nothing to do with party obligations. Moreover, he could have voted against Tusk as a gesture to his Polish friends because his “no” vote wouldn’t have made any difference: Tusk would have been elected anyway. But, for reasons known only to him, he decided to go with the flow. He even went so far in his press conference as to laud the European Union as the best place to live in the whole wide world. It is a place where people can be truly happy and satisfied with life. A rather amusing comment considering all his earlier talk about the EU being in decline with the attendant miseries for the people.

I don’t want to dwell on the foolish behavior of the Polish government, but I’m afraid the Polish media’s unanimous condemnation of their government’s incompetence is well deserved. The Polish government should be only too well aware of the misfortunes that have befallen the country as a result of the territorial ambitions of its neighbors. Poland is rightfully worried about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But then common sense would dictate good relations with the countries of Western Europe, especially with Germany. Yet the current Polish government treats Germany like its enemy. Perhaps this disastrous defeat will be a wake-up call, but the mindset of the present Polish political leadership doesn’t inspire confidence that it will happen any time soon.

In addition to the Polish fiasco, Orbán covered two other topics at some length in his press conference. One was the “migrant issue,” which had elicited widespread condemnation in the media and in international organizations involved with the refugee crisis and human rights. It turned out that the matter of the amendment to the Asylum Law came up during the summit. As Orbán described it, he “informed the prime ministers about the new [asylum] law, who didn’t raise any objections and did not protest.” He took this as a good sign, adding that the real fight will be with the bureaucrats of the European Union. Whether this silence was a sign of approval or an indication of a reluctance to get into a discussion of the issue we don’t know.

Orbán then explained the real meaning of the detention centers, which he compared to airports as transit zones. He was again quite explicit about the differences between the attitudes of the Hungarian government and the European Union when it comes to the refugee crisis. Hungary’s goal is not to handle the issue “humanely,” which the EU insists on, but to make sure that the refugees are stopped.

The other topic was the most recent conflict between Austria and Hungary. As is well known, an incredible number of Hungarians work in Austria. In 2016 more than 63,500 Hungarians lived in Austria, in addition to those who live in Hungary but cross the border daily to work on the other side. The Austrians recently floated the idea that Romanian, Hungarian and Czech employees would not receive extra family benefits. The Hungarians claim that as a result of such a new law Hungarian workers would receive 50% less than native Austrians for the same work. This is unacceptable for Hungary. Sophie Karmasin, the Austrian minister responsible for family affairs, visited Hungary only yesterday, and Viktor Orbán set up a meeting with Chancellor Christian Kern while in Brussels. On this topic, Orbán was forceful. He called the issue “a serious conflict” which he will take all the way to the top, meaning the European Commission and even the European Court of Justice. Hungarians cannot be discriminated against. If the Austrians discriminate against Hungarians, “we will respond in kind.” That is, if the Austrians proceed with this cut in family benefits, the Hungarian government will make certain that opportunities for Austrian businesses in Hungary will be curtailed. So, if I understand it correctly, Orbán fights against the European Commission at every turn, but once he feels that Hungarian citizens are being slighted he is ready to appeal for protection from the European Union.

March 10, 2017
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webber
Guest

Orban will vote however Moscow tells him to.

aida
Guest

I think this is a rather glib comment. You would benefit from a rethink.Eva’s analysis reveals a hard nosed commitment to real politic, if tainted with cynical self interest.

e-1956
Guest

@webber – I agree. Moscow rules Hungary.

PS. Was the first post eventually an alt webber comment?

webber
Guest

It was not an alt webber. It was the regular old webber. Some people just read a lot more into that post than was in it. You read it correctly.

pappp
Guest

What is certain is that Orban didn’t get to like the EU or the West.

Orban is firmly in the duginist camp and is also heavily influenced by Moscow.

Agreeing with webber I can absolutely imagine that Moscow told him to abandon Poland for this vote because after all Moscow doesn’t like the current Polish government’s anti-Russian stance.

Moscow’s interest was to show that the Szydlo-government is isolated and Orban’s abandonment made the Polish ridiculous, uncool, the untouchables.

Just a little jab by Russia just so Kaczinski knows that Russia is watching and Poland is weak.

aida
Guest

Russia is not alone in disliking the Polish Government. Those of us who are supporters of a successful liberal EU regard them as pure poison. Orban’ stand is not principled, but correct.

Bastiat2
Guest

I do not believe that Putin has any view on Poland. That he might reclaim areas that were part o the USSR like Crimea or eastern Ukraine is another matter. But not Poland.
Just a question: when you use the word “liberal”, do you mean socialist or in the sense of the ideas of John Locke or, closer to us, Ludwig von Mises?

aida
Guest

Locke and von Mises are not mutually exclusive. I do not think the present EU has much interest in Socialism although some member states flirt with it from time to time. It is not an experiment worth repeating too often.

In this context those of us who share the view that despite the undoubted advantages that the nation state can confir the merit of the argument lies firmly in favour of the establishment and maintenance of an overarching institution based on economic, security and political cooperation of its members.

It is a pity that the headbanger nationalists do not see the merits of this.

Istvan
Guest
My perspective is similar but not identical to Webber’s, Putin’s media has presented Poland’s government under the Law and Justice Party in a most unfavorable light even though its political model is essentially the same as that of United Russia and Putin. Like Orban, Poland is promoting a Mafia state, but with an innate historic justifiable hostility to Russia. If Putin were to decide to have a strategic short war with NATO, the Baltic republics would be among the most obvious targets for the Russian military. But if the conflict were to escalate due to Trump actually carrying through on principle of collective defense as enshrined in Article 5 of the NATO treaty, Russia would probably want to neutralize Poland by occupying the Polish-Lithuanian border region (the Suwałki corridor) located between Kaliningrad and Belarus. Poland has the largest demographic, military, and economic potential of the countries on NATO’s eastern flank and is perceived as Russia’s main rival in the region by its military. Poland plans to increase its defense spending from 2% — it is only one of five NATO members spending 2% or more on defense today — to 2.2% of GDP by 2020. By 2030, this will rise… Read more »
webber
Guest

Istvan: Based on that one sentence I wrote, what makes you believe our views on this particular issue are not (nearly) identical? I ask, because people have been reading a LOT into that one sentence.

BTW Thank you very much for your comments, above. You have supplied details I was not aware of.

To your comments I might add that there is a US base in Poland (none in Hungary, of course), and that the Polish government clearly perceives the independence of Ukraine as vital to its security (not true of Orban).

ANYTHING that weakens Poland or deepens political divisions there is favored by Moscow.

And I will say it again: Orban will vote however Putin tells him to.

Istvan
Guest

Webber Orban on many issues is now basically following the directives of Putin but those directives or less than clear. Putin is still I think treating Orban and Hungary as entering the Russian sphere of influence, but not dominated. Probably it does not serve Russian interests to have a Hungary that is expelled from NATO.

Tusk at some points received very favorable media coverage in Russia. In particular over Tusk’s dismissal of Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz claims of a vast Russian conspiracy related to Lech Kaczynski’s plane crash. I have seen no indication that US intelligence agencies believe there was a full scale Russia plot to kill Lech Kaczynski. I did see a English subtitled version of the Polish film “Smolensk” produced by Antoni Krauze it makes a powerful argument for a Putin plot. Here is a link to film trailer with English language subtitles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5j6QOmgMF8&app=desktop

wrfree
Guest
Re: ‘I do not believe that Putin has any view on Poland. That he might reclaim areas that were part o the USSR like Crimea or eastern Ukraine is another matter. But not Poland’ Who knows precisely what the future holds for The V Four’ and all of CE for that matter after Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine? A few things are certain today. The situation in CE from say the past 8 -10 years has deteriorated between the V Four and the US and the EU. The bonds have been slowly fraying especially in democratic regression , group reciprocation and cooperation. It simply is getting worse and Russia has a great pivot point with the Four as it preys on their weaknesses as they formulate their policies which work against a cohesive Euro/Atlantic effort. They seem to have some successes as Hungary and Poland have become the big thorns in the sides of the EU. Szydlo apparently noted that Tusk’s criticism of the government could not be countenanced thus a reason to remove him from office. Kind of touchy touchy. Or maybe a deep nervousness? A type of nervousness exhibited of leaders also like Orban as he tries perhaps to… Read more »
webber
Guest

Has the situation deteriorated between Poland and the US, really? I wouldn’t be so sure. Between Hungary and the US, sure. But I see news that more and more US soldiers are going to Poland, at the Polish government’s request, and that they are welcomed by the Polish populace.

webber
Guest

Also wouldn’t be sure about relations deteriorating between Slovakia and the US. Hell, even the Czech Republic has better relations than Hungary. With Trump, though, everything is in flux. God knows what will happen.

Istvan
Guest

The US military gives very very high praise to the Poles who fought in the US backed coalition in Afghanistan and Iraq. General Mattis has particularly praised the Poles. Bing West’s book on the battle of Fallujah gave big praise to the Poles, West was an infantry officer in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and is what I would call a propagator of the Marine cult.

Trump is deferential towards the views of combat officers and as I have indicated praised Poland for its higher military expenditures.

webber
Guest

For the first time in many years it is just possible that Poles will not attend Orban’s March 15 speech. They have been bused in every year to swell the crowds for some time now. Good riddance. I have nothing but fondness for Poles in general – but these Poles I can do without.

Member

I’m pretty sure Orban got sick of these Poles when they needed to change the light bulb in their hotel, so they went outside, lifted the building off its foundation and started turning it clockwise while one of their friends stood inside and held the bulb up to the socket.

Guest

It must be really hard for the Polish ruling party – they don’t want to be taken over by Russia and the only one who can help them there is NATO, but on the other hand they don’t want the influence of the NATO countries (almost identical to the EU) with their ideas of Liberalism, equal rights for women and LGBTQ people, abortions, religious freedom etc …
So they are between a rock and a hard place – just like in Ribbentrop times.
Fidesz seems to be in a bettr position – they share those “illiberal” medieval values with Putin – but have no common border (yet …).

It’s funny in a way that all those extreme right wingers, whether Christian, Muslim or you name it share a similar set of “values”: Illiberalsim says it all …

e-1956
Guest

@ Wolfi – I would like to send you some stimulants, to discard your old thoughts, and recognize the current Russian game.
Are you stayning in Hungary the new few weeks?

Guest

Rather OT but funny in a way:
The Chines government is also fighting against those bad, bad NGOs – especially those from Germany:
With the start of the new year, a controversial law comes into force in China affecting non-governmental organizations in the country. Their work is to be more closely monitored in future.
http://www.dw.com/en/official-monitoring-of-ngos-in-china/a-36971196
Sounds familiar somehow …

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