Morawiecki’s pilgrimage to Budapest: It might have been in vain

Viktor Orbán was evidently pleased with his administration’s impressive show of diplomatic prowess when he boasted two days ago that “This is a strong beginning to the year; in two days two prime ministers of the European Union visited Budapest.” He announced this during the press conference that he and Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach of Ireland, held on Thursday. Varadkar’s was only a quick working visit. By contrast, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was received the day before with great fanfare, which included the appearance of a colorful “huszár bandérium.”

The trip to Budapest was the first official visit of the newly appointed Polish prime minister. In addition to acknowledging the historical friendship between the two countries and to reinforcing the ideological ties that bind Kaczyński’s Poland and Orbán’s Hungary, the trip was intended to serve pragmatic interests. Under normal circumstances, Hungary has to play second fiddle to the much larger and stronger Poland, but today it is Poland that badly needs the goodwill and benevolence of Hungary. The reason is that Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, announced on December 20, 2017 that “it is with a heavy heart that we’ve decided to trigger article 7 point 1 [of the EU Treaty], but the facts leave us no choice.” The expectation in Poland is that Viktor Orbán would veto the implementation of article 7 against Poland if and when such an eventuality actually takes place. In fact, Euobserver took the Hungarian veto for granted, which might be premature because that threat didn’t come from Viktor Orbán but from Zsolt Semjén, who is prone to hyperbole. While journalists in Brussels looked upon the new Polish prime minister’s visit to Hungary as a snub, Polish commentators saw the trip very differently. The consensus is that Morawiecki traveled to Budapest to receive assurance from Viktor Orbán that the expected veto would be forthcoming. Polish diplomatic moves in the next months will depend on such assurances.

There were hussars but no promise of a veto / MTI / Photo: Tamás Kovács

Polish commentaries reported that the Poles were expecting Viktor Orbán to say it out loud, right there, during the press conference that “he would not allow the EU to punish” Poland. But the word everybody was waiting for was not forthcoming, as the pro-government, conservative Rzeczpospolita pointed out. What follows in this article is a long list of Orbán’s sins, among them his pro-Russian policies and his demand for autonomy for the Hungarian minority in Ukraine during the Russian aggression against that country. The conclusion is that Hungary is a difficult and perhaps even unreliable ally. For the Poles, Viktor Orbán’s Facebook note, “Poland has not yet perished, So long as we still live,” didn’t mean much because these words are merely a line from the Polish national anthem, not a promise to stand by Poland.

Hungarians also noticed the absence of any mention of Article 7 in the hour-long press conference because surely, said Szabolcs Vörös of Válasz, it is hard to imagine that the matter wasn’t brought up during the conversation between the two men. Orbán mostly talked about Eastern Europe as the engine of the European economy, strong and economically successful member nations, and migration, which will spark serious debates in 2018. As for Morawiecki, his comments were even less enlightening. According to him, the two countries see eye to eye on current issues in Europe, member nations must be united on the question of Brexit, and, naturally, Poland has the same opinion on migration as Hungary does.

That wasn’t much, but what was really surprising was that no journalist who attended the press conference directed a question to either man on the crucial topic of Article 7, Poland’s current headache. But then a Polish paper, Gazeta Wiadomosci, revealed that the Polish journalists who accompanied Morawiecki to Budapest had agreed ahead of time to inquire about Article 7, but when it came time for the two questions they were allowed to ask of the two prime ministers their inquiries turned out to be trivial. The same was true of the Hungarian journalists. The paper came to the conclusion that “there was censorship in Budapest.”

It is true that Orbán subsequently gave a lengthy interview to Poland’s public television station in which he assured his audience that “Hungary stands by Poland,” whatever that means. Yet there are signs that the Poles don’t really trust Hungary as an ally. The spokeswoman of the liberal Nowoczesna, a liberal party, said in a radio interview: “I was just stunned; our diplomacy hasn’t changed at all. We entrust our security to Hungary, who sides with Russia. It is sad that we had to go to Hungary for Orbán’s veto, which at the end we didn’t get.”

The most detailed analysis of current Polish-Hungarian relations appeared in Független Hírügynökség. The article is simply signed as “Sikorsky,” although I suspect the author is Hungarian, someone who seems to be thoroughly familiar with Polish as well as Slovak and Czech affairs. In his opinion, the Czechs and Slovaks believed that Morawiecki’s trip to Budapest was first and foremost “a message to Brussels” that Hungary stands squarely behind Poland, and that was most likely the expectation of the Polish government as well. The new government spokesman, Michał Dworczyk, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that the dispute between Warsaw and Brussels will be “among the most important items on the agenda.” In fact, he pretty well admitted that it was the real purpose of the meeting. The Polish prime minister wanted to have assurances of a solid alliance before he faced the European Commission.

After Orbán’s silence, several commentaries appeared in the Visegrád countries, among them one in the Slovak Pravda, in which Ivan Drábek reminded people that the leaders of PiS haven’t forgotten Orbán’s duplicity when, instead of keeping his promise to Poland to block the reelection of Donald Tusk, he actually supported Tusk’s appointment as president of the European Council. The Polish Gazeta Wyborcza’s editorial also considers Hungary an unreliable ally. According to the author, Poland needs an ally that would be a reliable partner in the long run against both Russia and Germany. A Hungarian commentator in Népszava in a different context talked about Morawiecki and Orbán as two fantasts. Such a designation might be true of the Poles, who dream of being a great power between Russia and Germany, but it is certainly not true of Orbán, who is an unsentimental pragmatist. If he decides that it is not in his interest to support Poland, he will abandon the country without a second thought. He might already have done so.

January 6, 2018
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Michael Kaplan
Guest

My family roots -as I often comment here- are in central and east Europe,
including, but not limited to Hungary and the Soviet Union/Russian Empire (throw in Poland and Germany!). The national anthems of Ukraine, Poland and Hungary all share similar sentiments. In Poland, as you correctly commented, one part is “Poland has not yet perished…” and Hungary’s 6 of 8 or so stanzas comment on most of the historic “national” catastrophes albeit 2 comment on the founding myths. Ukraine-if I am not mistaken- simply comments something like “we are still standing”. Well that is very different than the optimistic USA or even Germany! I suspect the current Polish leadership ate at the table of fantasy, especially fantasy optimism, as you suggested. The Hungarian Prime Minister has no intention of losing EU subsidies as what would a mafia state do with out those EU subsidies. Poor Polish leadership, you have no idea whom you are really dealing with. Orban the young liberal reformer long ago sold any principles he may have had in his 20s.

Member

National anthems:
At the change of the year, we first switched the radio to Deutschlandfunk.
They were playing the German anthem (Haydn) followed by the European one (Beethoven).
Since these were played before midnight, we then switched to Lànchid Rádió, where the Hungarian anthem has been played after midnight.
Huge contrast.
I understood, why the Hungarians use to cry at this moment.
Immediately after the anthem, they started normal news without any greetings or wishes. It was like a bucket of cold water on the head.

Michael Kaplan
Guest

Correction-I forgot the current nationalists in Ukraine rewrote the “historic” anthem, dropping “We are still standing” for something more “uplifting”, but not reflective of the historic national character, deeply pessimistic as are most national characters in east Europe. Even the great Hungarian humor, let alone the great Jewish Hungarian humor is based in part on pessimism.

qaz
Guest

One shall not forget the time-honored maxim that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

Member

The veto promise will come, after the viktor finds out what (or how much) he gets from Putin for it.

wrfree
Guest

Quid pro quo eh? I can surely see it. When Putin gets his hands on Poland or a sliver of it (like Ukraine some is better than none) down the line Warsaw will only serve chicken paprikas and kiev. Pirogis will be outlawed. Don’t even think about it.

More seriously… The EU may have to watch themselves from being paper tigers with the ‘rightists’. Their need to calculate right and decide how far along they want to balance principle vs autocracies.

But they’re in a bad spot under current circumstances. One day ahead they will have to make significant decisions. They at the least have one dead rat in their own house wall that’s giving off a curious smell. The more they keep it there the more pungent the smell gets. And then the walls have to come tumbling down…..just to get rid of a dead rat.

Marty
Guest
The point is not whether the Polish think Orban would veto but whether the Brusselites think so. As long as the EU politicians (whose paramount goal in any situation is to avoid the conflict, avoid by any means having to take a firm stand) cannot exclude the possibility that Orban would veto the Article 7 procedure cannot really start since Orban might veto and then it would be an open harakiri – making it obvious (as if one needed yet another piece of evidence) that the EU is castrated. Since Orban is playing his cards well the EU cannot be sure (in any case whatever Orban says cannot be trusted) that Orban would not veto. Thus any Art. 7 procedure will be a very slow process allowing Poland to get off the hook extremely easily – provided that Poland made some politically irrelevant (but presentable) concession. The clear goal for the EU is to stop the procedure and reach a “compromise” (if it started already) and thus the EU will naturally allow Poland to get away with murder. The EU did allow Orban to get away with it several times so there’s no reason to think that the EU will… Read more »
Guest

latte sipping bureaucrats seems to be a favourite of yours, Marty – shouldn’t you then also add:
Wodka/Pálinka swizzling mafiosi on the Polish/Hungarian side?
Democracy (especially the liberal kind) is difficult, the EU cannot force Orbán and the other lunatics to do anything – though even right now Fidesz is whining about the Imperialists in Brussels, funny in a way …
In the end it’s up to the Hungarians and the Polish people – if they want it that way, they shouldn’t complain!
PS:
It’s obvious nonsense that the German economy depends on Eastern Europe – the production facilities of the car industry e g could as well be in Slovakia or Portugal (they are partially …) and the East European market is not that important!
Again my favourite example:
When you look at some products that are sold in our Hungarian LIDL or ALDI you’ll find the description in 10 or even more than 20 languages – so how’s the percentage sold in Hungary or Poland? How much would it hurt if Hungary left the Common Market?
But on the other hand how much would it hurt the Hungarian people?
Those 40% Fidesz voters obviously are uninformed/stupid/crazy/you name it to believe that Hungary is important …

Jean P
Guest

It is unnessesary to mention that a real man drinks beer and distilled alcohol. He will gulp down a dupla dupla espresso but never a mixture of coffe and milk. In addition a real man never sips. He drinks. Only women and effeminate men are sipping. Obviously latte sipping people cannot be taken seriously.

Marty
Guest

Spot on, Jean P 🙂

Can you imagine Robert Mueller and his team sipping their lattes taking their time in café shops daydreaming about free French lessons and cheap bilingual kindergartens? I imagine the Mueller-team works 24/7, on weekends, on national holidays.

It’s no surprise that the EU is impotent. Inane bureaucrats only caring about their cushy tax-free jobs are supposed to be tough and decisive. Right. If you ever met a Brusselite bureaucrat he/she was the polar opposite of tough and decisive.

This is OK until some cynical autocrat like Orban comes along and upsets the common understanding. It’s a kind of silent cartel that everybody will behave like gentlemen and pretend that the EU is strong and powerful. Like with every cartel, however, you only need one member which doesn’t participate and then the entire cartel loses its relevance. After Orban came the Polish, the Russians with other agendas are also playing their games. The EU is meanwhile rendered a joke. A rich one, sure, but still a joke. Orban is laughing his ass off and is getting richer by the day.

Guest

And the rest of Hungary is getting poorer every day, the education and health system are going broke, those who don’t die from overeating and drinking too much moonshine leave the country asap – in a few years Hungary will be ripe for …

Just heard a funny story from a friend:
She asked her daughter (living right now in Switzerland with her Hungarian husband – who works as a truck driver now, making good money!) why they didn’t gave their son a typical Hungarian name.
The daughter answered:
When he goes to school we don’t want him to be bullied for having a strange name like Csaba or …
The grandmother was dumbfounded – of course she had expected for the family to return to Hungary some day but they obviously want to stay in Switzerland – any idea why? 🙂

PS:
Germany is also looking for truck drivers and bus drivers – until driverless vehicles are the standard that’s a good way for Hungarians to make money for a few years at least!
And with their savings they can retire to Hungary after that …

Jean P
Guest

I regret that because it was addressed to me I broke my promise never again to read a comment from Marty. I hope that he will not use this comment as an opportunity to write more of the same.

Ferenc
Guest

“…… is a lame duck”
Aren’t the real lamest ducks in this case the people in Hungary?
First the ones voting for OV&Co, and pretty close as second the people not voting for OV&Co but not willing, afraid, etc to take a clear stance… and then complaining about others (e.g.EU)!!

bimbi
Guest

Yes, wouldn’t it be simple to have an electorate conscious of what the responsibility of voting involves and an appreciation that indeed “politics can be different” – no special affiliation implied by these words.

Instead we have Power-at-any-cost Orban, Lies-for-every occasion Lazar, Thumb-twiddling Prosecutor Professor Peter Polt, Bond-cashing Offshore Rogan, Strohmann Meszaros, Justification-for-any-Lies Szijjarto, Casino-tax-evasion Vajda and Tits-bums and BS Habony guiding the national psyche towards the new Jerusalem.

Poor, poor Hungary – but well, these “Gengszterek” ARE “the people’s choice”, right?

Marty
Guest
No. When an autocrat slowly smothers democracy (especially during the first election cycle when any opponent is rendered irrelevant in relation to the newly victorious government) and meanwhile can maintain a very effective propaganda war, voters get used to this process (the case of the frog being boiled) and don’t complain. These processes don’t take place in Western Europe, but East is different. The politicians are different, the institutions are different and the voters too. One cannot blame the voters so simply as though they had the agency liberal political scientists presuppose. Moreover, the EU is a club, a community. Hungary wanted to become a member and had to work a hard to get admitted. Voters just don’t get it how come a club allows some members to embezzle untold amounts without the slightest consequences to membership. If you live in a small village (a small community) and one local citizen starts to become a nuisance, transgresses local norms all the time etc. the community often expels that member (in some form). “Is the EU so stupid really? How can the EU survive with such stupidity – ‘cos we in Hungary in Békés county or Baranya county couldn’t survive a… Read more »
Guest

I don’t get it?
Didn’t you tell us a hundred times that Hungarians are so happy with Orbán and admire him? So do they admire the crook because he finds loopholes in the EU rules?
And at the same time they complain about the EU?
Really strange …
Of course the old Hungarian adage – it’s always someone else’s fault …
Combined with the Fidesz motto re the EU:
We’re only in it for the money!

PS:
Many Germans wouldn’t mind if Hungary, Poland and the rest of the “Balkan” would leave the EU again or at least get grouped in a second level of countries since they are not “really for the EU” which not only in the mind of Schulz is just a precursor to the United States of Europe – which Orbán and others don’t want.
They still remember the good old days of Socialism – when food, drink and women were so cheap in the East!
This sounds drastic but is the way that many in the West think – Eastern Europe (and that includes East Germany btw) is just not ready for democracy …

Marty
Guest

I answered to Ferenc. He was saying that Hungarians were voting for Orban so one shouldn’t complain about the EU doing nothing. I think this isn’t so simple.

By the way nobody (very few) want a US of E – the trend is totally the opposite, nationalism is on the rise everywhere.

That said, taking away the free money with which CEE autocrats and his oligarchs entrench themselves further and make a mockery of the EU should not be so difficult. I don’t get it why the EU is so impotent – the accession process was so rigorous, now that Hungary is in, it is apparently free to steal and undermine the community and encourage others to do so. It boggles the mind.

Ferenc
Guest

I DID NOT SAY THAT!!

Guest

By the way nobody (very few) want a US of E – the trend is totally the opposite, nationalism is on the rise everywhere
Only in the underdeveloped parts of Europe imho.

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘Of course the old Hungarian adage – it’s always someone else’s fault’

I recently came across a Net comment that perked me up. A poster noted that the country survived two world wars and that it was the Soviets who ‘freed’ Magyarorszag. But of all things really the country was ‘unlucky’ for the things that have been visited upon them.

Yes it’s a type of ‘unluckiness’ where they took their opportunities and made the ‘best’ of them. Hard for reflection when mirrors have been hidden or destroyed in the land depending on topic.

Istvan
Guest
Marty I share the low esteem that you hold the European Union in as it relates to upholding democratic structures in Central Europe. There are crooks aplenty at the highest levels of the EU, with the chief bagman being Juncker. I also agree Orban can leverage a veto to see what he can get out of it, so why mouth off about it now? But we should also pause and look at the two bills passed by the Law and Justice Party in the Polish Parliament and also the history of perceived corruption in the Polish courts. Up to the passage of the laws in Poland, judges were selected for presidential approval by the National Council of the Judiciary, which consists of respected older jurists some of whom were associated with Communist rule in the past. There is a popular perception of judges of being an elite, self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens who are untouchable because of immunity. Poland’s courts employ even multiple generations of a single family, including those who started serving during the communist-era. Two bills were approved in December, the first involving the Supreme Court. One lowers the retirement age for… Read more »
Marty
Guest
Istvan, the legal system of an “Anglo-Saxon country” is very different from that of (any of the) continental ones. The difference does not only concern substantive, black letter law but the role of the judges, how judges themselves think about their roles in society. What works more or less well in the US (the selection system of the federal judiciary) may not work well in a totally different legal tradition and under a totally different political system. In continental legal systems – and in parliamentary democracies (as opposed to presidential system) – the judiciary is traditionally apolitical, at least this is the ideal and participants are expected to uphold the ideal and pretend that it exists. The Polish are now upsetting this tradition going back many (over a hundred) years. What the Polish have been doing is just copying Orban’s approach to the judiciary (with which he got away clean) – get rid of older judges who due to their are were not beholden to the new political forces (Fidesz, PiS). The new appointees will however naturally be loyal to their patrons. Also Orban totally rearranged the Hungarian constitutional court to the point it is just a local Fidesz party… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
Because there are actually members of Law and Justice in the Polish Parliament who have lived here in Chicago the division between the European system of judicial appointments and the one in the USA is not unknown to them. At least one of those members of Parliament went to the University of Chicago law School. The U of C school of law even has a English Language Institute associated with it. It cultivated ties with Poles. Some of them do not see this political process for the appointment of judges as the prelude to PiS dictatorship, they see it as a needed corrective process to complete Poland’s transformation to a functioning market economy. I would say the USA, because of the weight of the Polish population here, has had an influence on conservative and right wing thinking in Poland. In particular the Polish National Alliance had many former supporters of the Józef Piłsudski dictatorship or were supporters of the rightwing National Democracy party (ND) led by Dmowski during those days. The conception of judicial independence as being expressed by the EU in realionship to Poland is in my opinion in good part self serving. It represents the interests of legal… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Istvan
First you have to consider the system in the context of the political, social environment and the history of the country. A comparison of the systems on their own is grossly misleading.
Second you have to consider the judicial “reform” in the light of the political course of the Polish regime, which is unmistakable.

Observer
Guest

My main takes from this episode are:
– the naïveté of many politicians, in this case Polish ones, to trust the shifty, corrupt Orban in anything, the only thing he understands, beyond immediate personal gain, is force, coercion,
– the V4 is largely a self aggrandizing club, able to act together only on a couple of secondary issues, and I count immigration in this category too.
Dictatorship for Pl and Hu, economic ties to the EU for Cz and Sk are important common issues, but how many other important and common ones are there?

Guest

Hungary and Poland need someone as eloquent as Masha Gessen to tell everybody the truth about their leaders- here’s her scathing report on Trump:
https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/fire-and-fury-is-a-book-all-too-worthy-of-the-president
Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry …

wrfree
Guest

What a piece. Gessen is really on target when noting that Wolff’s ‘reporting’ is not ‘reporting’. Brings to mind David Brooks of the NYT ( who btw has Donny pegged all the way) in his comment about the work of true journalists and reporting. Paraphrasing Brooks …’If somebody said ‘your mother loves you!’ they’re the ones who check it out’.

And regarding Gessen’s ‘The Future is History’. A very brief read into the book so far gives the feeling of falling into a dismal abyss of what it means to live life in Russia today. Perhaps more later on what could be a depressing topic.

Observer
Guest

Wolfi
Eloquent, good reporting helps, but, as studies showed, the American voters are better informed than thought and many of them still voted for Trump.
https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/fighting-fake-news-is-not-the-solution

The tribal element is very much underestimated by the educated class, whereas instinctive politicians like Orban feel it and milk it. (Trump milks it too, but by his narcissistic arrogance which his voters take for strong leadership).
The antidote to the tribal drums is not reasoning, but alternative tribal drums; once you have crowds within earshot, you may use some reasoning, and even then it’s mostly to differentiate the style, cause few are thinking when the war drums sound.

Aida
Guest

De Gaule who knew the English well was right. Keep them out and preferably weak. Sound advice. It was a mistake to have ignored it.

The attempt at integrating peoples like Poles, Hungarians etc is a similar mistake. The English promoted the idea to weaken German influence. Wider to stop it being deeper. Europe must, to succeed, destroy English nationalism. This is a good opportunity.

Krzysztof
Guest

We do not care too much about act 7, in fact the country will benefit when the donations are cut off. It is not good to be so dependent. And EU will break apart, all communist projects do. Mote and more people on Poland are ready to resist and fight against it.

Jean P
Guest

“…the country (Poland) will benefit when the donations are cut off”.

So will Hungary. The benefit for both countries will be that they will get rid of their present regimes. I agree about your when and not if.

Observer
Guest

Idiotic assertions, against all evidence.
Nie potrzebujemy polskich faszystów, mamy nasze.
Resist and fight the EU, like Orban, and suck up to Putin? Good luck.