Tag Archives: European Army

European solidarity and Orbán’s Hungary

It would be far juicier to write about György Matolcsy’s fascination with Buddhist ten-million multiplier days, which seem to direct the work of the Hungarian National Bank, and his new girlfriend’s fabulous pay of 1.7 million forints a month that she receives from four different foundations of the bank and as a researcher of Indian culture and philosophy. But I think I should return, even if briefly, to the affairs of the European Union, especially since Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his State of the Union Message to the European Parliament today.

Juncker’s speech was almost an hour long, and its primary aim was to pour oil on troubled waters, caused mostly by Viktor Orbán’s assiduous efforts to turn the countries of the Visegrád 4 against the European Union. In fact, Orbán spent the day in Bulgaria, working hard to convince Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to support his cause. I would be surprised if Borissov would oblige since he has been working closely with the European Commission on the defense of the Bulgarian-Turkish border, as we learned from Juncker’s speech.

juncker

In comparison to some of Juncker’s past speeches, this one was beseeching rather than strident. He tried to convince those countries that throw seeds of discord into the soil of the Union to be more constructive. He appealed to them, saying: “Europe can only work if speeches supporting our common project are not only delivered in this honorable House, but also in the parliaments of all our member states.” In plain language, don’t foment ill feelings against the common cause at home, as European politicians often do.

Juncker pretty much admitted that the European Union is broken at the moment. As he put it, “I believe the next twelve months are decisive if we want to reunite our Union. If we want to overcome the tragic divisions between east and west which have opened up in recent months.” He went on to say that he has never seen “so little common ground between our member states…. Never before have I heard so many leaders speak only of their domestic problems, with Europe mentioned only in passing, if at all…. Never before have I seen national governments so weakened by the forces of populism and paralyzed by the risk of defeat in the next elections. Never before have I seen so much fragmentation, and so little commonality in our Union.”

Juncker also announced that since Great Britain is on its way out of the European Union, a common European army can finally be established, as he had proposed at least a year ago. This announcement should please Viktor Orbán who, to everybody’s surprise, announced his desire to set up a common army in his speech at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad, Romania, on July 23. It was strange to hear Orbán’s insistence on an EU army when he is so keen on national sovereignty. I suspect that this announcement was designed to give Orbán a way out of the corner into which he painted himself with his constant opposition to everything coming from Brussels–with the exception of EU funds. He knew full well about the plan for a common army and decided to throw his weight behind it, acting as if it was his own idea. That way, when Juncker announces the decision to go ahead with the plan, he can proclaim victory, which his domestic supporters will believe and applaud. After all, “Brussels” had to accept his demand for a strong border defense. This way, after the Bratislava meeting he can justify his adherence to other common decisions by pointing out that, after all, his main demand, a common army and border defense, was satisfied. Very cagey fellow. As for the future, let’s not be at all optimistic about Orbán’s behavior. No matter how European politicians emphasize the need for cooperation, he will continue his fight against Brussels, the West, and liberal democracy.

But let’s return briefly to the part of Juncker’s speech that addressed the refugee crisis. He asked for more solidarity, “but I also know that solidarity must be given voluntarily. It must come from the heart. It cannot be forced.” Well, let’s peek into some Hungarian hearts.

Orbán sent out all Fidesz politicians, from the highest to the lowest, on a three-week campaign for the referendum. One Fidesz MP who was campaigning with László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, cracked a joke about refugees at a town meeting in Jászberény. The “joke” went something like this. Three beggars are hard at work in Budapest. After the day is over they compare notes. The first one says that he got 2,000 forints because he wrote on a piece of paper that he was hungry. The second announced that he got 3,000 forints because he wrote on a poster that he had three hungry children. Finally, the third told them he did very well. He got 10,000 forints because he told the people that he needs the money to go home. Apparently they thought “the joke” was hilarious.

Kövér was no better. He accused the bureaucrats in Brussels of wanting to change the cultural, religious, and ethnic composition of Europe. The migrants are only the instruments of their evil plans. “This is a war in which they don’t use weapons.” The mayor of the town urged the Gypsies who were present to vote “no” in the referendum because otherwise they might lose their government assistance since the Hungarian state’s resources are finite. Kövér also accused the refugees of being rich. In his opinion, ten people in the audience don’t have as much money in the bank together as these “migrants” have alone. And it went on and on for two and a half hours.

But I left the “best” to last. A Hungarian Reformed minister, László Károly Bikádi of Hajmáskér, a small town about 14 km from Lake Balaton, delivered a sermon last Sunday, offered to the soldiers and policemen defending Hungary’s borders against the refugees. The text for his sermon was Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. In his exegesis he said: “You just have to take a look at the story of the Samaritan. Jesus asks who the brethren of this man are. Everybody? Are we all brethren of each other? It is true that we are all children of God. But who are the brethren? Those who are merciful to us.” Then the merciful reverend launched into a muddled story about “us as white men who didn’t treat the colored people, be they Arabs, Negroes, Africans, Asians, as our brethren and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t look upon us as their brethren. And they are coming like locusts, coming because we chased them away from their lands. … Allow me to say that they are like ants, like the feral of the wilderness” and because the white men pushed them out from their natural habitat “they come like ants. They move into our houses. What happens with mice, voles, and other creatures of the field? They come and beset us.” He finished his sermon by asserting that although it might be our fault that these people are on the run, “we shouldn’t make the mistake of throwing out our values just because people arrived among us who don’t consider us their brethren.”

As far as I know, the Hungarian Reformed Church has issued no statement, despite the appearance of at least two articles on the disgraceful performance of one of their own.

On a positive note, I should report that two Catholic parish priests recently stood up against the Hungarian Catholic Church’s indifference toward the refugees. Alas, their leaders, the bishops, are either quiet or outright antagonistic. One of the worst is Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém, who believes that what Europeans are facing is “the yoke of Mohamed.” Today, in an interview, he went so far as to claim that what “we consider sin [the Muslims] consider virtue.” Even Miklós Beér, bishop of Vác, who occasionally says a few nice words about the downtrodden, announced the other day that he will vote “no” at the government-inspired referendum. As he put it at a recent international conference on “Reconquering Europe” held in Vác, every time Europe has abandoned its Judaeo-Christian moral heritage, Europeans were led astray. Thus, any dilution of that Christian heritage is dangerous and must be avoided.

September 14, 2016

Does Viktor Orbán really want a common European army?

It often happens, especially at Tusványos in a more relaxed atmosphere, that Viktor Orbán’s most interesting remarks come after his speech is over and when he is more willing to answer questions. While the Hungarian prime minister couched his message about the future of Europe in language that needed a great deal of parsing, his answer to the question about the military security of Europe was straightforward. He told his audience that he had changed his position on the matter of a common European army. He used to think that the existence of NATO provided an ample defense umbrella for Central Europe, but now, after Brexit, “the military strength of the continent has substantially decreased.” In these circumstances “we must create a European army that would be a truly common force with actual joint regiments, with a common language of command, with common structure.”

This new EU army would have to defend the continent from all threats coming from the east and the south. Orbán added that the establishment of such an army is also important because of the risk of terrorism and the migratory invasion. The migrants continue their efforts to gain entrance to the EU because they realize that “Europe is weak.”

Orbán’s answer was astonishing. Here is a politician who has been working hard for years to loosen the ties between the European Union and its member states and who has resisted all attempts at a level of cooperation that might lead one day to a United States of Europe. And now he comes forth with an idea that would take away the right of individual states to be in charge of their own defense. The Hungarian government put a great deal of money and effort into the country’s military academy, the Ludovika, intended to boost national pride and Hungary’s military tradition. And now this nationalistic prime minister suggests putting Hungarians into the common uniform of a European army, abandoning the uniform that was fashioned after 1990. In the newly refurbished and reorganized Hungarian military academy, cadets would have to study military science, most likely in English, and the Hungarian enlisted men would also have to learn some English, just as their predecessors who served in the common (k. und k.) army of the Dual Monarchy had to learn some German. Or perhaps, even worse, there would be no national military academies at all. Coming from Viktor Orbán, the whole idea is extraordinary.

To change these traditional uniform?

Is Orbán willing to change these traditional uniforms

to something jazzy like this?

to something jazzy like this?

Just to make myself clear, I would welcome the establishment of such an army. I embrace almost all suggestions for closer ties among member states because the current structure of the European Union is inadequate to its tasks. Moreover, I do think that Europe must assume a larger share of the cost of its own defense. As it stands, the United States spent 3.3% of its GDP on the military in 2015. NATO’s European members are supposed to spend at least 2.0% of their GDP on the military, but with the exception of Poland all member states consistently fall short. Therefore, strengthening the European forces either by individual states or by the formation of a common army should be welcomed. I just can’t see how this latest brainchild of Orbán is consistent with his overall attitude toward Brussels.

I also have some problems with Orbán’s justification for his change of heart on the matter of European defense. He said that it was the United Kingdom’s departure from the Union that drove home to him the necessity of a common army. It is true that the U.K. has a more robust military than the countries of the continent, but I don’t see what Brexit has to do with the security of the EU. The U.K. will remain part of NATO. Its leaving the EU makes not the slightest difference as far as the defense of Europe is concerned.

I’m also not sure what this army would be used for. György Nógrádi, the government’s favorite “security expert,” who listened to the speech live, interpreted the common military to be a force that is necessary to keep the migrants out, “if necessary not by peaceful means.” It would also be useful to know what Orbán means by the geographic designation of “East.” Could it possibly mean Russia or he is simply thinking of migrants coming through Bulgaria? Not at all clear.

Finally, in my opinion, he confused the matter mightily when he told his audience that the countries of the Visegrád 4–the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia–“are working on establishing a common army of their own which would not be part of the European common army.” Wow, the more the merrier? What would a separate V4 army do? I have searched in vain for some reasonable explanation of why the V4 would need such an army, but I can’t come up with anything.

It is typical of the pettiness of Hungarian political discourse that the two largest parties on the democratic side, MSZP and DK, began arguing over which of them first came up with the idea of a common army. I can’t pick the winner. All I know is that about eight months ago, in November of 2015, MSZP submitted a parliamentary proposal for such an army which was ignored by the Fidesz-KDNP majority, as all such proposals are. At that time Lajos Kósa, the leader of the Fidesz caucus, explained that such a proposal was meaningless. “Europe has a common army,” NATO.

Actually, the idea of a European army has been around for a long time. As early as 2009 the European Union had a plan for such an army, which was approved by the European Parliament. According to General Zoltán Szenes, professor of military science, this plan included a “synchronized military force,” which meant that all member nations would have had to relinquish their rights as far as defense was concerned and consign them to the center. The European Union would have done the recruiting, would have provided training, and would have financed the force. Naturally, nothing came of it. Moreover, a year later, in 2010, Viktor Orbán would have vetoed the plan if it had ever gotten to the European Council. But now he is all for it. At least this is what he says. Perhaps he’s afraid that his choice for the U.S. presidency will abandon both Europe and NATO and that Europe will have to fend for itself militarily.

July 25, 2016