It borders on the unbelievable that the collective memory of Europe and the national memories of individual states are so short. Only twenty eight years after the end of the Soviet military occupation, governments headed by nationalist-revisionist politicians are enjoying an unlikely resurgence. The Jarosław Kaczyński led Law and Justice Party in Poland, the Viktor Orban led Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ) in Hungary, the Andrej Babis led Movement of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) in the Czech Republic, just recently reinforced by the election of the deeply Eurosceptic and pro-Moscow Milos Zeman to the Presidency, the Robert Fico led ultranationalist Smer-SD, and in Romania where the former Prime Minister Mihai Tudose had to resign for threatening with execution every Hungarian who displayed the so-called Szekely flag, and is presently without a Prime Minister, are all busy of wallowing in historical revisionism and in perverting the implementation of the democratic principles of the European Union in their respective countries.
Of course, publicly, none of these governments propagate anti-democratic policies, let alone profess their desire for the restoration of one-party rule that they all so vehemently rejected while applying for membership in both the European Union and NATO. However, in practice, they deliberately and systematically violate the two cardinal principles of democracy – the division of the three branches of government and the fundamental freedoms of their citizens.
In this respect, Hungary has emerged in the last eight years as the most dangerous member state to the unity and the collective security of both organizations. During its almost a decade old existence, the Orban government’s “illiberal democracy” has produced a hybrid policy through which Budapest has hovered between two realities – Westernization and Eastern despotism. The absolute ruler of Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has attempted to cut this Gordian knot by deceptively turning toward the pro-European forces domestically as well as internationally. Simultaneously, however, he has embarked on the dangerous path of mortgaging his country’s economic future to Moscow and Beijing. In this manner, he has boxed himself into an untenable situation. On the one hand, the Hungarian economy has been sustained by the financial contributions of the European Union, which does not trust him any more. On the other hand, he knows that being corrupted personally by Russia and China, he will ruin himself and his country for years to come.
Presently, it is clear that the expansions of the European Union and NATO have not rested on solid foundations. Moreover, it is also obvious that Hungary and the other countries of the region have squandered the opportunity to empower their citizens politically and economically. To add insult to injury, the Central and Eastern European region has never possessed within itself alone the strength required to bring about political enlightenment and economic prosperity. Finally, establishment of a functional democracy that the European Union and the United States of America have tried to introduce to the region has proven to be an ephemeral phenomenon, due to the lack of historical experience and crucial support from the West.
Now the challenge is to determine how leaders of the European Union, NATO, and local politicians should respond. First, Brussels must not repeat the mistakes of the past. The rethinking must start with the Yugoslav crisis in the early 1990s. The artificial nature of this discombobulated federation was known to the rest of the world from its inception in 1918. Yet, the European Union ignored what quickly unfolded inside Yugoslavia and allowed a full fledged civil war to become a free for all genocide. Furthermore, the autonomous region of Kosovo was granted independence, ensuring the existence of a rogue state in the middle of the Balkans. The failure of understanding the importance of economic progress before democracy has been fully established has been the other major mistake in Brussels’ strategy. Lastly, Brussels’ assumption about Russia’s expected behavior has constituted the third leg of faulty conclusions about the future of Central and Eastern Europe. Clearly, within the European Union ideology has trumped the formulation of facts based policies.
Therefore, leaders within the European Union must first admit that the Central and Eastern European region’s ailment has its core reasons in the latter’s unique history, in the mentality of politicians like Orban and Kaczynski, and in the inadequate political and economic maturity of the region’s citizenry. Brussels could and must assume a leading role in correcting these errors. Invoking the so-called Article 7 process against Poland and Hungary, which could lead to both Warsaw and Budapest losing its right to vote on European Union decisions, is a non-starter, because the organization’s constitution mandates unanimity for every major decision. More importantly, Brussels has no strategy to counter organized opposition by two or more member states against the majority.
More effective would be the threat of withholding part of Brussels’ annual payment, which in Hungary’s case amounts to 5.6 billion Euros. Indeed, without this money the Hungarian economy would not be able to survive long. Such a move would also be justified on the basis of the scandalous level of corruption that affects the national security interests of the European Union. Through a legislation on awarding citizenship for ethnic Hungarians tens of thousands of potential spies and dangerous criminals with terrorist credentials suddenly have become also citizens of the European Union. Even more alarming is the fact that most of these fake ethnic Hungarians have come in overwhelming numbers from Russia and the states of the former Soviet Union, China, and states with Muslim majorities.
Orban’s battle cry, shared by other like-minded politicians in the region, “Who are you to tell us how to run our countries?” disregards the European Union’s strategic environment. The member states of this organization should want a strong and stable union with secure borders. Clearly, the political revolt in Central and Eastern Europe challenges the organization’s cohesion and resilience. The “short-of-expulsion” campaign against Poland and Hungary will have to contend with Russian and Chinese penetration into the region. The longer Brussels equivocates the harder it will be to roll back the political and economic infrastructures established by these two formidable powers. From now on, a wider and more strategically sound policies against these rogue member states must be adapted and implemented by Brussels. In this context, it will be essential to address first the political corruption that threatens to destroy the entire continent. Moreover, strict adherence to the principles and values of the organization must be enforced rigorously. Finally, any attempt at rewriting history based on irredentist ideologies must be unequivocally countered with facts.
In conclusion, the necessary conditions for the further growth of the European Union are internal cohesion, based on lawfully functioning governments, public trust in a democratically elected legislature, solidarity with other member states, and a shared vision of the future involving all the nations and minorities of the continent. In order to accomplish these objectives, the European Union definitely needs a regional strategy. Without it, Brussels will be unprepared to successfully neutralize the disruptive activities of rogue politicians within the confines of the organization and to meet effectively the external challenges posed by Russia and China.