This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising. This was where Hungarians rose up to fight the oppression of the Soviet Union. Whilst it failed, the brutality the Soviets used to suppress it lost them the support of many leftists in the West. The Hungarian Uprising also inspired other rebellions against Soviet rule, such as the Czech Spring of 1968, the Gdansk Solidarity uprisings in 1981 and the 1989 rebellions that ultimately defeated communism. The Hungarian people can quite rightly lay claim to having placed the first crack in the dam that subsequent rebellions helped bring down. Perhaps Hungary will lead a new rebellion against tyranny, this time inspiring other Eastern Europeans to oppose the EU.
The EU believed that Eastern Europe would be easy pickings. The EU saw the post-Cold War period as the best time to expand its empire. The EU’s official publications talk about this as the ‘reunification of Europe’, as if there was ever a time it was unified. Beggared by decades of communism, the Eastern Europeans quickly joined the EU, an EU that waved billions of Euros worth of funding at them to sweeten the pot. The EU was confident that unlike the ‘awkward squad’ of rich countries like Britain and Denmark, the Eastern Europeans would be loyal to the EU. It looked like this was the case during most the first decade of EU membership for the accession countries.
But then something changed. That something was the election of Viktor Orban in Hungary. Orban is a man committed to the concept of the nation state, something of an oddity amongst EU leaders. Orban also believes states have the right to set their own criminal justice policies. Following a gruesome murder, Orban stated he was personally in favour of the death penalty. The wildly anti-death penalty EU shrieked with disbelief that an EU leader could say such a thing. In addition, Orban began purging the Hungarian state institutions of communist-era apparatchiks, feeling it was inappropriate for them to be in power given the regime they had been loyal to had a history of oppressing Hungary’s people. These moves to ‘de-communise’ Hungary were seized upon by left wing MEPs in the European Parliament as evidence of his authoritarianism. Curiously they said nothing about Chavez purging even faintly right wing individuals from Venezuelan institutions. Clearly the European left only gets upset about purges when they are done by people who believe in the concept of the nation state.
The EU began funding NGOs that operate in Hungary, some of which painted a picture of Orban as an authoritarian dictator. Indeed, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker described the Eurosceptic Orban as a ‘dictator’, somewhat ironic coming from the head of an organisation notorious for its lack of democracy. These NGOs became so aggressive and at times border line subversive, that Orban suggested laws to more closely monitor NGOs. NGOs have long been front groups for the EU, particularly in Eastern Europe. The ‘spontaneous’ uprisings in Ukraine are strongly believed to have EU funded NGOs involved, and would explain why EU flags seemed to be omnipresent at Maidan Square rallies. The EU was trying this in Hungary, hoping to dislodge the only genuinely committed critic of the EU from power and open the path for a more pliable leader.
The EU has a blind spot; because it does not believe in democracy and holds public opinion in contempt, it fails to realise just how popular Orban is with his people. His Fidesz Party consistently wins nearly two-thirds of the seats in Hungary’s splendidly ornate parliament. The PR voting system of the continent typically allows a wide selection of medium and minor parties to gain representation. These parties frequently then hold larger parties to ransom in notoriously fractious and unstable coalition governments. By contrast, Fidesz dominates its parliament. For a party on the continent to so totally dominate in a PR election system is a testimony to Orban’s popularity and success. The EU’s not-very-well-disguised attempts to undermine Orban have not only failed to dislodge him, but further heightened his popularity and won him international fans.
Perhaps it is the issue of migration where Orban has most infuriated the EU. In early 2015, millions of migrants began pouring in to Europe (David Cameron might say ‘swarming’). Angela Merkel of Germany stated that Germany had a completely open door to anyone, from anywhere to come in any numbers they wished. As millions of migrants swept through Eastern Europe, many came through Hungary. Hungary is a country that has had almost zero immigration in its history, and the images of angry, sometimes violent foreign men attacking border fences and abusing the police was too much for Hungary to accept. Orban built huge and secure fences to keep migrants out, and deployed troops and police on the border in boosted numbers. Orban was clear; Merkel may have open house, but Hungary does not.
Months later, as Germany realised that perhaps it had bitten off more than it could chew, Merkel came up with a new scheme. The EU suggested ‘burden sharing’ whereby migrants accepted in to one country could then be forcefully resettled somewhere else in the EU so as to lessen the burden on countries with unusually large numbers of migrants. It is one thing for a country to open its borders to all comers, and it is quite another to say after the event that countries that did not make that mistake must now accept migrants, under penalty of fines. Indeed, the EU has suggested a fine of €250,000 per migrant refused. The EU particularly wants to resettle migrants in Hungary, in some way ‘revenge’ for Orban’s history of defying the EU in general and on migration in particular. Orban’s response was not to cave in, but instead to defy Brussels. He has arranged a referendum on whether or not Hungary should accept this migration bullying from Brussels. One does not need a crystal ball to predict the outcome of such a vote, or the fury it will cause in Brussels.
This Orban-esque courage is spreading. In the Visegrad group of countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic), Orban has rallied the support of their leaders against Brussels migrant plans. Some figures in Slovakia have even mooted leaving the EU altogether if the price of staying in is forced mass migration of Merkel’s ‘refugees’. After the Brussels bombings in March 2016, Poland stated it would not accept any of the migrants on security grounds. The following month, a massive rally with 150,000 marchers swept through Warsaw singing patriotic songs and openly defying Brussels. As it so often does, Brussels had misjudged the strength of feeling of its subject peoples.
The Brexit earthquake and the long shadow of Marine Le Pen in France have given the EU existential headaches in the West. Orban and his allies are giving the EU a headache in the East. The Hungarian Uprising was in many ways the beginning of the end of the Eastern bloc. 60 years ago the Hungarians’ courage inspired other Eastern Europeans to shake of tyranny. Will the Hungarians do so once more in the 21st century?