A headache indeed – the increasingly autocracy-minded statements and the ever tightening cooperation with Putin’s Russia by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The issue being: how united is Europe in its values, firstly, and secondly in bridling the warlike neighbouring Kremlin. Obviously, the latter is searching for weak links in Europe. Alas, the still economically troubled Hungary and its populist-type anti-Brussels PM provide for one.
In the Bible, Saul became Paul. The other way round with Mr Orbán. The man now badmouthing liberal order of government was in 1992 elected deputy head of Liberal International. During his initial term as prime minister (1998–2002), Mr Orbán led his centre-right government to apply radical reforms and pull the economy into a path quite successful.
Back then, Mr Orbán was angry at the European Commission for delaying the accession talks. Now, he is scoring domestic policy points presenting himself, at any slightest issue, as the protector of Uniqueness of Hungary before the Brussels the Bad. The irony being, Mr Orbán’s very own behaviour serves to vividly prove how limited are EU levers to impact a member state if a PM is not minded to talk but just kicks against whatever.
Asked what would Mr Orbán do at an ultimatum by Kremlin, who’d know what to answer? As admitted by his long-time comrades-in-politics: Mr Orbán is not the man he used to be, he listens to nobody. Twice in a row, he has gained parliamentary majority, is personally top popular and can afford to take major decisions almost single-handedly. Even so, to claim Hungary is autocratic would be premature.
For the Magyars, Mr Orbán is the saviour – one who pulled them out of the mess made by Socialists. True: in 2002–2010, the lefties did a mighty poor job governing Hungary. The nation got notably mad when, eight years back, a speech before his party by then Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was leaked where the politician explicitly said his government lied about its achievements before the parliament, and that in reality they managed nothing in the four preceding years than to stay in power. Of that blow, the Hungarian soc dems are yet to recover.
This time around, Mr Orbán is far from his 1990ies success in restoring the economy. Economic development would be badly needed, however, as on that hope he got elected. Thus, he grabs at the lifeline dangled by Kremlin and his statements keep increasing in strangeness.
Meanwhile, the other European countries stand faced with a very delicate question: what to do when a member state, in the person of its prime minister, embarks on a path odd and dangerous? An admonition won’t avail much. Any measure more radical is also... out of the question, somehow.