The mass celebration of Independence Day which took place last week in Hungary was for the first time in recent history accompanied by harsh slogans directed against the European Union and «foreign capital». Considering the popularity of the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban and the success of his economic policy, the conflict between Budapest and Brussels will not only continue to grow; it will draw other Central and Eastern European states into its orbit…
In spring of 2014 Hungary will hold its parliamentary elections, and the center-left opposition is already mustering its forces to fight against Prime Minister Orban and his supporters. Viktor Orban's political career began in 1989. At that time in Hungary, which was striving to join the EU and NATO as soon as it could, anti-Brussels sentiments were not particularly apparent. For one simple reason: there wasn't really anything to criticize. The modern form of the European Union was still being born in the labors of Maastricht, instead of the euro there was the vague ECU, and the main advantage of eurointegration was seen as the possibility to travel around Europe without a visa. Hungary’s acceptance into the EU in 2004 (while retaining the Hungarian forint) was the result of the work of all the Hungarian governments of the preceding 15-year «transitional period».
However, in just a few years the euphoria in Hungary and neighboring countries was replaced by increasing alarm and a new wave of nationalist sentiments. It turned out that the European Union was not only incapable of giving a new impetus to socioeconomic development, but it also to some extent deprived Eastern European countries of the attainments of the socialist era, such as industrial capacity, traditions of agricultural production, and habitual market outlets. The European Union demanded that the Hungarians, Poles, Czechs and Slovaks (and starting in 2007, the Bulgarians and Romanians as well) essentially give up nationally-oriented economics, independent trade and foreign policy, and national cultural traditions. And in 2009 came the added demand that they «tighten their belts» for the sake of saving either the Greeks, the German burgers or the Brussels bureaucrats.
In these conditions, on the wave of euroskepticism, many sensible politicians in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe started making attempts to apply certain aspects of the socioeconomic course taken by many successful countries outside the European Union and the Eurozone, in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Even Orban's critics from the EU and the IMF have been forced to admit that under the leadership of his government the country «has come out of the recession, having lowered inflation and reduced unemployment».
The 500,000-person rally in support of Orban which took place October 23 in the center of Budapest served as a demonstration of the massive support for this course, in which historical parallels and a certain amount of nationalism reinforce demands for the preservation of independence in resolving socioeconomic and political problems. In his speech Viktor Orban pointedly condemned the years of Communist rule, and the suppression of the 1956 uprising, and the modern-day expansion of foreign capital, and the policies of the EU, calling for the strengthening of the national currency as a beginning. Naturally he also criticized the opposition, which, in the words of the prime minister, «is lying and working hand in hand with foreigners». «We have a hard fight ahead of us; we need each of you, young and old, from university professors to butchers,» said Orban in the spirit of medieval military leaders.
The fact that his cabinet's position is based on a realistic assessment of the situation can be seen from the position Budapest has taken on the issue of the country's participation in the Nabucco project. In spring 2012 Viktor Orban advocated Hungary’s withdrawal from this project, which calls for the construction of an expensive and unprofitable gas pipeline. The Russian South Stream project, which has a real raw materials base and the needed financing, is another matter. As recently as October 29, 2013 Gazprom's board of directors approved an increase in the 2013 development investment program from 705 billion rubles to 1.026 trillion rubles, including for the implementation of the South Stream project.
While the Hungarian government is already taking a stand against the efforts of the leaders of the EU, the IMF and other international organizations to strengthen their control over various aspects of the country's life, other countries of Eastern Europe have their own no less serious complaints against Brussels. In particular, Bulgaria and Romania, which the European Union has time and time again refused membership in the Schengen zone, could well join the «anti-Brussels front». For example, in October the European Commission, under pressure from Germany, the Netherlands and France, once again told Bucharest and Sofia not to harbor any illusions. And while previously the euroofficials spoke vaguely of problems with crime, insufficiently democratic political institutions, and weak control of national borders, now the main complaint against both countries has been made clear: the gypsies. According to Brussels, Bucharest and Sofia are not making an effort to integrate the local gypsies into society, although «billions of euros» have been allocated for this purpose.
Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlățean was quick to answer Brussels with regard to these billions. At a special press conference in Bucharest he called such assertions «fairy tales» with no basis in reality. Furthermore, according to him, there are over 15 million gypsies living on the territory of the EU who are not Romanian citizens and who no one is actually dealing with. But the complaints are being made exclusively against Sofia and Bucharest.
Bulgaria also sees a political undercurrent in the European Union's reluctance to let these Balkan countries join the Schengen Agreement. According to the country's president, Rosen Plevneliev, both Sofia and Bucharest are «technically prepared» to work in the area of interest to the EU. «It's not just a matter of a particular policy of a certain country; it’s a matter of the policy of the European Union. A country like Bulgaria, which has acted responsibly and invested hundreds of millions on maintaining border security, ought to be able to count on European solidarity», noted the Bulgarian president.
However, there is not so much as a whiff of solidarity in the European Union these days. It is not impossible that in the months to come, on the contrary we will hear of anti-Brussels solidarity among the states of Central and Eastern Europe and some others outside that region.