The end of the axis Budapest-Warsaw – POLITICO

Wojciech Przybylski is the editor in Head of Visegrad Insight and is Europe’s Futures Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

The war in Ukraine shook the foundations of long-standing Polish-Hungarian political friendship.

As Warsaw leads the charge in Europe against Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression and Budapest does its best not to choose between the West and the Russian president, the once like-minded governments find themselves on opposite sides of one of the worst crises in recent memory.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been in league with the government in Warsaw since the rise of the conservative Law and Justice party in Poland in 2015. Both under fire for their attacks on the media and the judiciary, they formed an ideological bloc that supported each other when Brussels or other European capitals accused them of democratic regression.

Poland and Hungary, along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, had formed the so-called Visegrád Group of Central European countries, which led to their joining NATO and the EU together. But Orbàn hijacked that agenda in 2014 and became its confrontational ringleader, particularly on the contentious issue of migration.

But while one of the similarities between these countries was a history of oppression by Russia, Orbàn made no secret of siding with Moscow. Putin has given Orbán the cheapest gas prices in Europe, special credits finance the expansion project for the Hungarian nuclear power plant Paks II and Set up Russia’s International Investment Bank in Budapest.

When it comes to Putin, such favors don’t come for free. In return for Russia’s support, the Orbán government orchestrated its official media to follow the Kremlin’s narrative so closely that Moscow’s main propaganda channels didn’t even have to expand into Hungary. Budapest also became an ally within the EU for Putin and other anti-democratic forces like China, playing a blocking role in efforts to stand up to them.

If this pattern of behavior caused a stir in Ukraine before the war, Putin’s aggression has now become impossible to ignore – even for Orbàn’s allies in Warsaw. Following a visit by US President Joe Biden to Poland last week, the country’s President Andrzej Duda gave an interview to the main independent TV channel in which he criticized the Hungarian leader for denying meaningful support to Ukraine.

Just a week earlier, the three right-wing prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia had all traveled to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and literally distanced themselves from the Hungarian leadership.

But Orbán remains steadfast. When Zelenskyy recorded one direct video call in which he reminded the Hungarian leader of the massacre of Jews perpetrated on the banks of the Danube during World War II, the response from Budapest was to simply disparage his words as those of a former comedian – and to accuse the government in Kyiv of interfering Hungarians Politics.

Hungarians will now vote in a general election on Sunday, with polls predicting a victory for Orbán. The opposition has united behind the conservative candidate Péter Marki-Zay, including unfair electoral tactics GerrymanderingControl over the media and dirt campaignsleft them behind the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Fidesz party.


For more survey data from across Europe, see POLITICS poll of polls.

These are not tactics that the Law and Justice Party would normally object to; The two governments have happily shared their know-how when it comes to suppressing the democratic opposition. But the fact that Orbán is likely to be re-elected on April 3 means a majority of Hungarians will have embraced a political agenda that openly overshadows Russia’s – no small feat for a country like Poland, which Moscow sees as the greatest threat to its security .

Irrespective of the outcome of the Hungarian elections, this will have lasting effects on Central Europe. A victory for Orbán will further drive the wedge between Poland and Hungary and provide a way for the EU to address the growing democratic deficit in both countries.

Even an opposition victory, an unlikely prospect, would not necessarily improve the relationship, as the new pro-EU government would likely seize the moment for democratic reforms, leaving its old ally alone in the rule of law dispute with the EU.

In Hungary, Márki-Zay painted voters’ choice between Russia and the West, a slogan that rings increasingly true. Regardless of their decision, however, the momentum in Central and Eastern Europe will not remain the same. The end of the axis Budapest-Warsaw - POLITICO

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