Schmidt Mária

The case of Europe and the latchkey

A spectre is haunting the world – the spectre of short-term thinking.

After the eight years that separated the first and second governments of Viktor Orbán, Hungary found itself in completely new circumstances. In 2004, we joined the European Union along with nine other countries in the region, and thus the dream of many of us came true. We voluntarily gave up part of our newly regained sovereignty, and indeed we did this gladly, in order to enjoy some things that the Union had promised us: peace and prosperity; security, predictability and the good life. This was what we all wished for.

In 1990, we did not realise that we would have to pay the price for ending the Cold War – the third world war of the twentieth century – once more on the losing side. Similarly, we did not realise that the raison d’être of the European Union and NATO – two structures founded to counter the Soviet threat, in opposition to the cold-war peace movement – would be called into question by the collapse of the Soviet Union. So a new cause had to be found. The response of the EU was the Maastricht Treaty, which, in addition to deepening economic cooperation, also set out political goals: it aimed to build a value-based community of European citizenry based on a common identity and culture. All this happened at a time when the optimism of the Western world knew no bounds. The American Francis Fukuyama spoke of the end of history, while many of the citizens and leaders of Europe were lost in illusions, instead of coming to terms with the newly emerging unipolar world order and the real set of interests in the newly forming Europe.

In fact a reunited Germany changed everything through its weight and economic power. This became particularly visible following the accession to the EU of the Central and Eastern European countries, which placed Germany at the centre of the community. The winners in the Cold War laid down two conditions for German unity. The USA insisted on the reunited Germany being a NATO member and on NATO troops continuing to be stationed on German soil, while the French wanted to balance the economic dominance inherent in the West German mark by the introduction of a single currency: the euro. The countries joining the common currency union, the eurozone voluntarily surrendered one of the most important elements of their sovereignty to the centre in Brussels and to the most powerful Member State (Germany). They did not seriously take into account the fact that this involved the control of economic policy slipping out of their hands. They apparently forgot the warning of Mayer Rothschild: ˝Give me control of a nation´s money and I care not who makes its laws.˝

Up until 2008 things went reasonably well. In the summer of 2008, Beijing organised the Olympic Games on a grand scale, on 7 August Russia launched a war against Georgia, and on 15 September Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, thus marking the beginning of the world economic crisis. It was impossible to ignore the fact that a new age had arrived. Europe´s economy slowed down, stagnation and long-term unemployment became widespread among the young. The promise of prosperity was brought into question, and today, looking back on the Yugoslav, Kosovo and Georgian wars and at the Russian-Ukrainian war which has been in progress for a year in one of our neighbouring countries, we are also losing hope in the promise that Europe’s future is one without war.

The 2008 election in the United States, whose victory in the Cold War helped us to overcome communism and regain our national independence, saw the arrival of a new president in Barack Hussein Obama, who set about addressing the deep economic crisis, while concentrating primarily on the world outside Europe. Because of China, the Middle East and Afghanistan, he sought agreement with Russia, therefore acknowledging the latter’s territorial gains at Georgia’s expense without any further consequences. His Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, pushed the symbolic reset button, signalling that relations between the two countries could move into a new phase. From 2000 onwards, following the chaotic decade of Yeltsin, Russia had set itself the target of achieving stability and security. Following its military successes, it started to partly regain its lost superpower status and, as an initial step, aspired to become a regional leader. In 2008 the Russians under Putin saw that Europe was not capable of a political or military response, and that NATO was a lame duck. Viktor Orbán, in opposition at the time, found himself isolated in his strong pro-Georgia stance. Back then, at home and abroad, today’s openly anti-Russian foreign and domestic opinion leaders called on him to wait for the reaction of big countries – primarily the Germans – before insulting the Russians. But Germany remained silent, Britain openly sided with the Russians, while the latter ignored the ceasefire negotiated by the French. Obama sent a clear message to the Europe of that time – a message he has repeated several times since: it is time for Europe to stand on its own two feet. In his words: We will not fight instead of those who do not want to fight for their own security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 1990 Germany put itself back on the map of Europe, with Russia following it in 2008 and in 2014. A number of European countries have negative experiences of both of them. And for both of them the old saying is true: “They are never as strong as we fear them to be, nor are they as weak as they seem to be”. We also have experience of their close alliance. Germany, because of its history, is trying to pull strings in the background and to lead the continent through the euro and its economic power. Russia also claims a European role for itself on the basis of its past, and is exercising its influence through its gas and oil reserves. Germany is an export-oriented country, and half of its foreign trade is within the EU; therefore it needs the EU just as much as the EU needs it. The German Chancellor makes declarations, negotiates and enacts measures with the French President at her side, leaving it unclear whether she is doing this in her own capacity or on behalf of the EU. By doing this she ignores and demeans the leaders of the EU – many of whom would be better suited to the entertainment industry in any case. All this serves to conceal how well-off the Germans are, since they know full well that those who are weak and rich are the most vulnerable. And they are indeed both very weak and very rich. They have been weakened by permanent fear: fear of life, fear of assuming responsibility. All the energy of the Germans is absorbed by the daily management of economic issues, among them the problems of the eurozone and calling others to account with regard to centrally issued crisis directives. (Of course, smaller states are called to account, not the French.) We do not see, however, a solution to Greece’s problems, which can no longer be managed by good old procrastination. These problems are not only about an expected sovereign default, but are above all about the future of the euro, and therefore German and European economic policy. The decision, which will have to be taken sooner or later, will be a political decision, with political consequences, also.

Dear Friends,

Is the order arising from victory in World War II still in force? This dilemma was raised in a dramatic manner by the military parade in Moscow on 9 May, which was boycotted by Russia’s former allies. Yet China and India were there. And this leads us to the conclusion that the legitimacy of the system based on victory in World War II is coming to an end. The constitutional amendment proposed by the Japanese also points in the same direction. Their Constitution was written by the occupying Americans, and prohibited them from having their own army, but now the government of Shinzo Abe wishes to change this.

Since the 2010 election, the governments of Viktor Orbán have had to find the place of Hungary within the abovementioned new environment. He had to understand and make it be understood that the hegemony of neoliberal economic policy was over and that the Western world had no universal recipe for the crisis which could be used everywhere. It became clear during the first moments of crisis management that the countries outside the eurozone could count on less solidarity from Europe. We also immediately understood that the austerity policies dictated and demanded by German economic players could not kick-start growth and would not get us out of the debt spiral. It became clear that we could only rely on ourselves, that it was our own responsibility to recover from the crisis. A precondition for this was the two-thirds majority mandate received from the voters, which meant both a huge opportunity and a huge responsibility that could not be shared with anyone else. This allowed the launch of unorthodox economic policy, the success of which has now been proven. Apart from setting a precedent, this economic policy seriously hurt the interests of economic stakeholders, who had long been used to shamelessly making as much extra profit as was possible in the ˝Wild East˝. And they are not ones to blush easily. Orbán’s economic policy was a real tour de force, requiring courage, creativity, perseverance, patience, determination and good nerves. The country’s room for manoeuvre in foreign policy had been constrained from the beginning by the need to fend off the powerful attacks that this policy generated. This was made even more difficult by the Media Act, which was ill-considered and underprepared from a communication standpoint; this was relentlessly used against us by our opponents, aided by their supporters here in Hungary. This is because as soon as someone firmly and courageously stands up for Hungarian interests, some opinion-formers on the liberal left always seem to side with affluent and powerful foreigners. From then on, the “opinion mercenaries” defending their interests are able to present themselves and EU lobbyists as guardians of freedom of the press and of democracy in opposition to us.

After 2010 we not only had to find our own way in economic policy but we had to think through what kinds of opportunity were opening up to us in a changed world. The policy of Eastward Opening responded both to geopolitics becoming increasingly multipolar, to nondescript EU foreign policy and to the failure of common energy projects. Newly independent former Soviet republics reappeared on our horizons, and thus began the exploration of mutual interests. These efforts were, of course, greeted with mockery by the left-liberal media, who questioned the Hungarian government on the state of Kazakh democracy. The critics conveniently disregarded the warm and profitable relations between the Kazakh president and Bill and Hillary Clinton – the latter having expressed such concern about Hungarian democracy. Our foreign policy, recognising the need for regional cooperation, was not disrupted by the well-prepared – and therefore successful and effective – campaign resulting in hundreds of thousands of people receiving a Hungarian passport, together with dual citizenship. We began to watch China and the smaller Far Eastern tigers, in order to learn from them and establish fruitful relations with them. China has entered the global arena with huge force, its westernisation is now obvious and this indeed causes headaches. Today we still do not know what kind of role will be demanded by a China that combines ancient Chinese and modern Western civilisation, and is ready to establish stronger ties with Europe – but it is obvious that we have to think about it seriously.

The Orbán government has proven to be an innovative one. It has developed and put into practice a Hungarian model which has proved to be viable and successful, and which the voters have endorsed several times. This is something huge. Since the biggest problem of many rather complacent welfare states is this: they are incapable of innovation and cannot let go of institutions and methodologies which were good in the past but have become obsolete over time. Their elites would rank highly at a Reality Rejection World Championship.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Preserving the status quo, delaying decisions and playing down conflict are indeed sometimes necessary and can be a good strategy – especially when so many divergent interests must be brought together, as in the European Union. But just as there can be times for playing things down, there are also times for firm decisions. Since 2008 the EU has spent too much precious time on maintaining the status quo and has done too little to take action for the necessary changes. Its decision-makers act like people who refuse to believe that their house is on fire because the latchkey is in their pocket. Common values and goals are increasingly lost in the fog. The leaders of the EU are in constant movement, bustling about and negotiating, but not standing up for any cause. For Hungarian citizens the names “Brussels” and “Strasbourg” have become synonymous with anti-Hungarian attacks, groundless accusations, lectures and sermons on democracy. Perhaps the agitated representatives of the European liberal left use these Orwellian Two Minutes Hate to ask why we support Orbán. To us, their question sounds like: “Why do you love Hungary? Are you standing up for your country?” Brussels, which demands more and more rights and power, and which is eager to enforce discipline, is generating more and more antipathy both here and across Europe. Meanwhile we Hungarian patriots are interested in keeping the European Union successful. For this, however, far fewer sermons and lectures are needed.

We are also interested in NATO’s revitalisation. This is in particular due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, since it is far from certain that we will be able to defend peace without strong armies. Ukraine is an important neighbour of ours, we understand the hopelessness of the situation for millions of people there, and Hungary is committed to the independence of Ukraine. But we also see that the future of Ukraine depends on the new agreements between the great powers. It is likely that a newly emergent American foreign policy will see cooperation with its Russian counterparts in several fields; a sign of this was Secretary of State Kerry´s recent visit to Sochi, when President Putin (the Western media’s current hate figure), kept him waiting for more than three hours. The fate of Ukraine will be decided within such a global context.

The fluctuation of the Russo-American and Russo-German relationships warns us to stay true to foreign policy based on Realpolitik and not to give in to siren voices. To achieve our goals let us find as many allies and friends as possible, with whom we have common interests.

In Europe there is a need for debate without taboos. Not only on the death penalty, the free movement of labour and immigration, but also on common European defence forces, on common foreign policy, on Europe´s borders, on debt, on the relation of private and public property, and on energy security – in other words, on all issues that European citizens are concerned about. We have to regain our voices, and we have to regain our ability to take the initiative in order to be able to shape our own destiny. After all, twenty-five years ago we became free and independent.