Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party is turning away from Viktor Orbán. According to the local press, their mutual and hitherto warm relationship with the ice is heading, albeit unofficially. The cancellation of the Visegrad Four defense ministers’ summit is a visible proof of the thoughts of the PiS and its boss, the real leader of the country, Jarosław Kaczyński. Poland (then Slovakia) joined Czech Minister Jana Černochová, who earlier this week refused to meet her Hungarian counterpart due to her government’s stance on the war in Ukraine.
Hungary accepts Ukrainian refugees and has not yet vetoed Russian sanctions, but refuses to send arms to the Ukrainian army or is content to let these transports pass through its territory. Elections will take place in Hungary this Sunday: Viktor Orbán promises his supporters peace and cheap heating bills. He describes the Russian invasion as something “unrelated to Hungary and not to our war”. Hungarian government media – most of the country’s news channels – repeat Russian propaganda and openly insult and ridicule Ukraine and its leaders.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán thus finds himself in political isolation. He tied his political future to Vladimir Putin years ago and he adheres to a tone of support for Russia. Most of the EU has long since turned away from him and his Fidesz party: they say they illegally control state institutions, the media, attack NGOs and sexual minorities, and propagate theories of conspiracy and hatred. So far, Orbán has been able to rely on anti-unionist radicals in Western Europe, the Czech and especially Polish and Slovenian governments.
Also read: What Zelensky should learn from Orban
However, the populists of Western Europe, generally pro-Russian, are now in decline – and yet they have no value for the real current politics of Viktor Orbán because they are not in power. Andrej Babiš, who brought Viktor Orbán to the Czech Republic in the fall before the elections as a pre-election asset, also lost power. Populist Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has again taken a decidedly pro-Ukrainian turn and recently took part in a trip to kyiv with Czech and Polish Prime Ministers Fiala and Morawiecki. And now the main Hungarian support, Poland, is disappearing. A few days ago, President Andrzej Duda said that “it is difficult for him to understand the Hungarian position”.
The alliance was important for both countries. Both face disciplinary action from the European Commission for alleged violation of the rule of law. So far, the two had stuck together like insurance. Under EU rules, the harshest penalty is loss of the right to vote, subject to the consent of all other member states, while Poland and Hungary prohibited themselves from voting one against the other. But last year came a turning point. The Commission and the rest of the Union have noted that this unanimity is not necessary to stop the European funds intended for Hungarian or Polish fishermen. Both countries are therefore in real danger of stopping the flow of EU money.
Orbán’s attitude and total solitude in this legal-diplomatic dispute risk harming Hungary. On the contrary, the Polish PiS has relied on Warsaw’s long-standing anti-Russian policy, launched a diplomatic offensive and is trying to play the role of European leader in its difficulties against Russia and its support for Ukraine. The hopes that the Commission will forget the rule of law in these difficult times of war and that Poland will cross the borders of Ukraine have proved in vain. But the Polish activity can bring a certain advantage.
There are now several amendments in the Polish Parliament to address the Commission’s allegations regarding the administration of justice to political power. At least one of them, proposed by President Duda, is widely referred to as a commissioner. If it passes, Poles can reasonably expect speed and helpfulness from the EU – and EU funds will start flowing into the country.
The removal of Viktor Orbán is probably part of this diplomatic effort. Until the Russian invasion, the Polish ruling party did not care about close Hungarian-Russian relations, and Moscow had waged an aggressive war with Kyiv for eight years in Kyiv. The pro-Russian rhetoric of other parties has also not posed a problem for the current government. Just weeks before the invasion, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attended a summit of anti-EU parties, many of which are openly pro-Russian. The opposition and domestic critics have blamed the Polish government for the Putin regime’s longstanding efforts to harm the union, in fact aided by ostentatious anti-Russian rhetoric, despite the fact that its wake-up call is too late.