A firestorm is brewing in the European Union led by two Central European countries- Poland and Hungary with Hungary’s Victor Orban taking the lead. Although the Hungarian leader has butted heads with the EU in the past over refugees joined by Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, two recent events have turned up the heat. The first is a law recently passed that would require a foreign university to have a bilateral agreement with the “home” country and that they have a campus abroad.
This law specifically targets the Central European University in Budapest. Founded in 1991 and originally based in Prague, the University is the brainchild of someone familiar on these pages- George Soros. Former Czech president Vaclav Klaus chased the university out of the Czech Republic. Orban has accused Soros of being responsible for the migrant crisis that plagues Europe and for interfering in Hungarian politics. Said Orban:
His name is perhaps the strongest example of those who support anything that weakens nation states, they support everything that weakens the European lifestyle. These activists who support immigrants inadvertently become part of an international human-smuggling network.
Another law, similar to one in Russia, would force NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to register as foreign agents and submit themselves to audits. Both these actions are seen by Brussels as being a crackdown on free expression and liberal values.
Adding fuel to the fire, Orban also hosted an international gathering of an American Christian organization- the World Congress of Families. The group is funded partially by the Kremlin and has a strong anti-LGBT agenda.
All these events- bucking the EU regarding asylum seekers, the CEU controversy, the NGO law and the hosting of this gathering- has prompted the EU to fight back against Orban and Hungary. The EU passed a resolution claiming Hungary was in violation of Article 7 of the charter and that they were therefore subject to sanctions and denial of voting rights in the European parliament.
However, there was not unanimous agreement among all countries and Orban, and as far as support in the EU is concerned, found an ally in Germany. That is because in the EU parliament, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Orban’s Fidesz party both belong to the center-right European People’s Party coalition. In a carefully worded statement from a German official, they claimed that before Hungary can be sanctioned, they should have a chance to answer the parliament’s questions and concerns.
Probably the most western of Soviet-era Warsaw Pact countries, Hungary has been a liberal disappointment. Twenty years ago, the Socialist Party and Alliance of Free Democrats- two liberal parties- held power. Amid charges of rampant corruption, Orban’s Fidesz party rose to power in 2010. He has been an enigma playing both sides. For example, although forging close ties with Putin in Russia, Hungary has nevertheless voted for every sanction against Russia imposed by the EU. Yet, while Merkel was opening the German borders to asylum seekers, Orban was building walls and fences on their border to keep asylum seekers out.
While he has been slowly dismantling certain checks and balances in the Hungarian government- he calls them a “US invention” unsuited to Europe- muzzling the press and cracking down on political opponents while turning his back on oligarchs- EU grant money pours into Hungary and accounts for 2.4% of their GDP. Orban, in the area of immigration, stole the thunder of Jobbik, a far right-wing, nationalist movement in Hungary thus rendering that movement moot and obsolete.
Where Hungary leads, other countries may follow and one such country is Poland. A controversial new law which would put the Polish Supreme Court under government control has led to massive demonstrations throughout Poland this past weekend. The law would force the early retirement of the current court members with new members to be appointed by the Justice Ministry.
Polish President Andrzej Duda has announced his intentions to veto two of the three recently passed bills. Despite the fact he holds no government post, Jaroslaw Kaczynski is chairman of the majority Law and Justice Party (PiS) and considered the de facto leader of Poland. The former Polish prime minister has forged an alliance with Orban in Hungary and Orban has recently stated that they support the controversial laws in Poland.
Together, they are trying to create a “cultural counter-revolution” in Europe based on a defense of nation, family and Christianity. As some European observers have noted, Orban in particular creates a unique threat to the continent by injecting extreme right wing views into the center.
But, Orban is smart and saves his venom for “Brusselians” as he calls them. Merkel, who is probably most responsible for the immigration crisis, is spared because Orban cannot alienate his richer neighbors who infuse cash into Hungary and employ Hungarians. He also knows that Hungary is no Great Britain in that a sizable majority of Hungarians support EU membership.
Regarding the refugee crisis, the EU has launched a legal case against Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland over their refusal to allow the settlement of refugees. The Czech president- Milos Zeman- is no stranger to controversy himself. He once suggested that vegetarians and tea-totalers be put to death (he claims it was a reference to Hitler). On various occasions, he has referred to journalists as “manure” and “hyenas” and characterizes Islam as the “religion of death.”
He too has been the target of protests in Prague demanding his resignation and the firing of the Finance Minister, Andre Babis, over corruption allegations. The Czech Republic has also refused to accept their quota of Muslim refugees mandated by the EU. As for neighboring Slovakia, they have followed suit claiming they lack the resources to settle Muslims since there are no mosques and such in the country (and they intend to keep it that way). Their claim is that Slovakia is simply a pass-through country that should not be forced to accept Muslim refugees.
Which brings us full circle to the standoff between the EU and Hungary over Soros’ Central European University. Orban and others believe that Soros has embarked on a systematic program to transform the nature and character of what is uniquely European by “importing” Muslim refugees to change the face of Europe. Without saying it outright regarding Merkel, but more by turning their anger towards the EU itself, they believe the EU is an unwitting dupe in this effort by Soros. It did not help matters recently when Soros was a keynote speaker at an EU meeting.
If there is one weak link in this anti-EU coalition, it is Andrej Kiska in Slovakia who defeated Robert Fico for the presidency in 2014. He has tried to forge closer ties with the EU and NATO. He also is more supportive of the settlement of refugees. However, his sentiments are counter balanced by Prime Minister Robert Fico who also leads Slovakia’s largest political party.
While we here in the United States are preoccupied with tales of Russian collusion, our political landscape in many ways pales in comparison to the complexity of politics in Central Europe. The refugee crisis has been the breaking point for some countries and they are taking a stand. The crisis is very real in Europe; there is no vast Atlantic Ocean separating the refugees from continental Europe. To many in these nations, they see the unique character of their countries changing before their eyes. While the US deals with illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America, Europe sees a greater threat as the Muslim population increases. A major terrorist attack by Muslims in Europe has the potential to create a political crisis that can rock the stability of the EU.