My Europe

Gábor Bojár / May 2019

Photo: Shutterstock


I agree with Viktor Orban. We agree that the stakes are higher in the coming European Parliamentary elections in May than ever before. They are even higher than they were in the parliamentary elections last year. Back then the fragmented, and according to many observers, partially coopted opposition helped Fidesz to another two-thirds majority in parliament, what many of us perceived as Hungary’s great tragedy. But that seems to be a lesser blow than Europe falling apart again. Because that is what is at stake now. Europe’s future is not primarily threatened by immigrants, but by Viktor Orban and his friends: Salvini’s League, the German AfD, the French National Rally, the Austrian Freedom Party and other similarly euroskeptic, nationalist parties that are hell-bent on destroying the Union.

For nearly three-fourths of a century there is lasting peace in most of Europe, the most important achievement of the Union. It seems though, for some, this unprecedentedly long peacetime has become too long to bear.

What Europe means to me

When I was a child I heard about the so-called “European Coal and Steel Community” on the radio, and I asked my father what it meant. This means, he said, that someday there will be a Europe without borders, and if we are a part of that Europe it won’t matter anymore if Transylvania is ours or the Romanians’, because it will belong to all of us, and there will be no more wars in Europe.

On April 30, 2014, five minutes before midnight, my wife and I were standing in the passport control queue that was reserved for EU citizens at the Fiumicino airport of Rome. The border guard looked at his watch and said firmly: five minutes to go! But then he smiled and waved us through. It was a beautiful moment. Since Hungary’s accession to the Schengen agreement, it is always a special experience to cross the Slovenian border on our way to our summer holidays, where no need to slow down any more, only a modest sign indicates on the side of the road that we have entered Slovenia. But a few years ago large metal barriers appeared by the side of the road with barbed wire on the top, as if they were only waiting for the solemn instruction to block the road, when needed. This makes me sad.

I agree with the notion that Christianity is one of European civilization’s most valuable assets and every European citizen, regardless of their religion, can be rightfully proud of all the great masterpieces that have been accomplished in its name. That said, I equally value the ideals of the Enlightment and secularism – even though the likes of Orban would disagree -, and they are even more vulnerable to ferocious attacks by Islamic fundamentalists than Christianity itself. Of course, one must not conflate Islam as a whole with Islamic fundamentalism. Those who raise false alarms with such nonsense as “population exchange”, only fuel islamophobic fundamentalism and inspire actions like Breivik’s mass murder of Norwegian children a few years ago, or the recent mass execution of peacefully praying Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. These purportedly Christian extremists are as harmful as their Islamist counterparts are, and by strengthening the spiral of hatred, they are putting Europe’s values at peril just as much as those whom they think they are fighting against.

Of course, we do have to protect ourselves from the dangers of uncontrolled mass migration. Defending the Schengen borders is not just sensible, but we are legally bound to do it. Opinions to the contrary are only read into the statements of Europe’s democratic parties by Orban and his friends. The Treaty of Geneva that protected hundreds of thousands of Hungarians in 1956, obliges every signatory state, including Hungary, to provide fair treatment and protection to every legitimate asylum seeker that arrive to their territory. However, it does not amount to a blanket support for uncontrolled mass migration. Nor does the idea of open societies equal the promotion of uncontrolled mass migration, not even according to George Soros.

What does the Union mean to me as a businessperson

It means a lot more than the available grants to apply for, which – because of their market-distorting effects– often imply more harm than gain.

At the time my former venture opened its first office in the Silicon Valley in 1989 I came to understand why the United States is in the forefront of the information revolution that is shaping our world today, even though the guiding principles for the operation of computers had been laid down in Europe, and the 19th century ancestors of the modern computer were designed on the old continent. The simple reason for that is that every American company plans to operate on a vast, unified market of 300 million from the start. This is what they plan and obtain funding for. And what makes that market unified? A single currency, unified tax and legal systems, and an integrated business environment including all the regulations and standards.

The first steps towards integration have been taken here in Europe as well. There are no internal customs, a single currency is used in the euro zone, and there have been important steps taken towards harmonizing legal regimes. But these were only the first few hesitant steps towards the much-needed integration. The monetary union is moldering without a fiscal union, and the harmonization of legal systems is far from complete, especially without the consistent implementation of the rules. Because of this, among other reasons, the European economy is lagging behind its global challengers.

What does the Union mean to Viktor Orban

For a while I believed that Orban wants to lead Hungary out of the EU, and if it had been up to him, we would have never even joined. Let us remember his notorious statement from the time when he was leading the accession negotiations during his first term in power between 1998 and 2002: “There is life outside the Union”. This was not merely negotiation tactics, but a rare moment of honesty, with that sentence coming right from his heart. He does not tolerate limitations to his power. After the systematic degradation of the checks and balances that began in 2010, the EU is the last remaining counterweight to his power and he seeks to eliminate it. The disgusting and unprecedentedly intense campaign against Brussels that has been going on for years and builds on the worst xenophobic instincts, was to gain public support for leaving the Union.

But having seen that it did not yield the intended results – because Hungarians are in favor of EU to a much larger extent than Orban had assumed – he changed his tactics. He now projects himself as the most genuine European, ferociously defending Europe from the Muslim hordes waiting to abuse our women and daughters. It is not hard to see that this is only a new strategy, one that is more effective than exiting the EU. The new strategy aims at destroying the EU from within. His priority that overrides anything is therefore national sovereignty (which in practice means Orban’s exclusive, personal sovereignty with the unprecedented concentration of power) in effect amounts to the destruction of the EU itself.

Handling migration within national competence?

Not so long ago, I had a conversation at a reception about the desired way of handling migration with a Fidesz politician who had been competent in the matter by the virtue of the office he held. I asked him whether he was in favor of the free and uncontrolled movement within the Schengen borders. Naturally, yes, he answered. Then how do you imagine keeping migration control strictly in national hands? – I asked. How are these two questions related? – he countered. Let’s imagine, I answered, that Hungary is one of the richest members of the EU (however unlikely that situation would seem – but I did not add this), and another Schengen country, poorer and more liberal than us, say France, would open its borders to mass migration. All those people would begin to flow to Hungary, one of the most attractive countries in the EU. I did not get an answer. The politician politely said goodbye and vanished in the crowd of the reception.

I know what the answer would have been. This scenario will never be a real threat to us. Not only are we not attractive enough, we don’t even want to be. The campaign against the foreigners was not only aimed at domestic voters, but sent a message to the outside world as well: don’t come here, we hate foreigners! Richer and more open societies should solve the problem in whatever way they can, but do not count on us! If the price for this is giving up Schengen, so be it. The Union is crumbling anyway already, whatever little power we have is best used for hastening the downfall. Then we wouldn’t even have to leave.

What is Hungary doing today to weaken the Union

Hungary consistently vetoes everything that would serve the strengthening of the EU, and stays away from every step of further integration. Needless to say, it will not join the Eurozone and declares in its new constitution that its currency is the Hungarian Forint. It refuses to join the European Prosecutor’s Office that was set up to curb the looting of EU funds. As a result, Hungary’s EU subsidies could be suspended, for good reasons. Naturally, we vetoed the strengthening and expanding the powers of the common border protection agency. Contrary to what is parroted over and over by the government propaganda, it wasn’t designed to let in asylum seekers in mass through the Hungarian-Serbian border, but to ease the pressure on the overburdened Greek, Italian and Spanish naval border protection agencies instead. We even vetoed the initiative to set-up registration centers outside Europe.

Orban’s goal is not to solve the problem, but to keep it indefinitely on the agenda, which in turn strengthens his domestic support. Of course, he is conspicuously silent about the fact that migration numbers have fallen before pre-crisis levels due to the agreements signed between the EU and third countries and to the end of the Syrian civil war. Migrants to Hungary are only brought in by our own government, as they move in tens of thousands of “migrants” with murky backgrounds through the settlement bonds program, a vehicle to funnel gigantic amounts of public funds into the governments’ cronies’ pockets. 

Putin’s Trojan Horse?

Hungary is not just working to weaken the EU wherever it can, but it also aims to undermine NATO. We have vetoed Ukraine’s approach towards NATO citing Ukraine’s language law and its detrimental effect on the Hungarian minority as a pretext. But it is harder to justify why we extradited the Russian arms smugglers, working against America, to Russia, when they were arrested in Hungary with American help. Why did a bank whose majority owner is the Russian state and is managed by former KGB officials receive diplomatic immunity, a sort of extraterritorial status? Why do we shelter the former prime minister of Macedonia, who promoted Russian interests by working against NATO and the EU and who was convicted for corruption in his own country? Why do we float the idea of quitting NATO, citing Austria’s neutrality as an example? It is as if we forgot that Austrian neutrality was a product of a pact between East and West, but Austria’s western orientation was never called into question. And let’s not forget about the gigantic nuclear plant development in Paks, which was meant to reduce our dependence on Russian energy, but instead it ends up binding our homeland to Russia with many more ties. According to renown experts this development goes against broader market trends in the world, oblivious to the rapidly increasing share and falling costs of renewable sources of power, and exclusively serves Russia’s strategic objectives.

Orban more and more openly acts as Putin’s Trojan Horse within the EU, because he believes that he will could greater leverage by steering between the two powers instead of committing to one. There are some who believe in the politics of skillfully maneuvering between superpowers and in the possibility to preserve our independence by doing so. But except for a few short periods in our history, this has always been an illusion in this passageway land of the Carpathian Basin. In the last five hundred years we have almost always belonged to the sphere of influence of one great empire or another. This is an inevitable consequence of geography. And I sincerely believe that the sound majority of Hungarians would not choose the Russian empire over the EU. The generation that has direct experience of living under the Russian dominion is still alive. We have heard from our parents and grandparents that the liberating Russian soldiers had raped hundreds of thousands (!) of Hungarian women, leaving tens of thousands of children behind, ruining lives and families in their path. And when the allied leaders complained about this to Stalin, he said: “My soldiers have fought their way all across Europe, they deserve a little fun”. Are these the values and the culture we want to belong to?

Orban frets that Brussels is building an empire. I hope he is right and Europe will build an empire that can stand up to the challenges of the Russian or the Chinese empire, and one that can be an equal ally to the American empire as well. Because we will inevitably belong to one of those empires. But unlike in our history, when we could not decide ourselves, twenty-nine years ago we were given a chance to make our own choice. And we decided. Our prime minister wants to reverse that decision, because now he thinks that the sun is setting on the West. The future lies with the Eastern empires, because there are no unnecessary checks and balances constraining the boss’s power. 

He did not always think that way. In 2007, at a Fidesz’ birthday event, he said the following exact words in his speech titled “Message to the Future”:

“We have opened the door to the West, and we have shown the door to the Russians, to the Soviet Union and to communism. Our message to the future is that you must not let them ever back in through the backdoor (…) Now that we have escaped the fate of being the soviet system’s happiest garrison, don’t let Hungary become Gazprom’s happiest garrison. (…) Our message to the youth is to keep Hungary aligned to the West. (…) Oil may be coming from the East, but freedom is always arriving from the West.” Those who are interested can see it here in Hungarian: We can all make a a guess why his opinion changed, but I choose to believe the Viktor Orban from 2007.

Fall of the West?

Many have predicted the fall of the West many times in the last two hundred years in the history of Western democracies. These democracies have often sunk into crises – it is currently in one as a matter of fact – but the real strength of these democracies is the ability to heal themselves, unlike those authoritarian regimes that sprung up from wrong answers to the crises, such as communism or fascism. These regimes all collapsed upon their first serious military or economic defeat.

Liberal democracies made the industrial revolution happen, which then despite its controversies and crises had brought unprecedented prosperity and developments to humankind, for instance in the fields of public health, life expectancy, free and accessible public schooling and public safety, just to name a few outside the economic domain. Today, liberal democracies face new challenges brought upon them by the information revolution; starting with fake news through new methods of manipulation to the polarization of information. Some say the third world war is already being waged in cyber space, and that Russian hackers appear to be the most powerful in it. Possibly. But a few decades ago Russians seemed to be winning the fight for conquering space with their rockets, but the West regained the initiative and the Americans landed on the moon. Then the West won the race to build rocket defense systems, the so called “Star Wars” and the Soviet Union fell.

The strength of liberal democracy feeds on individual creativity and innovative energy in all of us, which it can unleash more effectively than any other system before it; and with smart regulation and incentives it may harness the power of it for the benefit of the community in addition to individual gains. Some argue against this reasoning by citing the example of China, which obviously cannot be regarded as a liberal democracy. But I believe China owes its success to being much more liberal and democratic today, then it once was in the time of Mao. And those six hundred thousand young people who have already left have settled in the West, not in the East, to exploit their talent.

I sincerely believe that the liberal democracies of the West will find their way out of the crisis, and that they will win in the cyber space eventually, as they are the ones who created the information revolution that is changing our world more profoundly than the industrial revolution once did. And to this, we, Hungarians can make a valuable contribution with our several hundred years tradition of world-class mathematics.

Orban and his friends will not succeed in destroying or even weakening the EU. While it is true that Brexit brought a significant blow to the Union in economic and defense terms alike, but without the traditionally euroskeptic British the integration process may gain new momentum again. The “two-tier Europe” is taking shape now, within which there will be a core-Europe, a truly integrated community. And we may be left out of this core-Europe. Everything that Orban is doing today may just be enough for that. We may end-up in the periphery, whose operations will not be too rigorously controlled by the core. The core’s primary aim will be maintaining order in its periphery, and it will be a secondary concern for them whether that is done within an autocracy or a democracy. However, we will still be better-off in the periphery than we would be without a strong core-EU coming to existence, and the whole EU falling apart instead. Because then, we would have nothing to protect us from the worst: war. This is the reason why the stakes are much higher in the coming EP elections than ever before in our lifetime.

There is hope

Fidesz’ gravest sin is what it’s doing in the people’s soul: stoking hatred in the minds of a naturally peaceful and welcoming nation. However, I believe that this nation is still healthy and the sound majority – including conservative, liberal or socialist leaning voters – is growing tired of having to hate somebody all the time, be it Brussels, migrants or George Soros.

Even though almost all channels of mass communication are controlled by Fidesz and, according pollsters, Fidesz still enjoys the support of more than half of the electorate, I believe there is hope against all odds. Many believe the reason behind Fidesz’ high popularity is the deeply unpopular opposition. In the coming election, however, it doesn’t matter which opposition party’s list we cast our votes for, because what we are really voting on is where we want to belong. Since every opposition party agrees that we want to belong to the West, the vote for either of them is a vote for Europe and a vote against Fidesz' efforts to undermine a strong European Union. If in this election we manage to deprive Fidesz of a majority in the vote count, the hope for joining core-Europe one day may still be alive. The few Hungarian opposition seats may not matter much in the new European Parliament, but the showing of the will of the Hungarian people where we want to belong does. This truly is a matter of national destiny at this point.

Gábor Bojár

Gábor Bojár

May 2019

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