By Ferenc Almássy.
European Union – There are indications that there is a new continental divide. Criminal charges have been filed, and this time they may bring an end to the European Union. The accused: Poland and Hungary. But what is really going on?
Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, is a populist. He has mobilized his troops to openly attack Brussels. He fights against liberalism. And as if that were not enough, the Poles are beginning to follow suit.
Bingo! The EU has made them into the bad guys. It’s catchy and it allows them to try to drum up public sympathy. Those “eastern countries with nationalist and authoritarian quasi-dictators” sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it? Besides which, who really knows anything about these countries? And what cultural and media influence do they have today?
Playing on the public’s fears, especially in times of crisis, is a time-tested technique. It allows one to close ranks by triggering a defensive reflex, circling the wagons. In this instance, many are doing this in good faith and naïvely: most journalists are just poor stringers who cannot see the fast-approaching day when robots equipped with artificial intelligence will replace them. But others know Central Europe well, and know exactly what Orbán is doing. These agents and ideologues are the ones who determine the official line that will be taken by the mainstream Western press.
West vs. East, Optimates vs. Populares
Calling Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s Law and Justice Party, populists is correct. But a semantic shift has occurred in the West, where Central Europe is now defined according to an older understanding. “Populist,” in Western eyes, means extremist; it is a catchword used to invoke a Pavlovian reflex of distrust and antipathy. The populist is seen as a demagogue and as a relic of the 1930s.
When Orbán urged his European People’s Party (EPP) colleagues to be unafraid of being called populists – even though he denied being a populist himself when he addressed them – he reminded them of the name of their Party. He appealed to the significance of the word “people”: to be a populist, in the words of the strong man of Budapest, is to be in the party of the people.
But for our Brussels Optimates, this is unacceptable. The rise of the new Populares of the former “Eastern Bloc” worries them. These new citizens of Europe, who want to enjoy their rights as well as what their big brothers in the West have to offer them, will not tolerate intimidation or being treated as second-class citizens. They are still emerging from half a century of Soviet domination, and those currently in power in Central Europe are the ones who, at the age of twenty-five, took to the streets to demand that Soviet armies leave their countries. (And remember, these were the same armies which had caused so many sleepless nights among the oligarchs of the West.) Today, they will not allow themselves to be flouted by these same oligarchs, these would-be Optimates who jealously guard their assets and their power.
The eastward extension of the EU seemed like a good economic policy at first, and indeed it has been and remains so. Nevertheless, times have changed, and our Central European Populares have come to understand Brussels’ weakness: that avatar of a future federalism and the socioeconomic hegemony of a liberal-libertarian Germany, which is itself subservient to the United States.
Orbán and Kaczyński, and to a lesser extent Robert Fico, the Prime Minister of Slovakia, and even Bohuslav Sobotka, the Prime Minister of Czechia, are all convinced Europeans. They are men who have fully subscribed to the European Union project. They have never talked about destroying the EU. What they want is a union of European countries based, like the rejuvenated Visegrád Group, on a consensual agreement, and not a federalism led by globalists who disdain the will of the common peoples of Europe.
Indeed, the current leaders of Central Europe are virtually the only genuinely pro-European leaders left today, and that’s why they will not give in. This is especially true since, as good Populares, their power lies in the telluric strength of the peoples’ will, which can be seen whenever the powerful oligarchical elites of the West, the new Optimates, panic when they realize that they are losing control.
The signs are clear to see: Brexit, Trump, Putin, growing opposition to migrants, rising Euroscepticism, the near-victory of the Austrian Freedom Party, and the rise of political radicalism – the latter of which will crash over them like a tidal wave if nothing is done. Europeans under thirty already massively support their local populist parties . . . The Optimates of Brussels are seeing their projects being undermined by an increasingly intense reaction as their power diminishes.
So they cling with ever-more desperation to what they still have left. Thus, the press attacks Orbán, the very same one who wants a Europe that is closer to the original idea of the EU than those in the West, who want a federal Europe, with centralized and non-elected institutions. The masters of the EU want to change it into something else, whereas Orbán only wants to regenerate it: in a case of reverse accusation, they have made Orbán into the one who threatens the EU.
Now we have the EU’s apparatchiks, our modern Optimates, howling with rage at the danger posed by the populist Orbán, who they claim wants to destroy the EU . . . so they are threatening to expel Hungary and Poland. This is an empty threat, though, as Hungary and Poland have been integrated into the EU at the behest of Germany, the real boss of the EU, which exploited the opportunity to get back its Mitteleuropa. There is therefore no chance that this would actually happen.
On the other hand, expelling Orbán’s party, Fidesz, from the EPP is much more plausible. This would deprive Orbán of a Union-wide asset. On the other hand, it would also give him the opportunity to play the victim and to take the fight even further. He won’t give it up; he has a thicker skin than these Juncker-style autocrats.
The EU Self-Destructs
Thus, the EU really is in danger, its elites stoking tensions and trying to use force (purely of the verbal kind, to attempt to achieve with words what Soviet tanks had been unable to accomplish) to bring the Populares of our time to their knees. The populists, for their part, are waiting for this to happen, knowing full well that it will only reinforce their posture as determined Alter-Europeans, champions of the will of the people, who will launch a genuine revolt against these elites, which are being more and more derided.
Today we are living in the final years of the European Union as we know it. The opposing projects of the oligarchs of the West and of the populists of the East will not be able to coexist. The former defend their privileges and their ideology; the latter eagerly embrace their freedom, which they believe they can finally recover after too many decades of foreign domination. Nobody will simply let it go diplomatically, but one will eventually prevail over the other. Or the EU will fall apart.