The below article is an attempt on behalf of Polish and Hungarian journalists and newspaper editors to reinvigorate the dialogue between citizens and opinion-makers in the two countries. First published in the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita.
When in 2021 I made an interview with Grzegorz Kuczynski, the Director of the Warsaw Institute, he told me that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was a real possibility. I was skeptical. Why would a politician with the survival instincts the likes of Putin’s engage in a conflict from which he could only come out with a Pyrrhic victory at best? However, this was not the only troubling dilemma here: from subsequent discussion with Polish friends and colleagues it was clear that should this happen, this would be the worst possible scenario for the Polish-Hungarian relationship at the worst possible time. The rest is history of course, our friendship, our shared history is now being tested in the perfect storm as never before.
How should we meet this challenge? Repeating the old cliché of Polak, Węgier, dwa bratanki (Poles and Hungarians are cousins), will clearly not solve the problem whatsoever. In fact, whenever I hear this today, I cringe. It is like the term “special relationship” coined by Churchill: there never was one, but the Brits purr when the Americans repeat it, and the Americans love to hear the Brits purr, so they oblige them frequently.
Contrary to romantic visions though, the real miracle of the Polish-Hungarian friendship is that it had formed, and was able to survive, in historic and geopolitical circumstances when our two nations were entangled in different alliances, loyalties, risks.
Just like today. Are we going to be the first generation not to understand this?
There were of course shared interests, shared rulers, and alliances in the past, but this is not the part that had survived to this day: it is our common values, our national aspirations and vision for the future that have carried through to this day. These are the ones being challenged through external threats, and by fundamental divisions inside our own societies that we both experience. However, the question that we must not only raise, but also answer is: who are we willing and able to form a strategic alliance of values with, if not with one another? Just look around Poland, who is going to share your vision with the level of understanding and sympathy as Hungary does?
Still, the way we have chosen to react is less than ideal.
The problem is not that we are arguing about our stance regarding the Russian invasion or working with the Biden White House. On the contrary, the problem is that we are not arguing at all.
This cold, polite, and measured silence that characterizes the current Polish-Hungarian relationship is perhaps worse than shouting and beating the desk with our shoes like old Nikita Hrushchev did once. We have to take the risks though and start talking again. Respectfully, competently, and certainly with our eyes on the future.
There are various interest groups lining up to take advantage of our differences. Our failure to engage in intense and positive dialogue is a manna from heaven for all those who have long dreamt about undermining the Visegrad 4 alliance with their supranational goals in view. This is a perfect gift for Moscow, Brussels, and Washington alike, to whom this small untamed spec of freedom and independent spirit on the European map was always a thorn in the side. Just read the endless editorials in the Western media celebrating the alleged demise of our centuries-old friendship. We must not allow them to be right, they must not own the narrative on our friendship, it must not be them who will write the final chapter in this saga!
As much as we both put the resolution of the conflict on our Eastern borders in the center of our attention, we cannot be distracted from the existential threat rolling towards us from the West like a great boulder.
Paris is burning, thousands coming ashore in Italy to take claim of the old Europe we have abandoned, clinics performing sex-change surgery on seven-year-olds in England, and the U.S. is tearing itself apart under the leadership of a radical leftist clique. Looking in any direction, one feels like being dropped in a novel written jointly by Kafka and Tolkien.
This is not moral relativism talking here, but we live in an exceptionally ambiguous moment in history that presents us with only morally and politically ambiguous options to choose from. Signs are that many Hungarians understand this and appreciate that despite their best intentions and strong convictions, the position they have taken over the conflict in the East contains its own tangible contradictions. But that in fact corresponds truly and honestly to the historic problem at hand. Anyone who would make this a simple battle between good and evil, with morally obvious and indisputable options to choose from, is either trying to relieve himself from the sacrosanct human duty to engage in moral dilemmas pertaining to freedom, or is completely unaware of the causality that lead to this situation.
A lot hangs in the balance whether we can find a common voice, and whether we can find it in time.
The dominoes of Western civilization are falling all around us, even within the Visegrad 4 alliance. Essentially, the way it looks from Budapest, there are only two left standing as the last bastions of Christian Europe and civic values: Poland and Hungary.
That is all, no more left. We cannot make our stance on a war in our neighborhood as the only criterion of whether we will continue to form an alliance in defending our heritage. This is a luxury we cannot afford.
The author is editor in chief of Hungary Today and Ungarn Heute.
Via Rzeczpospolita; Featured Image: Pixabay