“The past 100 years will not disappear without a trace from the history of Polish-Hungarian relations.” Leading Polish politicians spoke with Balázs Orbán and Zsolt Németh in Budapest: the keyword was ‘understanding,’ but there remained some contrast too.
This article was originally published on our sister-site, Ungarn Heute.
Deputy Speaker of the Polish Parliament (the Sejm), Ryszard Terlecki, President of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marek Kuchciński, and Polish MEP Bogusław Sonik spoke with the political director of Hungarian Prime Minister Balázs Orbán and President of the Foreign Affairs Committee Zsolt Németh.
The exchange of ideas moderated by Maciej Szymanowski, director of the Wacław Felczak Institute for Polish-Hungarian Cooperation in Warsaw, was also marked by kind words and subtle criticism.
“Survival here depends on nationalism in the good sense. This succeeds those for whom the national interests come first. We will not agree on everything, but with respect and understanding for the other side nothing is lost and Polish-Hungarian friendship is particularly important,” Orbán said.
Zsolt Németh mentioned that for the Poles, the 1980s were the time when many things condensed, which for us Hungarians means 1956, for example. He added:
The past 100 years will not disappear without a trace from the history of Polish-Hungarian relations,”
which difficult time is also a test for the Polish-Hungarian friendship. He mentioned President Katalin Novák’s first trip, which symbolically, was to Warsaw, and thanked the chairmen of the Sejm for this return visit, which “helps us to understand each other better,” a topic that both sides have always emphasized.
The president of the Hungarian Foreign Policy Committee said that it may sound surprising, but Hungary’s and Poland’s goal regarding Ukraine is identical: to open the doors to the EU to the country and give it candidate status, because the blood, the tens of thousands of victims empower Ukraine to do so. Conservative Europe, the Europe of nation-states, is a Europe of sovereign nations and does not accept interest theories, the Brezhnev Doctrine, or the restoration of the Soviet Union, rejects the Yalta “Agreement” and supports the Helsinki process, and with Poles there is no alternative but a close, friendly alliance. On how this could be achieved, or the price one should pay for this goal, there are disputes, he added, in which Budapest is cautious, since one should not harm oneself more than the Russians.
Marek Kuchciński, Chairman of the Sejm Foreign Policy Committee, called it a common goal to strengthen Polish-Hungarian millennial cooperation and thus consolidate Central Europe.
Szymanowski has referred to the information warfare and manipulation perceived in the media to play Poland and Hungary against each other, to which Terlecki said that both the large-scale Russian attack and the successful resistance of the Ukrainians had taken them by surprise. The Sejm deputy chairman added that fears of a global conflict were high and whether or not weapons and tanks should be sent. From Kyiv came “dramatic requests and demands” on the grounds that the Russians would not stop, they would continue to Poland, so they finally decided to help Ukraine resolutely to weaken Russia to the maximum extent.
Terlecki added that the Russians were encouraged to do what they did when Europe failed to act decisively in Crimea and the Donbass.
At the same time, he expressed his understanding for the Hungarian-Ukrainian diplomatic dispute: “We have seen that Hungarians have a different idea. We understood the electoral conflict and the reasons for the Ukrainian-Hungarian tensions (…) We were told that four schools were closed for us, while 70 were closed for you, and we tried to understand that,” however, because of the experience of history, one should not think in “nuances,” as “it is not the war that threatens peace, but Russia,” the Deputy Chairman noted. He pointed out that the Law and Justice Party (PiS) is under a serious propaganda attack from the opposition, according to which they are Putin’s allies, “because we have not broken relations with our Hungarian friends.”
Bogusław Sonik, MEP of the opposition Civic Platform, said in his pro-European contribution that our countries have achieved the dream of generations by being able to express our feelings if we feel pressure from Brussels or NATO, because we are part of the community. At the same time, he said that the deteriorating relations are not because of opposition disinformation, but because “the Hungarians have not clearly explained their own position,” and that “Hungarian interests come first” is not enough to win over Polish or European public opinion, and that the statements in Budapest were perceived as a lack of empathy for the Ukrainians, as were the “bickering” remarks against the Ukrainian president.
In any case, Szymanowski recommended Balázs Orbán’s book The Thousand One of Hungarian Strategic Thinking to the audience to understand the Hungarian interest. The author himself explained that being aware of the national interest is a continuous intellectual work, which is easier when sovereignty is to be asserted against a directly visible oppressor – as it was for Hungary and Poland against the Nazis and Soviets – than when the goal is to retain sovereignty (not against such easily controllable challenges). He called it a tragedy that peaceful Eurasian coexistence had ended with the war. But cooperation between Central Europe is vital, otherwise, it will be destroyed by the great geopolitical storms. The Hungarian-Polish friendship, therefore, has a basis of strategic interest as well as an emotional one. Hungarian strategic thinking dictates that we must condemn the war, help the refugees in Ukraine, and unite Europe.
In his response, Zsolt Németh recalled that Hungary has voted for all sanctions, and it is a serious achievement that they have been implemented, but a limit must be drawn, and here we have the issue of energy supplies: the oil embargo, and then there will come the issue of gas, while “the Russians can sell it to other, obviously at a slower pace.” The Hungarian Commission President added that previously, only Iran was hit by such a serious international blockade, similar to the one imposed on Russia. He also said that it was important to get to know each other’s positions directly, because both the Hungarian and Polish press had published anti-Polish and anti-Hungarian positions in the context of a “propaganda war,” i.e. “we cannot sit back and think that there is a thousand-year-old friendship that will protect us,” just as it is an exaggeration to say that all is lost.
Németh admitted that the goal is to prevent a strong, EU-compliant Ukraine and the reconstruction of the Soviet Union – but the Hungarian toolbox is different from the Polish one. He does not feel the need to qualify it, on the contrary, he should try to understand it. Zsolt Németh added that the Western world must show strength and unity, because “Russia will inevitably remain here,” but we must be able to stop it from being a threat in the future.
The free with the free
Kuchciński described meetings like today’s as crucial, as these help to avoid situations where the involved parties react to false information and extract phrases, on the basis of which they then form a construction of false reality. Hence this meeting simply had to be organized. He stressed the need for strong Polish-Hungarian cooperation, building Central Europe as well, “but only on the basis of free with free, equals with equals,” referring to the Polish Noble Republic and the time of the Hungarian Order of Estates. He added: “when our states existed in this way, they were so strong that no one could attack us with impunity, either from the East or from the West.”
Terlecki noted that they themselves did not believe that the EU would change its negative attitude towards Ukraine, which could also change towards Moldova and Georgia. The most important thing is to bring Eastern and Central Europe to an agreement, while the EU is trying to commit “suicide” by making the energy supply more environmentally friendly or fantasizing about the exclusion of Hungary and Poland.
Szymanowski closed the event with Felczak’s words: “Either Central Europeans learn to cooperate, or they will once again be passengers on a train where they have no control over where it stops.”
Featured image via Marek Kuchciński’s Facebook page