How kindred spirits Hungary and Poland fell out during the war in Ukraine | Poland

In December 2021, Poland’s ultra-conservative nationalist government hosted some of the biggest names in European far-right politics, including France’s Marine Le Pen and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. Following the Warsaw rally, the group issued a statement against “social engineering” aimed at creating “a new European nation” and made largely unfulfilled promises to work together in the European Parliament.

Just months after the Warsaw summit, the Polish and Hungarian governments, which have been ideological soul mates in the EU for years, quarreled over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While Warsaw was one of Kyiv’s cities most dedicated supporters, calling for tougher sanctions, Hungarian leader Orbán described Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as his “adversary” and blamed Russia’s EU policy for inflation and soaring energy prices . Despite a few timid olive branches, Polish-Hungarian relations remain strained.

The rift became more evident in April when Jarosław Kaczyński, Poland’s most powerful politician and chairman of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, outlined Orbán’s stance on Ukraine as “very sad” and “disappointing”. Privately, Polish diplomats expressed dismay. “For me, this is the country of 1848-1849, the country slaughtered by Russia,” a senior Polish diplomat said in May, referring to Imperial Austria’s call for the Russian Tsar to crush the Hungarian revolution. “Honestly, I don’t understand the logic [of Hungary’s position]“, said the diplomat, adding that the Visegrád group – the alliance of four Central European countries, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – no longer existed.

More recently, an attempt by Warsaw to relaunch cooperation with Hungary seems to have come to nothing. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a pro-government weekly last month that Poland wanted to resume cooperation with the Visegrád Group (V4), thus reopening the door to better relations with Hungary. EU officials in Brussels took it as a sign that the Polish government was disappointed has so far failed to release €35.4bn (about £31bn) in EU Covid recovery fundsalthough he has offered modest concessions in his dispute with Brussels over the rule of law.

Wojciech Przybylski, editor of Visegrád Insight magazine, said Morawiecki was seeking to test Polish public opinion, but in the face of the 2023 election could not ignore the pro-Russian leanings of some politicians who visited Warsaw in December. last, including Orbán. Some Polish political leaders, Przybylski said, would like to “innovate and conspire together in European politics” with Orbán, but they cannot because of the Hungarian leader’s unpopularity. “They obviously need to distance themselves from Viktor Orbán, whose political communication has become toxic to the popularity of politicians in Poland,” he said.

Cooperation with Orbán was blocked by the ruling parties in Poland due to “the prevailing feeling of insecurity in Polish society and the perception of Russia and the perception of Ukraine,” he said.

A recent YouGov poll exposed the chasm in public perception of the war between the two neighbors. While 65% of Poles support maintaining sanctions against Russia, only 32% of Hungarians support this EU policy. Similarly, three quarters of Polish citizens blame Russia for the war, compared to only 35% of Hungarians.

“The Russian war is a question of security and a question of self-identification for Poland, which is not really the case for the Hungarian government,” said Zsuzsanna Végh, associate researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The Hungarian government still doesn’t really see Russia as a direct security threat. And on that, there is no agreement between the two governments.

Hungary tried to reconcile with its neighbours. After her election in May, the new Hungarian President, Katalin Novakmade his first overseas trip to Warsaw in an attempt to cement the alliance.

Contrary to claims that the V4 is dead, Slovakia last week hosted the presidents of the four countries to discuss regional security and the energy crisis. But at the closing press conference, the Slovak President, Zuzana Caputova, underlined the inconsistent position of the V4 on military aid to Ukraine. These inconsistencies resurfaced on October 17 when Hungary abstained on the creation of an EU mission to train Ukrainian troops.

The Polish-Hungarian divide is just the latest sign of divergence between the Central European quartet, whose politicians are less politically homogeneous than in 2015-16 when they united against refugee quotas during the migration crisis.

Despite their differences over the war in Ukraine, Poland and Hungary share a common vision of the rule of law and the role of EU institutions. Last month, PiS MPs joined other nationalist parties in voting against a European Parliament resolution calling Hungary an “electoral autocracy”. The two sides could still regain an interest in working together, as both sides risk being denied EU funds due to concerns over corruption and a politicized justice system.

“The ideological proximity” of the ruling parties in Poland and Hungary could give them a common program “as they continue their so-called fight against Brussels“, Végh said. But she added: “The conflict over Russia is really limiting him and I don’t see that being very easily reconciled and overcome at the moment.”

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