The hospitality offered by Hungary to a convicted criminal, and the failure of EU officials to speak in one voice, will inevitably decrease the appeal of the pro-European narrativeby Ljupcho Petkovski / December 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
In Hungary, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Budapest and other cities to challenge Viktor Orban’s illiberal policies.
The passing of the so-called “slave law”—which entitles employers to seek up to 400 hours a year overtime for their staff—and new laws placing the courts under government control has brought together a disparate coalition of Hungarian citizens in massive rallies.
This combination of constitutional and bread and butter political issues has led to far more domestic protest than previous Orban policies that have threatened liberal and democratic norms, from the hostile treatment of refugees to restrictions on press freedom to the clampdown on civil society.
The arresting images from the protests are in danger of obscuring two other recent events in Hungary that are just as significant but have received far less sustained international attention.
Firstly, The Central European University (CEU)’s recent move from Budapest to Vienna after repressive policies made its academic operations impossible was a first in an EU country. Secondly, the decision by Hungary’s government to offer shelter to a convicted criminal fleeing justice, the former Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski. His asylum request, in a country known for the toughest immigration policies in the European Union, was accepted on a whim.
The EU’s response to the crises has been pitifully weak. The head of the European People’s Party (EPP), Manfred Weber, merely stated he was “disappointed.” This surely represents a toothless warning towards EPP members Fidesz and VMRO-DPMNE, the parties of Viktor Orban and Nikola Gruevski. On both issues, Macron and Merkel, usually strong defenders of European values, have mostly been silent.
What Gruevski’s escape made clear is the firmness of the illiberal alliance he has forged with Mr. Orban’s regime. Mr. Orban and Mr. Gruevski belong to a Janus-faced political class in new European democracies that want to make the most of the benefits of having close economic ties with the EU and the West, while pursuing policies that are ideologically closer to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The main difference between these two strongmen is the fact that Gruevski and his party are no longer formally in power.
It took years of grassroots mobilizations, political struggles and heavy EU and US diplomatic investment for regime change to take place in Macedonia’s nascent democracy. Gruevski’s sentence to…