Corbyn on Russia: diplomacy, evidence and common sense

Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the British Labour Party, who does not hide his adherence to principles of the “traditional left” – as opposed to the neoliberalism of the “third way”, which is still being advocated by ideological heirs of Tony Blair. Corbyn is a politician of quite a rare breed as he does not seem to give up on his principles only because it would be politically convenient to do so. This was now demonstrated by his reluctance to immediately point to Russia as the possible perpetrator of the attack by a nerve agent in Salisbury on 4 March. This earned him a lot of ire from the House of Commons as well as from English-speaking media. Keep Reading

A thought on the Alexandrov Ensemble tragedy and art propaganda


As we are all aware, populism exists across the whole political spectrum; yet we have learned to react to anything which differs from the left-winged consensus with anger and hysteria.

What recently caught my attention was the reaction of much of the  Western liberal crowd to the tragic perish of one third of the Alexandrov Ensemble in the air-crash in December 2016 and, in parallel, to the assassination of Russian ambassador in Turkey. From voices on social media to newspaper articles such as this gem on Daily News (US), both  tragedies were on a number of occasions described as an ironic payback to Putin’s “death-eater” international politics: his hegemonic strive for power and specifically the Russian intervention in Syria.

Seemingly for some members of the art world (and possibly not only for them), the tragic deaths of the 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble are regarded as some sort of an heroic end: an example of pure, innocent art perishing for a misguided political cause. What a number of these voices did not take into account is the essentially military nature of the Alexandrov Ensemble. Every member comes from the army and the group was founded in Moscow in 1926 as a tool to spread socialist ideals in playing music around the countries of Soviet Russia and the outside world. So even if the Alexandrovci were to die for a political cause (which was, allow me to stress it again, not the case), they would have been in full awareness of that very cause. These artists have not died because of Putin’s intervention in Syria, but solely because of faulty TU-154 planes that should have been removed from the airspace a long time ago.

Speaking of art propaganda:  spreading political ideology through art has indeed always been an instrument of politics, notably during the two World Wars and reaching a notorious peak during the Cold War between the US and Russia. What art propaganda does is that it uses intimate, relatable elements of art and reshapes them into a powerful and comprehensive tool of political influence. One could say that the intimate strength of art lies in the fact that it can be ultimately understood and shared by everyone. On rare moments, someone does propaganda through art so extremely well, such as the Alexandrov Ensemble (who shifted from their all-Russian approach and use influences from Georgian and other countries’ folk traditions), that it becomes a real masterpiece. That is art propaganda at its peak, exactly when we forget its hidden message, and instead get carried away by its powerful voice.

Alexandrov Ensemble performing a well-known Russian song “Smuglyanka-Moldovanka”, once intended to glorify the female partisans of the Russian Civil War

No need for EU’s own propaganda: for a frank dialogue with people

The EU intends to continue a propagandistic communication policy, bombing its citizens with good news. The Juncker Commission even stepped up a gear, as it increasingly uses media, culture and science as instruments of soft power.

“The European Union needs to communicate better about what it does well”. That was former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy’s conclusion after the Brexit and seems to be the dominant analysis in the EU bubble. This week the American-owned communications agency ICF Mostra won another 26 million euro contract to promote the EU’s policies.

But the strategy is contested. “A constant flow of good news has no effect, you should also explain to people what doesn’t work”, states professor Hendrik Vos, head of the centre for EU-studies at the University of Ghent. Welsh-born Gareth Harding, Managing Director of communications company Clear Europe, agrees: “Europe needs to foster debate, give people information so they make up their own mind. Otherwise it’s propaganda, and propaganda doesn’t work.”

The absence of a common media platform for a EU-wide debate, allows politicians as Nigel Farage to profile themselves at the expense of the union, without being challenged for it. But instead of fostering such a debate, the EU chooses to spend its generous communication budgets on semi-propagandistic media, outdated brochures and a series of obscure NGOs and think tanks.

Hearts and mind

In 1989, then Commission President Jacques Delors famously said, “One doesn’t fall in love with a common market”. Europe was about to make the transformation from a purely economic community to the beginning of a real political union. In the following years it would be doted with a single currency
and a common foreign and security policy.

But the European project didn’t manage to sparkle the love Delors was alluding to. Apart from the flag and the anthem, the structure evokes no emotional associations. And the attempts to win the hearts and minds of its citizens, remind too much of indoctrination.

“Europe copies the methods of the 19th century nation states, systematically citing the most glorious episodes from history and concealing the rest”, says professor Vos. Last year, several historians complained about about political interference in the construction of the “House of European history”. The EU stood for freedom and democracy, was the message, and the continent’s conflictive past did not fit. Ultimately, the pressure to start the permanent exposition in 1946 was dismissed after commotion in the media.

Men in suits

But why can the many highly educated and well-paid bureaucrats not manage to boost the EU’s image? “The European Commission is crowding its communications department with men in suits who know little about the job and whose main worry seems to be moving up the Commission’s hierarchy”, says Gareth Harding. “If it were the private sector, they would have got rid of almost the entire communications team.”

But the staff are not the only obstacle for Europe to deliver clear messages. In its communication, the union constantly needs to watch over the balance between the different institutions and the 28 Member States. This resulted in a veiled kind of language that can impossibly compete with the sharp tongues of the likes of Geert Wilders or Marine Le Pen.

Juncker takes the lead

In this complex setting, Jean-Claude Juncker took charge of the European Commission in November 2014. From the start, he made it clear he wanted to tighten his grip on the policy with an overtly political Commission.

Juncker centralised communications by taking charge of the policy himself. It used to be a separate portfolio, held by his compatriot Vivian Reding in the last Barroso Commission.

Juncker also streamlined the Commission’s press relations. Where every one of the 28 Commissioners used to dispose of a press officer, he brought that number down to 6. Consequently, the number of press releases drastically dropped. Juncker’s chief of staff, the German lawyer Martin Selmayr, coordinates the press corps.

“Selmayr thinks he is a Communications God, but he is a bureaucrat and bureaucrats rarely have the gift of good communication”, estimates Gareth Harding, who also runs the Brussels programme of the Missouri School of Journalism. “His small team can not fulfil the growing interest of the Brussels-based media. The idea was to let the Commissioners speak to the media themselves, but they barely have time to call.”


Apart from the narrower field of communication, Europe also did not hesitate to call on media and culture for political purposes. These instruments of soft power were more emphatically applied since the mounting tensions with Russia. By the time Juncker took office, the Ukraine conflict had glided into an information war. The Russian propaganda machine turned a powerful weapon for Vladimir Putin, to the jealousy of many a leader in the free world. It was the signal for Europe to start counterbalancing Russia’s lies. The European External Action Service started doing so with a weekly “Disinformation Review” and is currently setting up Russian-language broadcasts for ethnic Russians in ex-Soviet

On EuroparlTV, a TV channel that rarely draws viewers despite millions of euros in yearly subsidies, the German MEP and head of the Foreign Affairs Committee Elmar Brok in April talked about his recent experience in an Iraqi hotel room, where he could watch Russia Today, but neither the BBC nor Deutsche Welle. Brok called for extra budget and increased collaboration between European channels.

Gareth Harding does not believe the EU needs to counter propaganda with propaganda. “That would be largely counterproductive, as the people expect leaders to stand up for their values. But even if you accepted such efforts, the result is disappointing. Compared to Russia Today or Sputnik, the EU
counterpropaganda effort looks like it is designed by a twelve-year-old.”

Culture as a tool

The European soft power-toolkit has not been exhausted yet. On 8 June, European Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini and the Hungarian Commissioner for Culture and Education Tibor Navarcsics, came up with a new strategy to put culture at the heart of the external relations of the EU.

After prior consultation with NGOs it supports in culture and education, the Commission scanned how these organizations could expand their activities to the Eastern Partnership, the Middle East or some Asian countries. Russia or South-America are currently not topping that list of priorities. On social media, the sector enthusiastically welcomes its patron’s initiative, but behind the scenes resounded fear for instrumentalisation. Mogherini labeled culture “a strong tool” and Navracsics coined his portfolio “the hidden gem of our foreign policy”.

“In recent years Europe has imposed a strong economic logic on culture. We are currently not looking forward to be fitted into a geopolitical agenda”, is heard at one of the networks. “Creativity is at its best without guidance.”

Západní propagandisté jsou experti v rámcování debaty


Přečtěte si článek “Ruská letadla v Černém moři těsně míjela americký torpédoborec” na Novinká a řekněte, co si o obsahu myslíte. Jak to podává autor, vyznívá to zcela jasně: zkrátka, ti bodří američtí námořníci tam zřejmě připluli na piknik. A aby si to u ruských teritoriálních vod pořádně užili, tak si na to vzali torpédoborec a vyrazili deset tisíc kiláků od nejbližšího pobřeží USA.

S propagandou to zkrátka není tak jednoduché. Ta opravdu dobrá nikdy neřekne jasnou lež, která by se dala ověřit. Vše orámcuje, něco vysekne, něco přidá, vše vám naservíruje v termínech současně nejpopulárnějšího politického žargónu a je to. Až zase někdo bude prskat, že tady máme jen ruskou propagandu (která mimochodem používá ty samé techniky), tak si tento článek hezky porovnejte s jiným, který byl tímto způsobem stvořen na EuroZprávách (21. května): “Ruská provokace pokračuje. Švédské stíhačky zaháněly dva ruské bombardéry”.

Economic consequences of the cold peace with Russia


Russia finds itself in a similar situation as interwar Germany. A war is not imminent, but a cold conflict could arise and impoverish the Russians and the Europeans alike. It is symbolic that nobody else but the Germans offer today an open hand towards Russia with an EU-Russia free trade deal. Russia should accept it. Otherwise, both Europe and Russia will severely lose out. History teaches us how and why.

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Jacques Sapir komentuje revoluci na Ukrajině


Tento týden byla média opět plná komentářů, které se jedním nebo druhým způsobem dotýkaly Ruska a Ukrajiny. Možná i kvůli oslavám 17. listopadu a zahraniční návštěvě Bohuslava Sobotky do Spojených států (zlé jazyky by řekly,  že český premiér se jednoduše vydal skládat účty našim imperiálním vládcům), se ale tradiční anti-putinovské články objevovaly s ještě větší frekvencí, než je obvyklé. Naši trpěliví novináři čtenářům pravidelně opakovali, že demonstrace proti Milošovi Zemanovi jsou v zahraničí vnímány jako důsledek odklonu od “světové”, lidskoprávní politiky Václava Havla, a že politici napříč Amerikou roní slzy nad opětovným příklonem České republiky k Rusku. Tuto hitparádu špatné novinařiny pak zřejmě korunoval rozhovor s Carlem Gershmanem, prezidentem National Endowment for Democracy (která je známá spíše jako “nevládní” odnož CIA), publikovaným v Hospodářských novinách. Keep Reading

Energy security in the V4: Assessment of possible cooperation to enhance security and development

Energy security has become one of the most important issues on the agenda of the European Union since the second gas crisis of 2009 when Russian gas flows to Europe were interrupted in the course of Moscow’s dispute with Ukraine over transit fees and higher gas prices. Even though energy security is of importance for the EU as a whole, with the Commission estimating that the import dependency of the Union will reach 73-79 per cent by 2020 and close to 90 per cent by 2030, especially the new twelve member states will be affected by any decision Russia makes about future (oil and) gas exports.1 In particular the Visegrád countries face a number of common challenges that make cooperation within the V4 setting not necessarily obligatory but highly recommendable.

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Show 1 footnote

  1. Note that the security of supply with regards to oil is not covered in this paper due to the fact that oil is a globally traded good with relatively stable costs, regardless of its origin. This allows even the V4 countries to diversify their imports away from Russia to some degree. Nonetheless one should not assume that the situation is significantly better but interconnection is somewhat better and ensures a relatively stable supply of this commodity.

Why Russia will never back down? Reasons behind supporting the Assad regime

On June 12, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised U.S.-Russian tensions over the crisis in Syria by publicly accusing Russia of providing MI-25 attack helicopters to the Assad regime. Clinton detected, “We are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria.”

Accusations that Russia is supplying the Assad regime with weapons to attack civilians mark a significant hastening of tensions between the two countries caused by America’s frustration over the letdown of the UN peace plan for Syria. To nobody’s surprise, the accusations are currently being received with rage by the Putin administration in the short term, but there is a good chance that they could advance U.S. policy goals over the long term.

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Latvians reject Russian as their second official language

Referendum on the status of the Russian language in Latvia, February 2012Here we are again. It is exactly 21 years and one month since the last time when Latvian people had to stand up for their fundamental values. In those cold winter days of January 1991, Latvian people were united in their common effort to regain their independence, freedom of speech and democracy. It had to be achieved in a non-violent way – people barricaded central streets with concrete blocks, set bonfires and sang while expecting an assault from Soviet forces that was about to come…

Today, no one is threatening us with tanks, yet one of the core national freedoms has been challenged again – the Latvian language. 18th February 2012 was a notable day in the modern Latvian history.  More than 1.1 million Latvian citizens or 71% of all registered voters went to the polls to decide on amendments in the Latvian constitution that would allow the Russian language to become a second official state language in Latvia.And three fourths  of the voters said clear NO to this project.  It should be understood that this referendum was bound to fail since there was little expectation of any other outcome. Nevertheless, it is important to understand how did the Latvian nation find itself in this humiliating situation where it once again had to defend one of its fundamental values.

For 20 years there has been an ongoing failure of social integration policy in Latvia that left a core of the ethnic-Russians broadly marginalized. Historically, during 1960’s and 70’s the Soviet government displaced them to Latvia from other Soviet republics to use them as a labor force – thus implementing the so-called “russification policy”. In 1991 they formed some 35-40% of the Latvian population; most of them being non-citizens with no right to vote or to take part in any other political activity. Notwithstanding the fact that the state had introduced a naturalization program for ethnic Russians that would allow them to obtain citizenship by passing Latvian language and history exams, a great part of them did not use this opportunity. This was most likely because they were receiving hints from Russian politicians that Russia would stand up for ethnic Russians‘ interests in Latvia. Another factor is the immaturity of the leading Latvian politicians, who until this moment failed to acknowledge that their political actions only widened the political and social polarization between Latvian and Russian speaking communities. When the Centrist parties of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and ex-president Valdis Zatlers refused to make a coalition with the “Harmony Center” that was supported by the ethnic Russian and that had actually won the early election in September 2011, it produced a perfect precondition for pro-Russian activists such as Vladimir Linderman1 and Yevgeny Osipov from the radical left Osipov Party to consolidate their forces and launch their response, calling it a protest against attempts to assimilate the ethnic Russian minority. On top of everything was the radical right party “All for Latvia! – For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK” (invited to form the coalition instead of the  “Harmony Center”) and its initiative for a referendum that would force all public schools to use Latvian as the only teaching language. Many political experts in Latvia believe that this initiative – even though it failed due to a lack of public support – was the ultimate pretext for pro-Russian activists to launch their counter-initiative for Russian as a second language in Latvia. Therefore it becomes obvious that the level of amateurism and myopia of Latvian politicians is huge. Not only they have failed to address these very sensitive ethnic problems for last 20 years, but with their irresponsible actions they have also triggered a counter attack from ethnic Russian activist organizations.

Nevertheless, one should not consider this referendum only as Latvia‘s inner affair.  Our Eastern neighbor has always been willing to use Latvia‘s relatively high percentage of ethnic Russians as a fifth column in Latvia as a political tool to defend Russia’s interests in the Baltic region. Indeed, many Latvian politicians believe that the plan to introduce Russian as the second official language of Latvia can be traced back to Russia, or it could have even been outright devised by Kremlin, and that the pro-Russian activists are financed by Moscow and are mere  executors of its instructions. A telling fact is that the referendum was initiated by the organization that is lead by  Vladimir Linderman. Linderman is not a Latvian citizen (which is yet another challenge to the Latvian legal system: how can a non-citizen initiate a referendum in which only citizens can participate?) who  has spent several years in Russia until he got “expelled” to Latvia. This makes him a perfect candidate to organize here a Russian “fifth-column”. Another fact that displayed Russian interest in the referendum was a note that Russia sent to Latvian Foreign Ministry two days before the referendum, and in which they requested the presence of two Russian observers on site at the referendum day. When the Russian request was refused, just a day aftera Russian bomber TU-22M “visited” skies over the Baltic Sea, which was immediately followed by the launch of a NATO air patrol from a base in Lithuania.

How can we interpret Russia’s activities in the context of EU-Russia relations?

Actions carried out by Russia towards the Baltic States seem to be fitting perfectly into Russia’s recent doctrine of trying to regain as much control as possible over the post-Soviet space, which, as Russians still believe, had been unjustly taken away from them. Their argument that they are defending ethnic Russians abroad doesn’t work because it would be then in their best interest if their compatriots in other countries enjoyed the same rights as local citizens. Unfortunately, we see that instead of encouraging Latvia’s ethnic Russians to finally accept the change in reality and to fully integrate into the Latvian society, Russia does its best in inciting a part of population against the state. This effectively  makes Latvia’s Russians into political hostages in a conflict of Russian propaganda and Latvian state policy (such as naturalization). And it is the latter to which their primary loyalty should belong. Naturally this leads to instability and tensions between the two communities, and if these problems continue to be ignored by politicians and no effective measures are taken to integrate the communities into one society then the whole Latvian nation is doomed to repeat events like those of the 18th February.

This referendum brings one other message to the EU. The left-wing Latvian Member of the European Parliament Tatyana Zdanoka (Group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance) announced that at a party congress in March 2012 she will   initiate a campaign of collecting signatures for a petition that would make the Russian language one of the official languages of the EU. The fact that this initiative arose simultaneously with the referendum on the status of the Russian language in Latvia is not a coincidence. According to some political experts, with this referendum Russia made a clear attempt to bring its language to a certain status in the EU by putting pressure on the EU member state that holds the largest percentage of ethnic Russians,

Indeed it is hard to find any other explanations for the Russian support. Russia has simply discovered the weakest part of the chain and embarked on making Latvia into a “little Russia in Europe” (to use the words of German MEP Bernd Poselt).

Yet there are lessons to be learned. First, leading Latvian politicians should not perceive the results of the referendum in an exaggeratedly victorious way as many of them do. The outcome, of course, is a vital achievement in defending nation’s fundamental values and yes, it is a certain slap in Kremlin’s face, but one should not forget that this referendum had to happen only because of unsatisfactory integration policy of the last two decades and due to major ignorance of of existing ethnic problems. Such referendum should be therefore regarded as the clearest and most obvious sign of failure of the country’s integration policy, which should never be repeated again. In this regard, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis has made a correct conclusion when, only 3 days after the referendum, he issued a resolution in which he asks all the responsible governmental institutions to draw-up proposals on a more efficient integration policy in two weeks time.

Secondly, this referendum serves as an obvious reminder that Russia has not given up the hope of regaining the influence in the territories that Moscow lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Following the tradition of expansionism that emerged in the 16th/17th century Russian foreign policy, Russia is using even today every possible means to interfere in domestic affairs of its neighboring countries. Therefore in countries like Latvia a policy field (like inter ethnic policies) that from the first sight might seem as a domestic affair can actually be one of the cornerstones in shaping its foreign policy with Russia. It is even more unacceptable that politicians are ignorant of Latvia‘s ethnic polarization since that way they are offering Russian politicians  a ‘dagger’ that will be sooner or later used to stab Latvia’s back.

Thirdly, referendums like this help to uncover politicians who are are disloyal to the Constitution and to the country for which they are (supposedly) working for. If a majority of the opposition members of the Parliament support Russian as a second official language (even though they have sworn to defend Latvian as the only language) then there is a serious legal question if they deserve to serve for the country against whose fundamental values they are standing for.

Fourthly, the status of the Russian language is not only a Latvian concern. There are plans by Mrs Tatyana Zdanoka, pro-Russian MEP from Latvia, to launch a proposal that would give the Russian language a legal status in the EU institutions. Had the referendum in Latvia approved Russian as a second official state language, it would have been much easier to push Mrs Zdanoka’s idea through the European bureaucracy. If the EU doesn’t want this to happen,it should acknowledge that with this referendum Latvia  has done a great service to the EU.

Fifthly, 18th February 2012 for many meant a call of duty to defend the Latvian language with the same importance as those cold January days in 1991, when the Latvians stood up for their freedom. This referendum surely showed that in a critical situation Latvian people can be as united as ever. Although the government has made many mistakes during the past two decades, when it comes to the people to decide, they will do the right thing.

And sixthly, this referendum has finally turned the page of period that had been ongoing for more than two decades with discussions and debates about the status of ethnic minorities in Latvia. There were almost no doubts about failure of this referendum but it was important to have an overwhelming majority saying NO to this project, which would leave little space for political speculation and possible provocations in future and give a strong message that there is only one option available to ethnic minorities: a full integration.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Vladimir Linderman is a former leader of the Latvian branch National Bolshevik Party, now leader of the society “Native Language”.

A story of a renewal gone terribly wrong

NoteAron A. Nemeth wrote an interesting article on the developments in Hungary a month ago (Troubles with Viktor: Latest developments in Hungary). Writing from a different perspective (he is a native Hungarian), I do feel that there is a lot of reason to worry about the state of democracy in Hungary and after recent changes made to the electoral rules (electoral districts were changed to give Fidesz a bigger advantage) and the curbing of the freedom of speech (such as banning newsportal from reporting from inside the parliament), Hungary is heading down the path of authoritarian countries, leaving the circle of democracies in Europe.


It is a twist of history, the most cruel one imaginable maybe, that a former Communist dissident would turn a democratically ruled country into an authoritarian regime. It is even more ironic if such a regime change should happen within the borders of the biggest democracy promoter in the world.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening right now in Hungary, one of the countries that joined the European Union in 2004. The person in question is the country’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, the man who let Hungary into NATO and promised fundamental changes and a clear break with the past in Hungary.

Since Orbán’s Fidesz party has won the majority of the votes in the 2010 election and ousted the disgraced Socialist government under Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, who had replaced Ferenc Gyurcsany after the “lies-gate” in 2009, Hungary has undergone a radical change. The party that ran a virtually non-existent campaign by simply distancing itself from the Socialists, has since last April changed the Constitution of the country, declaring the country to be simply “Hungary “instead of the “Republic of Hungary”. It has curbed the authority of the Constitutional Court and removed its competence to rule in questions related to the state budget. It has also adjusted the constituency borders to give itself an electoral advantage over other parties in future elections. Fidesz has nationalised the pension fund and imposed a new media council, staffed with Fidesz cronies, to supervise media outlets. Currently, close to 80% of all media is considered to be Fidesz friendly. Critical outlets, however, such as the popular Hungarian newsportal have been banned from reporting from inside the parliament building after a satirical take on the government at the end of the year. Last but not least, the government recently decided to impose its authority over the National Bank, thus effectively removing the independent financial supervision in the country. Orbán plans to merge the National Bank with the Financial Regulatory Authority and would thus give the government direct control over the institution.

Hungary on Russia’s path

All this sounds strangely familiar, though recollections of such incidents happening in a democratic country are rare and do not come to mind. It is a very different case when one thinks about the beginning of various authoritarian regimes, and ironically the example of Russia easily comes to mind. Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin (2000-2008), Russia’s government centralised power over all major political bodies, such as the Duma (parliament) which nowadays can hardly be considered to control the government, or the Constitutional Court, which has repeatedly ruled in favour of the government and has been called corrupt and incapable by some of its own judges (see here in Spanish and here in English, and in a very disturbing book by the late Anna Politkovskaya).The media are controlled by the Kremlin and major companies have been brought back under control, often without the consent of their owners. Powerful oligarchs, such as Berezovsky or Chodorkowski ended up in exile or jail, their companies – oil companies Sibneft and Jukos and media outlet ORT, were either nationalised or dismantled and sold off.

The European Commission has repeatedly criticised Russia for its lack of democratic rule and the violation of human rights. When Dmitry Medvedev was elected third President of the Russian Federation, European leaders were hoping that reforms would turn the country into a more democratic country. However, Medvedev has failed to transform the Russian political system. A democratic Russia seems to remains a vision for the distant future.

Back in Hungary

Support for the government has been falling rapidly recently. Only 16 per cent of Hungarians still back the government. More than 80 per cent think the country is heading in the wrong direction. The national currency has been losing around 15 per cent of its value in the past few months. For the second time in a decade the country needs international help to solve its financial problems, provided by the IMF and the EU. However, the situation differs from 2008, insofar that the country’s financial institutions are considered to be no longer independent. The IMF and the EU have announced they would not continue negotiations about a new loan if the government does not loosen its power grab on the National Bank. Hungary might need around 20bn euros, which strengthens the position of the EU and the IMF to force the government to give up its authoritarian campaign.

Even though it seems unlikely that Orbán will admit that the EU still holds certain power over the country’s politics, the government does not find itself in a good position. It has been milking the population with new taxes, international companies are considering moving their assets abroad and the population lost its faith in Fidesz. The country’s credit rating was downgraded by all major rating agencies to “junk” status.

In this situation the country will eventually need help from its European partners. This position of weakness should be exploited by the EU to ensure Hungary returns to the path of democracy. A total overhaul of the changes is not possible but at least the government’s attempts to bring under control the National Bank could be reversed.

This would be a first corrective step. Hopefully it will be the first of many. It would be good for Hungary and the EU. Only a functional system of checks and balances (and this also includes non-classic actors such as the Hungarian National Bank) will ensure democratic rule, a prerequisite for membership in the EU. In the long run Hungary will need the support of its European partners even more to succeed in the international system. The EU, too, could benefit from Hungary, its skilled labour force, its inventors and entrepreneurs