In a fracturing world, the Hungarian PM calls for a new Europe
On Saturday, Hungary’s recently-reelected leader Viktor Orban gave another of his showpiece speeches in neighbouring Transylvania, reviving what has become an annual tradition after a two-year Covid hiatus. While much of the foreign coverage naturally focussed on his emphatic rejection of both Western Europe’s racial heterogeneity and of Western sanctions against Russia, the most interesting part of the speech — its stark geopolitical content — has received far less attention.
As Orban observed, “the general feeling is that the world is steadily deteriorating. The news, the tone of the news, is getting ever darker. And there is a kind of doomsday view of the future that is growing in strength.” Looking forward, “the decade that has now opened up before us is clearly going to be a decade of dangers, of uncertainty and wars… we have entered an age of dangers, and the pillars of Western civilisation, once thought unshakable, are cracking.”
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American power is in steep decline, he observed, citing Africa and Asia’s refusal to take Ukraine’s side and boycott Russian energy: “This ability that the Americans used to have of getting everyone on the right side of the world and of history, and then the world obeying them, is something which has now disappeared.”
Indeed, he noted, “It may well be that this war will be the one that demonstrably puts an end to that form of Western ascendancy which has been able to employ various means to create world unity against certain actors on a particular chosen issue…. a multipolar world order is now knocking on our door.”
For Europe, unable to grasp the opportunities of a multipolar order and still dependent on the United States, the chance to shape these historic shifts in its favour is slipping away. “We Europeans have squandered our chance to influence events,” Orban claimed, by failing to enforce the 2014 Minsk peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine, so that now “the situation is like the one after the Second World War: Europe once again finds itself in a situation in which it will not have a say in its most important security issue, which will once again be decided by the Americans and the Russians.”
Citing slow progress on EU enlargement into the Balkans, and the inability to deal with Bosnian political dysfunction, Orban claimed that “the reason that Europe cannot become a world political player is that it cannot keep its own house in order… The aim should not be to become a world political player… but should be setting and achieving the modest goal of being able to settle foreign policy issues arising in its own backyard.”
What solutions does he offer? Boasting that “right now we are implementing major developments in our army and military industrial sector,” and are “diversifying our energy sources,” so that soon Hungary will be “the world’s third largest [electric] battery producer,” Orban observed that by 2030 Hungary will, along with the rest of Central Europe, be a net contributor to EU budgets, meaning that “this means that there will be new power dynamics: he who pays the piper calls the tune.”
Setting out his stall for a rich and powerful Central Europe in an unstable multipolar world, in which America’s star is fading while that of the great Asian empires rises, Orban’s speech addressed the shifting tectonic plates of the global order head on. The opposite of a Western triumphalist, Orban conjured up a Spenglerian vision of a Western order in terminal decline. The continent’s most controversial leader is also now its longest-serving: if the great survivor is correct, the coming decade will see a poorer, weaker Europe struggle to survive the dawning age of empires.