Orbán says Hungary is ‘exempt’ from the conflict: tell that to his friend in

The invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 will go down in the annals of European history. Russia’s undeclared war has cast an almost apocalyptic shadow. And it has dramatically altered the relationships that had prevailed between east and west since the collapse of the USSR. Whenever or however this armed conflict ends, it will undoubtedly take a long time for a new peace-guaranteeing equilibrium to be established. At the very least, the European Union and Nato now have to reckon with a hostile power on their borders and to prepare for a new phase of the cold war.

Hungarians voted in general elections just weeks after the invasion, in April, and it seems reasonable to assume that the war next door had an influence on the result. Given the climate of fear that the devastating “special military operation” created, Hungarians voted to keep Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in power rather than risk an untested six-party coalition. This assumption also underlies Orbán’s response, which is to stay out of the conflict to the point of being “exempted”, a position that has been condemned as a betrayal by Hungary’s western allies. Hungary refuses to allow arms shipments destined for Kyiv to transit Hungarian territory and blocks the extension of EU sanctions against Russia to the energy sector. This latter stance is intended to enable an already controversial Russian-Hungarian project to build a nuclear power plant on the Danube (Paks II) to go ahead unaltered.

The exemption clearly goes too far, even if Hungary does have special interests that merit consideration. It has a 136km (84-mile) border with Ukraine and there are roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the Transcarpathian oblast in south-west Ukraine, many of them married to Ukrainians.

It should be remembered that, while in purely geographical terms, Hungary stayed the same after 1989: the former Hungarian People’s Republic now borders five countries that owe their statehood to the end of the USSR and the dissolution of larger, multi-ethnic entities. To the south, the collapse of the former Yugoslavia led to the creation of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Its northern border is no longer with the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic but with Republic of Slovakia and independent Ukraine. What now connects most of these newer political entities with Hungary, and indeed its old neighbours, Romania and Austria, is EU membership. Serbia is on the waiting list, Ukraine has been awarded candidate status.

But in the 1990s, all these countries made the transition to parliamentary democracy, during which the rivalries between the various political groups played out openly and, not infrequently, violently. Every twist and turn and every internal conflict in these republics still affects Hungary’s interests because of the Hungarian minorities living there: 1.5 million in Romania, 500,000 in Slovakia, 300,000 in Serbia, 16,000 in Croatia, 15,000 in Slovenia and 150,000 in Ukraine.

Refugee children fleeing Ukraine arrive by train at Zahony station in Hungary, March 2022
Refugee children fleeing Ukraine arrive by train at Zahony station in Hungary, March 2022 Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

These minorities are a legacy of two accords, the 1920 treaty of Trianon and…

Read More: Orbán says Hungary is ‘exempt’ from the conflict: tell that to his friend in

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More