Europe’s gravediggers – Illiberal network from Budapest to Skopje – The Weekly 49

Nowadays we rarely reflect on what an enormous challenge the European Union took on with the eastern enlargement project in the 2000s. Unfortunately, most of the countries admitted in that decade rather added to the existing problems. Due to all the negative experience, we got to the point where the EU is now unable to offer real prospects for the West Balkan. EU politicians are not without blame for the Balkans policy, just like they had their fair share of responsibility in the failures of the enlargement in 2004 and 2007. If we keep sweeping the mistakes under the rug instead of admitting and correcting them, the ideological, political and economic void created by Europe’s passivity will be filled by others: for instance, the illiberal Central European and Balkan advance party of such foreign powers as Russia and China.

The other day, the Croatian media reported that Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša allegedly handed European Council President Charles Michel a document supposedly urging for redrawing the Balkan borders, including the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The media suspected Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić as the backers of the plan. Although the parties later denied even the existence of the document, let alone having shared it with each other, allegations of this nature are rarely raised in connection with such politicians who nobody could possibly imagine to be spending their time on redrawing Balkan borders.

Even though they have not reorganized any borders yet, the activity of the “network” characterized by Orbán, Janša and Vučić is very visible and palpable both within the European Union and outside of it, too. The three politicians came from very different backgrounds: Janša used to be an opposition journalist, Orbán was a liberal politician while Vučić worked as the propaganda minister for one of the darkest war criminals of the 1990s, Slobodan Milošević. However, they all ended up on the same side eventually.

What they have in common is patriotic rhetoric; aggressive, authoritarian practices and, first and foremost, corruption.

When it comes to words, they are the protectors of Europe, but in reality they constantly work on undermining the European Union and function as Russia’s and China’s Trojan horse in our continent. They maintain excellent relations with such political “pariahs” as Bosnian Serbian leader Milorad Dodik or the fallen North Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski who, with the efficient assistance of the Hungarian foreign ministry, managed to escape the prison sentence imposed on him in his homeland and currently lives in Budapest.

Right under the nose of the European Union and its politicians, this illiberal network has created a media empire stretching from Ljubljana to Budapest and Skopje over the past decade. Consisting of “businessmen” with ties to the right politicians, this conglomerate operates fake news factories, typically following the Russian example and applying Moscow’s “intellectual patterns” to constantly attack and defame the EU. Sadly enough, while all this was going on, Orbán’s and Janša’s parties were full members of the European People’s Party (EPP), whereas Vučić and Gruevski enjoyed the benefits of associate membership of the largest European party family.

Consequently, I believe we must not shrug off such news as the Croatian media report on redrawing the Balkan’s map.

These politicians have betrayed Europe whenever and wherever they could in the past years, and their countries have substantially strayed away from the great objectives they set out to reach after the collapse of Communism. 

With its ever pro-West approach and fairly proportional electoral system, Slovenia is the least affected, but the groups linked to Janša and especially Orbán have already made a visible impact on the country’s media. Over the past eleven years, Hungary has seen the establishment of a quasi one-man rule which functions in a Mafia-like manner and violates every democratic norm, but the country still has a chance to oust the government as long as the Hungarian opposition forms an alliance and runs the election race together in 2022. In contrast, the Serbian parliament no longer has any opposition parties and Belgrade conducts perhaps the most obvious cooperation with Moscow and Beijing (although Serbia is not an EU member yet).

These politicians pose a threat to Europe as well as their own countries because their regimes kill democracy and freedom, root out innovation and drive their most talented citizens away, thus ultimately turning their own environment into a lagging region characterized by a high risk of destabilization. 

I believe this trend is very dangerous for Europe, despite any potential momentary economic benefits for certain countries. That’s why I am convinced that the European Union, no matter how difficult it is, should indeed take active steps in the Balkans and work hard to offer some real prospects for the West Balkan countries, which can hardly be achieved as long as such autocracies as the Fidesz regime are tolerated within the European Union.

As a Member of the European Parliament, I believe Europe has a responsibility to stand up for her own principles and values, and prevent such politicians as Orbán, Janša or Vučić from shaping Central Europe and the Balkans to their own image. This must be avoided, not just because it would be unfair for the people living there but also because the advance party of these politicians is always followed by foreign powers. If we let that happen, Europe’s fate will be at stake. -JOBBIK MEP MÁRTON GYÖNGYÖSI Europe’s gravediggers – Illiberal network from Budapest to Skopje – The Weekly 49 - Gyöngyösi Márton (