Exactly 70 years ago, on May 9 of 1950, France’s foreign affairs minister Robert Schuman announced his plan which laid the foundations for the European Union.
Along with their political and moral message, the legacy of the EU’s founding fathers is more applicable today than ever.
Imagining what we would be doing in the spring of 2020, we hardly thought that some of us would be in home quarantine while others would wear masks and gloves to work under the restrictions brought about by a worldwide pandemic. We can hardly say anything positive about this crisis, the end of which we are so much looking forward to.
However, like all crises, this current situation may also spur us to reconsider what we have forgotten over the years; what it is that we neglected and what needs a complete redesign in our lives.
The first decades of the 20th century meant an enormous fiasco for Europe. Europe’s nations, which had been so enthralled by the economic boom of the peaceful times around the turn of the century, saw a radically different world around them during and after WW1. Characterized by sealed borders, animosity and lofty political slogans, this era marched straight into the second cataclysm that brought unprecedented devastation to the peoples of Europe. The fruits of polarizing political maneuvering proved to be very bitter.
All this taught our continent some decades-worth lessons but it also provided an opportunity to restart. French foreign minister Robert Schuman, West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer or Italian premier Alcide de Gasperi were deeply religious Christian Conservative people who began their political careers before WW2 and, as active politicians (and then as dissenters kept under close control), had a first-hand experience as to where the activity of their era’s “populists” was leading. We all know how the 1940s turned out.
This is how they had to once again build a successful world from utterly destroyed countries and extremely traumatized societies under a looming Soviet threat.
Schuman and his colleagues came up with the recipe of a value-based, democratic policy that relies on national traditions but rises above the nation-state limitations, thus providing wealth and security for all European citizens.
This was the idea of European cooperation which brought a huge boom for the continent’s luckier half in the 1950s and 60s.
Today, 70 years after the Schuman Declaration, we may feel a bit conflicted to celebrate Europe Day although the European Union, despite its many flaws, has undoubtedly shown great achievements: Europe’s larger half has not seen a raging war for 70 years; an accomplishment that had been unimaginable for so long.
Through the European Union, the continent’s smaller countries are now allowed to sit at the same table with the big ones and have a formal say in shaping our common future.
After nearly a century, the right for free travel has become a reality in a large part of Europe.
This day, when we celebrate the EU’s freedoms at a time when, oddly enough, they are practically suspended due to the pandemic threat, makes us understand even better what would happen if this community didn’t exist.
For a few weeks (hopefully, as few as possible) we can experience what it feels like when the economy is in a lockdown because trade is slow, foreign tourists are not coming, there’s a shortage of certain products in the supermarket, we can’t travel across the border to visit our relatives living or working outside our country. Unfortunately, the reality for many of our compatriots is that they don’t know what to expect in their work because all of that depends on the unpredictable restrictive measures.
Populism or responsible policy
When the Fidesz government and its foreign allies struggle to weaken the European Union and curb or perhaps override the rights guaranteed by the EU, they actually want to turn this situation into a persistent system instead of just a temporary thing.
They want a system where human dignity can be sidelined and human rights can be sacrificed on the altar of multinational corporate profits since people have no prospect to transfer to another workplace where they are appreciated. Fidesz builds this neoliberal phalanstery and then coats it with nationalism because Fidesz leaders are not satisfied with just exploiting the people, they want Hungarians to be happy about it, too. While they do whatever they can to serve multinational companies and make people vulnerable to them, they also instigate animosity in the political sphere. They do so because what they need is not European citizens but low-income wage slaves toiling in third world poverty. That’s what Fidesz’ system has in store for all of us.
That’s why we, who believe that Hungary belongs to Europe both politically and culturally, must stand for the ideas that Schuman and his colleagues believed in.
This is our duty to Hungary as well as to Europe because we can’t ignore the fact that some European people do not adhere to these ideas, unfortunately. These ideas are rejected by the people who would rather disown Christianity and all other traditions of our continent, and they are also rejected by those who lie idly by in complicit silence while the hatemongering populists run amok and drive their own people into misery.
As a Hungarian and as a Jobbik politician, I believe our path must follow that of the EU’s founding fathers, which does not mean an abstract idea but concrete action.
As Robert Schuman said, we want to achieve results in practical matters. Such matters include the social and income issue which blocks Europe from moving forward. Gaps and inequalities are dangerous and nobody has a vested interest in danger. Western European countries don’t, either. This pandemic has shown how unmanageable the situation becomes when the people on the Eastern side of the continent have practically no savings, since they don’t make enough money to save. On the other hand, if they migrate to the West, they are, regardless of the nice ideals, treated as second-rate citizens and fired from their jobs overnight. That’s why we launched the initiative for the European Wage Union.
We believe that Europe cannot be powerful unless Hungarian, Bulgarian or Lithuanian workers are appreciated as much as German or French ones. We deserve solidarity, equality and job security, too.
We also believe that the rule of law cannot depend on the whims of the government in any European country. That’s why we urge Hungary to join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and that’s why we must eliminate corruption from Europe by fire and sword. Corrupt, dishonest, sticky-fingered politicians cannot be members of a value-based community, especially if that community is characterized by Christian morality.
Corrupt, dishonest, sticky-fingered politicians cannot be members of a value-based community, especially if that community is characterized by Christian morality.
Furthermore, if you want to uphold the rule of law, you need to respect the principles of democracy as well.
Last but not least, we would like to be proud Hungarians in Europe because this nation has been a stalwart member of the European community and we will not allow any despot to ever tear us away from there, just like we won’t let any self-hating political loose cannon to erase our national pride.
We must unite what is divided but we mustn’t mix up what is different, Schuman said, and we must agree with him. That’s the path of responsible policy.
This is a translation of the article originally published in Hungarian here:
If there is anything that all Europeans can be proud of regardless of their nationality, origin or identity, it is most certainly the rule of law, transparency, access to legal representation and equality before the law. We can be proud of how our continent has been governed by these principles for centuries and, even if an aggressive regime has occasionally been able to drag its country away from them, we could always find our way back to them eventually. On the other hand, there has always been another system lurking at the frontiers of Europe, ready to spread its untransparent and self-interested laws – let’s call it tribalism, clan mentality or mafia. Weak monarchs or governments have been known to give in to or at least co-exist with the mafia or the oligarchs but strong leaders and strong societies refused to tolerate them.
For a long time, we may have thought that the European Union was such a strong community since we have heard so much about its values and strict but fair laws. We Hungarians had long been hoping to become a member of this alliance because we thought that its norms and regulations would protect us once and for all from the backward forces that have regularly attempted to drive our Central European country to another, Asian road. In short, we thought we would be protected from the political mafia, the oligarchs, the obscure informal networks and the consequent vulnerability, weakness and general social deprivation.
This is the English translation of my op-ed published in HVG on 24 June, 2020.
Tragically enough, Serbia’s political system is probably the closest to Hungary’s at the moment. No wonder Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić is such a great pal for Viktor Orbán. They are an odd couple: while Orbán’s long and winding road took him from a Soros-funded liberal to a pseudo-nationalist dictator, Aleksandar Vučić worked as propaganda minister for Slobodan Milošević, one of the bloodiest dictators in the second half of the 20th century. Yes, he worked for the same Serbian dictator who razed half of the Balkans to the ground, had thousands of people murdered and viscerally hated Hungarians, by the way. This is the man who Orbán keeps running to, even during a pandemic. It should come as no surprise since today’s Serbia is similar to us in many aspects: party membership is the way to climb up the social ladder, the free press is harassed and opposition thinkers are intimidated while young people leave the country en masse. Just like in Hungary.
Parliamentary elections held in Serbia last weekend did not hold too many surprises for those familiar with recent political developments in the small Balkan republic. In an election originally announced for 26 April but postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Alaksandar Vučić’s populist right-wing Serbia Progressive Party (SNS) snatched over 60 percent of the vote and some 190 mandates in the 250-seat Skupština, the Serbian parliament. The dominance of SNS is further underlined by the fact that virtually all real opposition parties dropped out of parliament regardless of parliamentary threshold cut down to 3 percent prior to the elections. Ivica Dačić’s Socialist Party scoring second place with just over 10 percent of the vote functions more like a satellite organization in a permanent governing coalition with the SNS. Thus, the strongest and only opposition party in the Serbian parliament will be the novel formation of Aleksandar Šapić, barely scraping through the threshold.