Thursday marked the beginning of a new era in European politics. Nowhere has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine been met with greater fear and trepidation than in central and eastern Europe, a region all too familiar with ‘brotherly help’ in the form of military occupation by a looming eastern power.
It may be a new era for Europe, but some things never change. In Hungary, which shares an 80-mile border with Ukraine, a tense atmosphere is laced with disbelief at the West’s ongoing portrayal of the country as a dubious ally threatening to sink EU sanctions.
It’s become a cliché of western analyses that Hungary is constantly looking to throw a spanner in the works of a joint EU response. After Russia formally recognised the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent states on Monday, baseless rumours circulated that Hungary was considering vetoing the EU’s sanctions package. The Fidesz government hasn’t made any suggestions that this was or ever could be the case; but that didn’t stop a number of influential correspondents propagating the claim.
Hungarian politicians I have met in recent days could not have been clearer about their commitment to a joint EU and Nato response. This is hardly surprising given the country’s history of oppression at the hands of Russia as a Soviet satellite state in the twentieth century. As such, Fidesz leaders are baffled at moves to sow division by casting aspersions on the party’s reliability as a European ally.
‘Our strategic goal is to keep the EU united. We should find a joint answer,’ said Balázs Orbán, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s personal political director, when I met him in Budapest on Thursday afternoon. ‘This was always Hungary’s strategy, but we have been portrayed in a different way by the liberal international media.’