Commentary

Zeman Meets Trump Before Orbán Does

…even though Orbán was the second international leader to endorse Trump – second only to Kim Jong Un.

“We got permission, if you like, from the highest secular place, that we are also allowed to put ourselves first. This is a huge thing, huge freedom, huge gift…”

— PM Orbán, January 2017*

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Can illiberal populists of the world rejoice now that the Unites States ceased to be the leader of the free world? They all seem to think so. But Trump may trip them up. After all, nationalisms and protectionisms of various countries are mutually incompatible – by definition.

I am not in Donald Trump’s campaign crew, I would never have thought that it would ever occur to me that he would be best for Europe and Hungary from the options that opened up. I would never have thought, but the situation is this: I have listened to this candidate, and I have to tell you that he made three proposals to stop terrorism and I couldn’t have put it better myself as a European, what Europe needs.” 

–Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, July 2016

And after Trump was elected:

“We got permission, if you like, from the highest secular place, that we are also allowed to put ourselves first. This is a huge thing, huge freedom, huge gift…”

— Viktor Orbán, January 2017*

But is his enthusiams enough to make Trump find Hungary on the map? Or is it like his undying fascination with China – and the hope that one day we will truly become the gateway to China – and even China will think so.**

Anyway, even though Orbán was first to endorse Trump – Czech President Milos Zeman gets to visit the White House first – said Vit Dostal at the Central European University in Budapest. Let that be an early warning that loyalty to a populist bully is a weak currency.

Orbán is trying to circumvent the EU and hopes to strike bilateral deals with Trump – both in trade and defense. And seriously believes it can be better than being part of a 500 million single market and NATO. Even though he also likes to voice that only power matters – not lofty ideas. And yet, he acts as if their shared belief in populism (saying and doing whatever it takes to grab and keep power) would be enough to get a better deal for the country. Or maybe he just wants a better deal for his family – like Trumps does.

And this is why the Visegrad Four is doomed and will continue to be irrelevant – due to their propensity to double-cross each other seeking the favour of great powers.

Warsaw, for instance, has already chosen to appease Germany. Even though Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a populist, who would thrive under the Russia-inspired ideology of deeply mystical, blood-based tribalism – Poland is historically too averse to Russian influence. And Trump poses a threat to Polish national security – with his cluelessness about the world, paired with his anti-NATO populism.

As of trade deals, Putin, just like Trump, would prefer bilateral agreements – rather than multilateral ones. Bilateral deals are bad news to small countries – but their leaders don’t seem to realize. Small countries such as Czechia or Hungary benefit more from deals that are made as part of a stronger entity with better negotiating positions – such as the EU.

But the region is fragmented and unsuccessful for a reason. Its small-minded leaders regularly overestimate their own appeal – and underestimate their own gullibility and wishful thinking when it comes to tricking their own way into a special deal. They hope to get a better deal than the neighbours – but stand to get an infinitely worse one than they could have as part of the EU.

As I said, there is a reason the region is so poor – and don’t just blame geography. Blame the mental landscapes of its delusional leaders. They seriously believe and act as if they were important to either Trump or China.

For now, Zeman’s euro-skeptic, pro-Russia stance seems to work better than Orbán’s unilateral loyalty. Loyalty might not be as strong a currency as some like to think when it is applied to unprincipled populists. Who would have thought?

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* He also declared in the same speech that “whatever exists is possible”, referring to China and how we should learn state-controlled economy from them instead of claiming that it is unstable.

**Every European leader dreams about that, by the way. It is funny how they can’t sop selling access to the much-hated single market – while simultaneously bashing it. 

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One thought on “Zeman Meets Trump Before Orbán Does

  1. Pingback: Why Did Orbán Shut Down CEU? | Meanwhile in Budapest

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