Serbia and Hungary: illiberal axis or confluence of interests?


Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić traveled to Budapest to meet with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán earlier this month. On this occasion, the two signed a strategic partnership agreement. Hungary became the seventh country with which Serbia has a strategic partnership agreement, after France, Italy, Russia, China, United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan. There was great enthusiasm on both sides. “I have thought a lot about how I might sum up what was discussed at the meeting, and I think it is better to say that the two countries have agreed to rebuild central Europe,” Orbán said. . On the Serbian side, Brnabić noted: “The level of our cooperation, in addition to this strategic partnership, is evidenced by the fact that the Republic of Serbia, that is to say the government that I lead, has not had so many joint government sessions with another country.

Before signing this agreement, Serbia and Hungary had six joint sessions of government, and Hungary has become Serbia’s third largest trading partner, with trade expected to exceed two billion euros in 2021. In Serbian opinion pollsHungary, along with Greece, enjoys the highest confidence among Serbian citizens of all EU members, and seventy percent of people rate the Hungarian influence in Serbia as positive. These facts only show how much the relations between the two countries have improved under Viktor Orbán and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. The development of the partnership is easily justified by the similarity of diet type. Both countries have hybrid schemes led by illiberal conservative parties in which the ruling party and its leaders play a dominant role. However, this is not the only reason, as this partnership is also motivated by the common concern of migration, the desire of two regimes to have international partners to avoid international condemnation, and the shared political calculations concerning the community. Hungarian in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. .

Regime compatibility is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the potential drivers of this partnership. The two regimes of Viktor Orbán and Aleksandar Vučić are based on the domination of the media, justice, public administration and the national security apparatus by the elites in place. In this context, the two regimes are part of what Fareed Zakaria has called an “illiberal democracy”, a regime combining electoral procedures and authoritarian modes of governance. Ideologically, the ruling political parties Fidesz, or Hungarian Civic Alliance, and the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) are national-conservative parties. Although the SNS appreciates its affiliation to the European People’s Party, Fidesz recent departure of the European People’s Party will not affect this relationship.

However, there are also some important differences. The first is the ideological commitment, where Orbán, a supporter of “Christian Europe”, is much stricter than Vučić. Of course, this does not mean that there are no disagreements and hypocrisy. Orbán is ready to fight against the promotion of LGBT worldview in Hungary. However, his political ally, former MEP Jozsef szajer was arrested in Brussels in 2020 for violating COVID-19 restrictions to attend a gay sex party. Orban smash the EU, but it has no problem to use EU funds and projects to enrich its associates. Nevertheless, Orbán has a political worldview.

Vučić, on the other hand, is business. The SNS party led by Vučić is partly made up of former nationalist associates of Serbian strongman Slobodan MiloÅ¡ević. However, Vučić needs European assent to stay in power, and he must preserve a mirage of a progressive and dynamic leader. While Orbán speaks openly about making his country an illiberal democracy, Vučić and his allies explode Liberty house for designating Serbia as a hybrid regime on Twitter or to designate Serbian media as affiliated with the state. Vučić has no problem naming Ana Brnabić, the first woman and homosexual, at the post of Prime Minister and hardly cares about “Christian Europe”. Within the Belgrade waterfront, a major UAE-funded real estate project, Vučić unveiled a monument to medieval Serbian ruler Stefan Nemanja, holding a sword instead of a cross as originally planned. The Serbian media speculated that this was done to avoid angering Arab investors. Whatever the real motivations for the change in the design of monuments, it is difficult to imagine Orbán, with its political platform based on the notion of Christian Europe, allowing this change to occur on a national monument.

Therefore, while the regime plays a role in this partnership, it is evident that there are other factors at play. The first is migration which has become a common denominator over the years. refugee crisis from 2015 and 2016. When Hungary and Croatia closed their borders, Serbia achieved good results reputation points for its treatment of refugees. Solidarity has manifested itself as Serbia and Hungary were slammed by Croatia for allegedly redirecting migrants to Croatia. While Orbán treats migrants as a threat to his vision of a conservative and Christian Europe, Belgrade, alongside the rest of the Balkans, fears becoming the stamp for migrants.

With the Afghan crisis, the fear of a new migrant crisis is back. Greece built a forty kilometer fence and surveillance system on its border with Turkey. Turkey is also strengthening its border with Iran. Croatian president Zoran Milanović said: “It’s not 2015 anymore.” Migration was one of the rhetorical tropes during the signing of the strategic partnership agreement. As Orban said: “Currently, it is not enough to rebuild Central Europe, but it must also be protected, to guarantee the security of Central Europe. Developments in Afghanistan suggest a large wave of migration which could lead to a very difficult situation for both Hungary and Serbia. It is clear to us that these migrants do not want to live in Serbia or Hungary, but want to go to the countries of Western Europe, which means that if we obstruct migration, we are also defend Western European countries eg Austria, Germany. This is the story of assignments, determined for us, not for the first time, that we are defending Europe, ”he said. The Serbian side will work with Hungary to control the flow of migrants. Although Belgrade will probably not use such a theatrical formulation, it is obvious that the migration issue is a factor of cohesion in this partnership.

Avoiding international condemnation is another factor of cohesion. Both governments are still on the potential defensive when it comes to the rule of law in their respective countries. To roll back, the two governments are interested in creating a network of bilateral relations that can counter attempts to bring them back into the fold, avoid being doomed or isolated for not following dominant EU agendas, while having hands free in the way they approach and conduct foreign affairs. This is why Orbán became the senior lawyer for Serbia’s accession to the EU, something Vučić openly expresses his gratitude for.

Hungary likes the prospect of having Serbia in the EU, which would eliminate Hungary’s external border with the EU and add another ally to the list. At the same time, Serbia gets someone to lobby for its interests in Brussels. Belgrade might indeed believe that the road to the EU goes through Budapest. In addition to this, in September 2021, Vučić will be the guest of the Budapest Demographic Summit, where he will speak alongside Orbán, former US Vice President Mike Pence and the Conservative Prime Ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Vučić and his government, to avoid losing international support, will attempt to forge relations with both sides in the United States, with Republicans being the preferred option, while playing the already existing card of division between members of the United States. ‘East and West of the EU. The partnership with Orbán is at the heart of this approach.

Finally, the Hungarian community in Serbia is both a driving force and an absolute winner in improving relations between the two countries, which are often singled out. “historically highThe Alliance of Hungarians in Vojvodina has been part of the ruling coalition since 2012; in a politically divided Serbia, they rarely produce conflicts or scandals but rather stick to “their departments” and are seen as a reliable partner at SNS. As the Hungarian community of the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina finds itself in a demographic decline, they can hardly represent a threat to the territorial integrity of Serbia. Therefore, the Serbian government can allow Budapest to invest and support the Hungarian community. In return, Belgrade obtains the support of the Hungarian government and economic progress for the national minority whose political representatives are part of the ruling coalition. The Hungarian government obtains nationalist and patriotic credentials for dealing with Hungarians living abroad: a win-win.

Orban’s government has financially supported several projects aimed at protecting or strengthening various aspects of Hungarian identity. Yet the one that has recently gained attention is the construction of the TSC Football Club Stadium– a lasting symbol of this new relationship and this facility of which the Belgrade teams can only “dream”, costing more than twenty million euros. Orban turned to sports, especially football, to broaden his support base and improve the country’s prestige internationally. According to some accounts, governments led by him have invested over $ 2.7 billion in football-related infrastructure over a decade “to score political goals.”


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