Hungary has a historical background of resisting super power dominance since the end of the World War II. Despite the long era of socialism from 1956 to the end of the Cold War, Hungary was one of the Eastern European countries who experienced the Soviet hegemony less than the other neighbouring socialist states in terms of politics and economics. This tradition created a political culture among the elites of the country where a relative independent foreign policy could be followed between the East and the West. Although Hungary is a member of Western Club today, the country’s political dichotomy has always been a key factor which provided opportunity to the decision makers to stay in balance between the hegemonic powers in the polarized system of international relations. In other words, Hungary, as a member of European Union (EU) and NATO today, still has the strong cultural and political ties with increasing powers of Eurasia.
Since Hungary became a full member of EU in 2004, the country has still been facing with political and economic challenges. The ongoing challenges today are resulting in a mistrust to EU, more particularly to Brussels bureaucracy which is under the hegemony of global powers. Hence, Hungary’s struggle on diversifying her foreign policy strategies are more apparent and understandable during this tectonic change era of international system at the beginning of 2020s.
Today, it seems possible to observe two main reasons which enforce Hungary to follow a foreign policy in dichotomy. The continuous economic backwardness when compared with other developed economies of EU, and unprecedented political challenges arising from the structural changes in the international system, such as refugee crisis.
The economic situation in Hungary fall into a destablization during the post-communist era of 1990s, however, the country did not experience a dramatically miserable economic transition as some other post-communist countries of Eastern Europe contended with. Because, although political system was communist in Hungary, private entrepreneurship and market economy had been adopted from the beginning of 1980s, and this situation helped Hungarian economy to stay on its feet during the post-communist period. However, the extensive economic gap between Western and Eastern Europe has been valid for Hungary, too, and European integration was marketed to Hungarian people to overcome this economic gap by the end of 1990s, as well as it was done in the whole eastern part of the continental Europe.
When Hungary joined to EU, expectation about the future enrichment among political elites and ordinary citizens was quite high. But, that expected economic enrichment has never been achieved, instead, Hungary’s younger generations and well-educated classes started to leave their country for better economic conditions in Western European countries. Thus, skilled labour decreased, economy suffered of decreasing production and the country’s leading sectors, such as agriculture and chemistry, were mostly occupied by the stronger Western European actors of global economy. The Hungarian economy is still stable as it was in 2004, and the new Hungarian generations are continuing to move abroad with increasing numbers, while the old generations are staying in the country with low wages, or low pensions which are significantly under EU average.
Today, the actors of Hungarian political stage have doubts about the benefits of European integration, and despite the loud objection of EU, country is challenging to Brussels and seeking for alternative economic cooperation opportunities, especially with Russia and Turkey. For example, trade volume between Hungary and Turkey enormously increased 40% during the last decade and Turkey replaced many of Hungary’s trade partners within EU. On the other hand, Russia is taking her prominent place back in Hungarian energy economy three decades after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Especially after 2014, the economic policies of government of FIDESZ started to shift to economic nationalism and EU’s intergovernmental solution to ongoing economic crisis became less and less popular. Because, EU’s globalist economic policies do not get along with Hungarian economy’s real dynamics.
Diversification in Hungarian economy is pushing the political elite to question the asymmetric internal relations of the EU, and their enthusiasm to EU membership is slightly getting below day by day. Globalization promoted by supranational integration model of EU cannot provide anything better any more to Hungary, and Hungarians today have the feeling of cheating by most popular phenomenon of European integration of the late 20th century. This was especially understood during the refugee crisis. While thousands of refugees were flowing to Hungary, Brussels did almost nothing! EU did not offer any economic or political aid to Hungary whose economy is quiet weak to handle thousands of refugees who needed serious care for food and health. Disintegration within EU during the refugee crisis in fact, splashed EU’s desperation about supranational institutional and federalist solutions to the challenges to member states to Hungarians’ faces.
For these reasons, Hungarian foreign policy today is trying to adopt a transformation of Brussels-oriented strategies to a multi-dimensional sphere. In this context, it would not be an exaggeration that Hungary, a member state, is evolving from Brussels’ hegemony on single policy making process of EU to an independent national policy determination behaviour. Of course, it is difficult to say at the moment that Hungary, or any other Eastern European country would constitute a challenge for the possible dissolution of EU in the near future, but, it is for sure that the actors outside of EU, such as Turkey and Russia, would strengthen their economic and political ties with Hungary in that challenging environment of international system in which EU is not regarded as a global actor any more.