Sunday, May 11, 2014

Optimally Obnoxious: Hungary and Some Old Tricks

I got mildly peeved today when someone tweeted that Hungary's Viktor Orban's statement about the Hungarians abroad was following from Putin's example.  Why? Because Orban and Hungary have done stuff like this long before Putin started messing around with Crimea or even South Ossetia.

Since the fall of the wall, Hungary has dedicated a fair amount of attention and even money to the issue of the Hungarians abroad.  Indeed, I conducted interviews with folks who worked in the Office of Hungarians Abroad (which I tended to refer to the Office of Irredentism).  So, this issue is hardly new, complete with referenda and all that.

To be sure, Hungary's passion has been inconsistent, which I note because I have long argued that irredentism is not a consistent effort but responds to the vagaries of domestic politics.  When right wing folks are in power, this stuff gets more attention.  When they are out of power, this stuff gets put mostly on the back burner.  That the current right wing government faces some competition from its right flank makes bold claims (and little action) hardly surprising.

So, this is not about Putin opening up Pandora's Box of European border revision.  It is still problematic, but more as a symptom of Hungary's larger problems of growing authoritarianism and deepening dysfunction.  Yes, Putin has done much to erase the guarantees and promises of the Helsinki Accords and the norms of refraining from violently revising boundaries.  But what Hungary is doing right now is clearly emanating from the domestic politics that have produced similar statements and policies.  That is, ones that are obnoxious enough to annoy the neighbors but mild enough to just get support from key domestic groups without alienating anyone too much.

During the interviews for the book, I was tempted to ask: why are you obnoxious enough to annoy the neighbors but not much more than that?  Instead, I asked less obnoxious questions that produced some interesting answers.

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