Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (Source: Kancelaria Prezesa Rady Ministrów/Krystian Maj)

At the same time, when the train with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński was headed to Kiev, a peace march was organized in Budapest by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Nothing shows the extremely different positions of Poland and Hungary on the war in Ukraine better and more emphatically.

Paweł Lisicki

In Kiev, Prime Minister Morawiecki said: “We will never leave you alone, because we know that you are fighting not only for your own freedom and security, but also for ours”. Perhaps the president of Law and Justice was even more emphatic: “I think that a NATO peace mission or a wider international one is needed, but such a mission that will operate in Ukraine and will be able to defend itself”.

The conclusion is unequivocal and fully coincides with other Polish actions from the beginning of the Russian aggression. Poland is completely and unconditionally on the side of Kiev. One can get the impression – this is the rhetorical weight of the words and the tone of the declaration – that Poland would be eager to directly engage itself in the conflict on the side of Ukraine. The Polish government leaves no doubt that it sees the struggle between Ukrainians and Russians as a war in the defense of the whole of Europe, including Poland. Just as it is doing everything possible to present itself as the main state unilaterally condemning Russia in every possible way.

Meanwhile, in Budapest, the atmosphere was quite different. During a great demonstration among the sea of ​​Hungarian flags, Orbán said that Central Europe had become a battleground for great powers. “Russia looks at Russian interests, while Ukraine looks at Ukrainian interests. Neither the United States nor Brussels will think like Hungarians, they will not feel what Hungarian hearts feel. We have to defend our own interests”, said Orbán. He stressed that Hungary must remain neutral towards the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. “We must stay out of this war…therefore we will not send any soldiers or weapons to the battlefield”.

Which of these attitudes is more reasonable? In Poland, this question is not asked at all. The left-liberal media simply recognized Orbán as a traitor, a Putinist, Moscow’s servant. The media does this with great pleasure because it gives them grounds for attacking the ruling party for their friendship with the Hungarian prime minister. Right-wing politicians and journalists either try to ignore the matter or join the chorus of condemnations of Orbán, who “became lost” or “did not understand what happened”. Who is right then?

The answer is not simple. It depends on two factors. First, whether the current war could be the end of Russian power and a completely new geopolitical opening in Central and Eastern Europe. Secondly, on how each country – Poland and Hungary – assesses its strength and resources. If the war ends with Moscow’s humiliation and defeat, and its exile far away towards Asia, Warsaw may benefit from pursuing the same policy it has been until now. It will win Kiev’s gratitude and will become an important, perhaps the most important entity in this part of Europe. It will break free once and for all from the cursed claws of the state between Germany and Russia.

The problem is that this vision is more like a pipe dream than a cold analysis. Only once in recent centuries, in the period after the collapse of tsarism and the defeat of Germany in the World War I, did there briefly appear a chance to change geopolitical forces. Germany was shattered after the defeat of the war and torn by revolutionary protests, in Russia a civil war raged. Even then, however, Piłsudski failed to implement his plans for the reconstruction of the former Republic of Poland. The reason is simple: if the strength of a state is determined by two factors – the numerical size of the nation and the army – then as long as Russia does not miraculously disappear from the face of the Earth, the geopolitical system will not change. Conclusion: if Moscow does not disappear, the positive sides of Polish policy will quickly become a burden.

The second factor is resources, real power. The stronger the state, the more risk it can afford. It is an established law of history and it cannot be covered by any rhetorical display. Viktor Orbán concluded that Hungary did not have the army and economic resources to play the role of a subject in the war. He defined the interests of his country in a simple way: he would do everything not to worsen the life of the Hungarians. Polish politicians, conversely, are playing for higher stakes. They care less about the mundane interests of Poles, more about the great future. Maybe they will succeed. If that could be achieved, it would be a total historical sensation.

This article was published in March 2022 in “Do Rzeczy” magazine.