Editorial: International Developments Raise Eyes From Home
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As if the violence and death that has now continued for more than 600 days in neighboring Ukraine were not enough, we have terrorist acts in Israel, war declared on Hamas, and the type of two-way bombardment into and out of a tiny strip of land that made the tragedy at the al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital in Gaza City all but inevitable.
The medical center is apparently also known as the Baptist hospital and is owned by the Anglican Church. For all religion may offer a spiritual cloak, it can’t protect from bullets and bombs and knives. As it was in Gaza, so it was in Israel.
We seem to have moved at high speed into a period where international events swamp domestic matters. Eyes were being directed away from Hungary in any case. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took his leadership team to Tbilisi on Oct. 11-12 for a joint cabinet meeting with their Georgian opposite numbers. The two governments are politically close, and Orbán has been pushing Georgia’s EU credentials for some time, just as he has done for the Balkans. Perhaps he believes expansion dilutes the powers of the bigger states, especially if it is accompanied by a move away from unilateral votes, as it surely must if an enlarged European bloc ever hopes to get anything done. Perhaps he simply wishes to bring more allies on board, a matter that will have become more pressing now the Law and Justice Party (PiS) seems to have lost its grip on power in Poland.
Since that Georgia trip, Orbán and leading ministers have been busy pressing the flesh and signing agreements in Beijing, where President Xi Jinping went as far as to laud the Hungarian leader as a “friend” of China. Orbán was an early adopter of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative and remains committed to bringing Chinese business to the center of Europe, even as the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States seem to grow ever more suspicious of China’s true intentions. If that puts him at odds with much of the political leadership of the Occidental world, it is not something that seems likely to bother him, at least on the face of things. It is certainly nothing new.
Meeting with Xi and his cohorts might be one thing (and the truth is that for all the talk of “systemic rivals” and “decoupling,” no country or bloc can afford to ignore a market the size of China). Meeting with Vladimir Putin is quite another. The bilateral Orbán held with the Russian leader may have been in neutral territory in a Chinese government house in Beijing, but it was still an in-person meeting between Putin and an EU member state leader, and they have been about as common as hens’ teeth in recent months. Perhaps you can see some of that in video from the meeting that has gone viral. It is easy to overinterpret these things: many critics have insisted it shows Orbán to be highly nervous; he certainly appeared distinctly fidgety. That is no crime. Neither is meeting Putin, actually, though that it happened at all won’t be welcome in Brussels or Washington and will have delighted Moscow. Orbán has merely underlined that he will continue pursuing policies on his grounds, whatever others think. He is nothing if not consistent in this.
In the meantime, we appear to be teetering on the brink of a wider war in the Middle East. Much more of this, and no one will have the bandwidth to keep up with everything.
This editorial was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of October 20, 2023.
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