“In the year of Our Lord 1335, around the festivities of Saint Martin, Bohemian King John, his son Charles, and the king of the Poles came to the castle of Visegrád, to the court of King Charles [of Hungary], to seal their alliance with a peace treaty for all time. And so it happened.”
In those words a 14th-century chronicler recorded a significant event in the turbulent history of Central Europe which resulted in a network of treaties and fragile alliances. The meeting of the three kings of Hungary, Poland and Bohemia had been convened to address a variety of topics, ranging from peace-making between the Czechs and Poles, to settling a territorial dispute between Poland and the Teutonic Order. The bulk of the settlements reached at Visegrád were incorporated into treaties signed on 19 November 1335.
So, in the late 20th century, when the once great nations of Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia liberated themselves from Communism and recognized the desirability of co-operation if they were to recover their former status, it seemed appropriate to their newly free governments to meet symbolically at Visegrád where, on 15 February 1991, the heads of state of the three nations invoked the historical resonance of the venue to form the Visegrád Group. This proved an important geopolitical formation during the first two years of its existence as its member states negotiated for membership of Nato and the European Union.
On 1 January 1993, without any actual enlargement, the Group became known as the Visegrád Four (V4) when Czechoslovakia split into two separate states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Thereafter, the four nations tended to operate individually as they each fought their own corner in efforts to become accession states of the European Union. The V4 group remained in existence, however, and from 1998 it began again to operate as an alliance, if only on a modest scale. On 1 May 2004, all four nations simultaneously became members of the EU. Of the four, only Slovakia has joined the eurozone.
For almost a decade the Visegrád Group had a largely cultural significance. That is precisely why it has suddenly assumed a potentially huge importance. Its two leading nations, Hungary and Poland, have increasingly found themselves alienated from the cultural attitudes prevailing in Brussels. This first became apparent when the ruling Fidesz Party in Hungary used its supermajority in parliament to promulgate a new constitution. This document was radically different from any other post-French Revolution national constitution.
It might have been written by Edmund Burke, whose philosophy permeates it. It proclaims itself “a contract between Hungarians past, present and future”, recognizes “the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood” and “professes that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence”, besides protecting human life from conception and defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It is the complete negation and antithesis of the anti-national, secularist and culturally Marxist prejudices reigning in Brussels.
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When the European Commission, Guy Verhofstadt, Hillary Clinton and the New York Times are united in condemnation of any country it is a pretty clear indication that the denounced nation must be doing something right. Meantime, Brussels has opened a second front, against Poland. The election of the Law and Justice Party in Poland with an absolute majority enabled the new government to set about finally eliminating the residual Communist apparatchiks who had dug into the fabric of public life since the supposed end of Communism.
These unreconstructed Marxists had bought immunity by slavish adherence to Brussels and were most deeply entrenched in the public media, a leftist propaganda apparatus that almost made the BBC appear neutral (I take that back) and the constitutional court. Anticipating defeat, the outgoing government had packed the constitutional court with extra leftist judges just before losing office. The court had long afforded protection to Communist officials who should have been tried for their crimes. The Law and Justice government, strongly mandated at the ballot box, moved against this Marxist Europhile deep state, provoking the rage of Brussels.
Hungary, however, has declared it will veto EU sanctions against Poland and vice-versa. Enter the Visegrád Group on the European stage as a serious and influential alliance. Some Brussels fanatics have demanded the sanctioning of both countries, but with Britain negotiating Brexit the apparatchiks would be mad to do that. The impending implosion of the euro increasingly puts the survival of the EU in question. Yet all but one of the Visegrád states are outside the destructive currency and they already have a lifeboat – an existing political union to which they have belonged longer than to the EU.
They have absolutely rejected Brussels’ (i.e. Berlin’s) imposition of immigrant quotas and Hungary has successfully built a wall against migrant invasion. When Macedonia, a non-EU state, was overwhelmed by migrants, the V4 pledged help in defending its borders at a summit in Prague in February 2016, attended by the president of Macedonia and the prime minister of Bulgaria: effectively an independent foreign policy at odds with Brussels.
It is fiscally innovative too. Hungary follows a course different from the dirigiste Brussels policy and from the ultra-free market excesses of libertarians. The flat tax has been successful in Hungary and this year the government is reducing corporation tax to 9 per cent, lower than anywhere else except Bermuda,, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. Theresa May might like to mention this example, casually, during Brexit negotiations if Guy Verhofstadt comes over all Clint Eastwood.
Hungary’s fiscal policy is aimed at sustaining the family and encouraging higher birth rates rather than importing immigrants to improve low demographics. A generous family tax allowance, deductible from the tax base, rises steeply on the birth of a third child; maternity benefit continues for three years, child allowance for two years and a lump sum maternity grant is available to mothers attending pregnancy care sessions. The flat tax has more than doubled the number of taxpayers and tax rates for small businesses have been slashed.
Viktor Orbán, the architect of this revolution, is increasingly close to the Polish government, as well as to the Czechs and Slovaks, and on wary good terms with Vladimir Putin. As the scenes in Brussels, ravaged by its toxic currency, become such as only the brush of Hieronymus Bosch could depict, it is reassuring to know that a healthy, historically rooted, naturally evolving alliance is slowly maturing that could attract new members (e.g. Austria) and take the place of the EU dustbowl when the inevitable collapse occurs.