The encroachments on freedoms of the press, speech and assembly, the attacks on the independent judiciary, and the European Commission’s infringement proceedings suddenly seemed far away when Orbán came to Bavaria on a “state visit”. Talks between Seehofer and Orbán did not focus on the Hungarian government’s anti-democratic course, but on economic cooperation – in particular the burden faced by MKB, a Hungarian subsidiary of Munich-based bank Bayerische Landesbank, under Hungary’s strict bank laws.
Following the talks, Seehofer emphasised the friendly atmosphere which prevailed between the two leaders: “We had no point of controversy,” Seehofer said. Nor did the Hungarian prime minister spare words of praise for his host: “The Free State [of Bavaria] is a ray of hope on the map of Europe. I’m always more optimistic returning from than travelling to Munich.”
Bavaria’s parliamentary opposition was less excited, however, sharply criticising the meeting. Bavaria’s SPD parliamentary group leader Markus Rinderspacher characterised Seehofer’s conduct as “the wrong signal and an expression of insufficient foreign policy sensitivity”, and called upon the CSU to re-examine its uncritical posture vis-à-vis Orbán. Green Party group leader Martin Runge demanded of Seehofer “clear words on the meaning of freedom of assembly, speech and the press, as well as an independent judiciary.”
All this did not seem to impress Seehofer much, however, who invoked “diplomatic customs” and announced a reciprocal visit to Budapest in the near future. In so doing, the Bavarian premier continued a longstanding CSU tradition of courting Orbán, who is considered a friend and has repeatedly been a guest at CSU party conferences. In 2001, he was awarded the Franz Josef Strauss prize by the CSU-leaning Hanns Seidel Foundation for “his achievements for the democratisation of Hungary and the establishment of a free Europe”. Orbán last travelled to Munich in the fall of 2011 for Edmund Stoiber’s 70th birthday. Despite his undemocratic steps, Orbán can be confident of the former Bavarian premier’s support even these days: In an interview for Budapest’s German-language Budapester Zeitung in early March 2012, Stoiber described the right-wing populist as “Hungary’s last hope”, while calling the German media coverage of Hungary “one-sided”.
Against this backdrop, it would be rather surprising if Seehofer were to use his announced reciprocal visit to Hungary to abandon false solidarity and to find the critical words which are now quite overdue. Yet every critical statement from outside – especially on the part of Orbán’s loyal conservative friends in Bavaria – would strengthen all those political and civil society actors who, day in and day out in the face adversity, have been opposing Orbán’s undemocratic policies and standing up for a truly democratic Hungary.
Florian Hiermeier is a researcher for a Green Party member of Bavaria’s parliament. Since completing an internship in the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Tel Aviv office, he feels closely connected to the work of the Green political foundation. Hiermeier studied political science in Munich as well as in Vilnius, where he first got a taste of the challenges of the transformation process in post-socialist countries.