By giving refuge to former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Orban is making a mockery of his government's position. More importantly, he's ridiculing everything the EU stands for, writes Boris Georgievski.
First, the good news: After years of hard-line opposition on immigration and his refusal to accept refugees, Viktor Orban has finally given up. He not only allowed a "refugee" into Hungary, but was very likely personally involved in organizing Nikola Gruevski's travel arrangements to Hungary and ushering him through border control without valid documents. Oh, and he also brushed aside his own asylum law by allowing Gruevski to submit his application in Budapest instead of at the border transit zone.
Now, the bad news: It's only one refugee, and he is not fleeing poverty or war like the hundreds of thousands of people who have not been allowed to enter Hungary over the past three years. Gruevski is fleeing from justice. The former Macedonian prime minister ruled the country for over 10 years, amassed a healthy personal fortune and managed to turn the whole Western community against him. But thanks to his authoritarian style of governing, he also made friends.
Orban and Gruevski share the same goal of turning their respective countries into "illiberal democracies." They're united in their dislike of US billionaire George Soros and have launched spiteful campaigns against his NGOs.
While Orban is still fine-tuning his policies, Gruevski, who lost power in 2017, has been busy hiring lawyers in order to defend himself against a long list of charges, including corruption, abuse of power, and inciting violence.
Gruevski's escape from justice
Gruevski was sentenced last week after he was found guilty of illegally purchasing a Mercedes worth €570,000 ($645,000). He was supposed to start his two-year prison sentence this week and many Macedonians who suffered under his regime eagerly anticipated the scene of Gruevski finally entering prison in the capital, Skopje. But Gruevski had other plans. While the Macedonian police were still searching for him, Gruevski posted a message on Facebook on Tuesday saying that he was in Budapest awaiting political asylum from the Hungarian authorities.
That prompted angry protests in front of parliament in Skopje. For many, he was the symbol of a regime mired in corruption and abuses of power that led to the biggest political crisis in the country's history. His jail sentence was supposed to mark the start of the healing process and bring back confidence in the judiciary and the rule of law. There are rumors that the current government might have struck some kind of deal with Gruevski, but the Macedonian authorities' incompetence is the likelier reason for his escape.
Orban's disregard for EU principles
Orban, on the other hand, faces some tough choices. Will he stay loyal to his corrupt Balkan friend, and risk further straining his testy relations with the EU? Or might he decide to extradite Gruevski back to Macedonia in a bid to improve his battered image? Much will depend on the European Commission and the European People's Party — where both Orban's and Gruevski's parties are members — and their position on the issue. Hungary is an EU member, while Macedonia is a candidate country. For decades, the official mantra from Brussels regarding the Balkan countries has consisted of three basic demands: Improve the rule of law, fight corruption, and strengthen the democratic institutions.
The fact that Orban is making a mockery of his government and his country by harboring a convicted felon of Gruevski's caliber is secondary. That ship sailed a long time ago. But to openly ridicule everything the EU stands for in terms of values and principles should be a cause for concern for both Brussels and the EU member states. Orban is not only promoting his authoritarian model based on corruption, a disregard for the democratic institutions and a media crackdown, but he's also effectively exporting that model to neighboring countries by defending those who follow his example.
There is one glimmer of light in all of this: The world finally knows more about the type of "refugee" Orban is willing to welcome with open arms.