Marek Kuchciński on Polish-Hungarian relations in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war

(Response to Zsolt Németh's article: On Ukraine and Poland from a Hungarian perspective. Text by the Chairman of the Hungarian Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, "", 18 May 2022)

May 18 on the portal The article of the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Hungarian Parliament, my friend Zsolt Németh, was published, addressed to Poles. In this article the author, in the spirit of Polish-Hungarian friendship, explains the Hungarian stance towards the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war. This is an important text. I would like to present a few reflections on how this situation looks from the Polish perspective.

We know that contemporary international relations cannot be shaped on the basis of sentiments or historical resentments. However, we must explain them in the context of the historical memory of the nations in whose name and on whose mandate we speak.

I. So what is the Polish stereotype of Hungarians and Hungarianness? The attitude of Poles towards Hungarians repeats what Zsolt Németh wrote about the attitude of Hungarians towards Poles: "Polish-Hungarian friendship is part of Hungarian national identity"; it is also part of Polish national identity. This cannot be explained without referring to history.

Polish-Hungarian relations have had a special character for centuries. The political cultures of the Hungarians and Poles developed as twin cultures over centuries of neighborliness, having their common roots in the famous Golden Bull of Andrew II, issued in 1222.

The idea of the superiority of law over the will of the monarch, known in Poland on the basis of custom since the end of the 10th century, was realized in the times of Louis the Great (in Poland called Louis the Hungarian) and his daughter - Saint Hedwig of Anjou (patroness of Poland and apostle of Lithuania) on the lands of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, i.e. on the territories of today's Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. It was the beginning of our nations' path to democracy - First the state - the nobility, and then the common. From the times of Stefan Batory until World War II the Polish parliamentary marshal's guard was called the Hungarian Guard. These two oldest Central European democracies, born in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and founded in the Kingdom of Hungary, had a common Hungarian source. The heirs of this tradition, as far as they wish to recognize it as their own, are all the nations of this area, including the Ukrainians. They confirmed it recently in a joint declaration of the foreign ministers of Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine of 7 July 2021.

The Polish-Hungarian friendship was hardened in battle. For us Poles, it was above all a battle against the Russian Empire. It is Stefan Batory, who in Poland is a symbol of triumph over Moscow. It is along the former Hungarian border that the trenches of the Bar Confederates are scattered, who, retreating in 1768 from Ukraine conquered by the Russians, sought cover for the rear of their positions in friendly Hungary. This support was always mutual. It was in the Polish Republic - also in today's Ukraine - that Francis II Rakoczy found hospitality, after the fall of the Kurut uprising, whose important center was today's Mukachevo in Ukrainian Transcarpathia. We understand the Hungarians better than anyone else. The castle in today's Ukrainian Mukachevo is for them what the fortress in the equally Ukrainian Kamenets Podolskyi is for us - the most famous fortress of national history.ADVERTISEMENT

In the memory of Poles, Hungarians are a steadfast ally in the fight against Moscow's possessiveness. In the 19th century, our common fate was symbolized by the names of our enemies, such as Ivan Paskevich, the commander of the Russian army that captured Warsaw in 1831 and suppressed the Hungarian Spring uprising of 1848-49.

It is worth mentioning the little-known fact that during the Spring of Nations 6 thousand volunteers from Poland broke through the Carpathian Mountains to HungaryThe Legion of Wysocki and Dabrowski was formed by a group of students from the Przemysl and Sanok areas, including several hundred high school students (!), to support the Hungarians in their struggle for freedom.

After 1867, already under constitutional Austro-Hungary, the Poles were the only Slavic nation absolutely immune to the then form of Russian hybrid warfare known as Panslavism. It was on this basis that a strong Hungarian-Polish alliance was built within the constitutional Habsburg monarchy.

When the Russian Empire's armies of millions collapsed on Austria-Hungary in 1914, Only two nations issued volunteer formations to fight against Russia - Poles and Ukrainians and both defended the Carpathian passes to keep the barbarian hordes out of Hungary.

When in 1920. allied Poland and Ukraine clashed in another deadly battle against the Russian invasion, Hungary offered us a cavalry corps and provided huge amounts of ammunition. The transit of troops to Poland was refused by other neighbors, but against the standpoint of Germany and Austria, and even against the protests of the Inter-Alliance Commission, the Hungarian Minister of Defense, General Károly Soós de Nagyábadok, ordered the transfer of the entire ammunition stock (75 million rounds) available to the Hungarian Army to the Polish Army as a matter of urgency. This saved us from the fate that befell the less fortunate Ukraine.ADVERTISEMENT

When in 1939. Hitler demanded that Hungary allow the Wehrmacht to march through its territory to strike Poland, Miklos Horthy and Pal Teleki with the unanimous support of the entire Hungarian government responded with impossibilité morale (a morally impossible thing), ordered the tunnels and bridges to be mined and warned the Germans that the Hungarian army would resist them if they tried to force this agreement by force.

The Polish-Hungarian parallel of fates involving Paskievich was repeated a century later, when General Ivan Serov invited to talks in 1945 16 leaders of Underground Poland, imprisoned them and deported them to Moscow, where three of them were murdered, and 11 years later the same man, also on orders from the Kremlin, extended with similar effect a similar invitation to General Pála Malétera - commander of the Hungarian Army in 1956, thus deceitfully captured and executed. After 1956 an average Pole, having met an average Hungarian, knew that he could talk to him about the nature of Moscow frankly - like to none other of our neighbors. This is how we remember the Hungarian brothers - brave, chivalrous and reliable.

Since the Jagiellonian times, Polish-Hungarian friendship has been one of the cornerstones of our perception of Central European reality and our foreign policy.

These examples indicate that in almost every generation our ancestors have left evidence of mutual support in difficult times, symbolized by many figures who performed heroic deeds (in addition to those previously mentioned: Józef Bem, János Esterházy, Henryk Sławik, Wacław Felczak, Ryszard Siwiec).


Central Europe. I belong to the generation that worked for the advent of democracy, civil liberties, and a free market economy. I am all the more pleased that after 1989 Hungary and Poland, the countries and nations of the Visegrad Group, the Tri-Cities and Carpathian Europe, from Georgia and Armenia through Ukraine and the Balkans, stand out for their positive attitude toward Christian values and natural law. Attachment to the inherent dignity of man, the principles of democracy and freedom of expression. We were characterized by ambition and the need to succeed. Which we succeeded, if only considering the fact that GW and Tri-Morocco countries have been among the fastest growing countries in the world for almost 2 decades. Not Europe, but the world, with GDP growth 2-3 times higher than in Western Europe.

At the same time Poland and Hungary belong to the area called the keystone of Europe. One of the 3 most strategically located areas of the globe. (The others are the Persian Gulf and the Western Pacific). It is no coincidence that both World Wars and the Cold War were fought very much right here in Central Europe.

So it is justified to be aware of the uniqueness of the place. I think that an equally important conviction should be that in Central Europe, with perhaps the highest density of nations, languages, cultures, traditions, borders and religions per square kilometer in the world, the victory of some is a victory for others. But also the defeat of some, sooner or later turns out to be a loss for others. Therefore, the self-confidence of each of us, our sense of value and success, must not turn into complacency if they are to serve the cause of the state and the long-term national interest.

Central Europe of the 21st century approaches life without illusions and with caution. We remember all too well what ends with the promises of power - formerly Soviet, now often from Brussels - to build a paradise on earth, but we also take care not to take the role of a pawn on the chessboard of history. If we are not able to play the role of king or queen, then let us at least be a hetman. Although, with good cooperation, Central Europe has a chance to play a leading role - like St. Hedwig, the king of Poland.


In Poland since 2015, after the victory of Law and Justice under the banner of "good change" in the presidential and parliamentary elections in less than two terms (!) we have made a fundamental change in almost all the departmental policies implemented in the 3rd Republic of Poland (Hungarians had twice as much time for this!). We put the Polish law in order in our legislative work, we also returned to the strategic paths outlined by President Lech Kaczyński (2005-2010). A patriotic conservative trend began to dominate in the Polish Parliament, restoring the importance of historical policy and parliamentary diplomacy, while paying attention to the fair distribution of wealth and burdens among all citizens.

In diplomacy, we have been particularly concerned with the area of Central Europe, where new initiatives have been launched: the presidential Tri-Cities and the Bucharest Nine, and in parliament the "Carpathian Europe" and the Central and Eastern European Parliamentary Summits. They became a place for an exchange of views on a regional scale that had never been seen before. At the same time, they confirmed our conviction that the entire area between Russia and Germany should be understood as one Central Europe, which is how the representatives of nations to the east of Poland see themselves.

In the Polish sense, but also in the Hungarian sense - given the centuries-long experience of Hungarians with religious tolerance (since the 12th century in Transylvania) or union (with the Croats since the 11th century), A politically mature nation means the ability to cooperate with other nations/statesA good example of this is the Visegrad Group. The alternative for a mature nation, and hence a sovereign state, is to operate under the protectorate of one or another hegemon state. Here we have an either-or situation.
For this reason, we have engaged in a debate at the European level, presenting a Polish project of EU reform based on the Europe of Fatherlands, with the retention of states and a strengthened role for national parliaments. In this respect, we share with Hungary a similar diagnosis of the European Union and a recipe for its recovery.


Today's situation of Poland and Hungary requires from us courage and prudence. First of all, we must recognize that each of our countries has its own coherent overall foreign policy. The pillars of Hungarian foreign policy identified in the article Zsolta Németha (protection of the rights of national minorities, good neighbourly relations, Polish-Hungarian friendship and the Euro-Atlantic alliance) are clear, understandable and shared by Poland.

Contemporary Polish-Hungarian relations are thus developing not only in the context of the war in Ukraine, but also in the situation of pressure on both our countries from the EU core dominated by Germany and France. Their intentions are clear: to overthrow our governments and subordinate the policies of Warsaw and Budapest to the interests of both EU powers. The pro-Russianism of Berlin and Paris is, to put it very diplomatically, at least ambiguous.

Poland in the context of the war in Ukraine in its relation to Hungary must take into account the need for both our countries to support each other in resisting the EU mainstream. It must also keep him from explicitly distancing himself from the close transatlantic ties - so rightly pointed out by Zsolt Németh as a pillar of our foreign policy.

Breaking Polish-Hungarian solidarity on the EU forum would mean the triumph of forces ready to resume as soon as possible the multifarious cooperation with Russia of the entire European Union and the creation of a European Strategic Autonomy alternative to the United States. This would be accompanied by the violation of the sovereignty of both our countries by introducing a procedure for deciding EU foreign policy on the basis of qualified majority voting, i.e. full domination of Germany and France, which not more than a year ago tried to invite Putin to the EU summit in order to further tighten cooperation with Russia, only to be prevented by the solidarity opposition of the Tri-Countries, which under the proposed new decision-making system would have been easily outvoted.

Poland is also aware of the fact that the negative image of Hungary as "Russia's ally" is a convenient instrument to divert attention from the sins of the EU superpowers, which today maintain a hole-in-the-wall system of EU sanctions against Russia. It is also a convenient tool for attacking the Polish government for its cooperation with Hungary. And yet we know that it was not Hungary that exempted the banks Sbierbank and Gazprombank from EU sanctions, nor the Hungarian president who called on his country's companies not to "hastily abandon Russia," nor Budapest that suggested that Ukraine give up parts of its territory to the invader so that the aggressor could "save face. In this respect, Poland and Hungary must jointly resist the attacks of propaganda from governments and circles that are hostile to us..


Over the centuries Poland and Ukraine have been linked by both dramatic and glorious examples of cooperation, just to mention Hetman Sahajdaczny, Ataman Petlura, or General Bezruczko. But Above all, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus share a common history rooted in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.. These are much deeper ties of the religiously diverse and tolerant culture of our ancestors than the imposed stereotypes of absolutist Russia or Prussia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hence heritage left on the lands of today's Ukraine is so important. It is European to the fullest extent, growing out of the only system of parliamentary democracy in Europe at that time and the principle of "free with free, equal with equal", which in a sense was referred to 30 years ago by the emerging European Union.

There are also differences between us regarding the situation of our minorities in Ukraine. Hungarians live in dense groups, mainly in Transcarpathia. Poles were scattered over most of the Ukrainian territory and as citizens of the First and Second Polish Republics, together with other nations, for centuries inhabited the territories from the Dnieper to the west. For both, however, these territories were for the most part part part part of their homeland, voluntarily left outside the present-day borders of their respective countries - a feature that also distinguishes Central Europe.

The war in Ukraine has caused a huge exodus unprecedented in generations - Millions of Ukrainians have fled their country with the great help of Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians and Moldovans who have taken in nearly 90% war refugees. For millions of Poles, the refugee crisis is a reminder of the fate of our parents and grandparents in 1939-1940. Therefore, it is not surprising that Poles receive most refugees in their private homes (a situation never before encountered on such a scale!), and the Polish state created the financial, legal, and administrative conditions to care for them. We passed this peculiar stress test of our statehood with 5 plus.

Poland fought 18 wars with Russia in its history, from the late 15th century to 1939, defending itself against barbarism and successive invasions. Ukraine's current defensive war is the so-called proxy war that the Ukrainians are fighting for us, and if they are defeated, then Russia - which makes no secret of its plans to rebuild its empire - will strike at Poland and other Central European countries. This is what Putin personally presented at the beginning of this year, the concept of "the need to return to the situation before 1997". That is why Poland stands so firmly on the side of Ukrainian independence.

This war determined the most important directions of Central European and Polish policy, emphasizing the expansion of the armed forces and strengthening NATO's eastern flank. In Poland, thanks to the Jaroslaw Kaczynski A new program to rebuild the armed forces was quickly adopted, recalling the Latin maxim "if you want peace, get ready for war".. Already in 1831, Polish diplomacy warned Europe that Russian annexation knew only such boundaries as would be drawn by the armed strength of the nations threatened by it. This thesis - 190 years later - is as true today as it was then. Preventing Russia from achieving its goals therefore requires material effort. If in 1920, the Hungarian Minister of Defense had not known this and had refused the Poles ammunition "not to jeopardize relations with Russia," the Bolshevik hordes would have stormed Budapest soon after taking Warsaw, Prague and Bratislava. But he made this decision even though Hungary's international position at the time was dire. Today, Hungary, by belonging to NATO, risks much less than it did then.

Aware of all these circumstances, I share Zsolt Németh's arguments when he rightly points out that "There is (...) no doubt that the Russian attempt to conquer or partition Ukraine is absolutely contrary to Hungary's interests" and that "the vision of resurrecting the Soviet Union again as the Russian Empire, which is the stated goal of this war by the Russian side, is completely unacceptable from the point of view of Hungarian foreign policy." He argues convincingly that Ukrainian soldiers, while defending the independence of their country, are also fighting for Hungarians and that it is in Hungary's interest that Russia does not achieve its goals. These are theses that, as Poles, we subscribe to with both hands.

But explaining why Hungary (incidentally, like Romania) has closed its space to the transit of arms and ammunition for Ukraine, which is bleeding to defend us all, seems too cautious. Is it realistic? The future will tell.

Strong condemnation of Russian aggression and crimes in Ukraine and great humanitarian aid is very important. But before death, enslavement and exile from our homeland can only be saved by victory over the invaders.

I think In Poland, we accurately read and understand the current situation of Ukrainians. Therefore, appealing for help for Ukraine, we appeal first of all for weapons, which will be the best tool to save life, health and freedom. For all of us.

                                                                               Marek Kuchcinski

                                                           Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee

                                                                       Sejm of the Republic of Poland

                                                                                   May 23, 2022.

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