Orbán accepts award from Dodik, considers it an authorisation

April 05. 2024. – 12:26 PM


Orbán accepts award from Dodik, considers it an authorisation
Photo: Borislav Zdrinja / Predsjednikrs.rs


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On Friday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán received the medal awarded to him by the Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik on the occasion of the banned Bosnian Serb national holiday on 9 January. We have previously written in detail about why this is controversial. The same medal was awarded to Russian President Vladimir Putin a year ago.

When it was originally announced during the National Day celebrations in Banja Luka (the capital of the Serb entity) on 9 January that Orbán would be decorated with the Serb entity's highest honour, Dodik also stated that Orbán would be accepting the medal in person at a later date, which finally happened on 5 April.

In his speech at the ceremony, Dodik told Orbán: "I am grateful to you for your dedication, for the fact that our cooperation was not just a passing flicker of inspiration on your part, but that you continue to stand by Republika Srpska. It is with a grateful heart and great affection that we present you with this award," Dodik began his short speech at the ceremony. According to him, Orbán is an example of how to preserve and protect a society and families. "I am sure that in the future we will celebrate our common successes together, and in the meantime we will pay attention to your every word," he added.

Solidarity with the Serbs who belong in the EU

Orbán took over from him and began his speech by saying: "I see this as an expression of love, an expression of friendship." There is emotion and "optimism for the mutual future" in the award. Orbán described himself as an old man who remembers the time when "this world" went by the name of Yugoslavia. He remembers when the law on the recognition of Bosnia was passed by the Hungarian Parliament in 1992, when the Dayton peace talks were held to end the war in the region, and also when NATO bombed Belgrade (during Orbán's premiership, after Hungary joined NATO, by the way), and how the Serbs found their place in a transformed region.

"When the framework of a nation's existence changes, not to its advantage, and it has to find its place in the world", that's a very difficult thing, according to Orbán. He said that he observed this search for a place with appreciation. No matter where the borders are, Serbs and Hungarians are looking out for each other, the point is not that our states are neighbours, but that our peoples are neighbours, the Hungarian prime minister said.

He added that he has stood up for the Serbs "because international politics has been unfair to the Serbs".

He said that there is no flawless nation, "there are people who do not see the plank in their own eye, but notice the speck in the eye of others". He said Serbia is not getting the recognition it should and added that it hasn't yet been recognized that "Europe needs the Serbs", without them there is no European security, no united European Union, no stability.

Of course there are many problems with the EU, "but there is no better framework available today", he told Dodik. He said that it was important for the region to get as close as possible to this framework, which both Hungary and Austria are pushing for. "It is not looking good, the decision should have been taken a long time ago", "we have wasted decades". Now the "feverish dream" of eastern enlargement has put Bosnia on the back burner, which is not good news. Hungary's position is that the Balkan expansion of the EU should be completed, resources need to be concentrated on this, and then we should deal with the "much more difficult" eastern enlargement.

Orbán said he had hoped that the start of accession negotiations would bring consolidation, but the momentum has been lost. Referring to the UN High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said that Bosnians must be allowed to sort out their own affairs, other countries must return this freedom to them. Nobody should tell Bosnia what to do, the people here will sort things out for themselves, he said. "I see the medal as an authorisation," he said, adding that in Hungary we say that there are two reasons for giving medals: because someone has done something or because they will do something afterwards. He sees himself in the latter category, he said in conclusion.

"Your schools, your churches and your cemeteries are in order"

After the ceremony, the two leaders held a press conference, at the beginning of which Dodik said that "we are celebrating the arrival of friends who are willing to cooperate with us", this is the eighth time that the two governments have met, and he hopes this would become even more frequent. There is cooperation in the agricultural and energy sectors, but there should also be cooperation in the field of education. He said that there are plans for Hungarian language teaching at the local university. Dodik said that he appreciated Orbán's "work to create a peaceful and secure world, to end war and to bring about peace".

Dodik also thanked the Hungarian government for the work done to enable Republika Srpska to negotiate on accession to the EU while preserving its autonomy. He added that they condemn attempts of foreign interference, such as that of the UN High Representative. Here Dodik handed the floor to Orban.

"When I take a good look around, I see that your schools, your churches and your cemeteries are in order."

– Orbán began, saying that this is what sets a community on the road to development. The Hungarian delegation brought with them serious companies looking for partnerships. One of the means of this will be the M6 motorway, which will soon be completed by the Hungarian side up to the border, with only the Croatian section left to be completed, which will contribute to even faster access between Hungary and the Bosnian Serb entity.

Orbán said that no country can be told it is independent and then have its life constantly interfered in by outsiders. "No country should be destabilised for the sake of foreign interests, the local population should be allowed to say what is important to them," the Hungarian prime minister said. Answering a question later on, he praised Dodik saying that he was "a constructive European leader, Europe should speak more highly of him". He added that Bosnia was a decentralised country and the will of the entities should be taken into account.

Orbán stressed that he is not alone in the EU in agreeing with Dodik. He can do so because he has a two-thirds majority at home, "those who do not say so openly don't do it because they don't have this kind of majority". He recalled that the Hungarian EU presidency is coming up soon and explained: "I have a special team that will deal only with the Western Balkans" and promised to visit the area a lot in the future. Finally, he said that the region was suffering doubly because of the war in Ukraine, as a fraction of the EU funds allocated to Ukraine could be used to develop a great many things in Bosnia.

In a statement issued by Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, who is also visiting Bosnia, the politician reported that an agreement had been signed about fifty Bosnian experts to be trained by the Hungarian Diplomatic Academy for the upcoming EU accession negotiations. "We are well aware that the accession process is a complicated one and that it requires proper expertise. That is why our experts are working here, alongside the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and why we are providing assistance for the training of diplomats and civil servants who will play a key role in the accession process," he explained.

The Bosnian reality

Bosnia and Herzegovina is made up of two entities or quasi-member states, and the leaders of the Republika Srpska have long advocated breaking away from the central leadership in Sarajevo (the Serbs have their own parliament, head of state and government).

Orbán arrived from Sarajevo to the seat of Republika Srpska in Banja Luka on Thursday evening, after which he and the Hungarian delegation attended an informal dinner and reception.

Back in January, we reported why the gesture of receiving the medal was likely to stir things up among the already uneasy ethnic groups living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but if anything, the atmosphere around the Republika Srpska (RS) and its leader Dodik has become even more tense since then.

Viktor Orbán has been on very good terms with Milorad Dodik, but this time he has counterbalanced his Bosnian friendship-building by first having talks in Sarajevo, the capital of the federation, on 4 April.

The Bosnian press reported that Elmedin Konaković, Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina received him at Sarajevo airport and the Hungarian delegation also met with Borjana Krišto, the Croat President of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Orbán then headed to Banja Luka to meet Milorad Dodik and receive the Order of Merit of the Republika Srpska.

Bosnia recently came very close to accelerating EU accession negotiations, but the Serbs, one of the three constituent ethnic groups of the state, are not so keen on Euro-Atlantic integration. Meanwhile, Dodik is on trial in Sarajevo for refusing to accept the veto power of UN High Representative Christian Schmidt over decisions of the national parliament.

Meanwhile, Viktor Orbán has made numerous gestures towards Dodik, who is also pro-Russian, which makes his award all the more understandable. After all, Hungary gave Republika Srpska a very favourable ten-year loan of 110 million euros (42 billion forints), and earlier it helped with a financial package of 35 million euros.

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