An article by: Dušan Proroković

Europe in the perspective that goes from Belgrade, passes through Budapest and arrives in Bratislava is very different from the one seen from Brussels

If you travel downstream, south, on the Danube from Budapest, you will reach Belgrade. If you travel upstream, west from Budapest, you will reach Bratislava. By the way, the Danube is a unique river because it flows through four major cities, in addition to the three mentioned, there is also Vienna, and not far from the Danube is Bucharest (according to the old project, the capital of Romania should be connected to the Danube by a canal about 75 km long). In a political sense, the Danube transversal Belgrade-Budapest-Bratislava appears today as problematic for Brussels, because the authorities of Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia stubbornly insist on the concept of sovereignty and the conduct of an autonomous foreign policy. This transversal is reinforced by Republic Srpska, the Serbian entity in B&H, whose leadership enjoys strong support not only from Serbia (which goes without saying), but also from Hungary.

Blossoming relations between Serbia and Hungary

Serbian-Hungarian relations are by far the best in history. The common challenges faced by the two peoples and the two states since 2014 have influenced the convergence of positions. First, a joint response to the migrant crisis was sought, then to the energy crisis at the moment when Bulgaria abandoned the implementation of the South Stream project, and finally a certain political balance was sought after the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis. In addition, within the framework of the Chinese BRI initiative, Hungary and Serbia applied for the first multilateral project (until then Chinese banks and investors favored bilateral projects) concerning the construction of the Budapest-Belgrade high-speed railway. Construction is going slower than expected, but parts of this road are already in use, and it is assumed that from 2026 it will take about two and a half hours to travel between the two capitals.

The victory of Robert Fico’s party in Slovakia has changed the balance of power

A new moment for Serbia and Hungary arose after the victory of Robert Fico’s party in the parliamentary elections in Slovakia in 2023. Robert Fico’s return to power also brought changes in the Slovak government’s view of the Ukrainian crisis. To a large extent, that was expected. And because of the mood of the population of Slovakia, which did not share the optimism of the previous authorities about unlimited support for Kiev, but also because it is very difficult to spread the anti-Russian narrative constructed in various Euro-Atlantic propaganda centers among Slovaks. However, the fact is that the Eurobureaucracy (or the Brussels deep state) did everything before the election and during the election campaign to prevent Fico from returning to power.

After all, Fico has some unresolved accounts precisely with the representatives of those structures from 2018, when he was forced to withdraw. The victory of his political option in the parliamentary elections was also confirmed in the just held presidential elections. The new president of Slovakia is Peter Pellegrini, the former president of the Parliament. After the first round, Pellegrini lagged behind the opponent of the pro-Western opposition, Ivan Korčok (37-42 in the percentage of votes won). Štefan Harabin finished in third place (with 12% of the votes), another “nightmare” for the neoliberal Eurobureaucracy. However, despite the fact that the overflow of votes from Harabin helped Pellegrini in the second round, it did not guarantee him victory. Because, in the second round of the presidential elections, 400,000 more voters voted than in the first round (which is a huge number in a country with a total of 4.4 million voters). Slovaks experienced the presidential elections as important, there is no doubt about that. The importance was reflected in the confirmation of Fico’s policy (if Pellegrini wins) or its delegitimization (if Korčok wins).

However, what is even more important from a foreign policy point of view, is that due to the confirmation or delegitimization of Fico’s policy, these elections were important for the EU and NATO. Interestingly, just before the first round of presidential elections, an incident broke out in relations between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Strained relations between Slovakia and the Czech Republic

The government of the Czech Republic, due to the position of the parliamentary majority in Bratislava on Ukraine, postponed further intergovernmental consultations with Slovakia. Shortly after the aforementioned decision of Petr Fiala’s cabinet, the Czech Prime Minister received the leader of the opposition “Progressive Slovakia” Michal Šimeček in Prague, while Robert Fico spoke with the former Czech President Vaclav Klaus in Bratislava. It goes without saying that in this dispute the Slovak opposition supports the Czech Republic, the former Czech president supports Slovakia. Apparently, from the interstate, the crisis spilled over to the internal plan. However, it can also be interpreted as how the bilateral relationship has been disrupted due to internal trends. This was only an integral part of the pre-election campaign in Slovakia, in which the Czech authorities were also directly involved. And for that, apart from proving loyalty to the USA and the Eurobureaucracy, official Prague had another big reason. The key internal political problem for the two Peters in Prague – President Pavel and Prime Minister Fiala is that fewer and fewer Czechs share their optimism about unlimited support for Kiev, Czech voters are much more inclined to Fico’s views, and the rating of Andrej Babiš, the recent prime minister, remains stable. It is not impossible that the likes of Fico and Babis will return to power in the next parliamentary elections. It is not impossible that in such a development of the situation, the Czech Republic will also change its view on the Ukrainian crisis. The views of Fico and Orban are much closer to Babiš than the views of Pavel and Fiala. Serbia’s foreign policy is completely understandable and even close to Babiš. This is a threat both to the current ruling majority in the Czech Republic and to the EU and NATO. Problematization of Czech-Slovakian bilateral relations was an attempt to prevent the victory of Pellegrini in the presidential elections in Slovakia. Time will show how realistic this development of the situation is, it just happened that the Hungarian-Serbian (geo)political axis was extended west towards Bratislava, and it seems that there are significant potentials for its further extension towards Prague. Hypothetically, in such a development of the situation, the problem would become much more serious for the EU and NATO, since the potential for the expansion of this axis to the south and southeast in the near future is also being observed. Through Belgrade, it is possible to influence not only Banja Luka, but also other Balkan capitals (in some of them the position of public opinion regarding continental and global issues is to the greatest extent similar to the position of public opinion in Serbia, Hungary and Slovakia, but there are no influential political structures that can materialize it in the elections), especially if the impulses are strengthened by joint action with Central European members of the EU and NATO.

A new solid foundation for the creation of the Danube Transversal in a plus format

The just concluded elections in Slovakia were more significant than it seems at first glance. Perhaps even more significant for the EU and NATO than for the Slovaks themselves. Solid foundations for the establishment of the Danube transversal now exist. Perspectives for the creation of the Danube transversal plus also exist. Whether it will happen and how that cooperation would be concreted depends on a whole series of factors!? However, the concept of sovereignty is still alive, despite all the efforts of the Eurobureaucracy to fundamentally de-sovereignize member states and candidate countries. And this also means that the demands for conducting an autonomous foreign policy are becoming louder. Why follow the US at all costs? Why the strategic confrontation with Russia? The EU is not Europe. Nor are the interests of the Euro-Atlantic community the same as the interests of European nations. If you start from Budapest along the Danube south towards Belgrade or west towards Bratislava, you will quickly understand this. The European reality can be seen better from the Danube and on the Danube than from the cabinet in Brussels.

Professor, PhD

Dušan Proroković