The Romans used to say "si vis pacem, para bellum", if you want peace, prepare for war. Now, though, the mantra "peace requires strength" resounds at every step.

Central Europe is our home, the centre of our lives and our thinking. Although for us it is the centre, it is also the periphery, as it is the eastern frontier of the European Union, which is now facing a war threat not seen for decades. The issue of security, with all its aspects, is back at the centre of our attention.

We share borders, we have more history with each other than with anyone else in the world, we feel memories and burdens of that every day. At the moment our governments have wildly different interpretations of world events, leading to a fragmentation of political relations on the eastern frontier. Accepting the fact that we are inextricably linked, it is only fitting that the challenges we face should be addressed jointly by independent newspapers, which is why we launched The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI). We want to amplify our voices by joining "Gazeta Wyborcza" from Poland, "SME" from Slovakia, PressOne from Romania, Bellingcat, a leading international player in OSINT journalism, to address the issues that affect the security of us all, because more than ever, we need to talk as deeply as possible about the issues that shape our future, because they do not stop at borders. This is what we have joined forces to do, and we have won a grant from the European Commission.

The most important event since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been - from the perspective of the European media - Russia launching an invasion against Ukraine. In 2022, for the first time since the outbreak of the World War II, armed conflict between two states broke out on the continent, directly or indirectly impacting the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The resultant shift in geopolitical power relations and the transformation of the world economy are experienced first-hand, and the thesis that security is the basis of everything has become a much more tangible proposition.

Sine Cura, no problem

Anybody wishing to unpick exactly what security truly covers has bitten off far more than they chew. But what is certain is that it is so much more than not being forced to flee to a shelter at the sound of air-raid sirens. Security may be a goal, a situation, a feeling, a certain quality of life, or a thousand other things that differ from age to age, from social group to social group, and from location to location. It is extremely complex, rapidly evolving, and fundamentally determines our daily lives, from whether we have reliable access to economic goods or (public) services, to whether we need fear attack – be it military attack, cyber-attack, or information warfare – or even whether we can walk home alone at night listening to music with complete peace of mind, or we must fake a phone call and look back over our shoulder.

We live in a globally and regionally integrated – and exposed – country of limited resources. Our energy dependence has, since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, declined, although not due to increased domestic production, but through a reduction in consumption. Our demographic indicators point towards a bleak future: we are shrinking and ageing. Eurostat forecasts that Hungary’s population will fall below nine million by 2080. Not only will this destabilise labour market conditions and social welfare systems but may also change our voting weight in the European Council, as it is population based. Nor can we take much comfort from the fact that the same data suggests that the Polish, Slovak, and Romanian populations are likely to dwindle at a much faster rate than our own.

The country’s unique geographical positioning means the potential exists for us to become a regional hub as a transit country and, at the same time, we are also vulnerable to our neighbours, we need only think of the pollution of the river Tisza. When it comes to our immediate security environment, we – understandably – focus almost automatically on Ukraine, yet it is also worth casting a watchful eye over the Western Balkans from time to time. Despite years of relative calm, tensions smoldering beneath the surface flare up on occasions, with, just this last year, soldiers serving in Kosovo suffering serious injuries in a riot. The Hungarian government, indirectly, plays its role in maintaining the levels of these tensions.

The Romans used to say "si vis pacem, para bellum", if you want peace, prepare for war. Now, though, the mantra "peace requires strength" resounds at every step: we procure weapons, we produce weapons, we go to Chad, we build peace, we defend our borders, we defend our values, we defend our sovereignty, yet scant attention is paid to the broader context of all this beyond these empty platitudes.

In the meantime, from the point of view of international migration, we are simultaneously a country of emigrants, migrants, and immigrants. Yet "migrant" is almost a dirty word in public discourse. For the last decade, the government has been scaremongering about street and social violence by migrants with indefensible language, and, as a result, the potential recruitment of the hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers that the Hungarian economy needs is faltering.

The impacts of climate change will also be felt here in more varied ways than just the recent chain of record-breaking temperatures: the desertification of the Alföld, the effects of more extreme weather patterns (rain, wind, and temperature) on agriculture, and the increase in migration will all affect the quality of our everyday lives. Meanwhile – in the name of the green transition – a succession of battery factories is being constructed in Hungary, despite the protests of the local people, which, to put it mildly, are barely registering on the government’s radar.

You can’t go at it alone

No matter against whom our government’s current war of freedom – in our names – is being waged, Hungary’s well-being and security cannot be separated from either the European Union or NATO, as our international room for manoeuvre is thoroughly determined by these two organisations. Without them, the sovereignty of the country cannot be guaranteed. The questions must be posed as to what extent our vision of the future overlaps with the visions of the other members of our union; to what extent is the externally projected Hungarian vision a common one; and, to what extent is this vision politically invented and/or misappropriated by a certain group only to be proclaimed as our common vision.

Although the challenges confronting a Central European country the size of Hungary align with many of the challenges identified by NATO and the EU, they are not identical. Each of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has followed its own trajectory and now remains saddled not only with their own problems but also with their own perceptions about how to address the problems affecting the whole union.

In the European Union today, four countries can be found which border a Ukraine under attack from nuclear power Russia: Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Slovakia. These four countries form the eastern frontier of the European Union. Together with independent editorial teams from each of the other three countries, Poland’s "Gazeta Wyborcza", Slovakia’s "SME", Romania’s "PressOne", as well as major international force in investigative journalism Bellingcat, we are working under the banner of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) to cover events ranging from military security, through energy and information security, to human security in order to describe the events and examine the interconnections that affect every corner of our lives.


This article was written in the framework of The Eastern Frontier Initiative (TEFI) project. TEFI is a collaboration of independent publishers from Central and Eastern Europe, to foster common thinking and cooperation on European security issues in the region. The project aims to promote knowledge sharing in the European press and contribute to a more resilient European democracy.

Members of the consortium are 444 (Hungary), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), SME (Slovakia), PressOne (Romania), and Bellingcat (The Netherlands).

The TEFI project is co-financed by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.