Sarkozy’s visit to Hungary

Considering that I complain that the Hungarian media spends little time on foreign policy issues and that my own field of interest was Hungarian foreign policy between the two world wars, I have admittedly neglected this topic. I promise that I will talk more about the socialist-liberal government’s efforts to carve out important diplomatic and economic alliances. Lately there has been a lot of activity: Angela Merkel was in Budapest, Gyurcsány was in China on an official visit, and today Nicolas Sarkozy was in the Hungarian capital for a quick visit. I didn’t have much time today to read all the papers, but by all accounts the visit was a great success. As one paper said, "the beginning of a wonderful friendship."

I must say that I’m not at all surprised that Sarkozy and Gyurcsány hit it off so well. They are somewhat similar in temperament. Both have boundless energy, both are full of reform plans, both think that Europe must change if it wants to compete with the U.S. and the Far East. Gyurcsány was so impressed with China’s progress that in his blog he half jokingly said that every European should be given money to travel to China to see what’s going on there. I’m sure Sarkozy knows that only too well.

Sarkozy on his father’s side is of Hungarian origin, although somehow I doubt that he thinks particularly fondly of his father who left his mother and the children when Nicolas was five years old. If Gyurcsány and Sarkozy had had more time to spend together, perhaps they could have compared fathers. Sarkozy’s father came from a gentry family and was not much of a father; Gyurcsány’s roots on his father’s side are from the same social strata, the lower nobility. Gyurcsány’s father drank, periodically abandoned the family, and when he returned was nothing but trouble. Put it this way, looking at the pictures of their encounter, you can see the chemistry working. For whatever reason, these two people like each other.

Sarkozy praised Gyurcsány profusely and emphasized the understanding between himself and the Hungarian prime minister in his speech in the Hungarian parliament (while Gyurcsány like a teenager blushed). On the other hand, Sarkozy smiled broadly when Gyurcsány talked about their mutual commitment to reforms. Sarkozy mentioned that though Gyurcsány is a socialist while he is not, this doesn’t seem to matter. They think alike. A French reporter asked whether Sarkozy managed "to steal Hungary from Germany," referring to the very close relationship between Hungary and Germany. I don’t know whether Sarkozy managed that, because German-Hungarian relations have traditional roots, but one thing is sure these: two men would like to establish a "strategic partnership."

Sarkozy’s day was busy. First, he went to see László Sólyom in the Sándor Palota where, not surprisingly, the two presidents talked about the environment. After lunch and discussions with Prime Minister Gyurcsány, he was supposed to meet Viktor Orbán for twenty minutes. According to the French delegation, Sarkozy left after five minutes. Péter Szijjártó, spokesman of Fidesz, first claimed in a television show that Sarkozy (who was supposed to arrive at  2:50 and leave at 3:15) actually arrived earlier to meet Viktor Orbán and therefore the two politicians spent at least the planned twenty minutes together.

However, when Szijjártó was asked by Népszabadság what the real situation was, the explanation was somewhat different. He explained that, according to protocol, it is not customary for a visiting dignitary to meet with the leader of the opposition. I guess this means that Orbán was especially honored when he was invited to meet with the French president. Moreover, said Szijjártó,  Sarkozy and Orbán have known each other for a long time and have good relations. As for the shorter than planned visit, the explanation was that the success of a meeting doesn’t depend on its length. From that I gather that the rumors that Orbán said something offensive to Sarkozy and that Sarkozy walked out of the meeting may have some foundation.