Gyurcsány’s great success with Sarkozy

According to the Hírszerző, a normally well informed on-line paper, the Sarkozy visit is considered such a success that the prime minister and his staff are in "seventh heaven." Sarkozy profusely praised the Hungarian prime minister both as a reformer and as a foreign policy strategist. He talked about "the two of us" who together will surprise Europe quite a few times with "our initiatives." At the same time Gyurcsány’s closest advisors consider last Friday "a black day" for Viktor Orbán. Whether Sarkozy spent only five minutes or twenty minutes with Orbán doesn’t really matter. One thing is sure: it was apparently not a successful encounter. There was, for example, no joint press conference, no photo op. Orbán gave a press conference alone; he didn’t look particularly comfortable or happy, and he described the encounter as "strange." He tried to explain the strangeness by saying that he knew Sarkozy long before he became president of France; now they are meeting in entirely different circumstances. I don’t know why this would cause any difference in their relationship, but this is Orbán’s secret.

A Hungarian foreign policy commentator today claimed that Sarkozy wanted to convey two important messages to Orbán that most likely were not well received. First, that the deep political divisions that Orbán has created are counterproductive and, second, that he should not have any relations with the far right. If Orbán’s answer to these messages, according to leaks, was that "this [i.e. the current state of political affairs in Hungary under Prime Minister Gyurcsány] is not democracy, this is worse than communism," then perhaps it is not at all surprising that the meeting was as brief as reported.

Why is the the upper echelon of the prime minister’s office so elated? First of all, because Sarkozy began his East European visit with Hungary. Second, because Sarkozy repeated several times that he finds Gyurcsány’s support of his brainchild, the Council of Sages, very important. The "sages" will ponder the future of Europe. Sarkozy emphasized that although Gyurcsány is a social democrat and he is not, they "share the will to modernize our countries, modernize Europe." Gyurcsány certainly received support from the French president for his reforms. He explained why he puts so much emphasis on reform: "If we look around, we see that economic development is fastest in those countries whose political leadership has introduced reforms and modernized. . . . This is our strategy. The prime minister and I completely agree on this point."

Unlike in France where, for obvious reasons, he plays up his "Frenchness," in Hungary Sarkozy made several references to his attachment to the country of his forefathers. He even mentioned Trianon and admitted that French policy makers in 1919 didn’t follow the wisest course in meting out such harsh terms to Hungary. However, he made it clear in his joint press conference with President László Sólyom, who most likely stressed Hungary’s commitment to the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries, that "for France peace and stability is very important, and France cannot accept any territorial demarcation or collective as opposed to individual rights." So, his encounter with Sólyom was most likely less pleasant than it was with Gyurcsány, in whom he obviously found a kindred soul and a future partner.