Courting the United States: New Fidesz strategy?

It is a well known fact that Viktor Orbán and George W. Bush are not bosom buddies. Commentators put forth different theories about the origin of the conflict: the Orbán government’s rather close relations with the antisemitic MIÉP, Csurka’s speech in parliament after 9/11 in which he practically said that the United States got what it deserved (done without any reprimand). Some people mention the sudden decision to buy Gripen airplanes instead of the American ones. Perhaps the cumulative effect of all the above but, in any case, Bush refused to receive Orbán in the White House. On the other hand, the socialist-liberal governments (both Medgyessy and Gyurcsány) have had good relations with the United States.

Thus far Orbán and the right, especially the far right, have been anti-American. The far right because of American support of Israel and because basically they don’t approve of the evil capitalism that the United States represents. They also are against globalization, which again they associate with the United States. The right is also against the European Union and NATO, which they consider an arm of the United States. The extreme right emphasizes the differences that separate the Hungarians from the Indo-European West–the runic writings, the shamans, the sumers, and the Asiatic origins. (Half of this is humbug, of course.)

Now, Orbán seems to be disassociating himself and his party from the extreme right. Four different Fidesz politicians condemned those who threatened to block one of the bridges between Buda and Pest. Orbán in his October 23 speech put special emphasis on Hungary as a western nation. In fact, the East, the Asiatic barbarism in the form of Soviet bolshevism, was squarely condemned, and current Hungarian-Russian relations were pictured as a great danger for the country and for Europe. Gyurcsány’s Hungary–according to Orbán and his fellow politicians–is a "bastion of Putin’s Russia." Of course, this is nonsense, but this seems to be the new strategy. To court the United States in the hope that perhaps it can be convinced of the evil bolshevik intentions of Gyurcsány as an instrument of Putin’s Russia. I don’t think that this new strategy promises great results from the Fidesz’s point of view.

The courting is conducted through two channels. One in Hungary and the other in the United States. Zsolt Németh, former undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry in the Orbán cabinet and at present the chairman of the parliament’s foreign relations committee, is currently spending a couple of weeks in the United States. There he has given at least two speeches: one in the Hudson Institute and the other in the Pacific Council on International Policy (Los Angeles). In these speeches Németh called on the United States to support the new democracies in Eastern Europe and to share military information with them. Admittedly, Németh said, the United States is most likely afraid that these countries’ national security organizations are still full of bolshevik agents, but the United States should help Hungary, for example, to get rid of these people. Western Europe–again according to Németh–doesn’t really understand the "new Europe" but the United States does. The United States should play a greater role in NATO because Putin’s Russia clearly has evil intentions. This seems to many a complete turnabout.

Spearheading this pro-American stance in Hungary seems to be Tibor Navracsics, the leader of the Fidesz delegation in parliament.  April H. Foley, the American ambassador to Hungary, visited Hódmezővásárhely, a Fidesz stronghold, in the company of mayor and parliamentary member János Lázár and Navracsics. There "negotiations" took place between the Hungarians and the American ambassador concerning agricultural developments in the region, green energy, and research in the field of agriculture. They also talked about the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and an antismoking campaign. According to Ms Foley the people of Hódmezővásárhely and the Americans can work together very well in the fields of agriculture and healthcare. According to Tibor Navracsics, "the United States’s presence in Hungary is vitally important to Hungary. A stable democracy cannot take root without them." Lázár, who is a Fidesz member of the parliamentary committee on national defense, emphasized that Hungary is doing a splendid job within the NATO and that in 2008 Hungary will enlarge its contingent in Afghanistan.

There are a couple of problems with this newest turnabout. It is not very convincing in light of the last few years of anti-American rhetoric. Also, the Fidesz media still hasn’t quite realized the change, and the old anti-American slogans are still abundant in their publications. One might also mention that American-Russian relations are somewhat ambiguous at the moment and who knows what will happen in the future, especially when Bush is no longer president of the United States.