Hungary and Georgia

Hungary's reaction to the Russian-Georgian conflict is in line with that of the European Union. Given Hungary's energy needs and its reliance on Russian gas and oil the country can't afford to lash out against Russia. Moreover, as a member of the European Union it would be improper for Hungary to deviate from Union policy. However, I'm certain that the Hungarian government is duly shaken by Russia's revival as a military power.

It's not surprising that after a period of chaos and humiliation Russia would eventually recover and claim what it considers to be its rightful place among the great powers. The speed of its recovery is more surprising. The commodity boom certainly helped.

One major thorn in Russia's side has been the encroachment of NATO into areas that were either within its sphere of influence or part of the Soviet Union itself. Bad enough that the former satellite countries joined NATO, worse that the Baltic republics of the former Soviet Union also signed on. But lately there have been serious talks about Georgia and Ukraine becoming part of the western military alliance.

Of course, we don't know exactly why Russia sent troops into Georgia. But I assume one incentive was the hope that the pro-western Georgian government would collapse. When it didn't, the Russians kept postponing troop withdrawal. Perhaps, the Russians may have reasoned, as days went by the Georgian government's position would weaken and there might be some voices in Tbilisi calling for the resignation of Shaakisvili in exchange for a better deal with the Russians. Every day one heard that the Russian troops began withdrawal only to learn the next day that nothing had happened.

In Hungary everything that has to do with foreign policy sooner or later becomes an internal political fight between the government and its opposition. The Georgian case is no different. First came Viktor Orbán's very strong reaction to the Russian-Georgian conflict where he compared the Russian attack on Georgia to 1956. (Since then some American politicians have repeated this comparison, adding the 1968 Prague events for good measure.) Orbán and diplomacy don't mix. When he was prime minister he often behaved like a bull in the china closet. For a number of years I kept a cover of HVG, a very good weekly, that portrayed Orbán as a soccer player kicking a football sky high while his ineffectual foreign minister was trying to stop it with a tennis racket.

In any case, the Russian ambassador's reaction to Orbán's strong condemnation was equally ill-tempered. Ambassador Igor Savolski called Orbán a liar and expressed his "disgust" at hearing Orbán's attack on Russia. He accused him of Russia phobia. Orbán wasn't deterred; yesterday he wrote a letter to the prime ministers of Georgia, Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states in which he called Russia the aggressor and urged Georgia's acceptance into NATO. One can certainly argue about who was the aggressor and who wasn't, but it is somewhat odd that the leader of an opposition party who has no possible way of conducting the foreign policy of the country finds it appropriate to make such a move. Igor Savolski in response called Orbán an agent of the United States, adding that it is a good thing that the European Union doesn't follow Orbán's advice. Judging from the exchange between the Russian ambassador and Orbán it's not too hard to imagine how strained relations between Russia and Hungary would be under an Orbán-led government.

Meanwhile Mátyás Eörsi (SZDSZ) who reports to the European parliament on the region just returned from Georgia and saw no sign of any Russian withdrawal as of yesterday. Today Russian troops apparently withdrew from Gori. Somehow, I don't think that the Georgian-Russian conflict will end any time soon.

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Paul
Guest

Informative. but
saying that Hungary’s position “is in line with that of the European Union” doesn’t mean too much. There are very different position among EU states, from the Baltic and Polish leaders going to Tbilisi to support Georgia to ..well..others that don’t want to upset Russia.
You talk about Russia’s sphere of influence etc.. How about leaving these independent and sovereign countries to decide who they want to be friends with? If Hungary would want to reduce its dependency on Russian gases then it should consider more seriously the development of alternative energy routes. All around my country, the neighbors (Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary) fell in the “Russian camp”.

Julien Frisch
Guest

Mátyás Eörsi is reporting for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (press report: https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?Ref=PR591(2008) ) , not for the European Parliament.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “You talk about Russia’s sphere of influence etc.. How about leaving these independent and sovereign countries to decide who they want to be friends with?”
Sounds very nice, but let’s not be naive. As for alternative energy, at the moment the only reasonable solution is atomic energy and a lot of people don’t want that solution.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Julien Frisch: “Mátyás Eörsi is reporting for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (press report: https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?Ref=PR591(2008) ) , not for the European Parliament.”
Thank you, I heard Eörsi in a TV interview and normally the station stores the video for later use but this time they didn’t. Therefore I was unable to check his exact status.

Paul
Guest

“Sounds very nice, but let’s not be naive.”
It’s not about being naive. It’s about not continuously repeating the Russian mantra about their ‘near abroad’ and ‘sphere of influence’. By constructing a discourse in this way you automatically accept that it’s OK for the Russians to control and bully their neighbors.
There are other energy routes such as the Nabucco pipeline that Gyurcsány doesn’t seem very keen in supporting.
‘Hungary chooses Gazprom over EU’
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/12/news/hungary.php
With this kind of policies not wonder that they can’t take a clear stand in what regards Russian related issue.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “Informative. but saying that Hungary’s position “is in line with that of the European Union” doesn’t mean too much.”
OK, it would have been better to say that Hungary followes the policy adopted by the majority of the countries in the European Union. Poland and the Baltic states are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “By constructing a discourse in this way you automatically accept that it’s OK for the Russians to control and bully their neighbors. There are other energy routes such as the Nabucco pipeline that Gyurcsány doesn’t seem very keen in supporting.”
No, this is the only realistic way of looking at the situation. A powerful, large country will act this way regardless of what you or I think. As for Gyurcsány and the Nabucco pipeline, if the United States had its doubts about Gyurcsány’s attitude, it has changed its mind after Gyurcsány went to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to do his best to ensure Nabucco’s success. I wrote about this a few days ago. For Hungary it is important to have more than one source of energy, but the fact is that Nabucco is still very much up in the air.

Paul
Guest

Russia may try and act however it wants. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t get any reactions from the other countries. The construction and repetition of a discourse that sees Russian actions as something normal, even moral (Russia was weak, but now is powerful so it is normal to bully and invade its neighbors)leads to inaction in Europe and to self-defeatism on the longer term. Instead of acting as a block, a as union (as in European Union) each small European country looks and cries about how big and powerful Russia is and about how we can’t do anything about it.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t get any reactions from the other countries.”
It certainly should and receives it too. But not the way Viktor Orbán does it. It leads nowhere. It maybe even harmful.

NWO
Guest

Eva-
While not wanting to disagree with the main thrust of your post, I do want to note one interesting domestic side of Orban’s actions. Orban specifically criticized Magyar Nemzet for its explicitly anti-U.S. views. As you know, the rightwing in Hungary is sadly, among other things, generally anti-West. In fact, it is hard to find anything this faction is “pro”. Orban himself fell too far into the anti-U.S./anti-NATO camp around the time of the 2002 election, and as such the U.S. Ambassador at the time was fairly open in her support of the MSZP.
Now, by all appearances, Orban is trying to reposition himself more in line with mainstream conservatives in more normal parts of Europe. Orban is supportive of the missle deploument proposed for Poland, and for NATO expansion. These may or may not be the correct policies for Hungary. We can leave this for another discussion, but I do think it generally a welcome sign that he is trying to position himself in the Pro-West conservative camp instead of in the far right fringe anti-U.S. camp of Magyar Nemzet, MIEP, KDNP etc.

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