Yesterday after I received numerous comments on my post on Orbán's alleged "negotiations" with Putin, I was inclined to agree with some of you that perhaps I wasn't concentrating on the really important issue. Possibly it isn't important whether the meeting between Putin and Orbán actually took place or how long it lasted if it did occur. The real issue is Viktor Orbán's attitude toward Vladimir Putin's Russia. I had to agree with the comment that " Putin's authoritarian 'democracy' where one really has a strong man leader with the veneer of democracy on the surface, is a political philosophy likely to be near and dear to Orbán's heart. This seems like a relationship made in heaven." Perhaps I concentrated on a minor issue: on Orbán's truthfulness instead of the kind of regime Orbán dreams of, which bears a suspicious resemblance to that of Putin. Or that of Miklós Horthy for that matter.
Although I still think that the above quoted comment makes a very valid point and perhaps we ought to discuss it sometime, yesterday's events strengthen my belief that after all it wasn't a waste of time to probe into the circumstances of this "mystery meeting" as Hírszerző called it. A bombshell hit the Hungarian media yesterday. Two days ago a picture appeared on the Russian prime minister's official website showing Putin and Gyurcsány accompanied by their wives having dinner in a Ukrainian restaurant in Moscow the day before. While Hungarian journalists were searching in vain for some documentation of the Putin-Orbán meeting, here is proof that a few days later Vladimir Putin and his wife spent two hours together with Gyurcsány and his wife. This had to be a blow to the Hungarian opposition party and its chairman especially since rumors were circulating, most likely not independently from Fidesz rumor mongering, that Russia is getting ready for an Orbán government and is preparing to sever or at least loosen ties with the socialists. Viktor Orbán himself alluded to a certain ideological affinity between his and Putin's party when he gave an interview on MTV's new early morning program "Ma Reggel" yesterday. Orbán emphasized that although Putin's party "doesn't copy anybody but builds its own culture . . . basically [United Russia] is a conservative party." During the forty years of the Kádár regime "Russian-Hungarian relations were in the hands of the communists and therefore they know the Russians better in addition to having more personal contacts" in Moscow. However, "that is what [he] tried to end, in [his] opinion successfully," during his negotiations with Putin.
If Orbán indeed succeeded and managed to turn the conservative Putin away from his old socialist friends, it is mighty strange that a few days later the Putin and Gyurcsány families were having a jolly good time over dinner in a Moscow restaurant.
As soon as the news about the Putin-Gyurcsány get together hit Budapest, members of the media got in touch with Ferenc Gyurcsány. He explained to them that the original dinner engagement was originally scheduled for September but because of Gyurcsány's sport injury the meeting had to be postponed. To the inquiry about the possible "new foundations" of Russian-Hungarian relations that Viktor Orbán tried to establish in St. Petersburg, Gyurcsány gave this answer: "On the basis of what I learned about Viktor Orbán's meeting in St. Peterburg, I think it is better for Viktor Orbán if I don't say anything. I consider this the most elegant answer." He added that he was convinced that in the next five months there will be a high-level meeting between the two countries in Moscow.
Yesterday's interview with Orbán on "Ma Reggel" was quite long and János Betlen asked him about all sorts of issues, including the by now infamous visit to St. Petersburg. First, Orbán insisted that he received the invitation not as one of the vice-chairmen of the European People's Party but as "chairman of Fidesz." Betlen seemed to be surprised but Orbán insisted. When asked about the duration of the meeting Orbán first answered rather vaguely: "It was long and thorough." Betlen wasn't satisfied and asked: "More than half an hour?" Answer: "More, yes. More than that, of course." Question: "More than an hour?" Answer: "Well, perhaps not that long … but it is not like a soccer match and one doesn't clock the time…." He then recalled that he had five or six points about which he definitely wanted to mention and he managed to cover them all.
A few days ago Orbán came out with an extravagant promise: he and his government will create an "energy independent Hungary" in twenty years. According to all experts this is no more than a pipe dream. What Betlen wanted to know was how Putin reacted to this plan. After all, it would not be to Russia's advantage if Hungary no longer needed to import natural gas or oil. Great was Betlen's surprise when he heard from Orbán that Putin was outright elated learning about this Fidesz plan. In fact, he told Orbán that Russia "will help" Hungary to achieve this goal. "Really?" asked Betlen. The answer was rather muddled but it seems that since Hungary's nuclear power plant at Paks was built with Soviet help and technology and because the Hungarian government is planning to double Paks's capacity in the near future Russia will have a part to play in the construction. Thus, in this way Russia will assist Hungary to become an "energy independent" country. Should I continue? I don't think it is necessary. Everybody should get the idea.
An internet newspaper www.stop.hu learned from a diplomat who was also present at the conference of United Russia that in his opinion there was no way Orbán could possibly have had a private interview with Putin. Apparently there was a huge reception for delegates and guests, and Putin stopped here and there and exchanged a few words with the participants. Thus most likely also with Orbán.
I find it hard to believe that Putin could possibly have had more than half an hour to spend with the leader of a small country's opposition party on a day filled with official obligations. He was one of the speakers at the congress that lasted at least four or five hours. Then there was the reception for 2,000 at which he had to play host. I'm afraid Viktor Orbán is not telling the truth. And that is a very serious problem. This is not some lily-white lie but rather, I believe, the sign of a serious character fault. Can one trust a man who sees the world through a very distorted lens? I don't think so.