Today is one of those days when I could have picked three or four equally interesting topics and reluctantly I had to settle on only one: the yearly gathering of the Hungarian ambassadors. The event, lasting a whole day, is normally attended by the prime minister and the foreign minister who give speeches outlining the direction of Hungarian foreign policy. A meeting of this sort a few months after a government takes office is much more important than at other times. Especially since this government is promising an entirely new foreign policy.
Of course, the most important speech was that of Viktor Orbán and I must say I found his messsage somewhat frightening. It is bad enough that Orbán in his intoxication with his electoral victory tells the Hungarian people that 2010 is "an exceptional year for Hungarians … because they regained their self-determination." But when on the basis of this obvious fallacy he says that because of this "radical change in power relations" Hungarian diplomacy has "new opportunities" one gets a bit worried. I for one don't see the connection between the two. A country's interests don't change with every change of government, and the geopolitical position of a country will not change because there is a new prime minister.
One can certainly shift emphasis in the conduct of a country's foreign policy, but one cannot radically change its course. For example, the fact that Hungary belongs to the European Union or that Hungary's neighbors for historical reasons are suspicious of Budapest are givens. That Hungary belongs to NATO is another given. Therefore, talk of a radical change in Hungarian foreign policy is, I assume, largely empty rhetoric. Of course, if Orbán and János Martonyi, the foreign minister, are planning to go through with truly radical change the results might be regrettable. Just as they were by the end of the first Orbán government in 2002.
How does Orbán see the world? In a peculiar way. According to him "the economic crisis is the result of the formation of a new world order and therefore the [Hungarian] government's goal is not to handle the crisis because in [their] opinion the world by the time the crisis ends will not be the same as before. Therefore the government's pursuit is economic growth, the growth of the GDP and of employment." By definition the world will not be the same tomorrow, next week, or next year as it is today. But that does not mean that one can ignore present reality and hitch one's wagon to an unknown and unknowable future.
What kind of Hungarian foreign policy would Viktor Orbán like to see in this new world order? Hungary needs "a much more courageous, much more aggressive foreign policy; we have to take the initiative more." I'm especially worried about the "more aggressive" (támadóbb jellegű) foreign policy. Aggressiveness is usually met with aggressiveness on the other side and such a foreign policy might result in isolation. Something like what happened between 1998 and 2002 when Viktor Orbán was considered to be "a pariah in western capitals," to quote The Washington Post's editorial of a couple of months ago.
What does Viktor Orbán consider a "courageous foreign policy" to be? The best example he found was breaking off negotiations with the IMF. He repeated that the IMF loan was necessary to save the country economically in the fall of 2008, but the agreement with the IMF was simply a loan contract and not "economic cooperation" (gazdaságpolitikai együttműködés). "Such economic cooperation must be concluded with the European Union."
There is only one problem with the economic policy Orbán outlined: it is unlikely that the European Union's attitude toward the Hungarian deficit will be any more lenient than the IMF's was. Most analysts actually claim that negotiations with the European Union will be a great deal more difficult than they would have been with the IMF. Only yesterday an interview with Ollie Rehn, the European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, appeared in which he made it crystal clear that Hungary "can't afford" to delay efforts to narrow its budget deficit. "In a period when the rest of EU-member countries are on the road of fiscal consolidation, Hungary can't afford to deviate from this path." That doesn't sound too promising for what Orbán has in mind.
In comparison to Orbán's speech János Martonyi was the embodiment of sanity, but if one has followed the affairs of the region of late one must conclude that the Hungarian foreign minister greatly exaggerates on several points. For example, he claims that cooperation among the Visegrád countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary) is so close and intimate that "some people within the Union are worried about the creation of a bloc and therefore they consider its existence a risk [to the Union]." Well, I doubt that too many people would consider Slovak-Hungarian relations intimate. Lately there even seem to be serious strains in the relations between the Budapest government and the representatives of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.
Martonyi further emphasized the excellent relations between Hungary and Romania and how important it is for Hungary that Croatia will soon be a member of the Union. "Yet, when it comes to [Hungary's] Central European foreign policy one must always take into consideration the 'national dimension' (nemzetpolitikai dimenzió)." In plain language the question of the Hungarian minorities takes priority in all questions when it comes to relations with the neighboring countries. And that doesn't sound too promising.