Viktor Orbán and the European Union

I read everything I could about Viktor Orbán's foreign travels since he became prime minister on May 31. Way before his inauguration he must have arranged a trip for the very next day to Poland. This was a break with his predecessors whose first trips were to Vienna, Paris, or Berlin. Surely, he wanted to underscore his administration's foreign policy goals that were intended to develop some kind of East European Polish-Romanian-Hungarian-Serbian-Croatian axis. The alleged aim of such an axis is strengthening the bargaining power of the region within the European Union. However, Viktor Orbán here and there talked about more far-reaching aims as well. For example, about an Eastern European central bank and an extensive infrastructure connecting these countries.

Polish-Hungarian friendship is legendary, and diplomats in the Fidesz orbit complained that the socialists neglected Poland. I don't know whether this accusation is accurate, but one thing is sure: it is unlikely that Hungary was too eager to have very close relations with the Poland of the Kaczynski brothers. I do remember that when President Kaczynski came to Budapest, the Hungarian prime minister was too busy to meet with him. Mind you, no other European country was an admirer of the twins. Orbán himself has rather strong ties to Poland, dating back to his student days when the Solidarity movement was greatly admired in Hungarian democratic circles. In fact, Orbán wrote his final paper on Solidarity and while working on it he made a valiant attempt to learn Polish. Given the difficulty of the language, I'm not surprised that he didn't manage.

The Warsaw visit had to be a real trip for Orbán. A military honor guard, a long private talk with Donald Tusk and the acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski. He even found time to meet Jaroslaw Kaczynski, now in opposition, with whom he has a lot in common. The more conservative Polish papers wrote glowing articles about his trip. One of them even noted that it was a Polish professor who urged Orbán and his friends to establish Fidesz as a student movement.

Therefore it had to be quite a let-down to go from Warsaw to Brussels and hear the bad news about the European Union's insistence on the 3.8% budget deficit for 2010. In Brussels he met everyone who mattered: Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council; Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament; and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of NATO. However, these meetings were perfunctory and fairly meaningless. He arranged ahead of time to meet six members of the European Council, all representing conservative parties and all coming from Eastern Europe. He asked them to help his cause but to no avail. The Union was adamant about the reduction of the deficit.

On June 17 Orbán went to Brussels again because the leaders of the Union had a summit to discuss the economic strategy to be followed after the world economic crisis that hit Europe badly. We don't know whether Orbán played any role in the discussions because he wasn't very talkative at the press conference he gave to Hungarian journalists. The only thing of interest he said was that "Hungary is at the forefront as far as the speed of changes necessary to remedy the situation." That was an exaggeration because at that point the Hungarian government had simply announced the "action plan" consisting of 29 points but no action had taken place.

Let's see now the list of politicians who have visited Budapest so far during Orbán's tenure as prime minister. On July 20 the Czech prime minister had a conversation with Orbán in Budapest. The Flemish prime minister visited Budapest at the end of August. In early September the Bavarian prime minister was supposed to come but he cancelled the trip because of the plane crash in Bavaria. In the middle of September the Finnish prime minister, Mari Johanna Kiviniemi, arrived and she was blunter than most politicians paying a visit to a foreign country. She announced that "first and foremost the Finnish investors would like to see stable economic conditions." In addition, she emphasized the necessity of a unified European market. I'm sure that she was aware that Orbán would dearly like to defend the Hungarian market from foreign invaders.

Where did Orbán go besides Warsaw and Brussels? He went to Berlin and had a less than satisfactory talk with Angela Merkel. In addition, he went to Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia. A few days ago he returned to Brussels, where on October 29 the decision was made to create a permanent system for handling any sovereign debt crises that might occur after 2013. There was no agreement on what this permanent system should be. France and Germany would like to make serious changes while some of the economically weaker countries want as few alterations as possible. I gathered from the statement of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry's undersecretary in charge of European Union Affairs that the Hungarian foreign policymakers expected resistance to the suggestions of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy and counted Hungary among the countries resisting major change. The undersecretary predicted that there will be practically no change to the existing structure.

So great was my surprise when I read that Viktor Orbán while in Brussels announced that "there is a need to alter the basic construction of the Union … we must restore the principle of responsibility … we must introduce sanctions." It seems that Orbán's attitude has changed in the last few days. He decided to stand by Merkel and Sarkozy. Quite a change from a man who not long ago tried to convince Barroso to allow him to have a 7.5% budgetary deficit, twice the size of the one agreed upon.

In connection with this new attitude, Orbán tried to endear himself to Nicolas Sarkozy who was severely criticized by Viviane Reding, the vice-president of the European Union. He gave a press conference during which he came to France's rescue, saying that "France is a proud country and Madame Reding insulted France and one cannot do that without repercussions." I don't know whether that will change Sarkozy's negative attitude toward Orbán. When Sarkozy visited Budapest in 2007 he was supposed to have a fairly long conversation with Orbán, the chairman of the biggest opposition party. Fidesz prepared for the meeting with a certain amount of fanfare. Sarkozy arrived and five minutes later he left after patting Orbán on the back. The nonplussed Orbán stood at the door with a confused smile on his face.

And finally, Orbán announced a couple of days ago that he as the next president of the EU from January 1, 2011, will visit the capitals of all twenty-six countries. That is certainly a novel move. I don't remember the prime ministers of Slovenia, the Czech Republic, France, Belgium, just to mention a few countries that held the presidency recently, visiting all the capitals of the EU members. Perhaps Orbán feels neglected and hopes to be able to make his diplomatic rounds this way.

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Julie
Guest

To chivvy a bit–as a native English speaker, Polish is a challenge that can be overcome. Hungarian, however, defeats me at every turn! I’m very impressed by those with a command of both.
I’m so glad I found this blog; I’m very interested in current affairs in Hungary. It’s difficult to find thoughtful analysis in English.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Julie, welcome! Actually I was defeated by Polish as a graduate student. That’s why the remark.
Hungarian is a very difficult language, but to my great surprise I find more and more foreigners who learned it very well. I met a few Americans who attended the army’s famous Monterey language school but there are many who picked it up in Hungary. Many of them speak Hungarian very well. Perhaps the best I ever heard was a German. Just the slightest accent, perfect grammar and excellent vocabulary. So, it can be done but I’m sure it is not easy.

Paul
Guest
Welcome Julie. As you say, this blog is a lifeline for those of us who care about Hungary but don’t speak Hungarian. But you’ll soon find that your description of it containing “thoughtful analysis” is not shared by our pet Fidesz trolls! As for the tired old statement that Hungarian is so difficult – this isn’t really correct. True, for me, a native English speaker who is crap at languages and far from his first flush of youth, Hungarian is a nightmare (but a very interesting nightmare!). But, seen as a language on its own, it’s actually a lot easier than most others. If you had to start from scratch, I’m sure you’d find Hungarian a lot easier to pick up than (say) English. For a start, it’s phonetic – if you can speak Hungarian and know your letters/sounds, you can read it. There are no spelling bees in Hungarian! It is also a much more regular language than, for instance, English (in fact I’m coming to suspect that English is actually the most irregular language in the world!). And it has a much smaller vocabulary, with far fewer confusions over words that mean the same thing (almost!), or are… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest
Paul: “There are no spelling bees in Hungarian! It is also a much more regular language than, for instance, English (in fact I’m coming to suspect that English is actually the most irregular language in the world!).” Sure, spelling really slows down even native-speakers learning to read and write. But I’m kind of visual. I write down a word, take a look at it and I say to myself this doesn’t look right. Thus, with few exceptions, I have no problem. However, it is true that it is difficult to learn idiomatic English and most likely one has to live in an English-speaking country for an extended period of time to be comfortable with it. I would say that speaking English without an accent is almost impossible above a certain age. I used to draw the line around age of fourteen but I might have been too generous. The wealth of English vocabulary is very impressive and the shades of meanings are terribly important. It is really annoying when some people at the Hungarian wire service whose English is less than perfect picks the first Hungarian equivalent of an English word in the dictionary and he thinks that’s all is… Read more »
Kevin Moore
Guest

The claim about Sárközy leaving Orbán after five minutes, I could say, is wrong.
Seeing the author’s exhaustive work on Orbán’s meetings, I must think this untrue claim was deliberate. The source of this claim is Gábor Demszky, and he simply lied about it. Here’s a source with explanation on the Sárközy-Orbán meeting:
http://mandiner.blog.hu/2007/09/15/sarkozy_esete_a_magyar_europeerekkel
Julie: let me suggest you don’t give up your endeavour in finding more English language sources about Hungary. This blog is an extremist Fidesz-hater, you will see ABSOLUTELY nothing else here than bashing of the current government, this is so one-sided. Don’t believe everything you see here – Or, as I’d rather say, never believe anything. Its primary attempt is to mislead people. Keep on reading, the more sources you can find the better.

Paul
Guest
Translating between the two languages is a minefield. There are very few decent English translations of Hungarian books, for instance. And at the ‘everyday’ level (menus, tourist flyers, etc) it often degenerates into the farcical – a few years ago I found a leaflet in the Tourinfo shop in Debrecen that described the city as “Hungary’s most Easter city”! But the problem isn’t just the vocabulary (I imagine this is much harder the other way round too – trying to find a Hungarian word or phrase that conveys the exact nuance/cultural reference of the original English word), it’s the convoluted sentence structure used so often in Hungarian. And this seems to get worse the ‘higher’ up you go – almost as if cramming as many clauses and sub-clauses into a single sentence is regarded as a sign of high literature in Hungarian. Reading texts that have been translated too literally is sometimes like trying to decipher complex computer code – trying to tie up each sub-clause to the original clause or sub-clause it relates to. But at least in computer code you get brackets to help you! From memory (my copy’s in Hungary), Kontler’s ‘Millennium in Central Europe’ is a… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Szilárd, I notice you don’t suggest any other sources. I wonder why.
And I’m sure Julie will soon make her own mind up as to who is “so one-sided”.
You really shouldn’t make these wild inflammatory statements, when the evidence to the contrary is all around you. A few minutes spent reading this blog disproves just about all your adjectives.
You don’t do yourself or Fidesz any favours by posting these crazy OTT claims, that can so easily be shown up to be wrong, so why do you do it?
For all you know, Julie might be sympathetic towards OV and Fidesz (as I was when I first posted on here). Your posts will do nothing to help her stay this way.
Every time you post on here, you drive another nail into OV’s political coffin. You may not realise but your handlers at Fidesz HQ certainly should.
But then, why do I complain? Such blatant incompetence at least gives us hope.

Paul
Guest

Getting back on topic:
“He decided to stand by Merkel and Sarkozy.”
A wise decision, considering his stature.

NWO
Guest

I would like Orban to spend more time in Poland. He might actually learn that reforming a Central European country successfully is possible, and a commitment to the market, smaller government and levels of government debt and private property helps. He might also learn the real value that private pensions can play, as one can see by the development of the Polish capital markets over the past decade (the absolute size of the country helps a lot here admittedly). The irony is that at the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s, Poland was a clear laggard in the region, and it was the common view that it was purely for political reasons that Poland was able to join the EU in 2004 when the country did not meet many of the criteria strictly speaking. Since then, however, Poland has really committed to reform, while we all know what Hungary has done. Now one goes to Warsaw or a handful of regional cities and feels and sees the positive changes that have happened and understands the real optimism in the country. After spending time in Hungary, the contrast could not be starker.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kevin Moore: “Seeing the author’s exhaustive work on Orbán’s meetings, I must think this untrue claim was deliberate.”
Sure, I’m deliberately lying. Your favorite words: lie, lying. Everybody lies who says something you don’t agree with.
As I mentioned earlier. I’m very lucky because I’m blessed with exceptionally good memory. While I checked Orbán’s recent travels I relied on my memory on Sarkozy’s Budapest visit in 2007. But now I decided to look it up. According to a Népszabadság article, the meeting was scheduled to last twenty minutes, but after about five minutes Sarkozy left. When Péter Szijjártó, Fidesz spokesman, was asked why the meeting ended earlier than scheduled his answer was that “the success of a meeting doesn’t depend on how long it lasts.” Thus if the story of the shorter than scheduled meeting was a brazen lie of Gábor Demszky, mayor of Budapest, then it would have been logical of Szijjártó to say: “What are you talking about? They spent twenty minutes together as originally planned.”
I will put up the picture that accompanies the article taken when Sarkozy was bidding goodbye to Orbán. The picture tells the whole story. The article can be found here: http://nol.hu/archivum/archiv-464154

Kevin Moore
Guest

What you write based on the report of Szabad Nép completely contradicts the report of Mandiner.
And I don’t have to think about it for a second which one to believe.

Kevin Moore
Guest
One more thing: “Everybody lies who says something you don’t agree with.” Facts are not a question of opinions. You should finally become able to distinguish between opinions and facts. It’s opinions you can agree with or not. Whether a meeting lasts 10 minutes or 20 minutes is not an opinion, it is a fact. You can be either right or wrong in talking about it. If one claims an untrue fact, not knowing it is untrue, she/he is wrong then. If one claims a fact despite knowing it is untrue, she/he is lying then. Regardless if you did it now or not, I’m now talking in general. Opinions may be formed on facts but if facts are not acknowledged, it is not a question of agreeing or not. If I say “red” about a white wall, it’s not right to call that my opinion, but it’s right to question either my eyesight, my mental abilities, or my grasp of the basic concept of what “red” means. Either way, I’m wrong or lying. Welcome to the basic meaning of words. This is what makes it practically impossible to argue with people like you. I’m referring now to what you wrote… Read more »
An
Guest

@Kevin: The problem here it is in this case the fact comes from two different sources: one is saying that the meeting was cut short, the other saying that Sarkozy arrived early so the meeting wasn’t cut short. The only way we could see the bare facts is that if we saw the minutes of the meeting with our own eyes (which I guess would include the exact starting and finishing times). Unless you have access to the evidence yourself, you always rely on what other people are saying or reporting about the event.
It just seems that you think the Mandiner blog is a more reliable source of information than Nepszabadsag… and that’s your opinion.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An, Mandiner is a right-wing blog. I put more store into the Népszabadság story because of what Szijjártó said when asked about the short duration of the meeting. If Mandiner’s story were correct Szijjarto would have said: “What are you talking about? The meeting was as long as was planned.” But no, this is not what he said.

An
Guest

@Eva: Whether the meeting was cut short or not, that certainly is an interesting picture (the one you posted in your comment).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “@Eva: Whether the meeting was cut short or not, that certainly is an interesting picture (the one you posted in your comment).”
Very interesting.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “@Eva: Whether the meeting was cut short or not, that certainly is an interesting picture (the one you posted in your comment).”
Very interesting.

Kevin Moore
Guest

An: right. I wasn’t referring to the current matter in my explanation of the meanings of these basic words. I was rather talking in general.

Pete H.
Guest

Well Kevin in a general sense I am sure Julie learned something about you from your acerbic diatribe regarding the nature of truth. She’s probably ready to abandon this site and since you’ve proven yourself to be such a charmer, she might even join you on a date at a Fidesz gathering.
Since, Eva was simply using a different source than you, you owe her an apology for claiming she lied (“I must think this untrue claim was deliberate : If one claims a fact despite knowing it is untrue, she/he is lying then.”).

Kevin Moore
Guest

“Since, Eva was simply using a different source than you, you owe her an apology for claiming she lied”
Yes, sure. 🙂 I may have been wrong in thinking her untrue claim was deliberate. I was probably wrong in considering her work on Orbán’s meetings exhaustive. All my bad. 🙂

Alias3T
Guest

Actually, the story of Sarko snubbing Orban is true. I was hearing about it more or less as soon as it happened, long before it was printed anywhere. Orban was moaning about how Gyurcsany wasn’t “a legitimate prime minister”, and I guess Sarko was a bit miffed at being treated like a Mandiner reader, and not a sophisticated politician at a grown-up confidential meeting. Not that there’s anything much else to admire about Sarko.

Paul
Guest
“Either way, I’m wrong or lying. Welcome to the basic meaning of words.” Oh, Szilárd, you really are a card. As you are so keen on ‘basic meanings’, the basic meaning of lying is telling an untruth with the INTENTION of deceiving. As with so much else in life, it is the intention which is the key. For instance, if I should happen to accidentally knock into you and cause you to fall in front of a Metro train, you would be just as dead as if I had deliberately pushed you, but one is intentional, and therefore murder, and the other isn’t. (Although I’m not sure why this example should come to mind.) If Éva writes something different to your view because she is using a different source, she isn’t lying. And, even, if she writes something that later turns out to be untrue, but which she believed to be true at the time of writing, she still isn’t lying. If she does deliberately tell a porky with the deliberate intention of messing with your poor, overworked brain, then, yes, that IS a lie. Although, even then, it’s rather impolite to point it out in such a rude way… Read more »
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