Viktor Orbán and Russia: Continued confusion

I have written innumerable times about the ever-changing relationship between Viktor Orbán and Russia. Naturally, the man who as a youngster delivered a speech demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops at the reburial of Imre Nagy was not exactly sympathetic to the then eastern neighbor. As not too many people were. But eventually there was a regime change in the Soviet Union as well and there were many reasons not to neglect Russia as a trading partner. However, neither the Antall government nor Viktor Orbán paid any attention to Russia.

I don't blame József Antall for not pursuing trade relations. At the time Russia was practically bankrupt and had no money to pay for foreign imports. After 1998, however, the situation was different. During the tenure of Viktor Orbán as prime minister, Hungary was outright antagonistic toward Russia for ideological and nationalistic reasons.

After Orbán lost the elections in 2002 the new Hungarian governments tried to mend fences. After all, Hungary is dependent on Russian energy, and as a trading partner for Hungarian goods Russia began to look more and more attractive. Orbán in opposition kept up his anti-Russian rhetoric and accused his opponents of selling out Hungarian interests to Russia. He even managed to convince George W. Bush that Ferenc Gyurcsány and his governments were "pro-Russian." At one point one could even hear about plans to create a cordon sanitaire in Eastern Europe as an obstacle to Russian expansion.

But then came a change in Fidesz thinking as it was becoming more and more obvious that Fidesz would win the 2010 elections. Both Orbán and Putin put out feelers. Putin even made the gesture of recalling Russia's ambassador, who made no secret of his negative opinion of Orbán, and replacing him with a friendlier man. Eventually we got to the point that Orbán in some of his speeches favored an eastern orientation that included Russia.

Great then was my surprise when the Hungarian prime minister in his speech at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris sounded an anti-Russian tone again. He warned his audience that "Hungary can support the forthcoming rapprochement between Russia and the European Union only if Eastern Europe receives special treatment and guarantees in the fields of military security, economic infrastructure, access to markets, and in other questions."

Russian ears immediately perked up. The RBK Daily, a Russian business paper, expressed the opinion that such statements and attitudes can only further complicate the already complicated negotiations between the European Union and Russia. The newspaper seemed to know that the Hungarian government even earlier had announced that the guarantees offered by Russia to the European Union are not satisfactory as far as they are concerned. The paper explained that these delicate negotiations have been going on for years but no document was signed yet because there were always member states who had some objections. According to Aleksei Mukhin, director of the Institute of Political Information, "the Hungarian worries are without foundation and they don't express the concern of the other countries of Eastern Europe."

But it is clear that this question is important for Hungarian foreign policy makers because Orbán repeated Hungary's demands for extra guarantees in Lisbon in front of Hungarian newsmen. He pointed out that a great historical alliance is coming into being between the West and Russia, and for Eastern Europe this is a turn of events that must be watched very carefully because there were rapprochements in history which had devastating effects on the region. "The world is changing and NATO considers Russia no longer an enemy but a partner. Therefore the countries of Eastern Europe must bring up their concerns because after all their independence, their autonomy, their sovereignty is at stake. . . . For the time being we mention our concerns only quietly, modestly, and alone" but in the next two or three years these voices will become stronger and these questions will reach the negotiating tables.

It is unlikely that Viktor Orbán said anything about his worries at the summit where he spoke briefly. According to his spokesman the Hungarian prime minister announced that "he as rotating president of the European Union will do everything to better relations between NATO and the European Union." He also assured his audience of his support of the new strategic concept of NATO.

So, let's see what this new NATO concept is. To build a joint U.S.-EU-Russian missile defense shield, signaling the closest military cooperation between Moscow and the West since the end of the Cold War. At the summit in Lisbon the two sides agreed in writing that they no longer posed a threat to one another and that the two sides will be cooperating in their own defense. The agreement naturally is politically important. The missile shield of NATO and Russia will be linked in defense against any possible attack from Iran.

The connection between NATO and the European Union is very close as Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of NATO, pointed out. "In many cases, NATO and the EU share the same requirements for military capabilities. … NATO and the EU are two of the world's most important institutions. They share 21 members." So, if there is a rapprochement between NATO and Russia an understanding between Russia and the European Union is not far off.

I listened to President Barack Obama's news conference today where he emphasized the positive aspects of the agreement and specifically mentioned that the countries of Eastern Europe didn't object to the agreement between NATO and Russia. In fact, they welcomed it because they can feel more secure now that the Russian arsenal can be inspected. It seems that Viktor Orbán must have uttered his objections so quietly that they never got to the top.

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Joe Simon
Guest

There will be an International Conference in Budapest Nov. 25-26, ‘Twenty Years of Freedom in Eastern Europe’. Orbán and Constitutional Court judge István Stumpf will attend. Lectures will be given on the constitutional process, civil society, ethnic minorities, etc. Some 3O foreign lecturers will also give speeches.
Eva, this conference would be an excellent opportunity for you to go to Budapest to air your concerns. You could even meet Viktor face to face and tell him what you think of him. And warn him!
Earlier in Brussels Orbán met Barroso and agreed that the EU needs strength and cooperation. Barroso praised Hungary’s EU strategies. Orbán emphasized the importance of Russia to Europe. He also wants the EU to draft a Roma policy. Hungary is now in a healthy state, they agreed. Unlike the anemic Gyurcsány, Orbán is forceful and an activist. So far EU reaction to him is positive.

QWERTZ
Guest

Cool! Have you got the programme of this important conference, which is not present anywhere on Internet?

An
Guest

I’ve found it, though only in Hungarian:
http://www.magyarpe.hu/node/20
The program:
http://www.magyarpe.hu/node/21
Organized by the Association of Hungarian Political Scientists and held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Among the presenters: Tarlos, Stumpf , Hoffman Rozsa.

An
Guest

Not to impressed with the quality of the site though, especially for an international conference. Only the call for proposals is in English.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “Association of Hungarian Political Scientists and held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Among the presenters: Tarlos, Stumpf , Hoffman Rozsa.”
I’m sure it will be elevating. Sounds like a gathering of government and pro-government forces.

Joe Simon
Guest

There will be some Thirty foreign lecturers giving speeches. The qualifications of these guests are not known but I am sure there will some with academic credentials.
Eva you should be there. I am sure there will be some criticism of Orbán and you could add to it in your impartial way.

QWERTZ
Guest

I thought Orbán was supposed to be there. I don’t see him on the list.

Joe Simon
Guest

As far as I know Orbán will be there.

An
Guest

@QWERTZ: Orban is listed as “diszvendeg” (guest of honor) in the program.
@Joe Simon: the website is quite sloppy and other than the call for proposals there is no info in English.. a rather strange choice for an international conference. I obviously cannot judge the academic quality of the foreign (and domestic) contributors, but one would expect a little more professionalism on the website of such an international event.

Paul
Guest

“I am sure there will some with academic credentials.”
That’s OK then.
Sounds like a picked and packed Orbfest to me.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “Recently, when I lamented the quality of people making economic policy in Hu to someone at the US Embassy, his comment was that if you think they are bad you should see the people running the Ministry of Defense and the military.”
Exactly. Perfect description. Anyway, if something is held in the Academy it is most likely pro-government gathering. The president of the Academy is a former Fidesz MP.

Joe Simon
Guest

Yes, I am sure it will be a political event. Twenty Years of Freedom in Eastern Europe. How can it be not political? Holding it in the Academy does lessen the purely political aspect. But at least if Orbán is dismantling democracy, as suggested by the Spectrum, he is doing it more or less openly. Anyway,
we should wait and see.

Paul
Guest

Of course he’s doing it openly, why on earth should he do it any other way? He has total power and therefore can do what he wants, and, anyway, he believes that what he is introducing is better than democracy, so why should he hide it?
But does it make any difference if he is doing it openly or not? Is there some sort of code of honour amongst nascent dictators??

Joe Simon
Guest

‘It is most likely a pro-government gathering’.
The Conference is sponsored by the Eötvös Loránd University and the US Embassy. Sólyom László will be there and other critics of FIDESZ. Hardly a laudatory procession for Orbán. Meanwhile the party’s popularity is on the increase in the country.

An
Guest

@Joe Simon: “The Conference is sponsored by the Eötvös Loránd University and the US Embassy. Sólyom László will be there and other critics of FIDESZ. ”
None of this info is on the website of the conference. If one looks trough the published program, it is full of politicians from the government and pro-governmental presenters.
The link again: http://www.magyarpe.hu/node/21.
See it for yourself.

Joe Simon
Guest

OK, thanks. I will try to get some more
information on this Conference.

Joe Simon
Guest

Apparently this is a follow up to the first conference ‘Ten Years of Freedom in Central Europe’. This second one was organized by CEPSR and the Hungarian Political Scientists’ Association. Experts in history, politican science were invited to cover topics like history of political events, causes of the fall of communism, post-communist transition and consolidation of democracy. The goal of the conference was a multi-disciplinary approach. Papers will be published in English. More info at balint.simon@uni-corvinus.hu

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