After reading the meagre news of today I have the feeling that we are witnessing a kind of "calm before the storm." László Lengyel in his opinion piece in today's Népszabadság recalled the brave words of the authors of Civil Contract (Társadalmi szerződés) of 1987: "Kádár must leave." Lengyel echoed the demand: "Orbán must leave." His program has failed, the Dakota horse has kicked the bucket, and it is not only Lengyel and his fellow economists and political scientists who know this but by now perhaps the great majority of the Hungarian people.
László Kéri, a political scientist, a few days ago predicted a "very hot autumn." Something will happen. He didn't know exactly what, but he suspected great changes on the political landscape. Olga Kálmán, who interviewed him, looked skeptical. Although I rarely agree with Kéri, this time I share his premonition. But while we are waiting for the storm that may be brewing, let me use the lull to return to my favorite pastime: analyzing diplomatic documents. Yes, let's get back to Wikileaks.
A little over a week ago four political scientists discussed the impact of the release of the Wikileaks documents pertaining to Hungary. The discussion took place on A tét (The stake), a weekly roundtable discussion about the events of the past week. András Bánó, the moderator, made no secret of his conviction that the contents of these cables will have a significant impact on some of the political actors still on the scene. He brought up revelation that Viktor Orbán, in order to calm the nerves of the Americans worried about his demagogue populism, sent the message to the Embassy that they shouldn't pay much attention to what he says in the campaign. He just says these things in order to win the elections. But once he wins he will act differently, to the satisfaction of the western diplomats and politicians. Surely, said Bánó, this is a damning indictment of Orbán. After all, in the last four years Orbán could talk about nothing else but Ferenc Gyurcsány's lies. But while Gyurcsány's speech at Őszöd was about the past lies of the whole Hungarian political elite which he wanted to change and henceforth conduct a more honest discourse with the voters, Orbán not only lied then and continued lying for four more years but even today admits that what he says should be discarded.
Some of the political scientists present downplayed the political import of this revelation. It was a long time ago. It was reported by others. We don't know to whom exactly he addressed these words. Thus, people will not pay attention to Wikileaks' documentation of the untrustworthiness of Orbán.
I disagreed and since then I have noticed, reading comments to articles online, that people keep bringing up the subject: Orbán is a liar. Perhaps it would have had no impact if the revelations hadn't hit the political scene at this critical junction. When Orbán's promises indeed turned out to be lies. He promised good governance, but he and his fellow politicians were totally unprepared and without any plan for solving the country's problems. He promised one million jobs and instead managed to lose a few thousand. He promised an entirely new and happier Hungary; instead, the affairs of the state are in worse shape than ever. The truth is out. The emperor is naked. And in the middle of all this comes the story that Viktor Orbán was already lying in the spring of 2006. Oh, yes, the Wikileaks quotation by now has a life of its own.
But let's get back to the documents for a few minutes. I would like to focus here on certain aspects of the revelations Hungarian journalists didn't consider important, but I with my background in diplomatic history find significant. Given the very bad relations between American Ambassador April Foley who arrived in Budapest in August 2006 and Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, one would have thought that the Americans in Budapest were not happy with the continuation of the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition. But that wasn't the case. On the contrary. Let me quote: "On the whole, USG [US Government] interests are probably best served by a continuation of the current coalition. In many ways Hungary is a success story and the Socialist-led government has been a supportive partner of the U.S. It has deployed troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and seems poised to field a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan should it remain in power…. There is a sizable U.S. investment in Hungary, and the country's continued, healthy growth rate and good location make it likely that U.S. participation in the Hungarian market will only continue to grow."
What did the American diplomats in Budapest think about Hungary's Russia policy in 2006, later so severely criticized by Washington? Hungary's "relations with Russia are keyed to energy, and it can be expected that an MSZP-SZDSZ government will do little that would jeopardize the hard-won good relations it has developed with Moscow. Having SZDSZ in the coalition should ensure that strong transatlantic ties remain central to the new GOH's [Government of Hungary] foreign policy thinking."
And what did the Americans think of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán? Here it is: "Although FIDESZ was at the helm when Hungary joined NATO, today it would likely be a more difficult partner–especially without the moderating influence of former coalition partner MDF. In the course of this campaign, FIDESZ's populist rants have drowned out its earlier conservatism. Still, FIDESZ decisionmakers have told Embassy that a FIDESZ government would continue to attach a high value to the bilateral relationship with the U.S., even while adopting a more assertive stance when defending perceived Hungarian interests." Fidesz "interlocuters" promised all sorts of things to the Americans after winning the elections but the reporting diplomats didn't quite believe them. They especially didn't like the fact that "FIDESZ President Viktor Orban has called past privatizations into question, and repeatedly pledged to protect domestic business against the encroachments of foreign capital."
How Fidesz managed to convince the American diplomats in Budapest and Washington over the next four years that he was a man they could trust I don't yet know, but I hope that a careful reading of the hundreds of documents at our disposal will reveal how Orbán managed to fool the Americans.