Viktor Orbán’s Lukashenko-lite policy: The American view

A bombshell hit Budapest this morning when readers opened today's issue of Népszabadság. The newspaper informed Hungarians that Al Kamen in his column "In the Loop" (The Washington Post) wrote a devastating description of Viktor Orbán, whom he described as someone following in the footsteps of Alekszandr Lukashenko. Kamen also revealed that the U.S. Ambassador has been trying to deliver a demarche to the Hungarian prime minister who has been so terribly busy of late that he was unable to grant her an appointment.

First a few words about Al Kamen. He joined The Washington Post in 1980 and has covered many aspects of Washington politics including the State Department, so I assume he knows what he is talking about. Most likely he still has connections and therefore his information is pretty accurate.

What did Al Kamen hear from the U.S. State Department? What did the diplomats dealing with Hungary say to him about Hungary's prime minister? He is "cracking down on the media, curbing the independence of the judiciary." In brief, he is drifting "toward one-party rule." At the end of June, Hillary Clinton visited Budapest where she warned Orbán about the United States' displeasure over what's going on in Hungary. This encounter was followed by a demarche, or an official diplomatic protest, which was to be hand-delivered to Viktor Orbán himself. However, Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis has been waiting for that opportunity ever since mid-August. Orbán is "too busy." 

Isn't it amazing what an article like that can achieve! Today Péter Szijjártó, the personal spokesman of the prime minister, announced when asked by Népszabadság that the U.S. ambassador will be received next week. She just had to wait her turn. Brad Hurst, the press attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, confirmed next week's meeting and when questioned admitted that indeed the request for the meeting had been made in August.

Kamen's article is full of sarcasm sprinkled with slang expressions. Surely when he speaks of "Orban's increasingly anti-democratic antics" he doesn't have "mischief, tricks, clowning" in mind, and therefore it is somewhat misleading for Hungarian reports on Kamen's article to talk about "anti-democratic clowning" (bohóckodás). The anti-democratic steps taken by the Orbán government are deadly serious matters.

But there are other annoying aspects of Orbán's behavior. His foreign policy utterances. He has been talking about "strategic alliances" with Russia and China. He claimed at one point that what connects Russia and Hungary is the two people's Christian roots! I'll bet Putin was impressed! It is also quite incredible that Orbán talks about the close relationship between China and Hungary going back decades, including the time of the greatest oppression during Mao Zedong's rule. It was during this wonderful friendship between the two countries that China's rulers played a sinister role in encouraging the suppression of the 1956 revolution. Lately, while in Saudi Arabia, Orbán went on and on about how much he appreciates the Saudis' deep attachment to Islam and that religious roots are very important in the history of nations. Saudi Arabia is just like Hungary, but of course Hungary is a deeply Christian country. Sure thing! Thirteen percent of the population attends church once a week.

All in all, Orbán has done a lot to damage the reputation of Hungary. His own reputation had been ruined earlier both in Europe and in the United States. People whose memory is better than that of the Hungarian voters still remember his aggressive, nationalistic, antagonistic attitude toward practically every country on the face of the earth. He had only two favorites in those days: the autocratic and nationalistic Franjo Tudjman, president of Croatia, and Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister of Italy. Since then Tudjman has died and Berlusconi's days are numbered. How successful he will be with Russia, China, or Saudi Arabia only time will tell. Since the Chinese premier's visit one hasn't heard about any significant Chinese purchase of Hungarian bonds. The Saudi trip was most likely a flop especially if one listens to Gyula Pleschinger, the chief executive of Hungary's debt management agency. The video of the interview about Orbán's trip to Saudi Arabia makes it clear that the Saudi government will not purchase Hungarian bonds. One can listen to the interview in the October 12 issue of The Wall Street Journal.

There is a very good possibility that, after all, Orbán will have to crawl back to the International Monetary Fund that he and György Matolcsy unceremoniously sent away last year. Some people might say that in this case joint economic and political pressure might change his autocratic attitude. I wish I could be that optimistic. However, I do think that the pressure is mounting both inside and outside the country. Whether it will have an effect on Orbán is another matter.

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Paul
Guest

Orbán is not “drifting towards one party rule”, he is steaming full speed towards it. He hit the ground running after election and hasn’t stopped since.
It’s not an idea that impressed him at some point after becoming PM, it’s not something that’s happening by accident, it’s been his game plan since at least 2006.
And, to all intents and purposes, he has achieved it.

Paul
Guest

As regards what outsiders can (or can’t) do about the impending Viktatorship, there’s a very interesting article in the FT on what the EU can do: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bdd5667a-f02c-11e0-977b-00144feab49a.html#axzz1an05ZMHa – which basically says they can do nothing.
The US could certainly do something, but I suspect they won’t either.
NB: You have to be registered to read the article, but registration is free.(Original link from Budapost.)

Member

“There is a very good possibility that, after all, Orbán will have to crawl back to the International Monetary Fund that he and György Matolcsy unceremoniously sent away last year” He will not. He will take away people’s private savings, start to charge property tax, anything before he would go back.
Orban for a long time surrounded himself with lunatics to stroke his ego. He “kills” every honest man around him. As far as him not having time for the American Ambassador…. very sad, bit not surprising from an egomaniac as he is.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “there’s a very interesting article in the FT on what the EU can do”
That is also a very hard-hitting article.

Paul
Guest

Spot on, Some 1. He will do anything, no matter how mad or destructive, rather than admit he is wrong or give in to his enemies.
I fear that this single most important aspect of OV is the thing the left (and just about everyone else) doesn’t understand.
It’s not his politics that is the real danger to Hungary, or even his dictatorship – it is his personality. He will go down fighting, once things get too hot, and he will take Hungary with him.
The comparison with Lukashenko is false in this key respect – he is not another Lukashenko, he is another Gaddafi.
Which is why it is crucial to stop him NOW – before he is in a position to do irreversible damage to Hungary, just to save his own pride.

jakabaa
Guest

Thanks, Folks, for caring so dearly for Hungary, a country falling from a top European country (midwar period) to a struggling heap run by neocons like Orban and others you even more love.
We are close to dying under such care.
Maybe you care for Norway, there is more to fetch.

Member

Well, you should read on the International reaction on the sentencing of Yulia Tymoshenko by Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. The parallels between current days Ukraine and Hungary is just striking. The good news is that developed countries started to speak up for Ukraine, and I am sure the same will be done for Hungary before this under-qualified group of government officials of Hungary will flush down the toilet all the progress of the last two decades.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
The ‘Mighty One (O.V.) thinks he has Europe by the ‘short and curlies’ (for a time.). I agree that there is very little that the European Union can do about him, but some of its institutions can. However it takes others to activate these institutions, and no one seems to be doing anything to invoke them. As an example the New Constitution contains at least one article which breaks both the Charter of Human Rights and the fundamental reason for the EU. It would be interesting if our Good Hostess could start a discussion on that very topic He is quietly building his own AVO to cow the people. He has created a gang of armed thugs who dare not show their faces. He in his omniscient wisdom believes that the West is finished and he wants no part of it. The West has learned its lesson about the appointment of accountants to top positions in companies. These people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The West is beginning to get a grip on the profligacy of ‘Investment bankers’. As the Western demand falls China will find its self in deep trouble. It needs al least… Read more »
Member

Regarding the regime’s attitude towards the IMF, there is more to this than meets the eye:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-14/imf-advises-hungary-on-local-authority-reform-nepszabadsag-says.html
OK, financing not (apparently) spoke about but the fact that this “advice” is taking place is significant in itself. Firstly, the regime taking “advice” from anyone outside their own circle of flunkies, never mind the hated IMF?! S
Secondly, the IMF’s poor representative in Budapest has been effectively boycotted by the Orbanistas since last year with requests for meetings turned rudely down or even ignored full stop. So when the article says that relations between the regime and IMF had not “broken down, it’s not quite the case.
Along with Jaria’s pronouncement (no doubt first OKed by the Dear Leader) this week that IMF financial help might be needed, something is obviously bubbling below the surface

Kirsten
Guest

“he is not another Lukashenko, he is another Gaddafi.”
Paul, I am afraid this labeling is not mobilising anyone. (To be completely cynical, I do not see Hungary being able to defend itself against the “Allies” for more than half a year. But there are of course also less cynical factors that makes equating OV with the “ugliest” dictators useless in my eyes.) OV’s “regime” is partly based on pressure and devious means but partly on true supporters, people who still believe that this is the best choice for Hungary (including the pressure and devious means). Who appear to believe that “we are strong enough not to bow to any foreign pressure”. Perhaps you noticed how the Slovak dissenters to the EU rescue programme argued, they used similar logic. The Czech president and his entourage, by the way, also use this reasoning (recently even discovering their “traditional” attachment to the Catholic Church, which is far more laughable than the Hungarian rediscovery of religiosity). This labeling might be useful to attract the attention of readers in the US, who know little about the problems of the countries in central Europe but for the domestic audience, I do not know.

Member

Odin: “What is the good of [taking away people’s private savings, starting to charge property tax]? He will just get Forints which no one will want. What could a Western Merchant buy those and resell at a profit?”
Well, I disagree. He already took the retirement investments. He set the worth of the Swiss Frank according to his liking. He levied extra taxes (an I assume that needs to be paid in Forint.) I think if he has the cash, he will just pay with Forints to whomever he needs to in Forint. He will put all the money owed in small change and fill some bags, then pile it on the doorstep of those who Hungary owes money to. He will say “take it or leave it. The terms were not fair when you lent us the money, and this is how we pay it back. Cut your own losses if you do not like it” lol
Seriously, I do not think that logic will stop Orban. He will repay in forints if he wants to.

Pisteve
Guest

We’ll at least sore loser Jaroslaw Kaczynski likes what he see’s in Orbán’s Hungary.
His populist-social conservative PiS party lost again to the centre right PO, and he made a speech saying that one day the Polish people will come totheir senses and there will be “Budapest in Warsaw”. What he meant was that his party would get enough votes to change the constitution, but this nuance was lost on most Poles:
http://lengyelorszagma.blog.hu/2011/10
/14/a_magyar_meme
http://souciant.com/2011/10/no-hungary-here/
The second link talks a bit about the surprising success of the very liberal “Polikot movement” in this round of elections – LMP eat your heart out..

Paul
Guest

Kirsten – my comparison was purely in terms of ‘going down with the ship’ (poetic license to make a point!).
I would hope, otherwise, that there weren’t too many similarities between OV and Gaddafi.

peter litvanyi
Guest

“VIKTATOR”- thanks “odin’s”, this was lovely.
Sincerely:
Peter

Ron
Guest

Odin: The Victator (© Paul MMIX) and his troop of sycophants, have said that they want to make Hungary the ‘Workshop of Europe’.
I did not know the word sycophants, but after researching it on wiki, I believe the Roman word Delator is more appropriate.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delator

Kirsten
Guest
Paul, I see what you meant. I am still uncertain whether this could be the case. It would require that he starts a war against his own people, not against a few trouble-makers (Communists, foreign-hearted, foreign-paid etc.). The redefinition of who is “right” and who is “wrong” would have to be further perfected because he would need a new AVO, certainly larger than TEK. I still doubt that, I am still convinced that this will be too much for most people to swallow (and in particular: to do). In my understanding the idea of Magyardom still includes not only values such as Church, tradition, medieval warriors, rural life and peasant self-sufficiency but also language and ties to “Europe”. Odin wrote here some time ago that the Hungarian army has never fired at its own people (I do not know whether this assessment may not include minor cases when this happened). But in any case, for me the current conflict appears to be one of the first moments when there is not a conflict between Magyars and Austrians (Russians, Germans, Communists, simply foreign powers) but between Hungarians themselves. This currently restrains the opposition, but it will also restrain the government when… Read more »
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