Although I want to talk about the Romanian-Hungarian tensions that flared up in the last few days, first I must say something about Economic Minister György Matolcsy’s performance on CNN yesterday. His interview with Richard Quest was not an everyday affair. The most memorable part of the interview was when Matolcsy described his government’s economic performance of the last year as a “fairy tale.” No wonder that a few hours later this picture of Matolcsy appeared on the Internet:
The complete interview can be seen on CNN’s website:
And now we can return another horror story: the deteriorating Romanian-Hungarian relations.
Let’s go back a little bit in history. After the lost war and surrounded by not especially friendly successor states it would have been practically mandatory for Hungary to seek at least one friend among the neighbors. But with the exception of Austria where the territorial loss of today’s Burgenland didn’t mean the loss of a large Hungarian speaking population, Hungary never managed to come to any kind of rapprochement with the successor states. The Hungarian liberal emigré community and the social democrats at home would have preferred a Czechoslovak orientation, but given Eduard Beneš’s dislike of Hungary and his aversion to the authoritarian regime that took hold of Hungary after the war any kind of a closer relationship between Czechoslovakia and Hungary was out of the question. Miklós Horthy himself liked the Serbs and the Croats. He considered the Croats good sailors and the Serbs good soldiers, and that was enough for him. Horthy had neither a political nor a diplomatic background, and therefore his vision was somewhat limited.
Hungarian politicians with the exception of one fleeting episode in 1919 never seriously considered any move toward a better understanding with Romania. That was rather odd because there were many considerations that should have dictated closer relations between the two countries. One of the most important was the size of the Hungarian minority in Romania. Calculated on the basis of the 1910 Hungarian census, there were 1,704,851 Hungarian speakers in the territories received by Romania in the Treaty of Trianon of 1920. But even in 2011, after a huge drop in the last ten years, the numbers are substantial: 1,237,746. Thus common sense would have dictated friendly relations with a country that had such a large Hungarian minority. Yet exactly the opposite happened between the two world wars. Hungary’s relations with Romania were perhaps the worst among all her neighbors.
Fidesz’s attitude toward the Hungarian minorities living in the neighboring countries is not conducive to good relations with the governments in question. Between 1998 and 2002 relations were strained between Hungary and all her neighbors. I was afraid that something similar would occur again, but in the last two years relations with Romania were especially warm. Sometimes I was surprised to see how calmly the Romanian government reacted to some rather inflammatory remarks by Hungarian government officials. But it seems that the honeymoon is over, especially now that there is a new prime minister in Romania, the socialist Viktor Ponta.
First, the Romanian government asked László Kövér, speaker of the house, not to visit Romania and campaign on behalf of a Fidesz inspired and sponsored Hungarian political party called Magyar Polgári Párt (Hungarian Civic Party). For years there was only one Hungarian party in Transylvania, RMDSZ (Román-Magyar Demokratikus Szövetség), a right-of-center party that played an important role, often as a coalition partner, in Romanian political life. Fidesz was opposed to RMDSZ and made sporadic efforts to establish other Hungarian parties that would take a much more aggressive and nationalistic attitude toward Bucharest. As a result there are now three Hungarian parties, including one that was organized by László Tőkés and was also sponsored by Fidesz. On Sunday we will see how the Hungarian vote splits among these three parties.
László Kövér called the members of the Romanian government uncivilized barbarians, and the Romanian politicians paid back in kind. According to Andrei Marga, the Romanian foreign minister, Kövér misused the right to campaign across borders in order to instigate irreconcilable differences among citizens and countries. The Romanian prime minister went further. He announced point blank that “László Kövér is not a friend and not welcome in Romania.” According to him, the ” rules of good neighborliness have been violated by Kövér who went to Romania to set fire in certain parts of Transylvania.” He accused of Kövér of wanting to radicalize the Hungarian minority against the Romania state. According to Ponta, “Kövér came to Romania with a clear strategy of provocation.”
Romanian politicians are convinced that the current Hungarian government wants to create conflicts within the Hungarian community and between the Hungarian and the Romanian majority. The question is why. What does Fidesz and the Orbán government hope to gain by all this? I very much doubt that the Fidesz-sponsored Magyar Polgári Párt will do spectacularly as a result of the circus surrounding the reburial of a Transylvanian Hungarian writer of decidedly fascist sympathies. I also doubt that Kövér’s campaign tour lasting three days will make any difference in the outcome of the elections. If I am right, why would the Orbán government risk good relations with an important neighboring country?
I cannot come up with a sensible explanation except that the Fidesz leaders are ideologues. They have “a mission.” To re-form the nation in their own image. Or perhaps even the whole world. And if someone thinks that this is an exaggeration may I remind people of some of the utterances of Viktor Orbán about the world that will follow the Hungarian example. I think they truly believe in that “fairy tale.” Their vision of the world is based on fantasy.