An analysis of Russian-Hungarian relations in perspective

I’m sticking with Russian-Hungarian relations, although today I won’t write about the Hungarian opposition’s reactions to the Putin-Orbán meeting as promised. The reason for this change of plans is that I read an in-depth interview with Zoltán Sz. Bíró on the relationship between the two countries over the last ten years or so. I would like to share it with those of you who are not in a position to read it in the original.

Although I’m quite familiar with Russian history and Soviet politics, I haven’t been following what’s going on in Russia. I know as much as one can learn from the media. A couple of years ago, however, Tamás Mészáros hosted a show on ATV that dealt with foreign affairs. Every time the discussion touched on Russia Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a research fellow in the Historical Institute of the Research Center attached to the Hungarian Academy’s Section of the Humanities, was among the participants. He always impressed me with his learning and his analytical skill.

His track record continues. I learned more from the interview that appeared in today’s Népszava on the state of Russian-Hungarian affairs than from all the other articles I read on Viktor Orbán’s visit to Moscow. The main thrust of Bíró’s analysis is that, despite Vladimir Putin’s warm welcome, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Orbán government’s Russia policy. Putin’s Russia doesn’t hide its true feelings toward Viktor Orbán, which in this case translated into a short audience, no scheduled press conference, and no lunch or dinner after the official appointment. In November 2010 when Viktor Orbán first visited Russia as prime minister these niceties were planned, but in the end they were dispensed with. By contrast, each time Péter Medgyessy or Ferenc Gyurcsány paid a visit to Moscow there was always a press conference and a dinner meeting.

the Kremlin

The Kremlin

Russia has reason to be dissatisfied with trade relations and mutual investments between the two countries. In the last three years the rate of investment has slowed. To quote from Putin’s welcoming speech: “The level of investment until recently was well balanced between the two countries. However, for the last three years it hasn’t grown or has grown very slowly.”

Before December 2002, when Medgyessy visited Moscow, Hungarian exports to Russia were less than half a million U.S. dollars while imports were around 2.2 billion dollars. By 2008 both exports and imports peaked: Hungarian imports reached 10 billion and exports 4 billion dollars. That is, while Hungarian imports grew fourfold, exports expanded by a factor of eight. Not even in the old Soviet days was the volume of trade between Russia and Hungary that great.

This spectacular growth was due in part to the change of government in Poland when under the Kaczynski brothers’ rule Russian-Polish relations soured. In addition, in 2007 Russia finally decided to build the Southern Stream that would supply Hungary with natural gas. Negotiations over the pipeline necessitated frequent contact between the two countries.

Viktor Orbán is in a difficult position when it comes to friendly relations with Russia because of the heavy political baggage he carries from his days in opposition. In those days he made irresponsible comments about Russia. A responsible politician should think ahead: what will happen if he wins the election? How hard is it going to be to mend fences? The Russian leaders are pragmatic, but in 2005 there was a spectacular change in the official Russian stance on its role in World War II. In order to give emotional content to the regime, Putin’s government stands ready to do battle with any country that tries to minimize or question Russia’s sacrifice. The Orbán government’s frequent anti-Soviet rhetoric certainly doesn’t endear it to the Russians.

Earlier I wrote about Viktor Orbán’s resolve to purchase E.On’s Hungarian subsidiary from the German company. At the moment the Hungarian media is full of extended debates about whether the 800 million euros the Hungarian government is paying is too much. According to some, it is not worth more than 400 million. I can’t take sides because I have no idea of the value of E.On. But presumably E.On could purchase Russian gas at a cheaper rate than a Hungarian state-owned company could. Russia’s largest natural gas customer in Europe is Germany at 35-36 billion cubic meters a year. Hungary in the last three or four years decreased its natural gas purchases to about 6 billion cubic meters. This difference in purchasing power most likely influences the price of Russian natural gas. That’s why “the Hungarian government’s anti-E.On policies are incomprehensible.”

According to Sz. Bíró, a half-hour meeting on the highest level simply cannot replace the day-to day work necessary to develop a good relationship between countries. János Martonyi’s absence was glaring. Péter Szijjártó was there, but in Sz. Bíró’s opinion the young upstart lacks a thorough knowledge of the areas he is supposed to deal with. Here is one example. Szijjártó announced that Russian-Hungarian economic relations are especially promising because the Russian economy last year grew by 3%. But this is not a great accomplishment for Russia. On the contrary, “it is a serious set-back.” After all, in 2010 and 2011 the Russian economy grew by more than 4% while during the prior decade the Russian GDP grew by 7-8% every year.

Sz. Biró is not at all sure whether Hungary should enlarge the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, not just because of its enormous cost (2-4 trillion Hungarian forints) but because the country might not need a larger facility in the first place. Second, this enormous investment would have to be financed by new loans. Sz. Bíró also fears that “if a political group is able to get even a small portion of this money it will be able to eliminate the possibility of open and democratic political competition.”  In brief, Hungary will be stuck with a Fidesz government for a very long time to come.

I think that I more or less managed to summarize Zoltán Sz. Bíró’s opinions on the current status of Hungarian-Russian relations. Let me finish with something that I hope Viktor Orbán said in jest Friday morning during his weekly interview on MR1 (Kossuth Rádió) when asked about his trip to Moscow. He described his trip thus: “Hungarian history is a great teacher. That’s why the first success is that we not only went to Moscow but we also came home. We should start here!” What on earth did he want to say? If it was a joke, it was a very bad one. Not exactly how to make friends and influence people!

Otherwise, Orbán said nothing specific about his accomplishments in Moscow. When asked about Russian participation in the building of additional facilities at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, he acted as if he didn’t hear the question. Instead, he went on and on about Russia’s contribution to the fields of music and literature. According to him, “We can’t even imagine European music and literature without Russia.”  He quickly added that Hungary is a “kultúrnemzet” which also contributed greatly to European culture. “We can therefore speak of Russia with appreciation.” Why? Otherwise we couldn’t?

A quick look at Facebook reveals that jokes about Viktor Orbán’s appreciation of music and literature number  in the hundreds. We know from Gábor Fodor’s description of Viktor Orbán in his college days that “Viktor moved in the world of culture like an elephant in a porcelain shop,” meaning he didn’t feel at home there. He was interested in football and politics almost exclusively. It is highly unlikely that in his spare time the Hungarian prime minister reads Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. But I guess if you don’t want to acknowledge Russia’s importance in today’s world, it is always safe to praise its cultural heritage. A nationalistic prime minister also has to point out, however, that Hungary is no less cultured and that its contribution is just that great as that of other nations.

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Decency Decency
Guest

Orban may turn out as a grandson of Rakosi.

Ron
Guest

Eva: He described his trip thus: “Hungarian history is a great teacher. That’s why the first success is that we not only went to Moscow but we also came home. We should start here!” What on earth did he want to say? If it was a joke, it was a very bad one. Not exactly how to make friends and influence people!

I do not think it was a joke. He allows to prosecute two former heads of secret services, because, according to the prosecution, they were spies for Russia.

He is paranoid, it shows, and now we have evidence.

Ron
Guest

As to E.On 800 million, it is not about proper economic valuation, it is about control. He wants it that is why he is willing to pay for it. At the moment there is a discount of 10% on the usage. The fixed right went up. The monthly benefit is about 5-7%.

I was reading Lazar wants to have 30% reduction. Hungary cannot afford this, and an ecological disaster will happen. 30% discount who will maintain everything.?

gdfxx
Guest

Ron :
Eva: He described his trip thus: “Hungarian history is a great teacher. That’s why the first success is that we not only went to Moscow but we also came home. We should start here!” What on earth did he want to say? If it was a joke, it was a very bad one. Not exactly how to make friends and influence people!
I do not think it was a joke. He allows to prosecute two former heads of secret services, because, according to the prosecution, they were spies for Russia.
He is paranoid, it shows, and now we have evidence.

I can only see one of two explanations for this remark:

– the visit went so disastrously that a remark like this makes no difference
– he is an idiot.

Well, there is also a third possibility: both explanations are true.

Guest

London Calling!

He said that “Russia has had a great past”?

Apart from the fact that such a short visit is clearly the restart of ‘entente cordiale’ – but real slow, I am amazed that even Orban gives it such a high profile.

There must be much latent hate – yes hate – for Russia in Hungary with their ‘great past’.

And the dominance over Hungary in the recent past is I know still indelibly etched in many people’s memories. The exploiting of Hungary’s resources and its people.

And of course the despicable crimes after WWII.

Does the fiddeszbikker’s blind-faith allow Orban’s selective memory to be overlooked?

And to trample the honour of their ancestors?

I can only hope that Hungarians are in a long sleep at the moment – which will end with them waking up to true reality after their ‘bad dream’.

Hope springs eternal.

Regards

Charlie

Member

Eva S. Balogh :
Re Charlie. Put it that way. Russia’s image in Hungary is not the best. And just because of what has happened between 1945 and 1990.

China’s image is not ant better, but that did not start Orban to ask for the recipe how can Hungary become like them. Not that his cosy manoeuvring would dent his popularity amongst those who’s only hope for career survival is if Orban stays in power.

Minusio
Guest

“In brief, Hungary will be stuck with a Fidesz government for a very long time to come.”

Absolutely everything points to that direction. Poor Hungary!

Guest

” János Martonyi’s absence was glaring.”

He’s (still ?) the foreign minister, isn’t he, or have I got something wrong there ? Where is he hiding ?
Looks really strange to me.

Re relations with Russia:

So many Hungarians hate Russia for what the Stalinists did to them – well they shouldn’t forget that they started marching into Russia – twice ..

I’m so happy that we Germans have managed to have good relations with most of our former “arch enemies” – and vice versa …

Ron
Guest

wolfi :
” János Martonyi’s absence was glaring.”
He’s (still ?) the foreign minister, isn’t he, or have I got something wrong there ? Where is he hiding ?
Looks really strange to me.
Re relations with Russia:
So many Hungarians hate Russia for what the Stalinists did to them – well they shouldn’t forget that they started marching into Russia – twice ..
I’m so happy that we Germans have managed to have good relations with most of our former “arch enemies” – and vice versa …

He is sick. He has the Hantavirus. Knocked out for a month, so it seems.
http://www.delmagyar.hu/szeged_hirek/hantavirust_kapott_martonyi_janos/2315073/ (in Hungarian)

Plissken
Guest

Let’s use Occam’s razor.

“Hungarian history is a great teacher. That’s why the first success is that we not only went to Moscow but we also came home. We should start here!”

Someone who would say in the given situation somthing like this would be called in the US a freak, or a creep, who has no sense of humour, but thinks he said something smart and funny (like the characters Michael Scott or David Brent in the The Office series, uS and UK versions).

I would not think too much into this,

Orbán is a creep, that’s it.

Sometimes it shows, but mostly he does not talk freely (remembe that he has not given any interview to anyone other than very short ones to loyalists which are not interviews but opportunities to spread his essage).

Lecso
Guest

How could we forget 1848-1849, 1914-1918, 1919, 1944, 1949, 1956, did I miss any dates out?

Kirsten
Guest

Lecso :
How could we forget 1848-1849, 1914-1918, 1919, 1944, 1949, 1956, did I miss any dates out?

There is no problem in keeping in mind all these dates when Hungarian interests were ill served by Russia. In that regard also for me it is fair to be at least sceptical of Russia and its role in Central Europe. But if I understand Viktor Orban’s comment correctly, he is just aware of the fact that in former times, it was not even assured that you get back to Hungary alive. As an analysis of the geopolitical situation of Europe or Hungary in 2013, this is extremely poor. Perhaps even worse than the economic analysis behind the “unorthodox economic policies”.

Guest

London Calling!

Eva – thanks for doing ‘irony’ properly!

As someone who tries to understand the ‘rhetoric’ with just his eyes – the use of emoticons stops me falling into the traps that HS contributors so easily set for me!

Regards

Charlie

Kingfisher
Guest

Like so many Hungarian politicians, Martonyi is compromised. He is a co-founder of Járai’s insurance company and although it seems to be struggling, it has had a lot of illicit help from the government. And although Járai has been pushed into the background, he is also compromised for this and other reasons. And so no one can rock the boat because they are all chained to it.

The only person who seems willing to rock the boat is Angyán József, but to his discredit, he is still a Fidesz MP and follows the party whip (except for the agricultural issues he cares about.)

Ron
Guest

Ron :

wolfi :
” János Martonyi’s absence was glaring.”
He’s (still ?) the foreign minister, isn’t he, or have I got something wrong there ? Where is he hiding ?
Looks really strange to me.
Re relations with Russia:
So many Hungarians hate Russia for what the Stalinists did to them – well they shouldn’t forget that they started marching into Russia – twice ..
I’m so happy that we Germans have managed to have good relations with most of our former “arch enemies” – and vice versa …

He is sick. He has the Hantavirus. Knocked out for a month, so it seems.
http://www.delmagyar.hu/szeged_hirek/hantavirust_kapott_martonyi_janos/2315073/ (in Hungarian)

The Hantavirus, I am not a doctor, and never heard about this, is a virus which is spread by rodents, especially mice.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002358/

So how did he get it?

Wert
Guest

Hanta virus, please. “Human infections of hantaviruses have almost entirely been linked to human contact with rodent excrement”. Cytomegalia is quite unlikely either. Although he may have an underlying compromised immunosystem (i.e. chronic leukemia, probably not HIV or organ transplant immunsupression). Martonyi was far from the media months before his last disppearance. But he will give his life to Orbán, lest hundreds of pages of reports (aka “Marosvásárhelyi” and “Magasdi”) see the light. Bad conscience is a huge pulling force. Sad fate.

Member

Ron :
The Hantavirus, I am not a doctor, and never heard about this, is a virus which is spread by rodents, especially mice.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002358/
So how did he get it?

It is common to catch this illness from the droppings of mice. Mice droppings are hard to recognize in certain environments, and you can accidentally can come on contact with it (horse farm).

Member

Eva S. Balogh :
In case some of you don’t get the reference to “Marosvásárhelyi” and “Magasdi” the reference here is to Martonyi’s secret agent past. See details here:
//hungarianspectrum.org/2010/05/27/about-janos-martonyi-the-new-hungarian-foreign-minister/

My favourite: “Martonyi’s rise might have been due in part to his alleged work as an informer between 1965 and 1986. In plain language, he spied on his colleagues and the foreigners he came in contact with. The first time his involvement with the network of informers came to light was in 2002 when the Mécs Committee was investigating the backgrounds of former government officials after it became known that Péter Medgyessy was employed as an officer by the counterintelligence section of the secret service. ”
I just love how in two minutes someone from the “Fidesz is the best thing for Hungary” group will show up and try to prove us that we are all wrong and Martonyi actually risked his life for the freedom of all Hungarians against the communists.

Member

Eva S. Balogh :
“Martonyi is totally ignored and in his place I would have resigned a long time ago. But he has very thick skin, it seems. He was in the same position during the first Orbán government but then at least Orbán didn’t hire a “new foreign minister” to replace him.”

He does not have thick skin, but likely has a large bank account now, that is filling up in exchange for his morals and ethics (if he ever had any).

gdfxx
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :
Some1, He is apparently a very rich man. In fact, I think he is losing money by being foreign minister. He is a partner in “Martonyi és Kajtár Baker & McKenzie Ügyvédi Iroda” with lots of international clients.

Something must have changed because the Budapest office of Baker & McKenzie shows up as “Kajtár Takács Hegymegi-Barakonyi Baker & McKenzie Attorneys at Law”, on their website (http://www.bakermckenzie.com/Hungary/).

d8f58
Guest

gdfxx: it happened a year of two before Martonyi became minister again. Among others, he was organising Fidesz more than actually billing clients, although the word on the street is that the remaining firm is still leaning for Fidesz.

Member

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Paul
Guest

I almost warmed towards Orbán with that joke – it’s just the kind of thing I would have said.

Which is one of the (many) reasons I am not a politician, and certainly not a Prime Minister!

Paul
Guest

As regards Putin, I think it’s reasonable to assume two things about him: 1) he is not stupid, and 2) he doesn’t suffer fools.

Unless it just happens to be in Russia/Putin’s interests to be nice to Hungary, Orbán doesn’t stand a chance. Putin knows him exactly for the stupid fool he is.

cheshire cat
Guest

OT

there is some more news on the “let’s scare the Romanians away from Britain” campaign. Apparently the Romanians have launched their campaign “Why don’t you come over? we might not like Britain but you will surely like Romania!” and “Half of our women look like Kate Middleton and the half look like her sister. Our draft beer is cheaper than you bottled water” etc.

http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/02/bulgaria-romania-immigration-eu-membership/

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