Recent Hungarian diplomatic blunders: Romania and the Czech Republic

Let’s move from domestic to foreign affairs, not because there are no interesting topics at home in spite of the silly season (cucumber season in Hungarian or Saurgurkenzeit in German) but because Romanian President Traian Băsescu made headlines today with his caustic and, according to some, threatening remarks about the Orbán government’s behavior toward his country.

Traian Băsescu was Fidesz’s favorite Romanian politician a couple of years ago, and it seemed that Viktor Orbán and the Romanian president were kindred souls who understood each other and were ready to support each other. I vividly recall when back in 2009 Zsolt Németh, Fidesz’s foreign policy expert, gave a television interview in which he emphasized the importance of Băsescu’s re-election. He considered it to be critical from Hungary’s point of view, especially after Fidesz’s electoral victory in 2010.  In 2011 Băsescu attended Fidesz’s summer camp in Tusnádfűrdő and in 2012 Orbán campaigned on Băsescu’s behalf among Transylvanian Hungarians. Well, the honeymoon is over.

When Viktor Orbán and Trajan Basescu were still friends. On the right László Tőkés at Tasnádfűrdő

When Viktor Orbán and Trajan Băsescu were still friends. On the right László Tőkés at Tasnádfűrdő

I have two versions of what Băsescu had to say this morning in Marosfő/Izvoru Mureșului in Hargita/Harghita county at another summer free university gathering. Marosfő is a village with a population of 800 which is completely balanced ethnically. The Hungarian version appeared in the Romanian Új Magyar Szó, according to which Băsescu said that “politicians of Hungary became so impertinent that it is likely that we will not approve their holding their Free University and student camp in Bálványos.” He added that “Romania is ready to accept a leading role in reprimanding Hungary because  it has recently become the center of tension in the region.” He announced that 2013 was the last year that “the whole political elite could loiter undisturbed in Harghita and Covasna.” This was the version that Hungarian papers republished without any changes.

The other version appeared in The Independent Balkan News Agency, which covers all the Balkan countries in addition to Slovenia and Cyprus. This version is more complete and explicit than the one that appeared in the Hungarian paper. Here Băsescu talks about Hungary as “a regional hotbed of instability” and warns that Bucharest could seek “to teach Hungary to know its place” and made it clear that in the future Hungarian politicians “will not be able to roam around Romania freely.” As it turns out, the Romanian original from Băsescu’s blog is “poate să se perinde” which is very close to the Hungarian “loitering” (lófrálni). * The news agency also notes that Băsescu’s outburst came only two days after Gábor Vona, the leader of Jobbik, said (also in Romania) that “Hungary should engage in a conflict with Romania in order to protect the rights of the Hungarian minority. ” Moreover, László Tőkés’s suggestion that Hungary extend “protection” to the Hungarian minority in Romania is also mentioned.

Official Hungarian reaction was slow in coming. First it was Hunor Kelemen, chairman of RMDSZ/UDMR, the major Hungarian right-of-center party in Romania, who described Băsescu’s “recent reaction to Hungary [as] over the top.” The language Băsescu used was too strong even in connection with Gábor Vona’s remarks, but “Hungary’s leaders did not warrant such a reaction from President Traian Băsescu.” Kelemen found it “unacceptable for a head of state to threaten a neighboring country with isolation.”

It was only around 7:00 p.m. that Balázs Hidvéghi, a novice Fidesz member of parliament who since 2010 hasn’t done anything notable judging from his parliamentary record, was picked to answer the Romanian president. This choice I think reflects Viktor Orbán’s  attempt to make the event seem insignificant, undeserving of a high level answer. Hidvéghi was both understanding and friendly; he emphasized that the summer camps at Tusnádfűrdő were always held with a view to furthering Romanian-Hungarian dialogue and friendship.

Magyar Nemzet looked for a Romanian politician who had condemned Băsescu and found him in Mircea Geoană, the former Romanian foreign minister. He considered Băsescu’s attack on Hungary and the Hungarian politicians part of the Romanian president’s “desperate pursuit of popularity.” Geoană expressed his fear that after such an extremist statement “there will be the danger that the world will consider Romania to be the center of instability in Europe” instead of Hungary. What Magyar Nemzet neglected to mention was that the socialist Mircea Geoană was the candidate for the post of presidency in 2009 against Trajan Băsescu. But even Magyar Nemzet had to admit that another socialist politician, Mircea Dusa, a member of parliament from Hargita/Harghita, welcomed Băsescu’s condemnation of the Orbán government’s political activities in Romania.

If that weren’t enough, Viktor Orbán made another diplomatic faux pas, this time involving the Czech Republic and the Visegrád Four. The Visegrád Four (V4), an alliance of four Central European states–the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary, was established both to further cooperation and to promote the European integration of these countries. The name of the alliance is derived from the place where Bohemian, Polish, and Hungarians rulers met in 1335. The three kings agreed in Visegrád to create new commercial routes to bypass the port of Vienna and obtain easier access to other European markets.

The Visegrád Four still exists and this year the prime minister of Hungary serves as chairman. The next summit of the four countries was scheduled to be held on August 24 in the fabulous Esterházy Palace located in Fertőd, close to the Austrian border. On August 8 the Office of the Prime Minister announced that Viktor Orbán had decided to postpone the summit due to the Czech government crisis. It was clear from the text of the announcement that the idea had originated with Viktor Orbán and that the postponement was not requested by the Czechs.

The Czech reaction was swift. Jan Hrubes, the Czech government spokesman, announced that there was no need to postpone the summit. Moreover, the Czech government learned about the change of plans only from the media. Jirí Rusnok, the current prime minister, was ready to participate in the summit. The spokesman of the Hungarian Office of the Prime Minister expressed his surprise since, according to him, the Poles and Slovaks received Orbán’s announcement. Whether the Czechs did or not is a moot point. The fact is that it is not customary in diplomacy to postpone a meeting on account of instability in one of the countries without the request of the country in question. A typical Viktor Orbán move; he behaves in international circles like a bull in a china shop.

According to observers, the real reason behind Orbán’s move can be traced to his political sympathies. The former prime minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Nečas, was a member of the right-of-center Civic Democratic Party and was an admirer of Orbán. In fact, he stood by the Orbán government at the time the European Parliament accepted the Tavares Report. He expressed his “deep disappointment” and forewarned of the grave consequences of the report for the future of the European Union. By contrast, President Miloš Zeman is a socialist and so is Jirí Rusnok, who will most likely remain at the head of the government at least until October when elections will probably be held. Tamás Rónay of Népszava suspects that Orbán’s decision to postpone the summit is a gesture to and an expression of solidarity with Nečas, who had to resign in the wake of a huge sex and corruption scandal. Just another case of diplomacy Orbán style.

*Thanks to my friends originally from Transylvania who provided me with the Romanian original.

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Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Sometimes it seems one’s as bad as the other. And it could get worse, as RO, HU, SK, PL, CZ are all having elections in the next twelve months or so…

Member

It takes one to know one. Petr Nečas and Viktor Orban, two pees in a pod. No kidding that Orban and his buddy support each other.

1848Again
Guest

We are waiting for the smoking gun.
What will end the Orban hysteria?

dana
Guest

Basescu didn’t said anything about Orban. He said about Jobbik ‘s and PPMT’s politicians who usually make inappropiate comments. Basescu star his electoral campaign, like Vona Gabor, that’s all.

dana
Guest

those summer camps at Tusnad are held with a view to furthering Magyar-Hungarian dialogue, not Magyar-Romanian dialogue.

dana
Guest

Basescu said “Poate să se perinde prin Harghita şi Covasna toată protipendada politică maghiară. Şi probabil este ultimul an când au putut să o facă atât de relaxat. Sincer să fiu, ca şef al statului, am vrut să văd până unde se poate merge, iar anul acesta s-a ajuns la limita la care le spun că e prea mult şi nu se va mai repeta.”

In Harghita and Covasna can march the whole Hungarian political elite. And probably this is the last year when they could do so relaxed. Frankly, as head of the state, I wanted to see how far it can go, and this year it reached the extent and I say (to them) it’s too much and it would not be repeated.

Andrei Stavilă
Guest

Just wanted to add two things:
(1) All these countries are going to have elections this year and / or the next year. And all these countries are in economic crisis. This is a very good recipe for extremism – or at least for some extremist remarks and attitudes.
(2) It would be important to stress that Basescu is not only in electoral campaign – he is also trying to build a whole new party since his divorce from his Democratic party. He is trying to build a new electorate. As some Romanian journals argue, since Romania does not have an official extremist party anymore he simply found a political space where he could get a good number of votes from. Orban is still campaigning for Basescu, only the form is a little bit different.
My guess is that the political wars are business as usual in this part of Europe and will pass soon after elections. Bring some economic revival, and they are gone for good.

Kirsten
Guest

Marcel De: “Sometimes it seems one’s as bad as the other.”

But this is exactly what Hungarians should start to believe. Orban may be an exceptional crook but otherwise the problems are quite similar. Only as a minor comment: Milos Zeman was a socialist once, even their chairman, but left the party, and then he was member of a small club called party with the name People’s Right’s Party “Zemanovci” (supporters of Zeman). The current government including Mr Rusnok is comprised of his friends (“supporters of Zeman”) and does not have the support of the parliament. So that is a crisis and for OV this is certainly a good example of the “instability” that he gratefully helps to avoid in Hungary. Populist move, of course.

Jano
Guest

Andrei: Well said. While I think the speeches of Tőkés and Vona were obviously objectionable from the Romanian point of view (I for one would be outraged if e.g. Fico came to Pilisszentkereszt and delivered something similar), this is now an excellent opportunity for Basescu to use the Hungarian card for his comeback to the game. It’s just pure irony that he might not be the president anymore without Orbán’s and Tőkés’s endorsement during the previous election and the referendum on his removal.

judit gherghiteanu
Guest

dana :
Basescu didn’t said anything about Orban. He said about Jobbik ‘s and PPMT’s politicians who usually make inappropiate comments. Basescu star his electoral campaign, like Vona Gabor, that’s all.

thisis is not quite right, basescu reffered to “Hungary” when did express his will to reprimand it, and about the loitering politicians did talk generally, not specifically about vona gabor, so you may understand about orban too.

Guest

@Some1:

No offense – you made me laugh this morning at this image:
“It takes one to know one. Petr Nečas and Viktor Orban, two pees in a pod. ”
These guys peeing together …

These new “Balkan wars” are really crazy, well at least they’re only “wars with words” not with real weapons – but they remind me of the 19th Century Balkan/Eastern Europe situation somehow …

You should see the loonies on pol.hu spouting insults at evrybody if you want some real “fun” – in reality this is so sad …

Are Hungarians ans Romanians etc …) really still on that primitive xenophobic level hating or detesting their neighbours ? Again this reminds me of the 19th century relation between the French and the Germans etc – but in the 21st century ???

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
wolfi :Are Hungarians ans Romanians etc …) really still on that primitive xenophobic level hating or detesting their neighbours ? Again this reminds me of the 19th century relation between the French and the Germans etc – but in the 21st century ??? As I wrote here before about Germany and France: my own elementary school history manuals in the 1970s were still full of distrust and contempt for the other side of the Rhine – from Prehistory to WWII. It takes a lot of time, serious political will and strong civil societies (for cultural, linguistic exchanges, but also business and labour connections) to roll back most of the prejudices accumulated through generations. Expression of those prejudices had been more or less frozen by the communist regime’s “internationalist” posturing – and in the absence of inspired country leaders the EU, for all its good will, might have the same effect. The current populists, from the left (Zeman, Fico, …) or the right (Orbán, Băsescu, …) are not up to their historical responsibilities. Not just for their fellow countrymen, but for the whole continent. For the more they play on those over-used strings in times of crisis and the more it… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest

Andrei Stavilă :
Just wanted to add two things:
(1) All these countries are going to have elections this year and / or the next year. And all these countries are in economic crisis. This is a very good recipe for extremism – or at least for some extremist remarks and attitudes.
(2) It would be important to stress that Basescu is not only in electoral campaign – he is also trying to build a whole new party since his divorce from his Democratic party. He is trying to build a new electorate. As some Romanian journals argue, since Romania does not have an official extremist party anymore he simply found a political space where he could get a good number of votes from. Orban is still campaigning for Basescu, only the form is a little bit different.
My guess is that the political wars are business as usual in this part of Europe and will pass soon after elections. Bring some economic revival, and they are gone for good.

balderdash.. this is political interference in another countries internal affairs plain no matter how you try to justify it.

Member

dana :

dana :
Basescu didn’t said anything about Orban. He said about Jobbik ‘s and PPMT’s politicians who usually make inappropiate comments. Basescu star his electoral campaign, like Vona Gabor, that’s all.

……..
In Harghita and Covasna can march the whole Hungarian political elite. …….

So, you would not consider Orban being part of the Hungarian political elite? He is a failed soccer player for sure, and a crook, but he is part of the Hungarian political elite. If I would ask anyone on the streets of Hungary, who belongs to the Hungarian political elite, I bet that Orban’s name would come to mind to most.

As fars Basescu, Orban, and Kover goes… each one of them have this tendency to win at any price, and they would throw anyone in-front of the lions if that is what it would take. In Hungary the Jews, the gypsies, the EU and the “occupiers”, and in Romania the Hungarians (and probably others on the list, but I am not so familiar with their internal problems). What people do not realize that it is never about the country, but about power, money, and mental illness.

Member

OT: A new survey conducted and prepared by Tarki (hand in hand with others) tried to answer the question on how popular is the idea that it is not the government but some “background power” controls Hungary? Well, 43% of Hungarians believe in some alternative “powerhouse”. (Before you laugh, you should ask the question if Simicska’s interests are the interests of the government or not.)

What I find most interesting is that although that the survey was not about “Who would you vote for?”, still you can see how would people vote. I am interested about the two categories, “non disclosed party” and “no party preference” (undecided). 967 people participated, and
263 identified themselves as Fidesz
128 MSZP
70 Jobbik
38 Egyutt-2014
26 LMP
334 no party preference (that is more than Fidesz)
108 non disclosed party

What it shows that over 10% of people are afraid to tell who they choose, and over 33% are undecided.

Simona Botezan
Guest
Can you explain, please, why the Government of Hungary has invested $1 million in “Hungarian Heritage” festival in Washington D.C., who promoted Transylvania as part of Hungary and a separatist agenda of the Hungarians from Transylvania, during the period 26 June – 7 July 2013? Sponsors of the festival, namely the Government of Hungary; Hungarian Embassy at Washington DC; Balassi Institute; American Hungarian Federation (AHF) went to the festival with a old map of former kingdom of Hungary and with the flag of Szekelyfold (a country that doesn’t exist)? http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/news_smithsonianfolklife2013.html http://www.talkradionews.com/audio/2013/07/01/listen-hungarian-ambassador-dishes-about-d-c-festival.html#.Ugoyk5KUStW Why Hungarian authorities failed to specify that Transylvania belongs to another sovereign state, and it does not belong to Hungary? Why have they brought in the US half of the communities and artists of the festival from Romania? Why have they presented ethnic costumes and Romanian folk songs and dances, as though they would be part of Hungarian cultural heritage? http://folklife.hu/participants/communities/ Why AHF (one of the sponsors) organized in March10, 2013 a protest rally in front of the White House, wearing the Szekelyfold flag; campaigning for autonomy of Transylvania and claiming that Hungarians are discriminated in Romania? http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/news_rumania_Autonomy_2013-03-10.html You agree that the United States is a worldwide standard for… Read more »
szomszéd
Guest

It is not for the first time when Hungary´s attempts to make its internal politics on the teritory of neighbour country provoke counteraction. In 2009 former hungarian president Sólyom intended to to unveil a statue of Hungarian King Stephen I in Komárno on August 21 (anniversary of 1968 invasion of Warsaw pact troops, hungarian among them, into Czechoslovakia, Slovak representatives were not invited) despite negative standpoints of Slovak authorities. In the end, it was prevented him from entering Slovakia. Hungary shifted the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Here is the result:
“The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on Tuesday, October 16, (2012) sided with Slovakia in the lawsuit which emerged due to the attempted visit of former Hungarian President László Sólyom to the country. According to the verdict, Slovakia did not violate the law of the European Union when it refused entry to the then-president on its territory on August 21, 2009. After three years of court wrangling between Hungary and Slovakia, the case ended to the benefit of the Slovak side. The ECJ refused Hungary’s suit in full. (see more: http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/47911/10/european_court_of_justice_delivers_verdict_in_solyom_vs_slovakia.html).

I am afraid OV´s group is on the best way to repeat Sólyom´s experience.

oneill
Guest

“….made it clear that in the future Hungarian politicians “will not be able to roam around Romania freely.” ”

As both countries are technically (if not in spirit) members of the big, happy EU Family, I am not quite sure what he has in mind here. How can he prevent the Viktator and his poodles loitering with intent round sensitive parts of Romania? Arrest him for incitement to separatism?

Member

@Simona Botezan: I cannot fully agree with you. Since it is about Heritage – Roots to Revival, we have to acknowledge that the Transylvania was indeed part of Hungary and it had a great influence on Hungary. Kodaly, not only collected the music of the region, but integrated the music. For that matter and arguably the nicest Hungarian folk tunes came from Transylvania. I do agree that Hungarian heritage includes not only Transylvania but other regions as well. The part that is more upsetting to me is the absenteeism of portrayal of the Jewish culture from the Hungarian Heritage.

Member

Eva S. Balogh :
Some1, I think there were some Jewish programs in DC.

Hmm. A friend of mine who lives in Washington attended, and he has told me that there was none, but when I am looking at the program it does say “Bob Cohen: Authentic Hungarian folk and klezmer music feautirng Bob Cohen, one of the most important figures in today’s Jewish and Eastern European music.” and “Eszter Bíró and Band: Klezmer Melodies”, “Collecting Jewish Tunes”, “Bob Cohen with Szalonna and His Band: Hungarian Jewish Tunes”, “Traditional Jewish Melodies”. I will ask him what he meant…

Guest

I spent 6 days át the Smithsonian Festival, and yes Jewish culture Was reoresented. I did ask my Hungarian friend (a former professional folk dancer) about the Transylvanian preponderance. He said that it Was there that the tradititions were best preserved. To my surprize one of the presenters from Szék showed up át the House in Buda I ám staying in. she comes to Budapest regularly to clean houses. She is a Friend of my hosts. People here who know the culture of folk dance and music expressed no surprise that the Transylvanians represented Hungary.

Anna Bayer
Guest

Dear Simona,
I attended several programs at the Festival in DC. The Hungarian program was rather, promoting Hungarian, Romanian, Gypsy, Jewish friendship. (Szalonna and Bob Cohen or the Gypsy musicians from Romania) All geographical names were written in Romanian as well. I aggree with you that it is very unfortunate that the AP journalist doesn’t know the map and placed Transylvania in Hungary in his article.
On the other hand on the official map of the Festival you could clearly see that those Transylvanian regions are in Romania.
http://www.festival.si.edu/2013/Hungarian_Heritage/history_culture/index.aspx

Anna Bayer
Guest

Direct link to the map:
comment image

Anna Bayer
Guest

Another argument. At the same Folk Festival you could visit tents of endangered cultures/languages. For example the Kalmyks who are Buddhists and speak an endangered Mongolian language. So the stress was on the culture and the language and not on the country where they happen to be, which is the Russian Federation in this case.
http://www.festival.si.edu/2013/One_World_Many_Voices/language_communities/kalmyk.aspx

tappanch
Guest

There were two candidates for the principal position at a Budapest high school.

The application of #1 was supported by 66 out of 67 teachers at the school.

The application of #2 was supported by 0 teachers. In addition, it was found to have been copied, “schmitted” from another application at another school.

After this result, Orban’s ministry did not declare #1 the winner, as one expects in a “normal” country, but decided on a repeated application process.

http://atlatszooktatas.blog.hu/2013/08/13/budapesti_kfg_schmittelt_es_eredmenytelen_igazgatoi_palyazat

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