The Ukrainian crisis: Hungary between Russia and the West

There are occasions when it becomes blatantly obvious how little the Hungarian people are told about their government’s activities. I’m not talking about state secrets but about everyday events. I find it outrageous, for instance, that I had to learn from a Polish Internet site that Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, had a talk with Viktor Orbán in Budapest before flying to Brussels. There was not a peep about this meeting in Hungarian papers, presumably not because Hungarian journalists are a lazy lot but because the prime minister’s office failed to inform the Hungarian news agency of the meeting. The less people know the better.

There is official silence in Budapest on the Ukrainian protest, perhaps soon civil war, with the exception of a short statement issued by the Hungarian foreign ministry at 5:12 p.m. today. I assume there had to be some kind of communication between the prime minister and his foreign minister. If we compare the Hungarian statement to the words of Donald Tusk we can be fairly certain that the two men didn’t see eye to eye on the issue.

According to Tusk, “the moral judgment here is black-and-white, there are no gray areas.” Moreover, “the responsibility for the violence in Kiev rests with the government, not the opposition.” And what did the Hungarian communiqué say? “The responsibility of the Ukrainian government is decisive, but the parliamentary opposition forces must keep their distance from extremist groups.” While according to Tusk “the crisis in Ukraine could determine the course of the whole region” and  requires the European Union to prepare for commitments lasting “not for hours, days or weeks, but for many years,” the Hungarian foreign ministry simply stated that “Hungary finds the European Union’s active participation in the interest of a lasting solution to the country’s political and economic crisis important.”

One can only guess why Tusk had to stop in Budapest on his way to Brussels, but whatever transpired in that meeting it didn’t result in Hungary’s forceful condemnation of the Ukrainian government and its active participation in the process contemplated by the United States and the European Union. Tusk specifically mentioned Poland’s interest in Ukraine because of its common border and historical ties. Both are also true about Hungary’s relations with Ukraine.

It seems to me that Viktor Orbán got himself into a rather uncomfortable situation with his hurried agreement with Russia on the Paks nuclear plant. Pro-government papers, like Heti Válasz, show that journalists in government service feel obliged to defend Vladimir Putin and his policies. One spectacular sign of “loyalty” was an article that appeared in the paper about a week ago in which the author expressed his disgust with the American campaign for the rights of gays and lesbians that prompted a partial boycott of the Sochi Olympics. If the Hungarian right feels that it has to come to the rescue of Putin in this case, one can imagine its position when it comes to such a momentous event as the near-civil war situation in a Ukraine torn between East and West.

While Tusk welcomes Ukrainian refugees and Polish hospitals are taking care of the wounded, nothing was said about any Hungarian willingness to take in refugees if necessary. In fact, I detected a certain fear that such an onslaught might reach the country. There is some worry about the Hungarian minority of about 200,000 in the Zakarpattia Oblast, especially around Beregovo/Beregszász. The Hungarian Inforadio announced tonight that according to a Ukrainian Internet paper “the change of regime has been achieved peacefully in Zakarpattia Oblast.” This may simply be sloppy reporting, but we know that regional capitals all over western Ukraine are engulfed in violence and that in some places the opposition took over the administration. Ukraine is falling apart at the seams. All this is far too close for comfort as far as Hungary is concerned. Yet Viktor Orbán is sitting on the fence.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Meanwhile Donald Tusk has taken the initiative with spectacular success. He flew to Brussels to facilitate a quick decision on the Ukrainian crisis and assembled a delegation of French, German, and Polish foreign ministers to visit Ukraine tomorrow. They will assess the situation before a meeting in Brussels to decide whether to impose EU sanctions on Ukraine. While French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was giving a press conference, U.S. Secretary John Kerry was standing by his side. He stressed President Viktor Yanukovich’s “opportunity to make a choice.”

At the same time German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had a telephone conversation with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov who urged EU politicians “to use their close and everyday contacts with the opposition to urge it to cooperate with the Ukrainian authorities, to comply with agreements reached and to decisively distance itself from radical forces unleashing bloody riots, in fact, embarking on the route to a coup.”

It seems that Hungary is trying to strike a “balance” between the western position and that of Russia. It will be difficult.

Meanwhile in Hungary a liberal blogger compared the two Viktors and found many similarities. Neither is a democrat, both are corrupt, and both built a mafia state with the help of their oligarchs. And yet Ukrainians are fighting in the streets while in Hungary Orbán still has a large and enthusiastic following. In his post he tries to find answers to the question so many people ask: how is it that the Hungarian people have not revolted yet? Are they less freedom loving than the Ukrainians? Are they longer suffering? Can they be more easily fooled? Our blogger is convinced that one day Hungarian patience will run out. He gives Viktor Orbán a piece of advice: “Keep your eyes on Ukraine!”

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tappanch
Guest

@Eva

Orban will have the Nazi monument built.

The new deadline is May 31 – it is in tonight’s Magyar Kozlony

p. 2478, 2014/24
magyarkozlony.hu

Varese
Guest

” how is it that the Hungarian people have not revolted yet? Are they less freedom loving than the Ukrainians? Are they longer suffering? Can they be more easily fooled? … ” I wonder the same things about the Hungarian people – most Hungarians I know are either under 40 and have left the country, or are under 40 and are staying because they work someplace sane like CEU.. and/or they have elderly parents to look after – or they are over 40 and are just not up to uprooting their families…. I am not nearly as hopeful as that blogger who is convinced that Hungarian patience will run out.. 🙁

oneill
Guest

Orban can only dream of sending his bully boys in to batter Hungary’s *post-communists* (aka anyone who doesn’t agree with his monocultural, fascist vision of a future Hungary be they the homeless, the Jews, the Roma, democrats etc etc).
He knows that even his closest allies simply don’t have the stomach to take on physically their fellow Hungarians.

But what has been happened in the Ukraine and indeed Bosnia should keep him awake at night>.
Joke presently doing the rounds in Bosnia can be easily transfererred to Orbanistan:
“Why is there is no sex in the public sector and companies winning state tenders in Hungary?”

Yup, because everyone’s related.

Gabor Fuchs
Guest

The situation in Ukraine is extremely complicated.In Zakarpattia (where I m from) there is a significant amount of Hungarian speakers.But in the neighboring regions of Ivano Frankivsk,Ternopil and Lviv the right wing Svoboda party is quite strong.So the Hungarian government is in a really difficult predicament.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

“It seems that Hungary is trying to strike a “balance” between the western position and that of Russia. It will be difficult.”

All the more difficult as I’m not sure the Hungarian position is clear. While the official statements may lead us to think that OV is, if not against, at least reluctant to impose sanctions on the Ukrainian regime officials, the Brussels correspondent for TVN24 (PL) mentioned this afternoon Hungary among the countries supporting sanctions – my guess being the information may have come from the Ambassadors’ meeting.

One thing is certain though, until now Poland’s policy has been remarkably sharp, while Hungary seems paralyzed by the Paks deal – another risky, hasty gamble.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Gabor Fuchs :
The situation in Ukraine is extremely complicated.In Zakarpattia (where I m from) there is a significant amount of Hungarian speakers.But in the neighboring regions of Ivano Frankivsk,Ternopil and Lviv the right wing Svoboda party is quite strong.So the Hungarian government is in a really difficult predicament.

It’s even more difficult for the Polish Govt. – yet it didn’t prevent Tusk from leading.

joMunka
Guest

The EU must address and encourage the Ukranian people, and reject the Svoboda extremists.

Perhaps in 1956, our Wittners and Pongraczes ruined our chance for freedom.

The Svobodas can ruin the Ukrainian freedom. They should head for a small reform gulag.

Paul
Guest

“how is it that the Hungarian people have not revolted yet? Are they less freedom loving than the Ukrainians? Are they longer suffering? Can they be more easily fooled?”

Why is it that it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that most Hungarians either support Orbán or else think that he’s not doing too bad a job (or no worse than anyone else would/could, at least)?

Look at his polling results – we think they are not good, compared to the 52% he got 4 years ago, but his figures are pretty good for a government coming to the end of its first term under less than easy circumstances (most government parties in the same position would regard his polling with envy). There’s no agitation, not because people are scared, or because they are misinformed, but because not enough of them think there’s anything to agitate against.

From outside, Hungary looks like a country led by a wannabe dictator, heading towards disaster. But this is not how it looks to most people inside the country.

Paul
Guest

As for Ukraine, it seems to be heading for an east-west civil war – as has long been predicted.

Putin is not just going to sit back and let this happen. The minute things start to look serious, he will take the traditional Russian course in these situations and send ‘friendly’ tanks over the border to “help the beleaguered legitimate government restore order”.

And how will Orbán react to this? He has painted himself into a very tight corner where Ukraine and Putin are concerned – one he will not be able to get out of. The whole of the EU, the West and the US will condemn Putin, only Orbán will say nothing, or issue mealy-mouthed press releases saying nothing that might upset Putin.

It’s tempting to think this will be the step too far we have all been waiting for, and the EU and US will finally move to take serious action against Orbán. But I suspect that, once again, he will get away with it. Hungary just doesn’t matter that much to anyone else, and Orbán can pretty much get away with everything. And he knows this very well.

An
Guest

@Paul: Putin may use the justification for military intervention of protecting Russian speaking population… and maybe Orban wouldn’t mind the splitting up of Ukraine so much. How tempting would it be for Orban to use some similar rhetoric in claiming Hungarian speaking territories in the Ukraine? Especially while having Putin’s backing…..maybe Orban is dreaming big with his alliance with Russia. I don’t think such plans will work out for Orban, though, if he has such ideas in the back of his mind (He may not. I’m just speculating). Hungary is part of the EU, the NATO and has 0 military power.

Elizabeth Lang
Guest

hajaj,

E

Member

OT
Fidesz uses its Kubatov list, pays 200 forints (0.64 EU) per signature, and misleads the voters. Any surprise?
http://vankireszavazni.blog.hu/2014/02/19/ket_kiloert_cimre_mennek_es_megtevesztik_a_lakokat_a_fidesz-aktivistak

Razvan
Guest
The comparison of the current Ukraine with current Hungary is not apt. Current Ukraine should be compared to Hungary (Romania etc.) of 1990. Ok, even then Hungarians did not have a revolt, but Romanians did. Hungary is now way after the opening of the markets and Ukraine is only dreaming about it. Free market capitalism came and many have argued that it had to do with Orban’s (Jobbik’s) success and the unpopularity of the Western-oriented, uncritical, technocratic left. However, if Ukraine is forced to open its markets like Hungary did, I promise you that in a couple of years Ukraine will be like Hungary now, only much tougher in every sense. Ukraine cannot compete freely in the world. Plus not only average folks waste energy in huge housing projects, the giant factories do too, Ukraine just needs much more energy to produce the same unit of GDP than its CEE peers do. Ukraine just does not have a sophisticated, diverse enough economy, if that is exposed like Hungary’s was, it would collapse. The EU should ideally understand that, but I am not sure they will ever do. The EU was started as a common market and the free flow of… Read more »
2razvan
Guest
The comparison of the current Ukraine with current Hungary is not apt. Current Ukraine should be compared to Hungary (Romania etc.) of 1990. Ok, even then Hungarians did not have a revolt, but Romanians did. Hungary is now way after the opening of the markets and Ukraine is only dreaming about it. Free market capitalism came and many have argued that it had to do with Orban’s (Jobbik’s) success and the unpopularity of the Western-oriented, uncritical, technocratic left. However, if Ukraine is forced to open its markets like Hungary did, I promise you that in a couple of years Ukraine will be like Hungary now, only much tougher in every sense. Ukraine cannot compete freely in the world. Plus not only average folks waste energy in huge housing projects, the giant factories do too, Ukraine just needs much more energy to produce the same unit of GDP than its CEE peers do. Ukraine just does not have a sophisticated, diverse enough economy, if that is exposed like Hungary’s was, it would collapse. The EU should ideally understand that, but I am not sure they will ever do. The EU was started as a common market and the free flow of… Read more »
petofi
Guest
Paul : “how is it that the Hungarian people have not revolted yet? Are they less freedom loving than the Ukrainians? Are they longer suffering? Can they be more easily fooled?” Why is it that it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that most Hungarians either support Orbán or else think that he’s not doing too bad a job (or no worse than anyone else would/could, at least)? Look at his polling results – we think they are not good, compared to the 52% he got 4 years ago, but his figures are pretty good for a government coming to the end of its first term under less than easy circumstances (most government parties in the same position would regard his polling with envy). There’s no agitation, not because people are scared, or because they are misinformed, but because not enough of them think there’s anything to agitate against. From outside, Hungary looks like a country led by a wannabe dictator, heading towards disaster. But this is not how it looks to most people inside the country. Ahh, our resident apologist regurgitating someone else’s gruel–how nice! Mr. P–most commentators on this blog have an international perspective having had the immense… Read more »
Reddit
Guest

It is public now. The German occupation memorial will be erected in May.

What happened was that the government resolution’s target date was yesterday officially moved to a new date in May, ie. after the elections.

As it was mentioned, Orban will erect the monument no matter what. It was never a question of canceling the project. It has been ready, they cannot do anything with it, cannot keep under wraps forever.

And Orban, Balog, Schmidt, Szakály and their friends will never “give in to the Jews”.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20140219_A_valasztasok_utan_epul_csak_meg_a_Szabad

DotDotDot
Guest
MET, the off-shore company with ties to Garancsi (ie. Orban) which was involved in the 50bn HUF scam (just in 2012) is now purchasing Dunamenti Erőmű, the second biggest, and gas-powered power station in Hungary. The seller is GDF, the French energy company. MET still has the ability to sell cheap natural gas (remember that it could purchase cheap gas from MVM which was exceptionally allowed by the government to purchase cheap gas from western source, instead of having to purchase the Russian gas which comes more expensively under the long-term agreement). MET will sell such cheap gas to Dunamenti, which company will then finally make profit. Obviously Dunamenti until it was forced to purchase from the Russian gas made huge losses, as the retail (output) price was set at a low level by Orban. Now that Orban bled the company out, the dutiful French will sell the company to Orban. And they are doing it without a beep. That’s what we like in Hungary. The question is who is paying the higher Russian take-or-pay prices? Is it the taxpayers through the central budget? ‘Cos someone has gotta pay as there is a capacity which is not used out. Hungary… Read more »
Martin
Guest

Mazsihisz is waiting for Orban’s answers. The Fideszniks say rest assured that there “will be a solution as the conflict isn’t good for anybody”.

Interpret: The Jews will get money so they are expected to shut the **** up. Otherwise everything will be as planned, because as one Fidesznik, without name, also told origo.hu: “it is not Orban’s style to retreat”.

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20140219-a-zsido-szervezetek-es-a-kormany-konfliktusa-holokauszt-emlekev.html

An
Guest

@petofi: It’s the other Paul.

koriander
Guest

Dear Ms Balogh,
Thank you for this article and for your blog in general.
“a liberal blogger compared the two Viktors”.
Could you let me know where i can find this article ?
Thank you in advance!

petofi
Guest

@Dotdotdot

“My guess is that since the natural gas wholesaler is now owned by the state, its loss is paid by the taxpayers.”

We’ve seen this scenario before, haven’t we? As in TWICE, with Malev. (With Russians as beneficiaries, of course.)

It’s amazing that the Hungarian taxpayer gets repeatedly ripped off to the profiteering Russians.
What kind of a ‘cow’ is Hungary after all? (Cash cow is one answer..)

tappanch
Guest

Here is another eyewitness report from Ukraine, from Beregszasz and Lviv.

http://atlatszo.hu/2014/02/20/a-karpataljai-magyarokat-hidegen-hagyja-a-kijevi-forradalom/

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

OT: The Govt’s answer Maszihisz is out. It’s a masterpiece of contempt and absurdity – as if OV hadn’t brought the subject in the campaign all by himself with the stupid salvo of ‘memorial’ announcements in december…

http://goo.gl/DkDIiA

Kavé
Guest
Timothy Snyder, whose book “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” has piece in the NY Review of books about the Ukrainian protests which looks at the issue of manipulating historical symbols (the Holocaust and Nazis) in ways that are very similar to what is happening in Hungary today as well. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/fascism-russia-and-ukraine/ Most disturbing, given VO’s recent coziness with Putin and his silence on the Maidan violence, is this passage: “The course of the protest has very much been influenced by the presence of a rival project, based in Moscow, called the Eurasian Union. This is an international commercial and political union that does not yet exist but that is to come into being in January 2015. The Eurasian Union, unlike the European Union, is not based on the principles of the equality and democracy of member states, the rule of law, or human rights. On the contrary, it is a hierarchical organization, which by its nature seems unlikely to admit any members that are democracies with the rule of law and human rights. Any democracy within the Eurasian Union would pose a threat to Putin’s rule in Russia. Putin wants Ukraine in his Eurasian Union, which means that Ukraine must… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :
OT: The Govt’s answer Maszihisz is out. It’s a masterpiece of contempt and absurdity – as if OV hadn’t brought the subject in the campaign all by himself with the stupid salvo of ‘memorial’ announcements in december…
http://goo.gl/DkDIiA

Nesze semmi, fogd meg jól. [Hungarian saying: here is the nothing, now grab it strongly]

Let us fight it out after the end of
Easter [i.e. from April 22] or
Passover [i.e. from April 23]?

http://www.kormany.hu/download/7/21/31000/Heisler%20Andras%2020140219.pdf

In my opinion, Orban will have the Nazi eagle monument erected in May.

This is his winning pattern so far , retreat a bit, then push it through when the world does not pay attention.

(Examples: forced retirement of judges, election laws, no political ads in commercial television, student protests, etc.)

Costeno
Guest

Very OT, but very interesting interview about Argentina, another weird laggard like Hungary (once maybe rich, but never a modern country) with right wing tendencies.

http://bostonreview.net/arts-culture/jessica-sequeira-interview-uki-goni

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Costeno :
Very OT, but very interesting interview about Argentina, another weird laggard like Hungary (once maybe rich, but never a modern country) with right wing tendencies.
http://bostonreview.net/arts-culture/jessica-sequeira-interview-uki-goni

Nice piece, though I’d rather speak of ‘populist tendencies’ – either right-wing or left-wing, in the long run much like in Hungary it doesn’t matter that much. Oddly, if airplanes were faster I probably would have moved to BsAs instead of Budapest a few years ago. I must have a secret thing for such doomed societies. 🙂

Laurent
Guest

If Orban is elected again he will (A) erect the German occupation monument, (B) build the House of Fates and (C) awash Veritas in money (he will even elevate Szakály to be the head of the history department of the Academy of Sciences).

None of these has ever been in question.

Only naive intellectuals can kid themselves that Orban will change his mind. We should be smarter.

In fact Orban is very calculable: if he is pushed against doing something, he will do it for sure anyway.

Just to show that he cannot be pushed. (Especially when his constituencies demand tough action against the Jews, but he would have done it anyway.)

Jews will of course be invited to the Holocaust shows and ceremonies, after all Hungary takes its minorities seriously, and some will even attend (even from Israel). Message sent. Case closed.

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