Ukrainian-Hungarian relations during the Orbán years

Today I’m going to survey Hungarian-Ukrainian relations over the course of the last four years, since Viktor Orbán won the election. You may recall that the new prime minister began his diplomatic rounds with a trip to Poland, which was supposed to signal a foreign policy that would put the emphasis not so much on relations with western Europe as on relations with other central and eastern European nations. Of course, he also made several official visits to Brussels, but they were quick trips related to Hungary’s membership in the Union. There is a handy list, compiled by MTI, on Orbán’s foreign visits, showing that Ukraine was one of the first countries he visited. It was on November 12, 2010 that he traveled to Kiev. Shortly thereafter, on November 30, he went to Moscow.

Ukrainian-Hungarian flagsSo, let’s see what Orbán had to say about Hungarian-Ukrainian relations at the time. He claimed that former Hungarian governments hadn’t paid enough attention to Ukraine, but from here on everything would change because “the current Ukrainian leadership stabilized Ukraine” even as he is “working on stabilizing Hungary.” He was looking forward to cooperation between two stable countries, and he expressed his appreciation that Viktor Yanukovych’s government had withdrawn some legislation that was injurious to the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia. A few months earlier, during one of his visits to Brussels, Orbán had a meeting with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of NATO, during which he commented favorably on the new Ukrainian government (Yanukovych became president of Ukraine on February 25, 2010), which he considered to be a “reliable” partner.

Since 2010 Ukrainian-Hungarian relations have been friendly. In fact, behind the scenes they were quite close. Here I will give just one example of how close: the story of Oleksandr Shepelev, former member of the Ukrainian parliament. Shepelev belonged to Yulia Tymoshenko’s party from 2006 until December 2012. The Ukrainian government charged him with three contract killings and one attempted murder. In addition, he was alleged to have embezzled one billion dollars of government funds which, they contended, he pumped into Rodovid, an ailing bank with which he was associated. He fled Ukraine, fearing for his safety. The Ukrainian government went to Interpol asking for his arrest. He and his family were found in Budapest in July 2013 where he was seeking political asylum. The Ukrainian online newspaper Kyiv Post triumphantly announced on September 30 that “the Hungarian authorities have denied refugee status to former Ukrainian member of parliament Oleksandr Shepelev, a diplomatic source told Interfax-Ukraine.” The Hungarian judicial system ordered the Shepelev couple to be incarcerated until the immigration authorities decided their fate. Half a year went by and there was still no decision about the Shepelevs.

According to Indexthe Hungarian government that was asked to extradite the Shepelevs to Ukraine was quite eager to oblige. Vitali Zakharchenko, the just recently dismissed minister of interior, came to Budapest several times to confer with his Hungarian colleague, Sándor Pintér, about the fate of Shepelev. Viktor Pshonka, the prosecutor-general of Ukraine whose garish house we admired online, who since was also dismissed by the Ukrainian parliament and is currently in hiding, also paid a visit to Budapest to confer with Hungary’s own chief prosecutor, Péter Polt. In fact, the Hungarian government was certain that Shepelev would be in Kiev soon enough, and they leaked the impending extradition to reporters. The Hungarian courts, however, intervened. In a December 9 hearing the judge ruled that the reasons given by the immigration office for a denial of political asylum were insufficient. Shepelev, who might have been thrown into jail for life in Ukraine, was temporarily saved by the Hungarian judiciary despite the best efforts of the Orbán government.

The immigration office had to make a decision by January 6 but nothing happened. At this point Galina Shepeleva threatened the prison authorities with a hunger strike. Shepelev’s lawyer, after looking at the documents submitted by the immigration office, came to the conclusion that the office was following the explicit orders of the Hungarian government. In brief, Viktor Orbán was effectively assisting Yanukovych’s thoroughly corrupt government go after a political opponent, possibly on trumped-up charges.

As long as Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych were both in power Viktor Orbán’s situation was easy. He could have excellent relations with both. But now Yanukovych, who according to Orbán brought “stability to Ukraine,” is gone and Putin has sent troops to the Crimea. Orbán, as prime minister of a country that is a member state of the European Union, is supposed to follow the lead of the European Union. The prime ministers or presidents of most European countries, including Hungary’s neighbors, have openly condemned the Russian military action. Viktor Orbán is silent.

The Russian military move is clearly illegal. The reference point is the so-called Budapest Memorandum of 1994 signed by Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin, and Leonid Kuchma, who was then the president of Ukraine. The complete text of the Budapest Memorandum is available on the Internet. The parties agreed, among other things, “to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of kind.” In this light, Putin’s economic pressure on Ukraine was already a violation of the agreement. Point 2 of the agreement states that “the United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

The ineffectual János Martonyi did go to Ukraine with the Czech and Slovak foreign ministers. Poland sent only an undersecretary. They went to Kiev and the Donetsk region where they held most likely absolutely useless talks with Ukrainian leaders. Martonyi subsequently visited the Subcarpathian region where he conferred with leaders of the Hungarians living there who hold conflicting political opinions. Ever since Orbán won the election in 2010 the Hungarian government has given financial help to one faction while it has ignored the other. It looks as if the main difference between the two groups is their attitude toward the Yanukovych government. The Yanukovych government, most likely as a sign of its appreciation for Viktor Orbán’s support, lifted some of the discriminatory pieces of legislation previously enacted. That made some of the Hungarians supporters of the Yanukovych regime. Others sided with the supporters of the European Union. Throughout his visit to the region Martonyi kept emphasizing the need for unity. However, under the present circumstances I’m not at all sure what this means. Supporting whom? The parliament in Kiev rather foolishly abrogated the language law enacted in 2012 but thanks to the intervention of the acting president it is still in force. Therefore it is also difficult to figure out what Martonyi’s silly motto, “Don’t hurt the Hungarians,” which he repeated on this occasion, means in this particular case.

For a good laugh, which we all need today, here is what the sophisticated deputy prime minister, Zsolt Semjén, said about the Ukrainian crisis last night in an interview on HírTV. “It is a good thing to have something between us and Russia.” Let’s hope that this statement, however primitive, means that Hungary stands behind the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

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Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

“The present anti-Russian government in Kiev which rather foolishly abrogated the language law enacted in 2011?”

Details: the bill in question was passed in August, 2012. It’s the Rada (not the govt) who repealed it, but the acting President has blocked publication so it is still in force.

andy - "it takes one to know one"...
Guest

The story of the Orban and the Yanukovich types… reminds me of this English idiomatic phrase “It takes one to know one”…

andy - "it takes one to know one"..2.
Guest

… meaning the two clans instantly recognized each other’s similarity in aspirations.

An
Guest
csaba
Guest

andy, I know a better reference. Orban is a lawyer, and his entire posse consists of lawyers and it takes one to know one.

Paul
Guest

An :
Interesting take on why Putin won’t stop at the Crimea
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116810/putin-declares-war-ukraine-and-us-or-nato-wont-do-much

Interesting – and, I fear, accurate.

Nap
Guest
An, It’s a bit funny. A couple of days ago I read about scientific methods, that there is a huge effort going on to ‘scientifically’ confirm or disconfirm various behavioral characteristics of dogs. It’s a complicated process, with scientific journals accepting and rejecting articles. But many of these scientific debates actually concern questions which have long been clear to dog-owners. They just know it, because they have seen it. They do not need the published papers for that. I kinda have the same feeling with this TNR article. Maybe it is now written by a well-regarded magazine, so it is credible, but this has been obvious as it was mentioned on this blog several times too. Putin was gonna invade Ukraine and occupy the Eastern half where he hopes the ethnic Russian majority will support annexation, or rather they will vote to join Russia, so it will be a democratic process. In fact Russia can even occupy Western parts with clear Ukrainian ethnic majority, because these people would still be diluted by the Russian majority of the Eastern parts in a referendum. Self-determination is important, you know, it’s in the UN Charter. So it is a legally sound argument, at… Read more »
An
Guest

@Nap: Yes, I agree, this is nothing new to anybody from Eastern Europe or with any knowledge of Russia. But here on the other side of the Atlantic this may not be obvious for a lot of people, including some political analysts. As the article notes, today’s Russia, and authoritarian regimes in general, operate on a different logic than most people in democracies are used to.

Istvan
Guest
Thanks An for posting the link to the Julia Joffe New Republic article on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. There are some insights into Putin and great Russian chauvinism. I think Ms Joffe does not totally get how US power is restrained by a wavering European NATO that is fundamentally risk adverse. She indicates that Russia “perceives . . .a large and growing NATO threat.” No it’s actually an EU economic threat, NATO as we can see right now is no threat at all. However, while the EU wants to economically encroach on Russia, it wants the US to carry the brunt of the defense burden. Even then the EU leaders waffle. US makes its worst miscalculations when it goes it alone, but as a military force we project our greatest power when we are bold. The US has appeared weak in the face of Russian aggression, Obama is terrified of going it alone and the EU leaders are fundamentally cowards. The US needs to pay little further attention to the German windbags who preach free markets and stuff their pockets. The US military establishment is furious that Putin has gotten away with this and the lesson is the… Read more »
An
Guest

@Istvan: Getting the vibes around here from my circle of friends and acquaintances, Americans don’t like the idea of another military intervention in some far away country they don’t care about. They are tired of being involved in military conflicts that have very little to do with the US, as they see it. No wonder Obama doesn’t want to go at it alone.

SOS sos sos
Guest

Hungary has been the great leadership crisis until now.
The Tavares report was a historical document.
The Ukrainian event is another problematic development.
These cases can destroy the EU and Europe, will be very costly affairs.
Wake up Obama, Merkel, Cameron…

Gelfand
Guest
Istvan, An, this is exactly why this is a great time for Putin. Putin realized that Obama retreated in Syria because, among others, the American public was against a military intervention. However, real leadership is not just about popularity and this is also about letting Russia (and by implication China) get away with conquests. Where will they stop? The “issue” with Hitler was that he wanted everything very quickly (and did not have the nukes). So it was appeasement but then it turned out quickly that it did not work and the West got angry. If Russia does it smartly every annexation is a “new game”, as governments in the West will come and go, nobody will remember about previous policies vis-a-vis Russia. At every major turn of events the West will start its policy debates anew and start with appeasement toward Russia. So slowly, in a decade or so, Russia, in addition to Ukraine, will have annexed Belorussia and Moldova. This process actually started with Georgia and now Ukraine is a new game as we see it. Russia could certainly also annex Finland and even the Baltic states within a couple of days, as the NATO can not realistically… Read more »
jaka
Guest
Coup in Ukraine, proof: Constitution of Ukraine: Article 108. The President of Ukraine shall exercise his powers until the assumption of office by the newly elected President of Ukraine. The authority of the President of Ukraine shall be subject to an early termination in cases of: 1) resignation; 2) inability to exercise presidential authority for health reasons; 3) removal from office by the procedure of impeachment; 4) his/her death. Article 111 Article 111. The President of Ukraine may be removed from the office by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in compliance with a procedure of impeachment if he commits treason or other crime. The issue of the removal of the President of Ukraine from the office in compliance with a procedure of impeachment shall be initiated by the majority of the constitutional membership of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine shall establish a special ad hoc investigating commission, composed of special prosecutor and special investigators to conduct an investigation. The conclusions and proposals of the ad hoc investigating commission shall be considered at the meeting of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. On the ground of evidence, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine shall, by at least two-thirds… Read more »
petofi
Guest

No matter what you thought of Reagan, when he came to power Iran’s belligerence immediately ended. You need a western leader of some ‘gravitas’ to be able to suggest a ‘threat’ that is viable. A bowing, aw-schucks kind of leader like Obama is totally misplaced as the leader of the Western world.

jaka
Guest

The illegal coup government are trying to command Ukraine military right on Russian border. This : extreme military provocation and war threat to Russia.

The illegal coup government are giving illegal orders to military units. Russia must be strong in face of such war threats, the illegal coup government of thugs must be arrested. Coup government must not threaten Russia with military

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Istvan :
The US military establishment is furious that Putin has gotten away with this and the lesson is the same as always those who hesitate are lost. If Hungary, Poland, Germany, France, and the rest want the US nuclear umbrella then it’s threat has to be used or else wise it is worth nothing.

France has its own nukes, remember ? If I may, you seem a bit obsessed by this issue. There’s plenty NATO could have done, such as :

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/01/nato_needs_to_move_now_on_crimea

Hansel
Guest

jaka, oh my, now we have even Russian or Yanukovich-loyal trolls on this site.

This is a proof that Hungarian Spectrum became an internationally influential blog.

jaka says “Ukraine is now a military threat to Russia”.

I mean this is a ludicrous proposition even to a toddler. Russia with the biggest pile of nukes on earth is now supposedly “threatened” by Ukraine??

Although this “argument” is important to take note of because it shows Putin might use it.

I am sure the Russians have a laundry list of other “arguments”, like they are not actually invading Ukraine, but are only “called in” by the “lawful leader Yanukovich” (like the Soviet army was “called in” in 1956 to Hungary or to Prague in 1968) so it is only a military assistance or whatever.

Also note the legalistic arguments. They obviously use military force, but will not give up on “legal” arguments either.

bug
Guest

btw: the smarter Baltic people already feel that they are next. It may be a couple of years, but Russia is coming to get them. Hitler was not satisfied with Czechoslovakia and neither will Putin or his successor silovik be with Ukraine, and not even with Belorussia.

andy - Anti-Putin = Anti-Orban
Guest

Another reminder that this is a “dog-eat-dog” world and the hungrier and more motivated animal will grab the spoils.

The West should no longer trust Putin and Russia, and KEEP THEM AWAY FROM THE BUSTLING WESTERN ECONOMY !!!!!!

The Putin maneuver EXPOSES Hungary’s ORBAN for what he IS.

“Admit it, Mr ORBAN your GANG has just been SHAMED by the company you keep !!!!!

Member

TIME FOR OPPOSITION CAMPAIGN TO POST PAKS ORBANA IMAGES ON EVERY LAMP-POST

Member

Above left out the img code. Here’s another try:

TIME FOR OPPOSITION CAMPAIGN TO POST PAKS ORBANA IMAGES ON EVERY LAMP-POST

Member

3rd and last try (this time just with URLs of images):

(I’d be grateful if someone could tell me the right code for embedding images in wordpress comments! Apologies for my 2 failed attempts)

TIME FOR OPPOSITION CAMPAIGN TO POST PAKS ORBANA IMAGES ON EVERY LAMP-POST

http://www.thestar.com.my/%7E/media/Images/TSOL/Photos-Gallery/Reuters%20World/2014/01/13/20140113T124709Z_1_CBREA0C0ZIQ00_RTROPTP_3_RUSSIAPUTINORBAN.ashx
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Paul
Guest
I object strongly to Europeans being called “risk-averse”. It’s fine for the US to talk like this when the worst that’s ever happened to them is 9/11 (and look at their reaction to that!). Over here we have been through two horrific wars, where millions died and many millions more suffered, lost their homes, lost family members and friends, had their lives turned upside-down. And it took decades to recover from all this – indeed some places have yet to recover nearly 70 years later. We have suffered 9/11s by the thousand – and far worse. So you expect us to try to solve problems by going through that again? There simply HAS to be a better way of sorting things out – even things as bad as Putin or Sadam. War is never the answer – and rarely ‘works’ anyway (look at Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, for instance). The answer is clear – economic interdependence. It simply becomes too expensive and damaging to go to war. This won’t stop someone like Putin annexing a bit of territory that he regards as his, and few care about anyway, but it will prevent (has prevented) anything much worse – and, in… Read more »
petofi
Guest
Istvan : Thanks An for posting the link to the Julia Joffe New Republic article on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. There are some insights into Putin and great Russian chauvinism. I think Ms Joffe does not totally get how US power is restrained by a wavering European NATO that is fundamentally risk adverse. She indicates that Russia “perceives . . .a large and growing NATO threat.” No it’s actually an EU economic threat, NATO as we can see right now is no threat at all. However, while the EU wants to economically encroach on Russia, it wants the US to carry the brunt of the defense burden. Even then the EU leaders waffle. US makes its worst miscalculations when it goes it alone, but as a military force we project our greatest power when we are bold. The US has appeared weak in the face of Russian aggression, Obama is terrified of going it alone and the EU leaders are fundamentally cowards. The US needs to pay little further attention to the German windbags who preach free markets and stuff their pockets. The US military establishment is furious that Putin has gotten away with this and the lesson… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Another question worthy of some consideration is why the new Kiev powers went out of their way to provoke the Russians with the new language laws. Doesn’t this seem to remind us of
the American ambassador’s false signals (ie. ‘the US doesn’t care’) to Saddam Hussein prior to his attack on Kuwait?

petofi
Guest

As an American domestic issue, the Ukraine problem is a game-changer: it suggests that it’s time for strong, manly, government–a Republic president, and a man–to handle the Russians.

petofi
Guest

correction: “Republic” should read “Republican”

Sanyi
Guest
Paul, I think you are wrong and you will soon realize it. It seems to me that you cling to the idea that history is over and we will forever live in harmony. If this was the case in Europe for 20 odd years after the fall of communism, then this era is now over (it was over with Georgia). I do not advocate war in general and as a Hungarian even the idea of it is preposterous, as we consistently lost wars and our army has been a joke when there was a draft, it is much smaller now. But, a dictator exactly because he never faced real opposition (which is the definition of a dictator), cannot be stopped in any other way than by brute force of a credible threat thereof. Putin and his cohort will only only understand credible force. They are macho bullies, just like Orban is, who understand and respect force, but not much else. The entire Russian political elite comes from the security branches, their world view has been shaped by (de facto imperial) authoritarian power concepts, in fact they were recruited in the first place exactly because they harbored such ideas. Thus anything… Read more »
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