Péter Szijjártó’s new foreign policy and the U.S. response to the Hungarian challenge to democracy

Only a few days have gone by since Péter Szijjártó became Hungary’s new foreign minister but he hasn’t wasted any time. In two days he put together a new team. So, in the last four months the top personnel at the ministry has changed not once but twice. First, Tibor Navracsics got rid of the old guard who were most likely not enamored with Szijjártó’s activities as quasi foreign minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. The purge included  Zsolt Németh, one of the founders of Fidesz, who has been present in the Hungarian parliament ever since 1990 and who over the years became the foreign policy expert within Fidesz. He was János Martonyi’s parliamentary secretary during the first Orbán government (1998-2002), and in 2010 I was half expecting that he would take over the foreign ministry in the second Orbán administration. That was not to be. And now he has really been dropped. Today he is simply the chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs. In this capacity he has no influence whatsoever on the course of Hungarian foreign policy.

Meanwhile, after Tibor Navracsics’s reorganization of the ministry when about 200 people lost their jobs, here is the second wave of firings which Szijjártó calls “streamlining.” According to the new minister, over 200 more people will be let go. It is not clear whether that number includes ambassadors who are being recalled. In the next year 84 ambassadorial posts will have new occupants. Thirty-four have already departed, and between now and the first half of 2015 fifty more ambassadors will be recalled.

Szijjártó made it clear that he is laying down the foundation of a new Hungarian foreign policy and that this change “will be irreversible and final.” From here on the Hungarian foreign ministry will be headed by a man who is convinced that there is a “new world order” in which the goal of foreign policy is “the representation of Hungary’s economic interests.” The new administration will change “ingrained structures,” a move that might be attacked by some, but he “will not retreat because this is what is in the interest of the country.” He also emphasized that the “eastern opening” will continue. As far as U.S.-Hungarian relations are concerned, he reiterated that Barack Obama’s remarks had no basis whatsoever. Calling in the U.S. chargé d’affaires was therefore warranted. In fact, in the future André Goodfriend can look forward to regular chats in the foreign ministry’s building. Hungarians don’t mind criticism, but the U.S. charges are without merit. He himself is planning to visit Washington soon for “business and political meetings.” Index seems to know that in Washington Szijjártó will meet with officials concerned with energy policy. It is worth noting that the new foreign ministry will have almost nothing to do with European affairs, which will for the most part be handled by János Lázár in the prime minister’s office.

One can safely say that Hungary is no longer interested in what we call “Atlanticism,” a belief in the importance of cooperation between Europe and the United States and Canada regarding political, economic, and defense issues. I might add here that “Atlanticism” has been especially strong in eastern and central Europe. In Hungary, Martonyi and his political undersecretary, Zsolt Németh, were strong proponents of Atlanticism, and it is no coincidence that supporters of strong ties with North America and the European Union were the first to get the ax.

And now let’s go back to Zsolt Németh who as chairman of the committee on foreign relations still has opportunities to talk about foreign policy issues. On September 30 he told Népszabadság that the cooling of U.S.-Hungarian relations is not in the interest of the country and “it is the preeminent job of Hungarian diplomacy to change the situation.” Hungary’s national interest demands close cooperation with the United States, he said, and he added that he might be able to move things in this direction during his visit to Washington.

Németh was practically on his way to Washington when this interview took place. He came to attend a conference organized by the Center for European Policy Analysis’s  (CEPA) U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum, which is the largest annual gathering of U.S. and Central East European officials, experts, and scholars. The conference was entitled “Reviving Atlanticism in Central Europe–Perils and Possibilities.” The conference ended about an hour ago and, according to friends who were present, Németh got quite a battering. Most of the questions centered around Hungary and were addressed primarily to him. As one attendee described the scene, “it was not good to be Hungarian today.”

Victoria Nuland

Victoria Nuland

I will rely here on a report filed by Anita Kőműves of Népszabadság, who gave a good summary of what Victoria Nuland, undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, had to say in her opening address. Put it this way, she did not mince words. She began by saying that it was 25 years ago that the Berlin Wall crumbled and people of East-Central Europe again became part of the world where there are free elections, freedom of the media, the existence of a civil sphere; “in brief, they restored liberal democracy.” Today these rights are in danger, with threats coming from the outside as well as inside. The outside dangers are Russia and ISIS, but the inside dangers to democracy and freedom in Central Europe are equally grave. While the region enjoys the benefits offered by NATO and the European Union, there are leaders in the region who seem to have forgotten on what foundations these institutions have been established. “I ask these leaders how can they sleep at night under the blanket of Article V while during the day they press for illiberal democracy, they arouse nationalist sentiments, limit the freedom of the media and demonize civil groups? I ask those who defend corrupt officials from justice, who bypass their own parliament if that is convenient for them, or who make dirty deals which increase their country’s dependence on a single energy source despite their earlier pledges to energy diversification. I am asking them: how do these steps strengthen and make their countries more secure?”

I would have hated to be in Zsolt Németh’s shoes. He had to answer questions posed by Victoria Nuland and others in the audience, questions to which there are no good answers. Németh repeated the old refrain about the United States not being well informed, with the stab that perhaps if the United States had a full-fledged ambassador in Budapest Washington would know more about the situation in Hungary. As for the current plight of the NGOs, Németh claimed that “there are no problems whatsoever” on that score. In taking on the sensitive issue of “illiberal democracy” Németh resorted to an outright lie. He asserted that there is a global competition between liberal and illiberal democracies whose final outcome is still cloudy. But “Hungarian democracy is liberal and it will remain so. However, perhaps we should learn from other countries, including the illiberal ones, to become successful.” Pitiful, I must say.

I very much doubt that Zsolt Németh will be able to convince anyone in the State Department that Viktor Orbán is not a danger to liberal democracy or that his dirty dealings with Putin are not drawing Hungary into Russia’s orbit. If Németh thought that he could lessen the tension between the United States and Hungary he was mistaken. The sources of the tension cannot be handled at this level. It would need Viktor Orbán’s total abandonment of his domestic and foreign policies. And that isn’t about to happen.

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Istvan
Guest
I read the Népszabadság article on the meeting in Washington. Nothing relating to the comments from Péter Szijjártó is surprising its consistent with PM Orban’s perspectives on US/Hungarian relations. But eventually this all is going to put the American Hungarian Federation, and the American Hungarian Coalition which also belongs to the US based Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) that has fairly aggressively opposed Russia’s expansionist moves in a difficult situation. Most Hungarian Americans are somewhat less that fraternal brothers and sisters of Russia, so the Russian drift, or the“eastern opening” in Hungarian foreign policy terms seems disturbing to many. I sent today to a number of Hungarian Americans here in the Midwest USA a very interesting article from the Budapest Beacon about how the Hungarian paramilitary group Magyar Gárda has moved from Romania to the Subcarpathian region of Ukraine to defend local Hungarians and connect with Donetsk separatists. http://budapestbeacon.com/news-in-brief/hungarian-ultranationlist-barna-csibi-seeks-ties-with-donetsk-seperatists/ Several seemed surprised by this story even though they are strong supporters of Hungarian language rights in Ukraine and questioned the fact that it came originally from a Romanian source. Hungarian American official organizations have not up to now formally supported the Hungarian government’s position about the confusion of President… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Here is an analysis of the social policy of the Orban government:

“The only certain direction is the penalization of the poor”

http://444.hu/2014/09/30/egyetlen-biztos-irany-van-a-szegenyek-buntetese/

Pantheon
Guest

I have tried to speak to the HAC leaders about the new age trends of the orban regime since 2010.

None wanted to hear my concern.

They were elated by the loudly declared anti-communist illiberal attitude of the new super patriotic regime.

Currently, there is a deep silence on this subject in HAC circles.

How credible is the regime’s anti-communism in 2014?

tappanch
Guest

Andy Vajna as the government’s movie censor and Tsar,
Andy Vajna, as the almost monopolistic casino concession recipient (with billions of guaranteed profit)
Andy Vajna as the Orban elite’s friend

http://212.40.121.141/rtlhirek/hazon_kivul/2014/10_oktober/01/hk_141001_vajna.mp4

tappanch
Guest

Also: Andy Vajna as the spider in the offshore company web

poteka
Guest

Very interesting comments: the anti-Hungarian commenters here want to convince Hungarians to support the anti-Hungarian position and start hating Hungary.

And they are very surprised that Hungarians “did not want to hear it”.

Well there you have it, being a Hungarian and being a Hungarian-hater are usually two different categories (apart from the small category of self-hating Hungarians).

Some of you should not try to lobby Hungarians with your views.

You should talk to Slovak and Romanian neo-nazi circles, your views will have great success there. Not so much among Hungarians.

petofi
Guest

@Poteka

You are as rounded a schmuck as ever I’ve heard.
Now listen to this:

It’s because we cared for a Hungary that had VALUES–not ‘western’ or ‘liberal’ but HUMANE
VALUES–that we hate the present government and the somnambulant morons, such as yourself, who haven’t the learning or the wherewithal to see what fools Orban is making of
the citizenry (yup, you’re in here).

petofi
Guest

HISTORY–well nigh outlawed by Orban, or, at least, the uses of Precedent–has thrown up a creature once before who has tapped into the depression of his people and built them up on rhetoric, lies, nationalism, and exceptionalism. Can you guess? Yes, Hitler. And because he
thought that his citizens did not support him wholly, he led them to absolute disaster. Now, the Hungarian-hater is Orban (or why would he hold the country and its people up to continual and needless ridicule in the world?) and he will not stop until the bejesus is kicked out of the sad-sack society that is Hungary’s. And, when that haggard piece of refuse is ready to be dumped, the saviour (Russia) will alight and makes us free with 50 years of indentured labour. Or, as the sign once read: ARBEIT MACHS FREI

You all want Orban’s ‘work-based’ society? He’ll damn well give it to you. (He himself will be in England, or the US or some South American country hobnobbing with the Nazis and telling them
what fools he made of Hungarian jews.)

In the meantime…everyone else take out your Russian workbooks…

Member
Did anybody watch the livestreamed hearing of Tibor Navracsics for his designed EU commissioner’s post? (http://www.elections2014.eu/en/new-commission/hearing/20140918HEA65207 ) A superb example of “peacock dance”, as Orbán calls it: completely different words for the EU than for domestic use. Navracsics in effect thrice denied his master, presenting himself as a champion of true European values, democracy and freedom, and producing lots of beautiful, completely empty and meaningless phrases. No, he has never had any conflicts with NGOs, and everything can and will be settled with negotiations. Not only did he sound intelligent, well-prepared and convincing, the questions put to him were lame as well. A very clumsy attempt from a German MEP to operate with the Anti-Semitism argument (“if you are raising statues to Albert Wass, József Nyirő and Cécile Tormay in Hungary, would you bring “Mein Kampf” into the school curricula in Europe?”) was easy to ward off – just the usual lies about how good the relationship between the great and vibrant Hungarian Jewish community and the government is. There will be further discussions, however, as clearly everybody was not happy with his answers ( http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/newsroom/navracsics-failed-convince-and-distance-himself-his-past ). To quote the S&D vice-president: “While we warmly welcome his conversion to the… Read more »
Pantheon
Guest

Petofi and Sentrooppa-Santra are part of a graceful group of people of high moral.

Many others have to examine their patriotic shackles which cloud clear thinking and clear judgement.

Spillie
Guest

yestarday i saw om YouTube an almost two hours report on a hearing,organized by the ALDE group in Strassbourg:17 september:the link you can find in an comment on Pester Lloyd(about Navrasics).
The chairman were Verhofstadt and Sophie in ţ Veld(from Holland).The title:Hungary:the situation of democracy.One of the invited guest was a journalist from Atlatszo.
The meeting dealed with rule of Law,NGO;s and Human rights.
Benedek Javor attended the meeting among others(Szanyi Tibor from MSZP.
It lett a prelude for the hearing of Navrasics Tibor.
Alde will not let it pass.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Sentrooppa-Santra

Actually, there will be no further public discussions, only additional written questions from the relevant EP committees, which can be found here:

http://www.sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Questions-to-designated-commissioners.pdf

At this point, four other commissioners designate are subject to this procedure: Moscovici, Cañete, Hill, Jourová. My guess is Bratušek will join the club today.

Now, as far as the haggling is concerned, the rules of mutual assured destruction which seem to be in place between S&D and EPP make Navracsics small fry. Unless the whole equilibrium is toppled, he’s in the clear.

Guest

Eva, just a small (and obvious) mistake to correct in the fifth paragraph:

“On October 30 he told Népszabadság that the cooling of U.S.-Hungarian relations …” should be September?

Mrs Nuland sounds very competent – remember her “f*** the EU”? She must have been very angry then at some (in)activity of the EU …

Is she of German descent? Nuland = Neuland?

Correction:

Found her on wiki – so as I thought she’s from a Jewish family in the former Russian Empire, original name Nudelman, probably given to the family by an angry Austrian bureaucrat …
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Nuland

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Spillie

ALDE has two designates at stake (Jourová and Bratušek) out of five. That’s a lot to defend from both EPP and S&D. My guess is Bratušek is lost anyway, and that they will somehow exchange Jourová for 1) Navracsics and 2) a softer approach on Moscovici.

Member

Marcel Dé – exactly, the commissioner’s post for Navracsics is part of a very big and complicated deal, and I don’t believe that the protests by diverse organisations and parties will change anything at this stage. I’m really disappointed with the lame performance of the opposition at the hearing: there was very little well-informed criticism.

Pantheon’s comment doesn’t really deserve a reply. Except for the word “patriotic”, which – like “fascism”, for example – should be avoided in political discourse because it can be used to mean anything one wants it to mean. (Remember the Socialist language use in olden days? “Internationalism” – good, “cosmopolitism” – bad. “Patriotism” – good, “nationalism” – bad…)

Tri
Guest

OT for carrot: do you see who uses the term “ultraliberal”? It was Tarlós in today’s 444.hu interview who used it to denounce Bokros… It’s a cuss word used by right-wingers…So it’s pretty strange that a big Fodor defender would use it to denounce 444.hu, unless…Sorry, I’ll get lost.

Löbel
Guest

@Sentroopa,

To really get a person like Navracsics or Szájer or Aszódi (Paks) one has to prepare very thoroughly and with great interest in, almost passion for the subject matter.

If someone lacks these, like those lame EU politicians or Olga Kalman on a bad day, they will never even lick these people. Only make a fool out of themselves.

These people are disciplined pros, who survived the pressure cooker of the Orban system which is a very serious selection process. That’s what is unclear to these people, that Navracsics et al are not just any politician, but people who cut their teeth in a completely different environment, with Orban as their demanding taskmaster and disciplinarian, not some well-fed Belgian or German party faction chief.

No Western politicians will ever touch an Eastern dictator and his people. They are just too naive, they just don’t get it how life is in a system like the Hungarian. I experience this naivity every day. It’s kind of like the impossibility to explain a man what it is like being a women, it just doesn’t work.

Guest

@Your Excellency Chancellor Angela Merkel: Do you agree with what US Undersecretary Victoria Nuland said at the conference on Atlanticism about the developments in Hungary? This is what we all want to know. We will loose our hope for EU’s future if your answer takes the form of an official visit to Hungary.

tappanch
Guest

Eurostat has published a preliminary estimate about the poverty in Hungary:

Hungary 33% (have income less than 200 euros a month in the case of Hungary)
Poland 26%
Slovakia 20%
Chechia 15%

The Hungarian Statistical Bureau (KSH) was supposed to come out with the more exact numbers in September.

But they postponed or cancelled the publication and gave the pretext that they did this “to save money”.

http://www.vg.hu/kozelet/takarekossag-miatt-nem-kozli-a-szegenysegi-adatokat-a-ksh-436548

tappanch
Guest

New calculation of the GDP: the estimated value of smuggling adds to the number.

Perhaps, that is the reason for the fideszized tobacco retailing:

increasing smuggling means increased GDP, which in turn makes it
easier to satisfy the deficit/GDP Maastricht criteria…

The new GDP data, the change since 2000 calculated retroactively:

2000 0,0%
2001 3,7%
2002 8,4%
2003 12,5%
2004 17,9%
2005 22,9%
2006 27,8%
2007 28,4%
2008 29,6%
2009 21,1%
2010 22,0%
2011 24,2%
2012 22,4%
2013 24,3%

As you can see, the GDP could not come even close to its 2008 peak.

http://www.napi.hu/magyar_gazdasag/varatlan_helyrol_kapott_segitseget_a_magyar_kormany.587597.html

Member

@Löbel: you are absolutely right. This is a real problem. However frustrating it is, one has to admit that there is a certain grain of truth in the Fidesz government’s all-round alibi that “those who criticize us just don’t understand the Hungarian language and the Hungarian way of thinking, they just don’t know our circumstances”.

Not that Western critics of the Orbán régime have their facts wrong. But they don’t understand the circumstances in which Hungarians live, the everyday despair and disappointment paired with naïve ignorance about the outside world, all that makes people either pro-Orbán or indifferent to politics (if not pro-Jobbik). They don’t understand how words can be twisted and identities interpreted in a million different ways. (Again, the Anti-Semitism issue is an excellent example: it is a real and serious problem in Hungary, it exists, but not in the way which naïve Western Europeans imagine.) They don’t understand the general resignation: that people accept the fact that politicians lie, cheat and misuse their positions, that there is very little hope, confidence or interest in independent media or freedom of speech.

D7 Democrat
Guest

Whilst the US’s publicly expressed opinion on the Fidesz thugs is probably mildly irritating to the regime, it is no more than that.

Orban’s state survives solely because of the EU’s financial support and as long as it is content to play the role of Neville Chamberlain to Orban’s Hitler, then the regime (if not the Hungarian people) will continue to thrive.

Miki
Guest

Great article about the Farage phenomenon.

It’s very similar to the Hungarian situation. Even though it’s clearly globalization/capitalism, its consequences are blamed on a brand name, the EU and on immigrants.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n19/james-meek/in-farageland

Guest

Thanks, Miki!

Especially for the info on Thanet and its economic woes -I remember Ramsgate and Margate fondly, used to pas through and stayed there several times for a night or two in the 70s and 80s when coming with the ferry from Dunkirk or Zeebrügge …

That it lost so much of its industry (and the research center too – didn’t these guys develop Viagra and find out its usefulness for us older men? …) seems typical for Britain.

So in a way the frustration is understandable – but to think that UKIP will help them somehow is idiotic!

boler
Guest

OT: Gábor Demszky says in ÉS that Sándor Pintér, Fidesz’ long time minister of interior graduated (studied?) in Moscow. I never heard about this, Demszky probably mixed things up.

tappanch
Guest
Ms Nuland’s October 2 address (as written down in preparation of her speech, I think) “We live in a better world because the countries of Central Europe chose the path of a Europe whole, free and at peace 25 years ago. But today that choice is under threat, and Central Europe is once again on the frontline in the fight to protect our security and values. And today, that fight is once again both external and internal.” “And just as we work together to defend our values externally, we must fortify them internally. In Central Europe today, I would argue, the internal threats to democracy and freedom are just as worrying. Across the region, the twin cancers of democratic backsliding and corruption are threatening the dream so many have worked for since 1989. And even as they reap the benefits of NATO and EU membership, we find leaders in the region who seem to have forgotten the values on which these institutions are based. So today I ask their leaders: How can you sleep under your NATO Article 5 blanket at night while pushing “illiberal democracy” by day; whipping up nationalism; restricting free press; or demonizing civil society! I ask… Read more »
Member

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán: Carpathian Carcinogen

Maybe, at long last, the world is beginning to wake up to the Carpathian Cancer that Hungary’s Viktor Orban has implanted in the heart of Europe and the democratic world.
http://euobserver.com/foreign/125881

Kirsten
Guest

Löbel: “They [the Western politicians] are just too naive, they just don’t get it how life is in a system like the Hungarian.”

But the Hungarians do, I suppose. That is why we read that either they leave the country (and withdraw from more active efforts including to help Westerners understand the system and to work from outside at its replacement by something less embarrassing), or retreat in Hungary (no efforts, politics is simply no business for a respectable Hungarian) or outright support OV and Fidesz (“we are so different”, “nobody can understand us” = we cannot either). So what is the gain in telling Westerners how “naive” it is to somehow deal with what Hungarians supply as their “best people” when the biggest stubbornness is apparently found in the country in dwelling on how “exceptional” Hungary is or how little can be achieved by own means or through learning from the experience of others. The main problem is a pathetic government and an equally pathetic opposition, not some naivite of the West that has loads of other problems and is being confronted with this madness without having asked for such “courtesy”.

Pondró
Guest

Russia is working effectively. It supports Orban politically and lets him earn billions, and secondarily it bankrolls and advises Jobbik. Thats’s two of the most popular parties representing something like 80% of the voters (I don’t thing Bokros will get more than 20%). It’s an added bonus that the EU also keeps Orban alive, who undermines the EU from within. No, the West will never succeed against Russia, those guys are too smart and know how to handle people like Orban and his posse.

Kirsten
Guest

Pondro: “Russia is working effectively.”

You can also by very effective means destroy your or other countries. Probably you are referring to that. It is no doubt a very desirable property or even noble end of politics. I trust when seeing the impressive outcomes of such policies in Russia and Hungary (including the brain drain to the West), other countries will hurry to work on an effective destruction of their countries also.

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