Possible trajectories for Hungary with or without Viktor Orbán

Today I’ll backtrack a bit and revisit the serious diplomatic crisis that developed between Hungary and the United States. When the news hit about the American decision to ban six Hungarians from entering the United States, some commentators were convinced that the alleged corruption was only a pretext, that the real cause was Russia.

These people were wrong. The Americans stressed that the widespread and systemic corruption that permeates every facet of Hungarian society is a serious problem in and of itself. But they added that there are many other policies Washington finds unacceptable from an allied country, several of them having to do with Russia. At his last press conference M. André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé d’affaires, underscored America’s disappointment in Hungary, once the the flag bearer of freedom. In the last few years the country has changed, and not for the better. Goodfriend was quite specific in enumerating some of the sore points in American-Hungarian relations. He mentioned the lack of transparency in connection with the negotiations with Russia about building the nuclear reactor in Paks. The United States is unhappy about Hungary’s far too accommodating behavior when it comes to the Southern Stream. Relying exclusively on natural gas is the wrong way to approach Europe’s energy needs. He mentioned the situation of the media in Hungary. Then there is Hungary’s self-serving behavior during the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. The United States realizes that autonomy for the Hungarian minority in Ukraine is an important consideration for Budapest, but this subject shouldn’t be brought up when Ukraine is fighting for its territorial integrity. The Orbán government’s behavior toward the European Union and the United States has been objectionable ever since June 2010, but Orbán’s pro-Russian policy at this particular juncture was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And finally, he brought up the Hungarian government’s attitude toward the NGOs.

On the same day a reporter from Index managed to get hold of Viktor Orbán in Brussels. Earlier, when asked about U.S.-Hungarian relations, he practically ran away. This time, from what he had to say on the topic, it was evident that he knows who the people are who have been barred from the United States. Yet he indicated that no investigation will take place because he cannot take responsibility for some other country’s assumptions. It is impossible to accuse someone without any proof. Clearly Orbán is stonewalling. No one demands that charges be brought against those who are implicated in the instances of corruption the U.S. reacted to. It is enough to investigate their cases. The Hungarian authorities had no difficulty ransacking the offices of the Ökotárs Foundation. Where was the proof then?

Orban in Brussels2

Meanwhile there are growing signs that the American move prompted quite a controversy in Fidesz circles. I already mentioned Válasz, a pro-Fidesz site, and Mandiner, an online news portal staffed by a group of young conservatives. Both publications were highly critical of Viktor Orbán. Péter Szijjártó let the cat out of the bag during his interview with a reporter from USA Today. He admitted that the dispute with the United States created “a large discussion” within Fidesz. Nick Thorpe, the British journalist who apparently has friends high up in the government party, also reported to the BBC that “there are growing divisions in the right-wing party over Mr. Orban’s steps to turn Hungary into an ‘illiberal democracy.'” According to Thorpe, “the mood in the corridors of power is wretched.” Moreover, the new pro-Russian foreign policy does not sit well with some of the fiercely anti-communist and anti-Russian politicians in Fidesz.

Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság was even more specific. She spoke with several “conservative” critics of Viktor Orbán’s policies who are worried about the prime minister’s double dealings: for example, one day he stands by NATO and the next he wants to build the Southern Stream. These conservative informers believe that if Viktor Orbán does not change his course “Hungary might find herself staring into an abyss.” I know that some people would like to draw the conclusion that after a couple of more missteps there might be a palace revolution by the more moderate and cautious members of the governing party. I, however, can imagine such an event occurring only if the European Union stops the flow of free money to Hungary. As long as Orbán delivers the goodies, his friends have no reason to abandon him.

Nonetheless, Orbán’s position is precarious. Let’s assume that the Americans have in their files several more corruption cases that will reveal that the government and power structure Orbán has constructed in the last few years is in fact a regime in which the essence of politics is blatant, all persuasive corruption–a true mafia state as Bálint Magyar describes Orbán’s system. If these cases reveal that the entire political leadership is deeply implicated, Orbán’s political edifice might crumble. It could also happen that the European Commission, now headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, will be a great deal less charitable toward the Orbán government than it was in the last four and a half years under the leadership of José Manuel Barroso. Let’s assume that the Commission becomes tired of the corruption that surrounds the European grants. I just read that 10% of all corruption cases that are being investigated by OLAF, the office dealing with corruption in the countries of EU, come from Hungary. We can further assume that the EU will be more willing to move against Hungary after the American initiative. I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington and Brussels would even coordinate their policies toward Hungary. More and more people talk  in Brussels about the possibility of invoking Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Orbán’s Hungary. These are real possibilities.

KAL cartoon from The Economist

KAL cartoon from The Economist

But let’s take seriously for a minute László Kövér’s vision of a gradual retreat from the European Union. Where would Hungary find the funds to keep itself afloat? Russia? China? I don’t think that Russia is in any position to become the rescuer of Hungary. Moreover, Botond Feledy, a political scientist, points out in today’s Index that for Putin Hungary is useful only as long as the country is part of the European Union. As far as China is concerned, its leaders are shrewd businessmen.

Charles Gati of Johns Hopkins University has an interview in today’s Népszava entitled “Orbán faces the hardest decision of his life.” In his opinion, it would take an enormous amount of time and effort to convince the United States that the Hungarian government has abandoned those policies that almost led to a break in American-Hungarian relations.”This will not be easy and it will not be accomplished without great personal sacrifice.” If Orbán continues with his old policies, he will surely fail but if he changes and “leads the country along western values, he may also lose. The first alternative is certain, the other only a possibility. That’s why it is still too early to bury Hungarian democracy.”

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Mrozek
Guest

Who will be strong enough in Fidesz to remove Orban from the PMship? The only way out for them to remove him, and put a moderate in charge. Otherwise they will swing further to the right to “no return ” land.

cheshire cat
Guest

Thank you, Eva, for another informative and concise article!

Regarding the debate that started on the previous thread, whether it is possible to kick a member state out of the EU: as far as I know, what they can do, is to withdraw the voting rights of the country, which means that they have no rights, but still have the responsibilities, and if that happens, the country is better off leaving.

Kirsten
Guest

The problem is not only that OV is leading the country into the abyss but that there is too little alternative to him discernible. I do not see any outcome of this Orban-adventure of Hungary that would not be very costly. So whether the US, the EU or Russia or China will break Orban’s neck is an interesting question, no doubt, but so far I do not feel very confident for a post-Orban Hungary because of this total lack of cooperation among potential successors, and a lack of vision, so that many doubt, as Eva writes, that Orban’s regime could break due to (organised and united) opposition from within the country. To stand alone against the whole world is certainly uncomfortable but nothing that the Hungarian collective psyche could not stomach. Quite on the contrary. It is correct to put pressure on the country, due to Russia or corruption or individual rights and freedoms, but the question of who might take over once Orban is gone will certainly also shape the policies of the interested parties (countries).

robert
Guest

“It could also happen that the European Commission, now headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, will be a great deal less charitable toward the Orbán government than it was in the last four and a half years under the leadership of José Manuel Barroso.”

It could also happen that the new European Commission contains Tibor Navracsics, the former deputy Prime Minister of Hungary. While previously there was nobody in the Commission who could speak up for Hungary and correct lies, false information, distortions, defamation and libel about Hungary, he is able to do so. This is a whole different game now. The previous commissioner delegated from Hungary usually fell “ill” when he would have had to defend his homeland. He was no great patriot to say the least.

So don’t you worry about the position of Hungary in the European Commission. It just got a thousand times (1000x) stronger than it was previously.

buddy
Guest

robert, I’m afraid Mr. Navracsics trashed his own government just earlier this month. What makes you think he won’t do it again?
See: http://hvg.hu/velemeny.nyuzsog/20141006_Egy_itthon_bukott_politikus_mar_megint_ku#ainhip

cheshire cat
Guest

“speak up for Hungary and correct lies, false information, distortions, defamation and libel about Hungary”

I’m afraid a commissioner doesn’t do that – he is not allowed.
A commissioner represents the EU, not the country he comes from.
It’s very easy to be caught out when breaking this rule.

robert
Guest

Everyone including a commissioner is not only allowed but has a duty to correct libel and defamation if they encounter it. Navracsics is just more likely to know and understand which statement is a lie, libel or defamation if the statement is about Hungary. Because he knows Hungary so incomparably better than any other commissioner. He used to be deputy Prime Minister of Hungary. Of course if someone has no idea that a statement is libel then they won’t and can’t say a thing. Navracsics has a much better chance to know it about each statement about Hungary. And it will be his duty to say so and call out the lie, if he encounters any such libel or defamation about Hungary. He will also have a personal staff to help his work.

gdfxx
Guest

Robert: “Everyone including a commissioner is not only allowed but has a duty to correct libel and defamation if they encounter it. Navracsics is just more likely to know and understand which statement is a lie, libel or defamation if the statement is about Hungary. Because he knows Hungary so incomparably better than any other commissioner. He used to be deputy Prime Minister of Hungary. Of course if someone has no idea that a statement is libel then they won’t and can’t say a thing. Navracsics has a much better chance to know it about each statement about Hungary. And it will be his duty to say so and call out the lie, if he encounters any such libel or defamation about Hungary. He will also have a personal staff to help his work.”

And, obviously, anything that does not match what Orban and his acolytes say is presenting libel and defamation, right?

tappanch
Guest

@robert

But where is defamation?

Orban swore to upheld the Constitution in May 2010.
He abolished the constitution less than a year later.
He betrayed his country that elected him.

This is called high treason!

He changed the election and media laws umpteen times to win in the next, unfair elections.

He is a tyrant, pure and simple.

Rev Albert W. Kovacs
Guest

America’s glass house is full of crooks and worse. It’s in no position to throw stones at others who probably are small change compared to the big ripoffs here. Start with multi-million dollar vacations by Obama’s wife & friends. How about bailouts of big pocket supporters, whose companies went down the drain but they flew away with golden parachutes. Of course, one only needs to look back at your pal Gurcsany’s fiscal affairs, which was why he was unceremoniously dumped by the voters by such a huge margin – and the socialists still haven’t recovered. How’s the view looking n from the outside? Looks like it’ll be that way for a while.

tappanch
Guest

@Rev

OK, let us compare Gyurcsany and Orban.

Gyurcsany obtained his wealth BEFORE taking any public office.
He served his country not very well in my opinion, but he donated his
salary to charities and did not want to create a dictatorship.

On the other hand, Orban amassed his wealth DURING his premiership.
He killed off practically all checks and balances, thus facilitated
corruption at a potentially unlimited level.

Julie
Guest

I agree with Kristen. Who’s the alternative? It’s time for the opposition to (finally) pull its socks up!

Istvan
Guest

Rev Kovacs one part of Goodfriend’s press conference from last week Eva did nor reference was when he answered a question about political corruption in the US and he handled in correctly. Yes, political corruption in the US happens and we try to put those politicians in jail when we can. Hungary simply does not try to stop it, effectively its rampent.

petofi
Guest

re Orban

He cannot be replaced without Russian say-so…or a few people will be feasting on polonium sandwiches.

petofi
Guest

An intelligent, Hungarian, bussineswoman said to me the other day: “So what’s the big deal?
I’ve survived a lot in my 65 years, and I’ll survive Orban, too.”

There you have it: the native’s outlook on Orbanistan. Try prying off the talons of a criminal organization from the body politic of Hungaria with that kind of outlook…

Guest
@petofi This is exactly what I hear from everyone I speak to who is even a tiny bit interested which most people are not. Those who are have gone strongly Jobbik so that is another possible, and horrifying, future for Hungary. As for the US taking any interest at all in Hungary not having anything to do with Russia. Seriously, do you actually believe the US gives a damn about anything in Hungary outside of any issues having to do with Russia and Ukraine? It is all about Russia. I do agree though that Orban has been playing across the fence too many times. Supporting both NATO and Russia simultaneously. You can’t serve 2 masters and it is catching up to him hence the strong support of South Stream. But, remember he also sent up to 200 T-72 tanks (70 for certain but possibly many more) to the Ukrainian Army through sneaky ways which probably didn’t sit too well with Russia. Also, I believe the unverified reports about forward basing of US mercenary (military SoF) near Miskolc and Debrecens for insertion into Ukraine. I also have heard from people working at Papa that they have been transporting massive amounts of… Read more »
Vilmos
Guest

Amerikai Skeptikus, who after 40 years or so of government work in the US (I recall from a previous post), is now a guest in Hungary with all kinds of inside info about the nefarious things the Americans are up to in Hungary, Ukraine, Romania etc. Oddly similar to Richard from some weeks ago, though he was a 40-some year Army vet (medic, commando, scientist). I hadn’t realized that Hungary was a retirement destination for elderly Americans. Whatever happened to the sunbelt? In any case, it’s interesting to see the groundwork being laid to smear NGOs as agents of the US. What else have you got for us?

Webber
Guest

Dear Eva Balogh, From the comments above, it seems that Fidesznyiks have discovered Hungarian Spectrum. Your blog is now under the sort of sustained and concentrated disinformation attack via “comments” of the sort that many major newspapers have experienced. Recently The Guardian began to block such comments from people who were likely paid by the Russian state. You might consider doing the same with your trolls. It’s interesting that at least one of your trolls, above, is a Russian who claims to be American (I say that based on a link to his/her blog put up on an earlier post of yours). This suggests that Russia has delegated some people to “protect” the Hungarian regime. It’s sad to think that Hungary, too, may be expending state funds on this sort of thing, because ultimately it makes the country look worse, not better (certainly this has been the case for Russia).
For those interested in state-sponsored trolling, I recommend the following: http://www.buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/documents-show-how-russias-troll-army-hit-america

Kormos
Guest

On one hand US has helped multitudes of Hungarians to achieve a better life in the US, on the other hand US war planes has bombed Budapest and Hungary. US was part of the shameful Trianon agreement that seeded the WWII. US politics were also quite interesting during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
Politics is about money and power. Obviously the present doing of the Hungarian Government is hurting US financial interest.
Apart from this, being in Hungary for a time, I do not see any major push for changing course.
Ms. Balogh,Petofi and all must have lots of fun daily to to write reflections on second day news with a special interest.

petike
Guest
I think this story about the internal division is getting weirder by the day. We will end up with a story like that one about the WMDs which were supposed to exist because some Iraqi defectors told they existed and then New York Times also wrote about it, so it must be true. Hey, even Gen. Powell assured us in the UN and if a black person says it, it’s surely the truth. Just because Fidesz-loyal Thorpe wrote something (I honestly have no idea where he could have gotten his info from), and now Csuhaj, who on numerous occasions spread planted disinformation and just because Szijjarto himself said that there are “debates”, I don’t think there is division at all. OK, I can believe that good ol’ Martonyi or Zsolt Nemeth (who by the way loyally served Orban in all of his crazyness) told some people to tell others that there are debates, but I can’t imagine any half-way serious person in Fidesz having doubts as we saw from loyal comments from Kövér to Deutsch to Gulyás to Lázár. (Áder perhaps?) Mandiner’s post was genuine and it does show that some third rate young fideszniks are opposed to selling ourselves… Read more »
Guest

American Skeptic: “I imagine it (corruption) is far worse in Romania but they have prostituted themselves to their American masters with 3 military bases now, purchase of 200 F-16’s which they certainly don’t need …..”

The Romanians never know what to expect from their neighbour states, chaotic Ukraina and Trianon-obsessed Hungary. They need planes. Almost obsolete planes are better than none.

Városi Géza
Guest

@ Robert

I translate.

Robert here is exactly relaying Orban’s hopes in this respect.

Navracsics is the ‘charming gentleman with whom everybody can work’, who is sent exactly for this reason to Brussels. To be the staunch defender of and trouble shooter for Orban. Our man in Brussels. (Never mind that this is exactly what a commissioner should not do, as there is no potential penalty. This is only a lex imperfecta as all lawyers know so well)

Fidesz has great hopes for him and given the stupidity and slowness of the Brussles burocrats his potential success is not to be underestimated.

It’s pretty difficult to go against Hungary aggressively (not that this was a real possibility in the EU) when the smiling Tibor is walking past by you five times a day. He will do everything he can to slow down the process. The burocracy is so unwieldy that he is likely to be successful.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
I agree with petike. Are there debates, beefs, power struggles within Fidesz? Surely. Nothing out of the ordinary in every organization. But ‘divisions’? On the contrary, since the summer speech the ideology-based language is getting more homogeneous by the week, as demonstrated by the simultaneous statements by Lázár, Kövér and Gulyás the other day. ‘The West hates us & wants to subdue us’ / ‘Nazism and Communism are the same’ / ‘Brussels is the new Moscow’, etc. I can think of so many occasions in the past twelve months when, in other countries, a number of MPs or Mayors would have broken ranks and moved to the right-of-center, in the name of values they believed in. No such thing happened, and now the next elections are in four years … Now, I also believe that Fidesz is facing trying times, as it is about to make potentially highly divisive moves (in Foreign Policy, but also regarding the regime change as well as the economy). In 2010, Fidesz was a darling of the Western right-wing mainstream parties; now it has almost achieved a pariah status. It may not be the cup of tea of many in the younger generation of both… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

News or rumor:

The internet tax was Orban’s brainchild. He wants to pay the planned 30% pay raise for policemen and the military from it.

http://www.hvg.hu/itthon/20141026_Orban_talalta_ki_az_internetadot

derm
Guest

My problem with Ildiko Csuhaj is that she never had scoops before. In the last year or two however she came up with scoop smelling articles all of which eventually turned out to be untrue. My question is then how come the young, energetic, hard-working journalists who came up with real scoops at index, 444, hvg.hu couldn’t find or even hear rumours about (which they usually relay on their tumbler pages) these supposedly existing internal dissenters in the last couple of days?

Webber
Guest

@Kormos – based on what you wrote, I kind of doubt you’re Hungarian, because I’ve never met a Hungarian with such a poor mastery of his own country’s history. It seems odd that you don’t mention Russia’s role in that history – but I rather doubt you know what it was.

Member
This site is getting important. Trolling was unusual here a few month ago 🙂 Eva’s “favorites” are loosing credibility by day: http://valasz.hu/itthon/amerikai-level-orbanekrol-errol-nem-beszelhettek-a-diplomatak-105826 (Ridiculous arguments). Gati’s claim on isolation is obvious but the scale of possible action is not. Over the last 2.5 years, the US was trying to coordinate with member states. The US took the lead now, no doubt. After such an antreé talking business in Washington DC is obviously futile. (Petike tried to make fool of two living Presidents in just one week beating World Record). The EU used to buy displeasing politicians for decades but not whole countries. We will see what happens soon. The Commissioners’ election process showed that hu-hu chi-chi would be marginalized and isolated. His present portfolio is far cry from the original enlargement position. For the US Szkeptikus is right. Being an irritant is one thing but being a brew or ferment of anti-gravity is a new quality felt from Warsaw to Sofia and probably includes DE as well. That point was noted a good year ago on the US Helsinki Commission and numerous recent publications attest the same signs. Serbia is on the forefront. After Crimea, though the stakes are higher now.… Read more »
KTP
Guest

“The Hungarian authorities had no difficulty ransacking the offices of the Ökotárs Foundation. Where was the proof then?”

Where was the proof? It was in the offices of Ökotárs Foundation, which was searched. Proof of embezzlement, corruption, document forgery and other crimes which the so-called Ökotárs Foundation committed. Why are you defending a corrupt foundation? Are you not against corruption?

HiBoM
Guest

KTP, the accusations have been published. But not the proof.

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