Another “strategic partnership”: This time with Azerbaijan, a model to follow

While we have been preoccupied with American-Hungarian and Russian-Hungarian relations, the dictator of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, arrived in Hungary for a visit, his third in four and a half years. Not too many high-level western visitors can be seen in Budapest lately, so Orbán must be satisfied with Azeri dictators and the like. Orbán himself is not welcome in western capitals, and therefore his official trips usually take him outside of the European Union and North America. He visited Baku twice, and I understand he will be going again to strengthen the “strategic partnership” he forged between Hungary and Azerbaijan, two countries that have a lot in common: both are extremely corrupt and both are led by autocratic leaders whom outsiders describe as mafia dons.

In September 2012 I wrote three posts (September 1, 2, and 3) on the Orbán government’s decision to release Ramil Safarov, an Azeri army officer, from the Hungarian jail where he was serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of an Armenian officer in 2004. The crime was perpetrated in Budapest, where both men spent a couple of months in a training program organized by NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program. The Azeri government made several attempts to convince the Hungarian authorities to release him into their custody. But because Safarov was considered to be a national hero the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments, fearing that once Safarov stepped onto Azeri soil he would not spend a minute in jail, denied the requests. Not so the second Orbán government, which in the hope of Azeri goodwill and economic support decided to strike a deal with Aliyev, the Azeri dictator. To this day we don’t know what the Hungarian government got in return for the release of the “ax murderer,” as he is called in Hungary. According to rumors at the time, Viktor Orbán made the decision to extradite Safarov in exchange for the Azeri purchase of Hungarian bonds. The deal was struck under the watchful eye of Péter Szijjártó, and final approval came from Tibor Navracsics, the minister of justice who currently serves as one of the EU commissioners in Brussels. This dirty deal was the beginning of a great friendship between Aliyev’s Azerbaijan and Orbán’s Hungary.

Since then, the Hungarian government has manifested its commitment to closer economic and political ties between the two countries on several occasions. In November 2012 Hungary organized an “international conference” in Budapest to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Hungary and Azerbaijan. In 2013 Hungary opened a Hungarian Trading House in Baku, and yesterday Viktor Orbán and Ilham Aliyev signed a “strategic partnership” agreement. Apparently this agreement encompasses the following areas of cooperation: energy, education, commercial air transport, tourism, veterinary medicine, and youth and sport. Currently trade between the two countries is insignificant and has actually been falling since 2010. Szijjártó himself talks about Azerbaijan only as a “potential economic partner” of Hungary, a partnership that will be realized once Azeri gas reaches Europe. For the time being, one hears only about the hundreds of scholarships offered by Hungary as a goodwill gesture toward these Central Asian countries. Azerbaijan just gratefully acknowledged 200 scholarships.

As usual, in the joint press conference after the meeting and signing ceremony, Viktor Orbán went overboard, praising Azerbaijan as an “example to follow” (mintaállam). By the way, when Orbán is confronted with foreign dignitaries, he is often visibly servile. He bows just a little too low, which in Aliyev’s case was accentuated by the Azeri president’s height and Orbán’s small stature. He did the same thing when the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, visited Budapest in 2011.

In his unbridled enthusiasm for the Azeri model, he even praised Aliyev’s father, Heydar Aliyev, the former KGB agent who became president of Azerbaijan after a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of the country in 1993. His and his family’s corruption was legendary. After his death in 2003, his son, the current president Ilham Aliyev, took over after a fraudulent election. Since then he has been reelected three times, and he can be assured that he will remain president of the country as long as he is alive: the law was changed that barred repeated reelection of the same person to the post. Wikileaks documents have revealed that American observers compared  the Azeri president to a mafia crime boss. Well, perhaps this is what Orbán had in mind when he spoke of Azerbaijan as an example to follow.

President Ilham Alyev and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

In the afternoon there was an economic forum where Orbán made a speech in which he announced that “countries that have political systems that offer clear and unambiguous leadership to a given community are lucky,” indicating that he considers both Azerbaijan and Hungary among the lucky ones. Aliyev immediately picked up on Orbán’s remarks, adding that “both countries are led along a clear strategy. Hungary is defending its national interests, its independence, and its sovereignty.” How should one interpret Orbán’s reference to “clear and unambiguous leadership”?  I, for one, think that he means that in such a regime no opposition forces could possibly alter the strategy of an autocratic leader. This is certainly true of Aliyev as well as Orbán.

Today HVG posted a short note online teasing an article in its print edition tomorrow, according to which there might be “a thread that connects Baku and Budapest” in the U.S. banning of the six Hungarian officials and businessmen. According to the paper, the case involves corruption surrounding Hungarian government bonds offered for sale to Azerbaijan in 2012. My recollection is that the deal eventually fell through. The Hungarians were apparently hoping that Azerbaijan would pay Hungary back for its release of Ramil Safarov by buying Hungarian bonds through ARDNF, the Azerbaijan State Oil Fund. However,  ARDNF announced on October 9 that it had no intention of buying Hungarian bonds and that it did not plan to invest in Hungary. I still remember all the jokes on ATV about “manat,” the Azeri currency. However, there is always the possibility that some secret deal was struck over the Hungarian government bonds and that perhaps some of the money received disappeared either into Fidesz coffers or into individual pockets. The official announcement of ARDNF might have been intended simply to disavow any connection between the Safarov case and payments received by Hungary. We’ll have to see what HVG came up with.

And here is the latest. According to an unnamed Fidesz source, Viktor Orbán realized that he went too far in embracing Russia, ratcheting up his anti-EU rhetoric, and attacking the United States. According to this highly placed individual, Orbán is planning a change of orientation. From here on he will be a model of cooperation with his western allies. Well, his latest moves don’t support this reorientation. First, he just raised RTL Klub’s 40% levy to 50%, presumably to punish them for reporting negative news about the government on their very popular 6 o’clock news. This huge levy is a serious financial blow to RTL Klub, one that its German parent company, Bertelsmann, will have to absorb. Second, he wouldn’t call Azerbaijan “an example to follow” if he is preparing the ground for a change in his foreign policy objectives. And third, if he were trying to show the U.S. that he is serious about ridding Hungary of corruption, he would tell his minions to relieve Ildikó Vida and her co-workers of their duties. I believe that this piece of news is no more than Fidesz disinformation. At best, it is a new round in his usual “peacock dance.”

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NewIdea
Guest

An example for our country from Bosnia:

http://unvocim.net/eng/

tappanch
Guest

Aliyev has a pretty hectic schedule. He was in Budapest on the 11th, then he welcomed the Iranian president in Baku on the following day.

http://www.news.az/articles/politics/93454

The Azeri-Iranian relationship is an interesting thing.

If Azeri nationalism were stronger in Iranian Azerbaijan, Iran could break up. Fortunately for Iran, the current supremo of Iran, Khamanei is of Azeri extraction.

If Shi’a religious feelings were stronger in Azerbaijan, Aliyev could be ousted and replaced by a Shi’a vassal government.

tappanch
Guest

From a geopolitical standpoint, Orban follows the preferred US-European policy of close relationship with Aliyev.

Azeri gas can be seen as an alternative, a competition to Russian gas in Europe.
This is what Aliyev emphasized:
http://www.news.az/articles/official/93418

From an ideological perspective however, Orban regards Aliyev as a fellow illiberal non-democrat.

alignment to Germany
Guest
Let me point out just two of the lies in the text of the blog: #1 “example to follow” (mintaállam). “Allam” means state or country, it does not mean to “follow” the translation was a lie. In reality it simply gives praise to another country as it is customary on a high level state visit. It does not say that Hungary has to “follow” anyone. The word “follow” was never mentioned anywhere. #2.”And here is the latest. According to an unnamed Fidesz source, Viktor Orbán realized that he went too far in embracing Russia, ratcheting up his anti-EU rhetoric, and attacking the United States. According to this highly placed individual, Orbán is planning a change of orientation.” This text links an article ( http://hvg.hu/itthon/20141112_Orban_igazodik_a_nemetekhez_fordulat ) but completely lies about the content of the article, misleading those who cannot read Hungarian. The article is titled “Orban aligns [[Hungary]] to the Germans. Is a big change in policy coming?” The whole article is about Germany and how Hungary plans to follow the foreign policy of Germany completely. The German foreign policy relies on strong trade with Russia but at the same time approved sanctions against Russia for aggression in eastern Ukraine. Hungary… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

@alignment to Germany

You accuse Eva of “lying”. This is outrageous, because it is not true!

Politicians & their servants are fond of lying, but Orban & his Fidesz minions far exceed the average in this regard.

Real scholars like Eva would never lie, they just make mistakes sometimes.

tappanch
Guest

@alignment to Germany

“In reality Hungary never attacked the United States”

But it declared war on the US on December 12, 1941, not the way around.

“mintaállam”. My translation would be “an exemplary state to follow”, which is basically the same as Eva’s.

GW
Guest

Let’s not forget that the Orban government claimed that upon releasing the Azerbaijani national Ramil Safarov — who, as a guest of Hungary, in a NATO Partnership for Peace-sponsored English course, went out and bought an ax with which he murdered an Armenian national, also a guest of Hungary, to Azerbaijan — that they were transferring the convicted murderer to serve the rest of his sentence in Azerbaijan, only to have him immediately freed to a hero’s welcome in Baku.

In this, either the Azerbaijani’s were lying to the Hungarians or the Hungarians knew all along that the criminal would be released and lied to the Hungarian people about it. I don’t know what was worse, but in either case it shows how much respect this government has for criminal justice and how poor a choice of international partners it has made and now, apparently, continues to make.

tappanch
Guest
OK, let us analyze the joint interview Orban gave with Seehofer to the Welt 5 days ago. http://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article134141963/Ein-Ungar-ein-Bayer-kein-Streit.html “We [Europeans] spend most money on social security benefits, far more than we could afford regarding our economic strength.” Does Orban think that the old-age pensions (average: 350 euros a month) are too high in Hungary? Does he want to reduce them, and starve hundreds of thousands of the elderly to death? “But I expect the EU that does not apply double standards. The finances of all states must be in order, all the budget deficit may not exceed three percent limit, and the debt must be reduced everywhere. There should be no exception. No country should be brought out of the mess with the money of the other countries” This comes from the leader of a country, whose budget contains more than 10% of European aid on the revenue side? From a leader, whose aides are busy inventing tricks to push down the debt/GDP ratio by 3% for a single day to deceive the world? “For us, the EU means the same thing as democracy. I speak of democracy in its original form: of the people, by the people, for the… Read more »
Clark
Guest

@tappanch

“From a geopolitical standpoint, Orban follows the preferred US-European policy of close relationship with Aliyev.

Azeri gas can be seen as an alternative, a competition to Russian gas in Europe.
This is what Aliyev emphasized:”

This is a very important statement from Tappanch.

I think today’s blog post is misguided in its ferocious attack on Aliyev, because the United States and similar countries have a very very close relationship to that country. Much closer than Hungary will ever have.

For this reason, trying to paint the Azeris as some sort of satanic people will reflect poorly on the United States and other countries that have a close relationship with them.

It would be much better to acknowledge the strategic importance of the Azeri gas as a competitor of the Russian gas. In this context the Azeri relationship building by Hungary can be understood as commitment to the foreign policy of the European Union and the United States, who share the same aims.

tappanch
Guest

Analysis of Orban’s joint interview, continued.

“In the Hungarian Constitution [“Verfassung”] there is talk of freedom and responsibility for good reason”

Mr Orban, you destroyed the Hungarian Constitution! There is nothing left of it.

“Until 2012, we had the Constitution of the Communist period”

Another blatant lie from Orban.

“I have zero tolerance for corruption.”

Wow!
What he actually means he does not tolerate corruption originating outside his circle of friends or of his party.

” we take very seriously the US criticism and are investigating all the facts that were made available. Nothing is left unexamined.”

Interpretation. He would like to investigate and punish the whistle-blowers.

——-

I have to add that Seehofer legitimized Orban in this interview. He claimed that Orban was elected in democratic elections, which is a doubtful statement speaking of the 2014 elections.

Realitycheck
Guest

@alignment to Germany

1) mintaállam means “model state”. Yes, állam means country or state. Additionally, minta means model. You conveniently left that out (perhaps for the “sake” of non-Hungarian readers). Models are something you base your actions on – that you mimic. In other words, as any good English speaker knows, you follow them.

2) Eva paraphrasing does a good job of capturing what part of the article stated. There is plenty that can be easily read in between the lines.

For instance why would OV change his tactics if he didn’t think the ones he is currently using, anti-EU/US rhetoric combined with criticism of Russian sanctions and increased economic ties with Russia, was not working.

What about one of your lies or at least half-truths (a more effective propaganda):

“Hungary approved the same sanctions and voted for them fully.” You fail to mention that Hungary has been critical of sanctions and was reticent to fully condemn Russian actions in Ukraine.

Realitycheck
Guest

@Clark

It is not simply the relationship that is being scrutinized, but more importantly the nature of the relationship.

The US has a cautious relationship with Azerbaijan. It includes a fair amount of open criticism of the regimes human rights record, attacks on free press, and pressure to maintain peace and forge a peace agreement with Nagorno-Karabakh.

Contrast that to the Hungarian government’s approach and OV’s effusive and unconditional praise.

The US has no reason to worry that its approach to Azerbaijan will reflect poorly.

tappanch
Guest

Natural gas production in 2011, in billions of cubic meters

Russia: 671
Azerbaijan: 21

Iran: 224
Kazakhstan: 39
Turkmenistan: 66
Uzbekistan: 63

We can see that the Russian gas production is more than 30 times the Azeri, so the Azeri gas cannot fully replace the Russian as source for Europe. (The Iranian production is not in the Caspian region)

Source:
p.14. in
http://www.eia.gov/countries/analysisbriefs/Caspian_Sea/caspian_sea.pdf

petofi
Guest

@alignment to Germany

(Rule 1 of my trolldom probably applies here).

“Minta”–means ‘pattern’. Patterns are, intrinsically, to be followed. Alignment’s confused explanation is so much confusion dust in people’s eyes.

Lakatos
Guest

Azerbaidjan is a clear case of dictatorship. It is inconceivable that any opposition party can grow out there naturally and win elections. Same as in Russia. Hell, even in Hungary this is a very painful process. Iran even with the supreme leader, the managed elections etc. is a significantly more democratic country than Azerbaidjan.The Azeri government has unlimited oil funds to purchase, intimidate or assassinate anybody it wants to, and it certainly won’t let any sophisticated opposition force to emerge. Aliyev is the ruler as long as he lives so Orban deeply envies Aliyev, as the latter doesn’t have to spend too much time with stupid elections and what not. Thank god we don’t have natural resources, Hungary would be exactly like Azerbaidjan (we are only similar at this point) and certainly not like Norway.

buddy
Guest

“Minta” has a couple of different meanings, but “mintaállam” clearly means “model state,” which would be completely acceptable to also render it as “an example to follow.” I’m not sure how you could interpret it in any other way.

Perhaps certain people have an interest in obfuscating the meaning of this word to mislead non-Hungarian speakers.

Zsolthi
Guest

Just as it was mentioned, Fidesz and Orban particularly judge the visa issue as a non-issue, a media hiszti.

The Americans have zero leverage over Hungary, unless they want to send drones.

In the greater scheme of things, this is a minor blip because the next elections will be held in 2018.

Orban uses weekly polls which seem to indicate that the majority of Hungarians think that this is just an unjust American method to pressure Hungarians and voters hate foreign pressure. As a result, voters support overwhelmingly Orban and he sees no need to act.

It’s time for the Yankees to get lost, but in any case Orban will not budge, that wouldn’t be him.

“Úgy ítélik meg, hogy az amerikai fellépésnek nincs igazán tétje, az egész történetnek nincs olyan része, amely beavatkozást kívánna”

http://index.hu/belfold/2014/11/13/meg_mindig_orban_van_lepeskenyszerben/

Jon Van Til
Guest

Regarding “newidea” on the Bosnian peace center. Similar places work well in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Israel/Palestine and other “post-conflict” sites. Do members of this list have some ideas as to how they might be effectively organized in Hungary?

D7 Democrat
Guest

“Just as it was mentioned, Fidesz and Orban particularly judge the visa issue as a non-issue, a media hiszti.”

Was it not the pro/regime media which publicized it originally and since then has it not been the various branches of the Orbanist mafia not the US which has maintained it as a public issue.

And if the regime really wanted to bury it why do they continue to produce comedy performances and “outraged” speeches this week?

For a “non-issue” they are certainly still getting their knickers in a twist over it.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
@alignment to Germany Attempting to use the ‘SpyWar’ consecutive to the public revelations of U.S. Intelligence activities in Germany as a proof of a major divide between the two countries seems rather desperate. If anything, the theatrics of the ‘HandyGate’ were an indication that Berlin wishes to upgrade their junior ally status as their Intelligence services, which rely heavily on their U.S. counterparts, are rather lightweight compared to the country’s economic might. The military side is another matter, but when it comes to German and European security there is, in spite of frequent anti-American stances in German popular opinion, no ambiguity: the U.S. is key. In the Foreign Policy department, you might want to consider what a demanding partner Berlin can be, by reading this account of Szijjártó’s visit (in German). Finally, it isn’t true that ‘the German foreign policy relies on strong trade with Russia’. The Russian Federation is Germany’s 10th export destination country, and its 13th import origin country. Germany exports and imports more to and from… Switzerland. The key here isn’t strong trade in general, but energy. Which brings us back on the subject of this article. Just how low can a European statesman go? It reminds… Read more »
Zsolthi
Guest
D7 Democrat: The non-issue nature of the matter has to be understood properly. It means that for Fidesz it has no relevance with respect to Fidesz’ popularity and it doesn’t help the fragmented opposition to unite and/or get more popular. Four years before the next elections anything that falls short of inducing a revolution is a non-issue. (And since the urban liberals are incapable to act violently, this danger emerges only with respect to jobbik fans anyway.) Orban doesn’t have to care and he doesn’t. It’s almost impossible to provoke him into action by these “suggestions”. You cannot muster any example in which a dictator was deposed by sanctions etc. but without bombings. He absolutely feels himself sure in his position from foreigners. He even likes, thrives on this kind of basic tension. It gives him purpose. That’s one of his identity issues which differentiates him from the leftist who are extremely conformist, he won’t change now that he’s over 50. Remember that Erdogan’s family was caught on tape arranging kickbacks and he was still reelected and the cases have been recently dropped. Orban believes that if push comes to shove he can do so too. This doesn’t mean that… Read more »
HiBoM
Guest

Orbán may appear impregnable but Hungary remains a state with massive debt, no resources of its own, a vastly bloated public sector and a withered private sector. Hungary needs foreign investment which the bribery allegations guarantee to make even less likely. And it relies on EU money much of which is being stolen and misused. Although its prospects are “stable”, it still is consigned to junk status. That is a fairly precarious situation. So while I agree that there is no obvious way that the USA can remove Orbán, I would not be so confident that they can’t rattle the cage in such a way that Hungary will be very badly squeezed, the currency could come under extreme pressure and Orbán’s defiant rhetoric would be pretty meaningless when the state is suddenly bankrupt. It would be the ordinary people who suffer, of course, and so I’m not advocating it as something to be wished for. But Hungary is extremely vulnerable, even if its leader feels he isn’t.

D7 Democrat
Guest

“As far as real politics are concerned, Orban doesn’t care”

So, why does the regime continue tom push the issue? Your explanation re the nature of the media/pr machinery is very weak.

You ignore the fact that there is an element of Orban’s (and by extension his regime’s) strategy is derived from the mental illness which he quite clearly suffers from. He prolongs battles which any rational person, never mind Prime-Minister, would see as pointless in continuing.

The regime should have ignored the visa issue right at the beginning instead of making it public.
Maybe you or Fidesz apologists can see a point behind the action but in my opinion those allegedly smart lawyers at the top of the party have let them down again in terms of strategy.

tappanch
Guest

Having been unsuccessful purging the Vida & Goodfriend encounter from the internet, HirTV made an “uncut” version available.

I am deeply impressed by Mr Goodfriend’s courteous behavior at this unexpected situation.

http://mno.hu/ahirtvhirei/vida-es-goodfriend-talalkozasa-nem-kell-lopni-itt-a-vagatlan-felvetel-1258096

tappanch
Guest

Fidesz “sources”:

At the end, US might close its embassy. If the Americans have evidence about the corruption of the Fidesz government, they obtained it by “illegal” spying, so Orban is not worried.

http://index.hu/belfold/2014/11/13/meg_mindig_orban_van_lepeskenyszerben/

tappanch
Guest

The Hungarian state will probably buy GE’s Budapest Bank for $0.33 to $0.38 billion.

http://www.portfolio.hu/finanszirozas/bankok/ujabb_bomba_hir_megveszi_a_magyar_allam_a_budapest_bankot_is_2.3.206408.html

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