The sorry state of Hungarian foreign policy

This morning I listened to lectures delivered at a conference,”Az elszigetelt Magyarország és a globális világ” (Isolated Hungary and the Global World), that took place on Friday. The conference was organized by Attila Ara-Kovács, who is currently heading the foreign policy “cabinet” of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) and who earlier worked in the foreign ministry under László Kovács. Ara-Kovács was joined by Charles Gati, professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, for a conversation centering on U.S.-Hungarian relations. Mátyás Eörsi, who was undersecretary of foreign affairs between 1997 and 1999, assessed the Orbán government’s foreign policy and came to the conclusion that as such it doesn’t really exist. Ferenc Gyurcsány delivered a short speech in which he insisted that the whole political system built by Viktor Orbán must be dismantled. There is no possibility of changing the current foreign policy strategy because that would mean a denial of “the essence of the system.” Zoltán Sz. Biró, an expert on Russia, delivered a fascinating lecture on the state of the Russian economy. Finally, Zoltán Balázs, a political scientist whose sympathies lie with the right of center, offered a few critical remarks, saying among other things that the speakers had ignored the resilience of Orbán’s followers. Orbán may go but his devoted admirers remain, and for them Hungary’s martyr complex is very much a reality. I can strongly recommend these lectures to anyone who understands the language.

Zoltán Sz. Biró, while outlining the grave Russian economic situation, expressed his surprise at the ignorance of Hungarian policymakers about the real state of affairs in Russia. Don’t they ever look at the economic and financial data available online? Obviously not, because otherwise Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó should have been more cautious in their approach toward Moscow. But behind their Russia policy is Viktor Orbán’s mistaken notion of “the decline of the West” and thus he put all his eggs in one basket. By now it looks as if even the enlargement of Paks will come to naught.

As for the diplomatic corps, according to Mátyás Eörsi fear is widespread because of the hundreds of “pink slips” handed out to old-timers with diplomatic experience at the foreign ministry in the wake of János Martonyi’s departure. One “bad” sentence and the person’s job is in jeopardy. Thus, nobody offers any opinion that might differ from that of the “diplomatic expert,” Viktor Orbán.

Ferenc Gyurcsány and M. André Goodfriend at the Conference on Hungary in Isolation and the Global World

Ferenc Gyurcsány and M. André Goodfriend at the Conference on Hungary in Isolation and the Global World

The housecleaning was so thorough that Szijjártó proudly announced that “we will lay the foundations of the new Hungarian foreign policy irreversibly, once and for all.” They will not retreat but forge ahead according to what they consider to be Hungary’s economic interest. Two weeks later it was announced that out of the staff of 900 at the ministry more than 200 will be fired, including some who were brought in by Tibor Navracsics a few months earlier. As a result there is total chaos in the ministry, whose new spokesman is a former sports reporter.

Not only is the ministry’s staff decimated but certain background institutions like the Magyar Külügyi Intézet (Hungarian Institute of Foreign Affairs) no longer exist since its entire research staff resigned en bloc. The administration is in the throes of “reorganization” of the institute. It’s no wonder that no one was prepared for the crisis in U.S.-Hungarian relations that came to the fore in mid-October.

By October and November there was such chaos in the ministry that some of the diplomats were certain that Szijjártó couldn’t possibly remain in his new position. Rumors circulated at the time that the ministry of foreign affairs and foreign trade would split into two ministries and that Szijjártó would be in charge of foreign trade only. This was probably a reflection of the long-suffering diplomats’ wishful thinking.

Others were convinced that Orbán will change his foreign policy orientation and will give up his anti-West rhetoric and policies. However, Attila Ara-Kovács in an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs outlined the impossibility of such a scenario. In the same article Ara-Kovács shed light on the atmosphere at the ministry of foreign affairs nowadays. An ambassador with close ties to Fidesz happened to be back in Hungary and wanted to talk to his superiors in the ministry. He was not allowed to enter the building because, as he was told by the security officer at the door, “you are on the list of those who are forbidden to wander around the corridors alone.”

Since then the situation has only gotten worse.  According to insiders, “in the last two months the chief preoccupation in the ministry is saving one’s job.” By October 34 ambassadors were sacked in addition to the hundreds who were fired earlier. János Martonyi, the previous foreign minister, because of his pro-trans-atlantic sentiments is considered to be a traitor and an American agent by those people who were brought in by Navracsics and Szijjártó from the ministry of justice and the prime minister’s office. Indicative of this new anti-American orientation, a recent order from the prime minister’s office required employees to report in writing all contacts with American diplomats over the last few years.

Szijjártó seems to have a free hand when it comes to personnel decisions. He created a job for a friend of his from the futsal team Szijjártó played on until recently. Despite no degree or experience, the futsal player will coordinate the work of the “minister’s cabinet.” For Szijjártó, as for the prime minister, it is “loyalty” that matters. Among the five undersecretaries there is only one with any diplomatic experience and he is, of all things, responsible for cultural and scientific matters. The newcomers don’t understand the world of diplomacy, so they’re creating their own rules. They are introducing a “new language” for diplomatic correspondence. They tell the old-timers that they mustn’t be “too polite” in official letters. Also, apparently they don’t consider it important to put conversations or decisions into writing. They think that a telephone conversation or perhaps an e-mail is enough. Therefore it is impossible to know what transpired between Hungarian and foreign diplomats. All that writing is cumbersome and slow. It seems that they want to follow the well-known practice of the Orbán government. A decision is made without any discussion and the next day the two-thirds majority passes the new law. But diplomacy doesn’t work that way. It is a delicate business.

Currently, I’m reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin in which his efforts at securing an alliance with France are described in some detail. It took him a year and a half to achieve that feat, which was vital for the young United States at war with Great Britain. And he was a seasoned diplomat. The new staff at the foreign ministry is decidedly unseasoned. Some of them haven’t even been schooled in foreign affairs, history, or political science. Believe it or not, two of the five undersecretaries have medical degrees. A rather odd background, I would say, for conducting foreign policy.

Diplomacy is the antithesis of everything that characterizes the Orbán government. For Viktor Orbán the “peacock dance,” which is basically nothing more than deceiving your negotiating partners, passes for diplomacy. And the new, “irreversible” foreign policy has already led Hungary to the brink of diplomatic disaster.

By the way, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires M. André Goodfriend, as you can see from the photo accompanying this post, attended the conference.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Wondercat
Guest

“By the way, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires M. André Goodfriend…attended the conference.” — Not that his presence might be understood as an endorsement; no, he was there only by the way. Stopped in on the way home from Weihnachtsmarkt, from returning the empty bottles for the deposit, from having his hair cut. As, time hanging heavy on one’s diplomatic hands, one does.

Member

Mirror on the Magyars

Delighted by the photo of Mr. Gyurcsany and Mr. Goodfriend. You can be sure that the Fidik FUD machine will be spinning that for all it’s worth among the brain-washed, credulous and crooked faithful. They may be putting it on signboards and phone polls, as they did during the elections (if they can afford to pay for them — what with all the dosh they’ve had to invest in ministers’ luxury property, soccer stadiums, Gucci Bags).

I know it will take a long time for Hungary to recover economically, politically and morally from the catastrophic Fidik/Orbanistan years. But at least in the meantime they will continue feeding unending material to keep the rest of the world in stitches. This shameful, pathetic stuff is going to replace the older benign stereotype of Hungary for some time to come…

Member

Ah, I see that the F-trollerei (“wondercat”) are already on the case. Meow.

Member

(Unless, of course, “wondercat” was being ironic — as Marcel Dé was the other day with the brilliant spoof on ‘CIA” — in which case likewise Meow, but in the good sense…)

i-magyar
Guest

These participants must focus on one thing. Human Dignity!

Empty speeches, lectures will be of no use.

Gyurcsany must cultivate the subject in a credible manner, otherwise he is as useless as his many partners.

Atilla Levay
Guest
Perhaps the circumstances of the 2006 Hungarian elections should be brought to the attention of Mr. Goodfriend. —– Original Message —– From: Lévay Atilla To: Barroso Jose Manuel Cc: EU Info iroda ; Szent-Iványi István ; SZAJER Jozsef ; Surján László ; Schöpflin György ; Schmitt Pál ; Őry Csaba ; Olajos Péter ; Lévai Katalin ; Kósáné Kovács Magda ; Járóka Lívia ; Hegyi Gyula ; Dobolyi Alexandra ; Gyürk András ; Tabajdi Csaba ; Glattfelder Béla ; Gál Kinga Sent: Sunday, February 04, 2007 1:08 PM Subject: Fw: A megtévesztéssel kötött szerződés semmis! Magyarországnak jelenleg nincs törvényes kormánya. Dear Mr. Barroso, I hope you have been following the events which took place in Hungary, mostly in Budapest since last September and October. In connection with these events I am sending you the translation of the letter which I wrote to the President of Hungary Mr. László Sólyom yesterday. Yours sincerely, Atilla Levay Zsambek, 2072, Dozsa Gy. u. 6. Hungary Tel.-3623342198 *************************************************************************************** Since April 2006 Hungary has had no Legitimate Government. Dear Mr. President, In every Civilised Country where we can talk about the “Rule of Law”, any contract made between two parties, where one party deliberately misleads the… Read more »
Member

Dear Attila Levay, Aren’t you tired yet of the BS? I want to see your letter about the Orban lies. Can you post that too. Gyurcsany did not lie but pointed to an existing problem that is seems to be embedded into Hungarian politics for deceased (if not Centuries).
Viktor Orban told to FOREIGN dignitaries in order to be reelected “do not listen to what I say” but watch what I do. Why Gyurcsany used plural, Orban used singular. Interesting.
For the last few days we are discussing, featuring, posting evidence and facts about the Orban mafia, the corruptions and lies committed by Fidesz, and then you come in like a pre-schooler who missed his nap time, and pull something out of the hat that has no relevance whatsoever. Gyurcsany is not the Prime Minister. Gyurcsany is not he problem. Orban is!

buddy
Guest

Atilla,

That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read in my life. You would get laughed out of law school with such inane “arguments.”

gdfxx
Guest

Just take a look at Attila Levay’s “likes” on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/atilla.levay/likes?pnref=lhc) – several Jobbik groups – and his timeline posts – some from kuruc.info – and you’ll begin to understand his motivation…

TeamBritanniaHu
Guest

Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

Webber
Guest

I don’t think they are going to abandon the shambles of their disastrous fp. Look at the Minister of Interior’s, Pinter’s reaction to the request for a national security check of Arpad Habony, Orban’s (allegedly) unpaid advisor and (very wealthy) friend. Habony’s girlfriend, Kristina Usikova, is the daughter of a shady Russian businessman named Eduard Usikov. Pinter said that since Habony is not officially employed, there was no reason to carry out the security check. The press seems to have swallowed that obfuscation (Hun. press, what’s up???). In normal circumstances and in other countries, ANYONE who regularly spends large amounts of time with the head of state is examined for security risks.
It’s very apparent from his favourite press and t.v. that Orban values the close connection with Moscow more than any connections with the West, and has instructed his people to lie and obfuscate to maintain those connections.

nándi
Guest

The US embassy in Budapest is an active organizer of the demonstrations says Janos Lazar in Magyar Hirlap.

It’s the Americans, stupid.

But the nation shall unite behind our leader Orban, who shall unleash a sea of fire onto the enemy.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20141222_Lazar_az_USA_kovetsege_a_demonstraciok_ak

Csalaváry
Guest

@Webber

Orban will never abandon Putin, Orban is a genuine believer in the Putin/Dugin ideology.

Also, the material benefits to Orban and his energy trading cronies are so huge that leaving Putin is just isn’t an option.

Putin is the only person who seems to like Orban (this is how Orban feels anyway), and Orban can’t go back to the people who only criticize him and treat him as the village idiot.

No, Orban will not change allegiance, and his allegiance is to Putin and to Russia.

Just like Hitler never gave up, Orban will not give up or give in or retreat, whatever the consequences to the nation. (At most, yet another round of peakock dance may follow, in order to buy time.)

Webber
Guest

@Csalaváry – I agree, with you and with what Eva has written above. Péter Tölgyessy has just published an excellent overview of Orban’s system and why it will (probably) not be broken by internal opposition, that I also agree with- http://index.hu/belfold/2014/12/22/tolgyessy_peter_elemzes_elso_resz/

Attila Ara-Kovacs
Guest

Éva, ez megint nagyszerű összefoglaló. Persze, nem azért, mert érintve vagyok, attila

HiBoM
Guest

I’m not convinced that Orbán has any particular ideology, he is simply intoxicated with his power and the wealth it brings him. His attachment to Russia owes probably more to the fact that if money is stolen from the deals he has brokered, the worst that can happen is that Putyin will want a cut. Whereas the Americans tend to see it differently (i.e. the Vida affair.) The whole Paks deal is about making outrageous amounts of money for himself and supporting clique, nothing else.

The absurd Sunday opening laws had no real support. But Orbán decided to push it through anyway because he gets a kick out of proving his own omnipotence and gets an adrenaline rush from “victory”. It reminds me of the joke: “Where does a 450 pound gorilla sleep?” The answer being “Anywhere it wants.” Why does Orbán make ridiculous or reckless foreign policy decisions? Because he can…

okapi
Guest

Another day in Hungary in the ‘centre-right conservative’ fidesznik world of ideology.

Links to six conspiracy theories spread by die-hard fidesznik pundits – Monday edition.

Examples:

Istvan Lovas: It was the Americans who shot down MH370 over Ukraine.
Andras Bencsik: The local supporters of globalization are preparing a coup d etat against Orban.
Janos Lazar: It is the American embassy which is bringing the people to the streets.

http://444.hu/2014/12/22/egy-csokor-jobboldali-osszeeskuves-egy-unalmas-hetfo-reggelre/

Csalaváry
Guest
@Webber Tölgyessy is a great story teller, but he is that foremost. I think his insights are somewhat overrated. Gabor Török, another fidesz-leaning (or as Prof. Balog said it aptly ‘somewhat partial to Fidesz’) observer, at least is in daily contact with fideszniks. Of course, Török is an active political operator, so whatever he says must be seen in that light, he may just want to spread things on purpose. Tölgyessy is much more of an intellectual, a kind of loner, who is less wired into the minds of the younger generation of Fidesz. His biggest value lies in being able to write up a narrative with a distinct style (I like “bajos”, meaning problematic, which almost nobody uses in daily conversation, but he will reliably use it in his annual article). Tölgyessy still detests the “post-communists” and still admires Orban. Tölgyessy has been a Fidesz MP for 8 years (though not a member of the party) and I think he is still mesmerized by the human manifestation of such a ‘political genius’. His critique is a bit personal, I feel. After all, he is heavily into middle-age now and he has to realize that Hungary didn’t develop compared to,… Read more »
HiBoM
Guest

Tölgyessy is a very peculiar individual. He became a Fidesz MP before 1998, but during the 1998-2002 cycle, he voted pretty much how he wanted, and would often vote against Orbán. And yet astonishingly, he was put on something like 11th place on the party list for the 2002 election. I remember asking people about about this at the time: the general feeling was that he knows enough about Fidesz to be able to essentially blackmail his way onto their party lists (rather like Pintér in a different context.)

This doesn’t invalidate his article but I do think he is very much overrated at a thinker. But I do know that people like János Kis from the kerékasztal days of the SZDSZ were profoundly mistrustful of him. So he is a complex and probably rather devious character…

Webber
Guest

@Csalaváry – All that is fine. I take everything all analysts write with a grain of salt. But I don’t understand why you would you trust Török (who also has admired Orbán in print and on t.v.), more than Tölgyessy who, as you imply, (also) has contacts within Fidesz due to his past. If you read that article, you won’t find a shred of Tölgyessy’s former admiration of Orbán. It’s clear that in Tölgyessy’s view, Orbán is the problem, not the solution, but also that insiders in Fidesz won’t be removing Orbán.

Csalaváry
Guest

@Webber:

It’s not that I trust Török more, no, but I think what he says is more directly based on Fidesz’ current state, either because Török is working on behalf of Fidesz(niks) or simply because he talks to fideszniks on a daily basis, while Tölgyessy doesn’t (or Tölgyessy’s connections are to the older generation which is not influential any more). Török admires Orban, I agree. But Török’s business model is also based on having a more or less critical attitude, in other words he is opportunistic. That Török is deeply worried, is an important piece of information in itself.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Csalaváry, Webber

I find Tölgyessy’s piece very interesting, for it lays out a framework for criticizing the regime from a right-wing point of view. While the ballet of conflicting personal ambitions – something that is bound to happen over time in every dominant group – is to be scrutinized, any dissent wishing to influence a policy shift will at some point need a common basis around which people can be rallied.

@HiBoM

I do view Fidesz’s policies as often murky, incoherent, improvised, and self-serving (whether to please the crowds or fill in their pockets). However, I also consider they are attempting to forge an ideology, part of which is rooted in Hungary’s past, part of which is inspired by certain winds blowing throughout Europe.

It may often be closer to the ‘wisdom’ of self-help books or motivation seminars than to the highly structured systems of ideas that have been, for better or worse, successful in the past. Nonetheless, I think it qualifies as an ideology, be it only in its attempting to reshape such a wide range of subjects, from culture to education to economy to health to foreign policy…

i-magyar
Guest

The courts of the future New Hungary will be interested in the diaries/blogs of the era 2006, 2010-2014.

They will try the crimes of our times.

Every Hungarian must learn to discard the information fed by the current government’s loyal press/radio/tv, and become an honest citizen.

Every Hungarian must give up passive behaviour.

tovarisi
Guest

Hungary to sell gas storage – recently purchased from EON – to Russia.

Yet another way to bind Hungary to Russia.

Orban isn’t giving up, he’s not resting until he can transform Hungary into a fully-fledged Russian vassal state. Hell, isn’t this what we already are?

With the full support of the Hungarian national security apparatus, we suppose.

http://www.portfolio.hu/vallalatok/energia/ujabb_milliardos_uzletet_kothetunk_oroszorszaggal.5.208243.html

Bergmann
Guest

tovarisi–

Yes, it’s official. Hungary is Russia’s Strohmann.

We front for Russia if necessary, but we openly support Russia politically. Nobody can say Hungary wasn’t honest and open about this.

Orban purchased the EON gas storage from the very beginning on behalf of Russia. Orban didn’t care about it, he was just delivering it to Putin anyway.

EON didn’t want to sell it to Gazprom, but it did sell it to Hungary, which is now selling it to Moscow.

Western politicians might have thought they could be smarter than Putin and Orban, well those Westerners aren’t.

Putin and Orban are here to stay and together they will suck Hungary dry.

gardonista
Guest

Thank you, @Atilla Levay for the great argument against the current Orban government. If you had such strong arguments against the previous government, then you must agree that the Orban government is completely illegitimate.

Member
I just want to congratulate “nandi” and Attila Levai for their hard effort to turn back time to the 1970s and tie Hungary again to Russia. When I am reading comments such as theirs about the American conspiracy, and about how they rely on one Hungary’s crook, Janos Lazar) who just purchased to his ten year old son a 60,000,000 forint worth of property but forgot to disclose it) I feel great. I feel I am transported back to my childhood when we sang the Soviet anthem together wit the Hungarian, and listened to the speeches about the devil West, and how they exploit their own people. Oh, being an uninformed, stupidified, uneducated child again…. What is the secret nandi and Attila used to get back to that stage? I guess Fidesz holds the key to the time machine. THey already succeeded to transport us back to the early 20th Century with many of their policies and by rewriting history, but now the also hold the key to rejuvenation… As far as the USA would be the big organizer of the opposition. I wish! They certainly open their eyes, they certainly started to listen, they absolutely welcome any change that… Read more »
HiBoM
Guest

Ha!! Index has finally twigged that Habony should not be allowed into the USA because of his conviction for assault. Something i pointed out here, and wrote to the US Embassy about…

That gives me a quiet sense of satisfaction!

Member
@ HiBoM Yes, Habony forgot to mention on his visa application those facts. So let see who is Fidesz and their friends (nandi, Attila Levai, Rev. Kovacs, Joe Simon, etc.) relies on to lead Hungary toward prosperity and glory: – A conviceted killer who is hired to protect the Fidesz headquarters, Ferenc Sz. – A fraudster who provenly cheated to obtain his doctorate, actually he did not even have his doctorate but signed papers as such. He served as Hungary’s President, and had to resign. Since then he received some medals, and a lifetime monthly pension about quarter million forints. – 6 individuals including Ildiko Vida (who doe not speak English) the head of the Hungarian tax authority, who are on the no travel list to the USA for alleged corruptions. – Viktor Orban, Prime Minister who early on proclaimed that in order to win the election he will say many things, but that is an other question what will he do. Orban is also a saint, I must say. Anyone he touches becomes rich in a matter of couple of years. His gas fitter friend from his village, his daughter’s then fiancé (now her husband), his wife, his father,… Read more »
wpDiscuz