Vladimir Putin’s impending visit to Budapest

Népszava, a social democratic paper, is generally well-informed about the “secrets” of the government. This time it surprised its readers with a front-page article announcing a planned visit by Vladimir Putin to Budapest sometime in March. Budapest, judiciously spurned by western political leaders of late, is becoming a hub of diplomatic activity. Angela Merkel is scheduled for a five-hour visit on February 2 and now the news about Putin.

The newspaper pointed out that this will not be Putin’s first visit to Budapest. He was the guest of Ferenc Gyurcsány in February 2006 when the Hungarian prime minister supported the idea of the Southern Stream to the great annoyance and disapproval of both the United States and Viktor Orbán. Orbán at that time considered such a policy to be the equivalent of treason. The paper also called attention to Viktor Orbán’s about-face when he paid a visit to Moscow in November 2010 and again in February 2013.

Actually Népszava missed an earlier indication that a change in Russo-Hungarian relations was in the works. In November 2009, prior to his becoming prime minister, during a visit to St. Petersburg as one of the vice presidents of the European People’s Party Orbán attended the eleventh congress of the ruling United Russia Party. During this visit he indicated to Putin that he wanted “to put Russian-Hungarian relations on an entirely new footing.” He had made up his mind to conduct a pro-Russian foreign policy once in power.

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 2014 Source: Europess / Getty Images / Sasha Mordovets

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 2014
Source: Europess / Getty Images / Sasha Mordovets

Perhaps the first person to comment on the news of the visit was László Kovács, former foreign minister, who happened to be a visitor on the early morning program “ATV Start.” He assumes that the initiative for the visit came from Moscow. Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a Russian expert, shares Kovács’s hypothesis. Putin must have been the one to suggest the visit in the hope of convincing Orbán to veto the extension of EU sanctions against Russia, which expire in March. In Biró’s opinion, a veto by Orbán not supported by any other EU country would poison the relationship between Hungary and the West for a very long time. Therefore he doubts that Orbán would dare to go that far.

Attila Ara-Kovács, head of the “foreign cabinet” of the Demokratikus Koalíció, told Klubrádió that he knew about the impending visit for about a week but, according to his information, Putin’s visit will take place not in March, as Népszava reported, but on February 9. In his reading, it was Orbán who invited Putin and not the other way around, perhaps to show the world that he is not alone in his battle with the United States and the European Union. If Orbán sensed that Angela Merkel intended to deliver “bad news” during her stay in Budapest, perhaps a looming visit from Putin might temper her disapproval. Ara-Kovács considers this latest move of Orbán a provocation that will only add fuel to the fire in the strained relationship between Hungary and the West.

What are the reactions of the opposition parties? As usual, MSZP is hibernating. Not a word from József Tóbiás, the party chairman, or from anyone else. Együtt somewhat naively demands that the government consult with all parliamentary parties “in preparing the meeting between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Russian president.” Együtt can wait for such a consultation. Együtt joined LMP in its opposition to the construction of the Paks2 nuclear power plant. Both parties want the government, during the prime minister’s meeting with Putin, to break its contract for a 10-billion-euro Russian loan to have Rossatom build the plant. Well, that will not happen either but it is possible, as Zoltán Sz. Biró suspects, that Russia for financial reasons will give up the idea of the project. PM’s reaction was the most sensible: the party would like to see a huge demonstration against Putin’s visit organized by all the democratic opposition parties as well as by the civic groups that were responsible for the recent mass demonstrations.

László Szily, the blogger of Cink.hu, correctly pointed out that, if it is true that Putin is coming to Budapest, Viktor Orbán just did those who have been expressing their anger against his regime in the last few months a huge favor. The most recent demonstration showed signs of fatigue, but Putin in Budapest could resurrect the old enthusiasm of the crowds and just might unite the hitherto anti-party civic groups and the democratic parties into one large and potent group. Moreover, too cozy a Russian-Hungarian friendship might cause a rift within Fidesz itself. A lot of Fidesz voters are adamantly anti-Russian.  In Szily’s words, “The vacillating opposition on the streets can be grateful to the prime minister because kowtowing to Russia, parading with the dictator is the kind of event that could successfully bring together the dissatisfied left, right, and liberal public.”

One party was elated by the news: Jobbik. This afternoon Jobbik published an official statement, the theme of which was “Hungary must represent the interests of peace and neutrality.” Márton Gyöngyösi, the party’s foreign policy expert, said that Jobbik is a supporter of Viktor Orbán’s “eastern opening” and “considers Russia an economic, political and cultural partner of Hungary.” Budapest, because of the Hungarian minority in the Subcarpathian region of Ukraine, shouldn’t side with its western allies. Gyöngyösi went even further than the rather subdued official statement when he told Hiradó, the organ of state propaganda, that “it is unacceptable that the Hungarian government, blindly representing western interests, is ready to throw the Subcarpathian Hungarians as bones to the West.”

It is hard to know what the next couple of months will bring on the international scene. We have no idea what kind of message Angela Merkel will deliver to Budapest on February 2. We don’t know what foreign reactions to Putin’s visit will be. But domestically the Russian president’s visit might just be a potent catalyst for political change.

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Istvan
Guest

If President Putin is coming on Feb 9 this poses an interesting problem for the movement in the streets. Do you hold the next demonstration during Angela Merkel’s visit or the week after for Putin, or try to pull off both?

Since Putin is now doing everything that can be imagined to crush all opponents who accuse his government of corruption including Alexei Navalny the blogger and Mikhail Khodorkovsky the oligarch who went bad on Putin. Navalny biggest crime was calling Putin’s United Russia party a “party of crooks and thieves,” It would be good for Hungarians to demonstrate in solidarity with the Russian opponents of governmental corruption. But indeed the Jobbik could try to turn it into a bloody affair given their slavish support of Putin.

Geza Kmetty
Guest

Putin’s visit and Orban’s behavior during the visit will be the defining chapter of where Hungary will wind up in the geopolitical chess game between the West and. Putin’s Russia.
It will be a litmus test of the Left-wing Hungarian Liberals, and the pro-Western Democracy opposition leader’s willingness to unite under one banner.
The future of the country is in the hands of the Hungarian’s willingness and determination to become a Western Democracy or revert back to be part of the Russian Maffia state.

babluani
Guest
I respectfully disagree about the catalyst nature of any or both of the two visits. While it is true that Laszlo Szily of cink.hu was a Fidesz-leaning journalist until it was cool (and he is still an “anti-communist”), his views are representative of only certain fideszniks. I see that those colleagues as well as relatives who were and who are still hard core fidesz voters now adore Putin. This may be not be a representative sample, but I have no colleague or relative who was a fidesznik and who would have left Fidesz, they all still support Fidesz wholeheartedly. Fideszniks just believe whatever their pope tells them to believe. Fidesz voters have been prepared for this anti-West, anti-EU, anti-US, pro-Russia stance for years. Maybe this was not part of the discourse right after 2010, especially as Orban concentrated on domestic issues (to entrench his system etc.), the difference is that now it’s in the open. If Orban says Putin is his hero, than Putin is a hero and that’s that. Moreover, most voters have zero idea and don’t care about international affairs. It’s far away, too complicated. Just like democracy and constitutionalism. Parties would need to be more active, but… Read more »
rio
Guest

“I see that those colleagues as well as relatives who were and who are still hard core fidesz voters now adore Putin.”

It is no surprise that many Hungarians view Russia positively. Russia treats Hungary with respect, and Russia also does not act against the national interests of Hungary.

On the other hand many actors in the United States treat Hungary not with respect but hatred. Constant and vile hatred and they often act against the national interests of Hungary. The US wants to damage the Hungarian economy arguing for sanctions against Russia, the US wants to damage Hungary by trying to deprive it from cheap Russian energy and good energy deals.
But the Hungarians are not stupid. If the americans harass them all the time and show hatred for them and also disrespect them then they certainly not love the americans.

Istvan
Guest

So I have also now read in Népszabadság that Putin’s visit may be in part to honor the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Hungary from Nazi occupation. That is one of the most bitter pills possible given the massive raping of Hungarian women that took place in Budapest by uncontrolled Soviet forces even after the Hungarian Communist Party asked Stalin to put a stop to the mass rapes. Given that a number of the Jobbik celebrate the Hungarian fascists and Nazi defense of Budapest against the Soviets this could indeed be very confusing visit by President Putin to Hungary if it is to horror the Soviet liberation of Hungary.

fusion
Guest

Before a too large discussion of this news item:

how do we know any of this is true? We can only know for sure that someone is fabricating information. One says it’s february, one says it’s march. One says it was Putin’s idea, one says it wasn’t. How do we know it was not simply fabricated by Nepszava and people don’t “know” the details because there is nothing to know. Everyone makes up a story he thinks plausible and because they did not coordinate before everyone’s story is different. One thinks february is more plausible one think March would be, but they both use the Nepszava fabrication as basis.

Nepszava is a small circulation opposition paper. The idea that they know anything about any state visit by a foreign head of state is very unplausible. How would they know? Are they bugging the offices of their opponents?

Ákos
Guest

@rio

Russia wants to put Hungary into bondage by making Hungary entirely dependent on Russia for Hungary’s energy.

Russia allows Orban and other influential fideszniks to amass vast fortunes from energy deals made with Russians.

In other words, Putin wants to make a corrupt vassal state out of Hungary.

Wait, Hungary already is a Russian vassal state.

babluani
Guest

I currently assume that DK and PM (the minuscule splinter party from LMP and then from Együtt) are not on Fidesz’ payroll.

I can’t attribute MSZP fantastically consistent incompetence alone to its seemingly genetic amateurism. It think one has to assume that cases like that of Zsolt Molnár who – as MSZP’s campaign chief – was fighting for Fidesz, Rogan’s personal deals with MSZP councilmen who could rent apartments in district 5 at a cheap rate etc. point to Fidesz’ deep involvement. Fidesz involvement in any case is enough to make the anyway not too savvy party into a sleepy lapdog. I’m not alone, pls. check the result of the votes in the linked article.

I don’t think it is seriously questioned that LMP and Fodor are being financed and supported by Fidesz.

Együtt is not really existing as a party any more, but I admit I’m a bit more hesitant in its case.

http://444.hu/2015/01/06/az-mszp-tenyleg-ilyen-bena-vagy-a-fidesznek-dolgozik/

Chief Sackhoes
Guest

I hope Putin will come alone and not with his troops, and I hope Orban will not invite the troops to be guests of Hungary for the next 32 years.

fusion
Guest

I do believe you. From your description, a “source” told this to you. Probably something similar happened with Nepszava, they had a “source”. Now that’s the interesting question because if the source is highly placed in government then it is simple, s/he could know. But if not, how would s/he get such information? By wiretapping someone’s office? Or having a secret informant who steals out documents wikileaks style? Of course it is all very interesting in these cases. You can’t help to be curious in these cases.

I only suspected something odd with Nepszava information, because all the additional “details” were completely contradicting each other. Different people said different things about who proposed the visit and the other stuff. But based on your writing I do believe that a Putin visit is possible in the coming months.

gdfxx
Guest

@fusion,

Have you ever heard of government leaks?

Paul
Guest

Well, I hope there’ll be no pictures of Orbán stripped the waist on a horse…

I was going to add – “has MSzP ceased to exist?” But, after reading babluani’s post, I do wonder how much truth there is in his assertions. After all, we all know that MSzP is full of people who were once quite happily on the take – who’s to say they aren’t still partial to the odd ‘favour’ to keep them quiet?

Fanciful? How else do you explain the complete incompetence of the last few years, followed by the almost total silence of late?

petofi
Guest

“After all, we all know that MSzP is full of people who were once quite happily on the take…”

Along these lines, it would be interesting to discover what Mr. Mesterhazy has been up to since quitting politics.

It might be revealing…

Paul
Guest
A little OT – but I’ve just been catching up on my HS reading and there was a lot on the collapse of the forint on a previous thread, some of it linking the problems with the forint to the Russian situation (i.e. Rouble taking forint down with it). But, if you look at the graphs of (for instance) the Dollar v the Rouble and the Dollar v the forint, that link isn’t really there. The Rouble, although still in crisis, has actually recovered to some extent recently – at worse it’s ‘erratic’, rather than just ‘collapsing’. Whereas the forint’s fall is quite steady. Whatever is causing the continuing collapse of the forint, it isn’t solely Orbán’s licking of Putin’s derriere. Another point I noted, when looking at all the exchange rate graphs, is how different the forint’s performance is against the Euro, compared to other currencies over the last ten years. Against the Dollar, for instance, although the overall trend is bad, the change isn’t by any means as bad as against the Euro and the actual rate has fluctuated considerably over the 10 years. And against the GB Pound, although the current rate is the worst for 8… Read more »
Geza Kmetty
Guest

@rio. Your comments are repulsive to me. Your shamelessly pro Russian view, (that is shared by many indoctrinated inhabitants of Hungary) is completely false. My son worked for years in Budapest at the US AID office. I know how much of my tax moneys went to quick-start the Hungarian economy. The US government and the private investments helped Hungary. Where is the Russian equivalent of the USAID? Come-on-Man!!

Istvan
Guest
Eva do you really think it is possible that Orban would invite Putin to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet “liberation” of Hungary? As much as I detest Hungarain fascists, I have to say my stomach turns when my relatives or American Hungarian women from my church told me stories about being raped by drunken Soviet infantrymen when they were only 12 or 13 years old. It was these type of stories that went through my head when I was in the US Army and made me just crazy any time I thought an American was threatening a young woman in Vietnam when I was a young solider. I really can’t believe the Hungarian people would allow a celebration of this so called liberation, I do totally accept and understand that the Jews in Budapest ghetto were saved by the Soviets from impending death but to accept what was done to Hungary by the Soviets as any form of liberation is beyond my comprehension. Putin’s last visit to Hungary was in effect a supposed apology for 1956 as I recall, but to go back to the nonsense of liberation is beyond understanding. If this basis for the visit is… Read more »
TeamBritanniaHu
Guest

Reblogged this on hungarywolf.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Istvan: didn’t that anniversary use to be on April 4th?

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Eva S. Balogh: Actually Népszava missed an earlier indication that a change in Russo-Hungarian relations was in the works. In November 2009, prior to his becoming prime minister, …

Kudos for pointing that out, including your own piece at the time. If I’m not mistaken OV on his return had also said something in the line of “Russia will help us achieve energy independence”, mentioning Paks – but some analysts suspected at the time a change in Fidesz’ stand on South Stream was likely as well.

Perhaps it should also be remembered that Jobbik’s stance on Russia had changed the year before. While in 2007 Jobbik had strongly condemned the participants in the Tallin riots, in 2008 they clearly sided with Russia against Georgia – and have been faithful supporters of every Moscow initiative ever since.

bling
Guest

Hungary is respected in the US.

At least by homophobic American “traditional family values” organizations. Just as predicted, Orban is looking for the meeting of the minds with any Americans, and – following Putin – he has found them in the anti-gay movement.

The Republicans just love this paleo-conservative bunch in Budapest.

http://444.hu/2015/01/07/szelsoseges-gyuloletcsoportok-tamogatasaval-buszkelkedik-a-kormany/

Matild
Guest

@fusion

What’s the big deal? Attila Ara-Kovács apparently knew about this a week ago. Why is it difficult to imagine that people from the Orban government leak info?

Mind you, as we know from a great profile on Putin he travels with several planes, brings his own food etc. so it’s not like Putin just appears here in Budapest all of a sudden, I imagine that a lot of technical preparations are necessary. So probably dozens of people know about his arrival.

Probably few people know about the exact date (perhaps even Putin doesn’t wanna commit to an exact date yet), but otherwise why is it difficult to imagine that the famous omerta of Fidesz is cracking? (In an issue which has no criminal law consequences, it’s clear that they still won’t leak about the really big issues).

Népszava is a small paper fighting for its survival, it needs scoops. Moreover, it’s being financed in part by Simicska’s circle. If you look at from that angle, it’s possible that people close to Simicska leaked. It’s very rare that journalists just stumble upon something, it’s almost always a leak by a competing party faction.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
babluaniFidesz voters have been prepared for this (…) pro-Russia stance for years. I tend to agree (note that in a first phase I’m isolating the Russian element from the others for the sake of discussion). I’ll suggest there are four main points of convergence: ethnic nationalism, ‘traditional values’, style of government, and economic statism – particularly in energy matters. These items have been part of the Fidesz platform since 2009, so it makes sense that their voters would eventually view Putin’s Russia favorably as they’re now being openly invited to. However I’d like to point out that 1) the Fidesz electorate isn’t monolithic, as the recent drop in the polls, as well as previous ones, suggest; 2) in a representative system, politics is not only about the voters, especially in the area of Foreign Policy where elites matter heavily; 3) with one of Hungary’s neighbor being at war these are critical times, and the gov’t simultaneous anti-US stance (I’m reintroducing it now) means more people will feel they’re compelled to make an exclusive choice – which won’t necessarily be the one their government wants them to make; 4) with the Russian economy being in severe recession Hungarian exports to Russia… Read more »
babluani
Guest

Fidesz voters support Russia even more than Jobbik (!) voters.

In fact as many Fidesz voters would choose Russia as the most important partner of Hungary (39%) as would choose the US (40%).

It really rings true as a I wrote about it above.

Naive observers ‘misunderestimate’ Fidesz voters and the effectiveness of the Fidesz media empire which has prepared the fidesznik minds for Putin. Just as for Putin, media control does work (and conversely it is the non-controlled RTL Kklub with its limited reach caused the biggest damage to Fidesz).

http://444.hu/2015/01/07/a-magyarok-tobbsege-amerikat-valasztana-es-nem-oroszorszagot/

Guest

Not too much OT:

Reading about protests I remember the day when some Chinese politician came to Budapest and the Tibetan students tried to protest (it was also discussed here). We were in Budapest by accident and were stuck for some time in stopped traffic, later passed by the museum (or was it a library?) where the Tibetans had tried to meet the Chinese – there was an abundance of police (uniformed and plainclothes too) – it didn’t look nice …

So I’m wondering how TEK etc will handle this visit by Putin – it might become very unpleasant. Let’s hope my fears are unfounded …

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Actually babluani, it also shows there’s a serious split within the Fidesz electorate.

Sandahl
Guest
Marcel, yes, but one would think that “at default” when these voters became Fidesz voters the popularity of the US over Russia (not just the popularity of the US in itself) was much higher. Fidesz succeeded to change the minds of 25-30% of its voters (we talk about a serious number of voters here) completely on this fundamental issue (ie. west or east; assuming also that many Fidesz voters were unsympathetic towards the US to begin with). That’s no small feat. I recommend Peter Pomerantsev’s book “Nothing is true, everything is possible”. Orban is clearly moving into that direction, hiring actors to perform bogus interviews and the like. Media control works and the consequences of this were underestimated by the West which believed in its own childish ideology (promoted by western internet companies which wanted to appear more than just profit-maximizing corporations), ie that “the Internet” will bring freedom and democracy, when it fact it’s a fantastic tool for control and the branded internet media companies can also be bought up as CEMP, he owner of Index, owned by arch-oligarch Zoltan Speder, does with the Hungarian internet. Moreover TV is still the key medium and there Fidesz’ control is almost… Read more »
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