The Hungarian people are not thrilled with Orbán’s Russia policy

Népszava‘s information about Vladimir Putin’s visit to Budapest, seconded by Attila Ara-Kovács on Klubrádió, turned out to be accurate. Válasz, a pro-government internet site, was skeptical about the accuracy of the news because, after all, there was no mention of such a visit in Russian sources. Moreover, no western media picked up the news from Népszava. A commenter on this blog also expressed his doubts about the authenticity of the news. After all, Népszava is an opposition paper and therefore, I guess, not quite reliable. By this morning, however, the press department of the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the information: Putin is coming to Hungary, although the date hasn’t been fixed.

Meanwile Népszabadság, another opposition paper, learned “from diplomatic circles” that the trip was planned a year ago on Hungary’s initiative. At that time the sanctions against Russia were not yet in place. Moreover, originally the trip was supposed to take place sometime in 2014, but because of scheduling difficulties it was postponed to this year, a change that might be advantageous to Putin but is mighty uncomfortable for Orbán. But as László Kovács, former foreign minister, said yesterday, Orbán developed a relationship with Putin that precludes any postponement of the meeting.

While waiting for the arrival of Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, several civic groups are preparing demonstrations. A group headed by Zoltán Vajda and Balázs Gulyás, two people whom I consider to be the most promising among the organizers of the recent demonstrations, plans to take the lead. Balázs Gulyás was the organizer of the mass demonstration against the internet tax, and Zoltán Vajda organized the demonstration on behalf of those 60,000 people whose savings in private pension funds the Orbán government wants to expropriate.

Vajda and Gulyás are planning two demonstrations. One will take place on February 1, the day before Angela Merkel’s arrival. It is called “Spring comes–Orbán goes: Demonstration for a European Hungary.” The second demonstration is planned for February 9 or, if Putin comes later, it will be postponed to the day of his arrival. The theme of the second will be “We will not be a Russian colony.” Other organizations and parties expressed an interest in joining these two Facebook groups, and it seems that they, unlike some others, are ready to cooperate with everybody who is ready to join them. As I wrote yesterday, PM asked all democratic parties to take part in massive demonstrations that include both parties and civilians.

In the lively discussion that followed yesterday’s post, a question was raised about the attitude of Fidesz voters toward Russia. According to one opinion, Fidesz voters are so brainwashed that they are ready to follow Viktor Orbán all the way to Moscow. Others, myself included, doubted the accuracy of this observation. In fact, I ventured to suggest that anti-Russian feelings might be a catalyst that will bring about a united opposition to Orbán’s regime. Well, today we have a more scientific answer to the question of Hungarians’ attitude toward the United States and Russia. The poll was taken by Medián for 444.hu

Here are some figures confirming that the Orbán propaganda did not significantly alter Hungarians’ anti-Russian sentiments. I will start with the most important and most telling figures: “If Hungary had to choose between the United States and Russia as a close associate, which country would you choose?” Fifty-three percent chose the United States and only 25% Russia. Hungarians are aware of the worsening relations between the United States and Hungary, and surprisingly the majority blame the Hungarian government for it. This finding goes against the widespread belief that Hungarians always blame others for their misfortunes. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents blame Hungary and only 14% the United States.

Medián also ran these figures against party affiliation. Those who feel more aligned with the democratic parties overwhelmingly blame their own country for the current situation (80%); only 4% blame the United States. Interestingly, the majority of Jobbik voters (59%) side with the United States. Only 13% put the blame on the U.S. while 27% think that the blame should be shared by the two countries. The situation is about the same among undecided voters. Fidesz voters are not as uniformly pro-Russian as some commenters on Hungarian Spectrum suspected. Only 37% blame the United States, 22% Hungary, and 40% think that both countries are at fault. I wouldn’t call that a resounding endorsement of a pro-Russian, anti-U.S. foreign policy.

Diplomats, present and former, have found it difficult to figure out what the real purpose of this meeting is. I could suggest a few topics that might come up. First, I think, is Paks. Orbán, for whom the building of a second reactor at the Paks Nuclear Power Plant is very important, surely would like to get reassurance from Putin that the project is still on and that Russia will not turn its back on Paks as it did on the Southern Stream. Another topic might be Hungary’s attitude toward the extension of the sanctions against Russia. Would Hungary vote against such a decision? There is also the question of the U.S.-EU free trade agreement, officially called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which Russia opposes.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Orbán were a ready partner of Russia in opposing the free-trade agreement. On what am I basing this opinion? István Mikola, formerly the “nation’s doctor” and nowadays one of the undersecretaries in the foreign ministry, announced last night on HírTV that Hungary would go so far as to veto the TTIP if Hungary’s interests were not taken into consideration. One such reason would be the acceptance in the European Union of genetically modified food products coming from the United States. Fidesz lawmakers included a GMO ban in the new constitution. András Schiffer, the anti-capitalist, anti-globalist co-chair of LMP, went even further. In his opinion, the whole free-trade agreement is against the interests of Hungary. In fact, not just Hungary but in his words “it means in the long run the ruin of the whole globe.” He added that the agreement would mean the loss of 600,000 jobs in the EU. So, Putin and Orbán are of one mind when it comes to the TTIP. András Schiffer, the so-called opposition leader, joins them because of his far-left notions of modern capitalism and globalism.

Not so long ago, however, James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, wrote an article in Foreign Policy: “Vladimir Putin hates the TTIP which is exactly why Europe and America need to get it done.” Stavridis explains his support of the treaty this way:

The TTIP is a sensible agreement on economic grounds, broadly speaking. But it also holds enormous real value in the geopolitical sphere. The increased linkages between the United States and our European allies and partners will stand in direct opposition to Putin’s key strategy of driving a wedge between the United States and the EU as the central members of the transatlantic community.

I don’t know how important the GMO issue is in the scheme of things, but one has the feeling that Hungary will be a difficult negotiating partner when it comes to the TTIP.

Another issue that might be discussed is Putin’s pet subject, the Eurasian Economic Union. It was only a few days ago that Russia’s EU ambassador urged Brussels to start talks with the newly born Eurasian Economic Union despite the Ukrainian crisis. As he put it, “common sense advises us to explore the possibility of establishing a common economic space in the Eurasian region.” A Russian-led bloc might be a better partner for the European Union than the United States. The reason: low health standards in the U.S. food industry. Orbán again might be helpful on this issue. However, in Orbán’s place I would tread lightly. It is true that Putin’s idea of a Eurasian Union became reality on January 1, but according to Reid Standish, an expert on Kazakhstan, Putin’s Eurasian dream was over before it began.

Eurasian Union

All in all, I think the two have plenty to talk about. The topics I have outlined are primarily Russian concerns, and getting Hungary on board would be only to Russia’s advantage. For Hungary to become Moscow’s Trojan horse in Europe is not strategically wise.

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Istvan
Guest

I very much like the call for the Putin demonstration being: “We will not be a Russian colony.” Simple and to the point.

d'Magyar
Guest

No Russian Gift Puppets!

karmester
Guest

Eva – I suspect you didn’t mean to write this: “I wouldn’t be not at all surprised ” on today’s blogpost. 🙂

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

For those who want to keep track of the demonstrations, an agenda:

http://holtuntetunkma.hu/2015/02/

bund
Guest

I hate Orban, but I have this to say.

There’s 100% consensus among Hungarian parties that we don’t want GMO. Period. Why would the US push us like crazy on this issue? Hungary needs the power to stop it at its borders at least.

Secondy, the TTIP is anyway controversial. Orban can oppose it because many Western politicians oppose it anyway. There’s also a grass roots opposition mounted by NGOs. So while Orban can’t politically oppose sanctions as he would be alone (maybe, although Slovakia or Cyprus or France or others may oppose them too), Hungary would not be alone against the TTIP for sure.

Moreover, it’s not just about the GMOs. The US – at the behest of the giant internet corporations (who hitherto were in the business of “improving the world and bringing democracy”) – is pushing hard to dilute existing European data protection laws rendering the most minute personal data a commodity to be traded and sold. Effectively creating markets out of the lives of people. At one point there’s got to be an end for markets.

So, yes, I too think TTIP will be opposed by Orban.

d'Magyar
Guest

Why are so many ordinary Hungarians tolerating and serving Orbans, Horthys, Rakosis, Vonas?

These Hungarians are/were allied with the worst tyrants of humanity, Hitler, Stalin, Putin, Ali Khaminei.

Why is an ordinary Hungarian remaining silent, passive, complacent?

Let us try the path of freedom, enlightenment, equality, justice.

Guest

What is the factual basis for the resistance against GMO?

Guest

I agree with bund re the TTIP, it’s also not well received by many Germans. The crazy side of it:
It’s about “Free Trade” but discussed in secret so of course there are a lot of speculations about its contents – right now there was an uproar that it would mean that products like “Black Forest Ham” might be sold which are produced anywhere in the USA …
And GMO is also a point in the discussion.

PS and OT:
I shudder to think that even more US junk food and other junk might be sold cheaply in Europe …
Have you read about HFCS and what it means?

goalie
Guest
@Jean P First, it doesn’t matter where GMO is good of bad, people don’t want it, so why push it? Why does the US want to push something against so much resistance? (Because the relevant companies donate a lot of money to reelection campaigns). Secondly, there’s a so-called precautionary principle see article below. Thirdly, GMO products have no benefits whatsoever (other than for the provider of seeds which usually also provides the pesticide and fertilizer). Actually more fertilizer and pesticide are needed than with previous non-GMO varieties, the soil gets worse and so on, there are a host of issues with GMO and the industrial agriculture on which GMO is based (but GMO puts such practices on steroids). So one can view GMO in isolation (even in that case precaution is necessary), but together with the system it necessitates and perpetuates, it is clear that GMO is not the way to do any sustainable agriculture. https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/genetically-modified-organisms-risk-global-ruin-says-black-swan-author-e8836fa7d78 But this is not about GMO as such, bout about whether TTIP is good or not, or whether Orban will push against it or not. The thing with TTIP is that it has been negotiated in absolute secrecy and the US is using the… Read more »
googly
Guest
Goalie, You make some good points, but I respectfully disagree with you on a few of them. You wrote: “GMO products have no benefits whatsoever (other than for the provider of seeds which usually also provides the pesticide and fertilizer).” I am no fan of GMO, especially the kind to which you refer, but I think you’re mischaracterising GMO seeds based on a subset of the whole. Yes, there are the pesticide-resistant seeds which increase pesticide use, but there are also the seeds that are drought-resistant, those that increase yield, and others that increase specific beneficial aspects of the plant, such as higher omega-3 fats, etc. The real problems with GMO are that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of these seeds, and the rapacious companies that produce them employ ruthless tactics to increase their profits. You also wrote: “…the US is using the same methods to divide Europeans as Russia does and it is working.” I would think that the US needs to unite Europeans in accepting the TTIP, otherwise it won’t pass. Charaterising the US as intentionally dividing Europeans doesn’t make sense to me, but I would be interested in hearing your argument for this theory.… Read more »
Guest

@googly (and everybody else who might know something …):
goalie has just confirmed about the TTIP ” it has been negotiated in absolute secrecy”.
Why is that necessary? Looks really strange to me! Especially in connection with “free trade” …

Guest

goalie: “..it is clear that GMO is not the way to do any sustainable agriculture..”

There is little sustainable agriculture in Europe to be ruined by GMO. The soil is being saturated with fertilizers and pesticides just as well without GMO.

goalie
Guest
@googly The EU politician elite, lacking firm beliefs, really don’t care that much about TTIP. The eurosceptics, some leftists and many NGOs do care, but they are not the primary decision makers, although the eurosceptics as we know are getting stronger everywhere exactly because the traditional political elite has no convictions and would like to push for more capitalism. Thus the EU as a default was actually united behind the TTIP, but simply because there was no real, tough opposition among the political leaderships of member states, and as a default anything that the US proposed was going to be approved as usual. The political climate is changing, however. The method is now to divide the EU countries in order to prevent them from uniting firmly on any issues which they may not like (GMO, chemicals, food, data protection/data sovereignty, private courts etc.). The US will appeal on the rational approach of the EU and will start from the assumption that there’s (was) “an agreement” to conclude the TTIP (a great negotiating tactics), and then the US will go over each and every contentious issue and it will want to tick the boxes, making sure than no issue will attract… Read more »
goalie
Guest

Jean P: so that’s an argument to continue with ever more efforts to degrade the soils?

goalie
Guest

@googly

I don’t think that NGOs or even any grassroots campaigns can ever be at the levels where the lobbying efforts of the interested corporations are. (To date I think in no US state could activists get it approved whether through referendum or through state congresses that he GMO content of a food item should be written on the packaging). The former just don’t have the money, and secondly politicians are not dependent on them. I mean even in Brussels the revolving door phenomenon is rampant.

Former regulators go back to the business they regulated (and they can expect offers from such companies, provided they behave “professionally” during their tenure) and so back and forth. Obviously a company which employs former regulators is more effective to get its voice heard.

Corruption has many forms, I don’t necessary mean that bureaucrats in Brussels receive boxes of cash, but simply that their judgment will be somewhat clouded. They will only somewhat less vigilantly fight for the rights of the EU citizens, especially when the bureaucrats are anyway inclined not to do much.

Member

If we put as much though tand effort into reducing or reversing human population growth as into increasing soil or dollar yield, the planet’s prospects would be less dismal.

Paul
Guest

googly sums it up very well:

“The real problems with GMO are that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of these seeds, and the rapacious companies that produce them employ ruthless tactics to increase their profits.”

In the name of profits, we are playing Russian Roulette with nature. We have no idea at all of the long-term effects of putting non-plant genes into plants.

The history of science pushed too quickly by big corporations, solely in order to make money, is littered with unfortunate side-effects and unforeseen results. But GMO has the potential to make these earlier ‘mistakes’ look like minor problems.

And TTIP is solely designed to benefit the American corporations by undermining the standards of European consumer and human rights legislation. It is worse than ‘just’ rampant Capitalism trampling over people and their concerns and rights, it is actually a direct battle between the ‘anything goes’ Neocon political philosophy of the US right and the liberal/social democrat culture of the EU.

Both these issues are far more important than whether or not Orbán supports them. He is a minor sideshow in a war Europe must win.

Lazlo
Guest

Hungary will continue to support Russia every way it can, not much change is expected in this regard. The new Foreign Ministry is full of pro-Russian people, the more pro-Western people were purged, so now it’s simply impossible to imagine that the ministry could change course.

But Orban I hear is more optimistic because the oil price is down. That’s a unexpected booster for the economy (perhaps resulting in an extra 0.5% GDP growth) and could mean further utility rate cuts! The whether will be soon much nicer and people are already buying twice as many cars, so the spring will be lot’s a fun for the people.

googly
Guest

Eva,

GMO’s are relevant, I think, since they might be the excuse Orbán uses to oppose the TTIP, when his real interest is scuttling anything that Russia doesn’t like, or that might restrict his plundering of Hungary’s wealth. I will make my remarks more relevant from now on, however.

Member

”Let Them Eat Mangalica…”

Here is a clear link between the GMO discussion — which I agree is uninformed one way or the other — and Orban policy: Having stolen pensions and put 40% of the pupulation below the poverty level, with tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of children undernourished, Orban is preaching “go forth and multiply…”

györgy
Guest

The operation of the political cartel between Fidesz and the always willing MSZP (in Szigetvár).

MSZPniks are thoroughly corrupt, I think much more so than Fideszniks because the former are not only corrupt in the sense that they steal money, but MSZPniks readily give up their political convictions and strategic interests for a song. These proverbial “szocis” would sell their own mother for the tiniest bits of crumbles.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/01/08/megmutattak_hogy_kell_meghalalni_a_kormanyzati_milliokat/

googly
Guest
Goalie, You wrote: “My view is that Eastern Europe certainly doesn’t need any more opening of its markets, because its indigenous companies are not competitive enough to withstand further pressure and we can only lose out. So why would Hungary want more influx of cheap bad quality imports based on laxer environmental rules, weaker labour laws, cheaper, locally available energy which we don’t have etc.? Why is this good for Hungary, or for the French or the Italians for that matter…?” Please do some research on why trade is usually good for all parties involved, starting with the self-reliant “import substitution” policies followed by India and Brazil, among others, for most of the last century. If a lopsided trade agreement is forged by the EU, it would be the first time that I know of, since negotiating such agreements is very different than negotiating foreign policy agreements, and also different than negotiating agreements with potential EU applicants (such as Ukraine), since those are meant to help the countries in question. The US generally does not export cheap or low-quality goods, and, as we’ve seen with Russia, the EU needs to diversify its energy sources. Don’t forget, we already import a… Read more »
googly
Guest

Wolfi,

In a sense, you’ve answered your own question. If every twist and turn of the negotiations were publicised, the outcry would be massive, since negotiations can travel down many unpopular paths before finally arriving at a compromise position that doesn’t include those items. I personally don’t know of any trade agreements that are negotiated in public. In a way, it might be better if the negotiators released sanitised updates, to quell the rumour-mongering. Let’s stop speculating about what might be in the agreement, and wait to see what comes of it. We might be pleasantly surprised, but if we aren’t, we can easily attack it at that time.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Russia is behind the hysteria arising from the imagined details of the agreement. Putin would do almost anything keep Europe from loosening his grip on its economy, and he is openly trying to divide EU opinion on the US.

Istvan
Guest
Since this discussion has been diverted to GMOs which Eva did effectively discuss in her post in passing here is what I think from a very American perspective. If one looks at Monsanto which is the leading US corporation that holds patients on GMOs you will see that they make an argument to support GMOs based on ecology and water conservation. http://discover.monsanto.com/sustainability/?gclid=Cj0KEQiA8rilBRDZu_G8hszXraoBEiQABlB9Y7qndnAYX5Jv-LW_4AyDAnBvXgFc-xCa6aGLKlbL3oQaAoF28P8HAQ#sustain-gmo I support my nation’s position on the ban on GMOs inside the EU. People and farmers should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to eat food coming from GMO seeds. I do believe that goods that claim to be non-GMO based should also disclose their comparative disadvantage in terms of water consumption. Vast areas of the earth are facing a water shortage and drought resistant GMOs will become more and more dominant in the food chain. Through negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) with the European Union, the U.S. Trade Representative seeks to establish common regulations covering consumer protections, and has targeted the European Union’s regulations of genetically modified foods, which includes consumer labeling. U.S. and EU agribusiness firms have been open about their desire to eliminate GMO labeling laws under TAFTA—including the… Read more »
györgy
Guest
@googly I’m not so sure that theory that increasing foreign trade/opening of the markets are beneficial to both parties holds true for each and every case. In Hungary, as in Eastern Europe companies are not competitive enough and they can’t really be: their Western counterparts had at least 50 extra years to be competitive in which they already occupied their own markets, created brand attachment, know-how etc. We don’t have cheap energy, a huge local market in which we could grow and meanwhile protect our markets (China). It’s not very difficult to see why import radically increased after the fall of communism as demand for consumer goods which Hungary couldn’t produce increased and with it, since the C/A balance was negative, fx debt too. We’re in a slightly better shape (not debt-wise) than we were in 1990 (the economy is more diversified), but the opening of the markets will create more failures for local businesses. This is the story of the Hungarian rural world where companies with little added value without he necessary know-how to compete have been shutting down — resulting among others in Jobbik and a kind of death spiral for rural Hungary (all the while Budapest has… Read more »
An
Guest
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