Thoughts in advance of the German and Russian visits to Budapest

Yesterday the Neue Zürcher Zeitung published an article about the forthcoming visits of Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin to Budapest titled “Orbans Tanz auf zwei Hochzeiten,” indicating that Viktor Orbán will be able to have his cake and eat it too. He will remain a member in good standing of the European Union and will be a close friend of Russia at the same time. I, on the other hand, maintain that he will not be able to pull off that extraordinary feat. There are many signs that the Hungarian prime minister is already in retreat.

Let’s start with the Merkel visit. Hungarian and foreign observers have come up with all sorts of explanations for her trip, starting with the simplest one–that she could no longer postpone it. After all, she has not visited the Hungarian capital in the last five years, ever since Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, which professes to be a Christian Democratic party, won a stunning victory in 2010. Her last trip took place in 2009, on the twentieth anniversary of the Hungarian opening of the Austro-Hungarian border for East German refugees, when the socialist-liberal government of Gordon Bajnai was still in power. If the purpose of the trip was to have a serious discussion about the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and Hungary’s role in it, Merkel’s five-hour stay, with very little face time with Viktor Orbán, would not suffice. She is coming because she promised to and because, according to a 1992 agreement between Hungary and Germany, she has to.

There are analysts who are convinced that Angela Merkel will not even mention the erosion of Hungarian democracy under Viktor Orbán’s regime, the systematic transformation of a fledgling democracy into an autocratic regime akin to the political setup that existed in Hungary between the two world wars. She has more pressing issues on her agenda: Greece, the sanctions against Russia, and the growth of the German anti-immigration movement–PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes / Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), especially popular in the former East Germany. It is unlikely that Merkel will waste any time on the woes of Hungarian democracy. Her only aim is to make sure that Viktor Orbán stands by the extension of the sanctions. This hypothesis, in part at least, is outdated: Hungary obediently voted for the extension on January 29.

Others are more optimistic. They maintain that the trouble with Angela Merkel’s visit is that it seems to put a stamp of approval on the illiberal regime of Viktor Orbán. This is certainly how the Orbán government is portraying it. If Merkel says nothing about the state of democracy in Hungary, Orbán’s regime scores a victory. There is pressure on Merkel at home, however, to do something about the Hungarian situation. She has to give the appearance that her visit is something of a warning to Viktor Orbán.

There is some truth in this interpretation. In fact, there are signs that behind the scenes some “disciplinary measures” have already taken place. The successful negotiations with the leaders of  the RTL Group indicate that Orbán got the message: there will be consequences if the Hungarian government blatantly and illegally discriminates against a media outlet just because it doesn’t like RTL’s news broadcast. Orbán caved, and I for one am certain that he didn’t get much in return. I find it interesting that the official announcement of Merkel’s visit occurred very late, on January 28, the day when according to Népszava‘s information the Hungarian government agreed to a substantial reduction in the enormous tax it had levied on RTL Klub. Was this agreement the price, or part of the price, of Merkel’s visit?

Because that’s not all. In his regular Friday morning interview Orbán announced that the exorbitant tax levies on the banking sector will most likely be gradually reduced because the Hungarian economy has greatly improved. “If possible, the interests of the country and the businessmen must be reconciled,” said the man who until now had laid all the financial burdens of his erroneous economic policies on businesses, especially foreign ones.

There might be several reasons for Orbán’s cooperation in addition to German negotiations. One is that the Americans undoubtedly know more about the Hungarian mafia state and Viktor Orbán’s role in it than they let on, but the Hungarian prime minister doesn’t know how much they know. That must be a powerful incentive to stick with the countries that provide Hungary with economic aid and military shelter. Another consideration might be the effect of the sanctions and the sinking price of oil on the Russian economy, which makes close ties with Putin’s Russia a less desirable option than, let’s say, a year ago.

And that leads us to the Putin visit on February 17. It was almost a year ago, in March of 2014, that the United States and the European Union began applying sanctions against Russia. Although Hungary agreed to support the move, in August Viktor Orbán declared that “Europe shot itself in the foot,” meaning that the sanctions actually hurt only the West and did nothing to weaken the Russian economy. Just about this time, however, oil prices began falling. The combination of sanctions and falling energy prices has made the Russian economic situation close to desperate by now.

Orbán was initially very proud of what he considered to be the crowning achievements of his Russia policy: the Southern Stream, which would have brought gas to Hungary circumventing Ukraine, and the Russian loan for the extension of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. Since then, Russia abandoned the Southern Stream project because of lack of funds, and many people think that the much heralded Paks deal is also in trouble. Thus, the rationale for close relations with Russia has more or less evaporated, which leaves Viktor Orbán in the unenviable position of suffering the ill effects of his overly cozy relation with Putin while reaping practically no benefits.

Depiction of the Trojan Horse at the Schlilemann Museum in Akershagen, Germany

Depiction of the Trojan Horse at the Schliemann Museum in Akershagen, Germany

Under these circumstances I doubt that the initiative for the Putin visit came from Budapest. It is no longer to Orbán’s benefit to make a lavish display of friendship with Russia. And indeed, the government is trying to downplay the importance of Putin’s visit, noting that it is only a working trip and not a state visit with the usual fanfare. For Putin, by contrast, it is an important trip at a time when nobody wants to have anything to do with him. Just think of the humiliation he suffered in Brisbane, Australia. He wants to demonstrate that he has at least one good friend  in the European Union.

Putin’s second reason for the trip, I suspect along with others, is to find out how much he can rely on Viktor Orbán. Will he deliver as promised? Or it was just talk? Perhaps Orbán oversold his usefulness to Putin and is turning out to be a useless ally from the Russian point of view. Last August Jan-Werner Müller wrote an article in Foreign Affairs titled “Moscow’s Trojan Horse: In Europe’s Ideological War, Hungary Picks Putinism.” Well, the Trojan Horse may be just an empty shell and the damage it can cause within the European Union little to none.

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petofi
Guest

In case anyone is in doubt…Putin is coming to read the riot act to Orban. And also, to let him
know who his daddy is.

hi-lo country
Guest

petofi: spot on. Putin will not let his Hungarian friends off the hook so easily. Orban made hundreds of millions of euros via the MET Ag. scheme alone and while the profits were made pursuant to government granted legal loopholes, the gas was Russian. Without such gas which arrived over and beyond the long term Panrusgas agreement Orban could not have made those hundreds of millions or euros. Putin’s people will make sure he understand this clearly, although for the Russians there’s no need to act at this point. The thing with Putin is that Orban really respects Putin, who is a kind of hero to him. Wherever this peacock dance may lead, Orban is absolutely convinced of the truth of the Dugin-Tellér ideology. They only have to sit out the collapse of the West and then they hope they will be crowned.

petofi
Guest

@ hi-lo country

Let us not forget that Russians had a role to play in keeping the Armenians at bay when
Orban suddenly discovered the on-the-market value of an Azeri axe-wielder.

In fact, the future may hold some startling revelations about how long Orban has really been
enamored of things Pyutinesque.

In the meantime, the collapse of the ecology is more imminent than the collapse of the West.

Miki
Guest

I also think Orban has something to explain to Putin. After all Hungary votes in favor of the sanctions without any kind of protest. So far Orban has turned out to be pretty useless.
As for Merkel I do hope she will give him a warning, but this will be behind closed doors. Merkel is not going to give a serious warning on her own. Even though she is the most important politician in Europe, a serious warning should come from the EU and not from Germany.

andysomos
Guest
Fact is, I dont have the listening-in capabilities of the major power secret services have. If the electronic eavesdropping equipment is working as welll as I’d like to imagine I hope the major powers have better fortelling capabilities than the media and theoreticians have cause the guesses now are all over the place. Undeniably the visit is short therefore its tough to see how genuine person-to-person dialogue can properly occur between the two leaders. Methinks the tough issues have been talked through well in advance and this is just a ratification and maybe an opportunity for Orban to save face and to have a reason for once-again changing political direction, this time toward recovering some appearance of frienship with the West and Western Business. Knowing German rationale, they probably had some advance talks on the subjects to have a major effect on Orban’s former value system. The deal will probably be that Orban will start wholesale relearning his Western Business Behavior 101 course but will be allowed to retain his coterie of buddies running the govenment with the former team but saying a stop to the major business corruption trends. I give my estimate of likelihood a 67% that this… Read more »
Webber
Guest

I understand and appreciate the view related to Merkel’s visit that it is up to Hungarians to re-establish a healthy democracy in Hungary, and that therefore little or nothing should be expected of Merkel. I understand and appreciate the idea that democracy imposed from outside would be another form of autocracy.
Still, I find it slightly odd, given Germany’s history. I’m thinking specifically about how democracy was established in Germany. Pray tell, when did Germans establish democracy without outside interference?
One could say, politely, that (West) Germany was “helped” onto the path of democracy after 1945, but I think it would a lot more accurate to say that democracy was forced on the country by occupying powers in the western part of the country. Nobody has any problem with that today. Yet people say Brussels and Berlin shouldn’t “impose” democracy on Hungary (by threatening to withdraw funding, for example). I find that odd.

Guest

Not too much OT on Russia and its politics against Ukraine
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/01/putin-stopped-ukraine-military-support-russian-propaganda?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2
“Vladimir Putin is the Slobodan Milošević of the former Soviet Union: as bad, but bigger. Behind a smokescreen of lies he has renewed his drive to carve out a puppet para-state in eastern Ukraine.”

“Like Milošević, Putin is prepared to use every instrument at his disposal, with no holds barred. In his war against the west he has deployed heavy military equipment, energy-supply blackmail, cyber-attack, propaganda by sophisticated, well-funded broadcasters, covert operations and agents of influence in EU capitals – oh yes, and Russian bombers nosing up the English Channel with their transponders off, potentially endangering civilian flights.”

And another sentence that also applies to Hungary/Orbán:
“This is the problem of the democratic west in general and the slow-moving, multi-nation EU in particular.”
But there is hope:
“In the long run, Putin will lose. The people who will suffer most from his folly will be the Russians, not least those in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. But the long run for skilful, ruthless dictators in large, well-armed, resource-rich and psychologically bruised nations can be quite long”
For Orbán this “long run” will be quicker …

Tappanch
Guest

Orban’s police state flexes its muscles

Dozens os police minivans, hundreds of police in the streets, not only for Ms Merkels’s safety.

Opposition rally banned in the morning

At the new location, plenty of policemen

Member

As I wrote three days ago “I believe Putin will not take it laying down if Orban wants to back away from his promises. From the outside it will may look like a friendly meeting but I bet anything that Putin has way to much on Orban…” Putin simply will reinforce in person what he already told Orban in many shapes and forms. He may will share some info he does not feel comfortable to share on the phone or via email. He may “help out” with letting Orban know how to tactfully distribute bad news to Hungarians, but that ill be the depth of their conversation, ad of course some of the “dressing up” of the meeting…

no name
Guest

@Tappanch & police state. I live around the museum (behind which, Merkel is currently preparing to speak). All the side streets were blocked off on Sunday afternoon, and cars towed away.

There’s a play school (bolcsi) at the bottom of Brody Sandor. All the little kids (1, 2, 3 years old) have just been ordered out by the police without any warning at all. They are now standing with the play school assistants in a nearby park, with parents being asked to pick them up immediately. It’s about 3 degrees celsius right now.

my-regime-review
Guest

A Willy Brandt would act differently.

He was not a softie.

Merkel has managed to be today’s Chamberlaine.

Guess, who orban is.

Söon
Guest

Somebody had a good point about the opposition. The demonstrators should have held the rally at the original location and after getting arrested, beaten up they could have gotten into the German media the next day. It would have shown the real nature of the Orban system, now this will be a non-event at Kalvin ter.

Webber’s point above is extremely strong. I would go even further and say that the only real, non-corrupt (and not just in a financial sense), self-limiting, transparent democracy in Europe is currently Germany.

I know people could mention others, but I find monarchies – however limited and modern – very strange in today’s world and we all know the too cozy, inbred political elites of say France, Austria or the problems in Italy or Greece. Of course it was a huge luck that the unparalleled economic performance provided great legitimacy for the current German system, but still the German political system has been functioning very well for the Germans and it was clearly forced onto them.

Ron
Guest

Kalman Olga ATV starts the interview with Merkel in 7 min. 17.15 local time.

Tappanch
Guest

After the demonstration, I met a group of protesters , who did not reach the place. They had been detained by police for one and a half hours (igazoltatás). They were not allowed to use their cell phones during that time to call anyone. Today, the Orban regime had its dress rehearsal in police state methods. When comrade Brezhnev visited Budapest, there were fewer policemen on the streets.

dvhr
Guest

BTW, Merkel arrived on the invitation of the Szeged University.

tappanch
Guest

Listening to Merkel, 2015.
Listening to the judge, 202?

comment image?w=600&h

Kirsten
Guest
Webber, of course it is correct to state that German democracy after 1945 was introduced with the support or pressures of the Allies. If you look closer you will find any number of people who “served” the democracy despite their dubious past (probably because of the oversight). And yet not much follows from that for Hungary today. Germany was not a sovereign state at that time, I wonder how the denial of some citizens’ rights should be dealt with in Hungary. This kind of interference would be completely atypical for the European Union but also generally without any justification. Since when do countries occupy other countries to force on them democracy, ie participation and self-determination? That’s a contradition in terms. Hungary has not lost a war, so what would be the basis of a loss of sovereignty. Probably the population would see even less reason than the German one to welcome such a regime of outside dominance. If you believe that the most ardent democrats were those who believed in the Nazis before, I am afraid you will be disappointed. The latter just had to be silent and concentrate on business. I believe that the Spanish example is far more… Read more »
my-regime-review
Guest

I am repeating it.
Merkel is not Willy Brandt.
Merkel has failed to reject the dictatorship.

Guest

From what I’ve read in German media Mrs Merkel’s visit was a non-event. She criticised Orbán’s power monopoly but she has more important things on her mind right now. Nothing will happen unless Hungary leaves the EU and NATO – not on paper but in spirit.
We have to wait what comes up next re Ukraine, Greece etc and whether Orbán follows the EU politics then …

Kirsten
Guest

Very strange. Was there even a specific topic of the meeting? We will indeed have to wait for what exactly has been “agreed on” during this visit or perhaps better behind the scenes.

petofi
Guest
Ungvari said it best. It was a throw-away line but it should be resurrected as the main placard for the political opposition: “Irigylem a Nemeteket”—-I ENVY THE GERMANS! What a beautiful line from the brilliant, forthright Ungvary. There should be a 100 placards tomorrow with that line, and people marching with it. I feel quite buoyant today: Ungvary and his fellow guest were precise; Kalman Olga (for a change) let her erudite guests have the floor. She orchestrated well. But oh my golly, Merkel was exquisite. The signs were undeniable. Of course, 95% of Hungarians will not have seen ATV’s coverage and the other channels–to which I switched quickly–were not carrying the major portion of Merkel’s visit: the visit to the Dohany synagogue. No, HirTV and Echo TV carried some mindless roundtable with the usual political flunkies including the leather-jacketed moron, who no doubt intends to suggest the motorcyclists dictum: “Give Gaz”. I can’t say enough about the brilliant Merkel. There was the lesson in logic: ‘illiberal’ and ‘democracy’ cannot be reconciled. In his turn, our resident buffoon relieved himself of this beaut: “No one should tell us what our conception of democracy should be…” or some such. For his… Read more »
Webber
Guest
@Kirsten – You missed my point. Of course I see the enormous differences between Hungary in 2015 and Germany in 1945. Only an idiot wouldn’t know the differences. I brought up the imposition of democracy on Germany after 1945 as an extreme example, and yet one that is positive, of how change has been imposed from outside in the past. I brought it up because some people here (perhaps you, too) have implied Germany and Europe shouldn’t try to impose democracy on Hungary. My point was that Germany and Europe could effect change by pressuring the Hungarian government. As you’ll notice if you read my comment again, I suggested withhold funding from Hungary if illiberal policies are not reversed as one such way to change things in Hungary. What I have suggested is very mild, in comparison to what happened to Germany after 1945 (and should be very mild in comparison). In no way did I suggest Hungary be occupied. However, I categorically reject the idea that EU member states should not use the means at hand (including threatening to cut funding) to save or restore democracy in another EU member state. I explicitly reject the idea, spouted by some,… Read more »
Webber
Guest

@Kirsten – also, consider this: EU conditionality is, in essence, an external imposition of norms and behaviour on sovereign states. The entire Acquis Communitaire is an imposition of rules set by others. It does not good to fluff it by saying it’s all voluntary. It is a “take it or leave it” proposition for states trying to get into the EU. Unfortunately, however, as Hungary has shown, after a state is in the EU, it can just forget all about those EU norms. There were conditions to get in the EU. If a state is in violation of those conditions and norms, I think the EU should impose sanctions up to, and including expelling a state from the EU. I don’t want to hear any more about not interfering in other state’s affairs. Entrance to the EU is based on interference.

Kirsten
Guest
Webber, in that we indeed do not agree. First, I indeed believe that it goes against the idea of democracy to impose it. And as much as I understand the annoyance of democratically minded Hungarians why on earth they must endure this regime and see how it is being even “stabilised” by the EU, I do not exactly know what would change for the better through outside pressure. Most people sooner or later voice some minor or major criticism of democracy and “capitalism” and tell you that they are disappointed about the “West” because the past 25 years have not turned out as expected. “Perhaps some better functioning system should be imposed from above.” As I wrote on earlier occasions, other countries in the vicinity with “democracy” and “capitalism” in no better shape than the Hungarian one in 2010 have not given up at least to try to improve its functioning. (Please do not write that OV unfortunately is a specifically able mafioso and “lawyer” so that these situations cannot be compared. No, the other countries have equally able people who exploit the relatively weak states for their purposes.) So either you want more decent lives through democracy, participation and… Read more »
nag
Guest

With all the jubilation let us not forget that Angela Merkel spent 0 minutes meeting Gyurcsany and other opposition leaders.

This shows that she does not consider them worth much and in her view the political stability of Hungary is much greater than the delusional “March 15 Orban will go” types of crazies. When a political change is close, a year or two away leaders always meet opposition leaders because they want to build relationships and friendships that will be useful when the future leader is in power already.

And the trip to Budapest itself was definitely an endorsement of Hungary and will hopefully put some breaks on the anti-Hungarian hatred and limit the desires and wishful thinking of the Hungary haters.

petofi
Guest

@ nag

And here comes the ‘proud’ Hungarian, riding triumphantly on his mule…

Let me show you the ‘paint-by-numbers’ reality of Merkel’s visit: she had not interest in
partiality. She was the exemplar of a western, democratic, leader who champions ‘liberal
democracy’ (especially as there is no such thing as illiberal democracy anywhere but in
Orban’s diseased mind).

And, ‘hating Hungary’ is not an issue per se–the problems is the moronic tolerance in leaders
who flaunt the law; indeed, pervert Law and the practice of parliamentary democracy….and
the uneducated, amoral, citizenry put up with it.

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