A candid interview with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó.    Part I

Members of the Orbán government rarely give interviews to news outlets that don’t belong to the government-controlled media empire. I can count on one hand Fidesz politicians who have dared to walk into these “lions’ dens.” In fact, I can think only of Nándor Csepreghy, deputy to János Lázár; Gergely Gulyás, deputy chairman of Fidesz and deputy speaker of parliament responsible for legislation; and Lajos Kósa, today the leader of the Fidesz delegation in parliament. It was therefore quite a surprise to see a lengthy interview with Péter Szijjártó published in Index yesterday. And even more of a surprise that the interview was refreshingly candid.

What can we learn from this interview that we didn’t know before? One cannot expect revelatory information about the general thrust of Hungarian foreign policy, but some until now unknown details emerged.

Let me start with the internal mechanism of decision-making in the Orbán government as far as foreign policy is concerned. At least according to Szijjártó. Three individuals are full-time advisers to Viktor Orbán on foreign policy. The man who is in charge of U.S.-Hungarian relations is Jenő Megyesy, formerly honorary consul in Denver, Colorado. Orbán met him in 2008 when he attended the Republican Convention and was obviously impressed with the man. Hungarians are convinced that Megyesy has an extensive political network in the U.S. and therefore is useful as an adviser. He has been employed by the prime minister’s office ever since 2010. He is the one Szijjártó turns to when it comes to matters concerning the United States.

szijjarto interview

The second adviser, Péter Gottfried, is an old-timer who has been involved in foreign trade and foreign policy ever since the late 1970s. He has served in high positions in all the post-1990 governments. According to Szijjártó, Gottfried deals exclusively with Europe.

The latest addition is József Czukor, a former intelligence officer, who started his career in 1988 at the Hungarian embassy in Bonn. He has also served all governments and has had friends on both sides of the aisle. In 2010 he was named ambassador to Germany, and in the fall he is moving into the prime minister’s office to be an overall foreign policy adviser to Orbán. From the interview Szijjártó seems to be less enthusiastic about Czukor than his boss is.

You may have noticed that there are no permanent advisers to Orbán who handle Russia and countries in the Far East. Szijjártó is, according to his own account, solely responsible for Russian-Hungarian relations. He relies on the advice of János Balla, Ernő Keskeny, and Zsolt Csutora. Balla, who has been a professional diplomat since 1982, is currently Hungarian ambassador to Russia. Keskeny is in Kiev. In February 2015 I wrote about Keskeny, whom I described as a “rabid Russophile” who allegedly was behind the Russian-Hungarian rapprochement. Subsequently, Keskeny was named ambassador to Ukraine, an appointment that the Ukrainian government couldn’t have welcomed given Keskeny’s well-known pro-Russian sympathies. Csutora began his career as an army officer in 1986 and then moved into the foreign ministry during the first Orbán government. Until recently he was ambassador to Azerbaijan.

What does Viktor Orbán consider to be the essence of Hungary’s foreign policy under his watch? When Orbán asked Szijjártó to be his foreign minister, he told him: “Péter, be a Hungarian foreign minister, and conduct a Hungarian foreign policy. That’s all he told me.” Of course, the journalists’ next question concerned the foreign policy of János Martonyi and Tibor Navracsics. Wasn’t theirs a Hungarian foreign policy? Szijjártó sidestepped that question and tried to explain that the style of foreign policy that Martonyi, for example, conducted wouldn’t work in today’s international climate. The harsher style he is using is the only one that is appropriate in the present circumstances.

As for his own less than diplomatic style, which shocks a lot of observers and analysts, Szijjártó has the perfect answer. He never starts a fight, but when someone attacks Hungary he must immediately counter it because, if there was no rapid response from Budapest, these unfair criticisms and insults would only multiply. At the probing of the interviewing journalists, Szijjártó guessed that he told off foreign politicians about 20 times during his tenure as foreign minister, although Index diligently collected 60 such instances. Szijjártó called in the ambassadors of Croatia, Romania, Austria, Greece, France, and the United States. Which countries’ leaders were given a piece of Szijjártó’s mind? Austria, the United States, Luxembourg, Greece, Germany, Croatia, Spain, France, Italy, Romania, the Netherlands, Serbia, and Sweden.

We found out who Szijjártó’s favorite ambassadors are: Iain Lindsay of the United Kingdom and Colleen Bell of the United States. I’m not surprised about Lindsay, who is an unusual sort of ambassador. On April 11, which is the day of poetry in Hungary, he recited an Attila József poem in very respectable Hungarian. As for Colleen Bell, Szijjártó has the highest opinion of her. According to him, “if Colleen Bell were not the ambassador of the United States in Hungary, political relations between [the two countries] would be much worse. She represents a very calm voice in the U.S. Embassy in Hungary and her presence has helped a lot in the somewhat improving relations between the two countries. Somewhat.”

When the journalists reminded the foreign minister that one finds the same American criticisms of the Orbán government in Bell’s public speeches that were present in André Goodfriend’s utterances, Szijjártó said: “Look, when I have a conversation with her it is a perfectly normal, honest and open talk. Such dialogue was impossible with her predecessors. She is a person who comes from the business world and is therefore pragmatic and approaches matters rationally and not emotionally.” Bell apparently occasionally does bring up these questions, but Szijjártó asked her “to bring concrete examples, not generalities because otherwise our talks will be no more than conversations between deaf people.”

In contrast to Szijjártó’s amiable relations with Colleen Bell is his strong dislike of Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, the highest ranking state department official Szijjártó has managed to meet. According to him, her criticisms were only vague generalizations. “I told Victoria Nuland after our second meeting that we should not meet again. Because there is no use further damaging our bilateral relations by her leveling unsubstantiated accusations [against Hungary] while I—how shall I say—more and more dynamically deny them because they are truly outrageous.”

From the interview I got the impression that the Hungarian government has no intention of fully investigating the corruption case the American company Bunge reported to the American authorities. I have written many articles about the case. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the story should read my last piece on the final outcome of the case. The upshot is that the prosecutors refused to investigate the case properly and brought charges only against the man who delivered the blackmail offer. They charged the messenger, not the person who sent him. The judge found him guilty, and that was, as far as the Hungarian government is concerned, the end of the matter. That the source of the blackmail offer was allegedly the director of Századvég, the same company I wrote about yesterday, was never pursued. The Orbán government refuses to move an inch on any of the corruption cases, which is perfectly understandable since corruption is at the heart of Orbán’s mafia state.

To be continued

August 3, 2016
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August 3, 2016 9:24 pm

Orban/Szijjarto’s thin-skinned reactions to criticism are reminiscent of Trump’s compulsive vengefulness for every affront… be a Hungarian foreign minister…”

August 4, 2016 12:24 am
Probably part of a great set of motivating techniques not only for the foreign minister but for all for the political servants of the nation. With that they can go out feeling confident to the extent that the nationalism put forth is being fed by a past that ruffles the part where dismal memories reside and consequently fires an aggressiveness which produces an intolerance, insensitivity and a sense of disruptiveness to the requirements of diplomacy in communication between nations. Orban appears to prefer Mr. Szijjarto to be a bellicose bulldog rather than a mickey-mouse while defending the country from perceived attacks. He’s a young tyro and really has not been tempered by worldly political experience. It remains to be seen if getting better with interpersonal skills (which have been usually very important in his job for centuries ) will aid him to become a respected statesman as he plys his tradecraft whike working in a ‘goodfella’ , Christian and illiberal state. There is a saying in the world of work that the higher you climb the ladder the less you work actually ‘doing’ and the more one must work cooperatively with people together with their wants , needs and desires.… Read more »
August 4, 2016 1:48 am
The whole of the Hungarian government administration consists of spineless people, most of whom have no talents at all other than serving the regime. And those few, who are educated and experienced like the ones quoted, have sold their soul for the privileges as part and parcel of the ruling elite’s life… Furthermore, there is not a single individual in the Orban administration who cannot be blackmailed for this, that or another. This is how Orban operates and keeps them in check, and this is why it is unlikely the there ever be someone ‘spilling the beans’. Szijjártó himself is one of the most talentless politician, who’s only fame is to be the faithful mouthpiece of Orban and Orban’s sick ideas… One still wonders about Martonyi’s role in the previous Orban administrations, as he is not of the same class (if one can talk about ‘class’ with reference to Szijjártó…). Martonyi had some standing in the diplomatic community, as yet he was a dependable servant too, in-spite the fact that he knew perfectly well what kind of regime he was serving. Also, no matter how many topics one scrutinizes amongst the thousands of dealings tied to the Orban regime, only… Read more »
August 4, 2016 3:31 am

I completely agree. Szijjártó is a total failure as a politician. He comes with insane statements like this week that he had to “run for his life”. He is like a child making up stories to get attention. By the way I kindly invite him to walk in Joszefváros at night. Lets see how slowly he dares to walk alone.

August 4, 2016 6:59 am

Absolutely right.

August 4, 2016 5:19 am

The ruling party and the regime will soon take over most written newspapers.

Népszabadság (political daily with the largest circulation in the country), nol.hu
Nemzeti Sport
Világgazdaság, vg.hu

regional newspapers and websites:

Új Dunántúli Napló
Heves Megyei Hírlap
Komárom-Esztergom megyei 24 Óra
Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok megyei Új Néplap
Somogyi Hírlap
Tolnai Népújság
Békés Megyei Hírlap
Bács-Kiskun megyei Petőfi Petőfi Népe

Vasárnap Reggel, Hírmátrix.hu

and others


new additions:

Fejér Megyei Hírlap
Dunaújvárosi Hírlap
Veszprém megyei Napló
Vas Népe
Zalai Hírlap

duol.hu, feol.hu, vaol.hu, veol.hu, zaol.hu, and others


plt.hu (Pannon Lapok Tarsasaga) will be taken over by

mediaworks.hu, then the regime will obtain Mediaworks.


August 4, 2016 5:40 am

Will this make any diference?

Even now most of these are “Sprachrohr” of the ruling mafia i e they regurgitate the Fidesz propaganda and have large ads for the crazy referendum …

Seems Hungary is a hopeless case – most people are so busy trying to survive that they have neither the time nor the energy to fight the corrupt system!

August 4, 2016 6:00 am

OT re Russian American relations:

Two years ago Eva wrote about Stratfor and its founder Friedman – his ideas seem to be the base for a lot of conspiracy theories …

For those who can read German:
The basic idea is that the USA is responsible for both WW1 and WW2 and all the other wars – they were just started to keep Germany and Russia from working together, ending the supremacy of the USA! There also are a lot of links to conspiracy sites – some even more lunatic than breitfart!

It’s funny/crazy to see this regarding WW1 – in those days the USA were relatively insignificant imho, but Austri/Hungary and the Western European states are totally ignored …

August 4, 2016 6:40 am

1930s redux in the mentality of our era, a biproduct of explosive social tensions that go with the economic hard times and lack of future prospects that plague the vast lower middle classes in the West, due to the combined effects of globalisation and the automation/robotization revolution.

Incidentally, Hungarian Jewish-born Friedman specializes in the ponderous delivery of unremarkable “strategic” commonplaces that can be picked up just as easily from any number of other journalistic sources as well. Hard to see how his bland pontifications could fuel all those conspiracy theories, except through deliberate distortions based in lunatic misconstruals, misinterpretations and misrepresentations.


August 4, 2016 6:57 am

I wouldn’t excuse Frieman so easily – the German translation of his “speech” says something like:

„Also, das primäre Interesse der Vereinigten Staaten durch das letzte Jahrhundert hindurch – also im Ersten, Zweiten und im Kalten Krieg – sind die Beziehungen zwischen Deutschland und Rußland gewesen, denn vereinigt wären diese beiden die einzige Macht, die uns bedrohen könnte – und daher sicherzustellen, daß das nicht passiert.“

Loosely translated:
The primary interest of the USA for the last 100 years (!) has been to block cooperation between Russia and Germany – because that cooperation would become the only power threatening us …

How does that sound?

August 4, 2016 8:28 am

Just a point of fact. I’ll just note that prior to the wars it can’t be argued that the United States was unaware of the threats in Europe. It was yet due to isolationist sentiment action to act on those threats wasn’t immediately in the offing. It took a time of angst to engage.
Thus the description of the US as ‘Johnny Come Lately’. After the US with the Allies drubbed the Axis another dictatorship popped up and saw its chance to rise like the phoneix and start its grab and slash antics which continue to this day.
After the experiences of the wars and the dissolution of the USSR one has to come to the conclusion that no matter the circumstances the latter is like having an unruly guest who simply will not go away.

August 4, 2016 9:02 am
Aha! You are right. I didn’t know about that particular ponderous stupidity of his. To come out with an assertion like this is just plain dumb and ignorant on the part of a supposed expert (x-spurt?) in geostrategy, who is supposed to have regularly briefed senior commanders in the armed services as well as the Office of Net Assessments, SHAPE Technical Center, the U.S. Army War College, National Defense University and the RAND Corporation, on security and national defense matters. Talk about the blind leading the sightless . . . It would however be interesting to find out what actual empirical evidence he based this particular inane assertion of his. It seems to me that Friedman is just playing a rather peculiar Monday morning quarterbacking game here with this assertion of his, putting an absurdly counterintuitive interpretation on the events of 20th century that utterly fails on the score of common sense, apart from suffering from a total absence of solid empirical evidence to substantiate it. Anyway, the particular interest to keep the Germans and Russians apart was historically a British one that of course failed spectacularly with the signing of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact, but then things… Read more »
August 4, 2016 10:23 am

Sounds like the plot in Putin’s favorite Soviet TV series, Seventeen Moments of Spring.

August 4, 2016 10:57 am

Curious if he also watches ‘The Americans’…;-)…

August 4, 2016 7:07 am
Re. Siphoning funds HUNGARIAN WORLD RECORD in CORRUPTION 90% of the funds were to be siphoned out before the rest reached the intended recipients. “Instead of the usual 50% only 10% of the awarded EU grant would have remained with a group of social cooperatives network (i.e. instead of half, 90% of the funds would have been stolen along the way), another charge was to be a five million “constitutional expense” payable to Fidesz MPs in advance. In this criminal investigation of corruption the transcriptions of several telephone conversations were declassified, and in these the speakers involved in the business seem to refer to Janos Lazar, and his deputy, Nandor Csepreghy. The first victim of the affair was the dismissed Tamás Köpeczi Bócz, State Secretary for EU development policy in the Ministry of Human Resources, and the next may be Roland Mengyi, Fidesz MP. According to the testimonies, he was to be referred to as Lord Voldemort. On the basis of these tapped calls, the weekly “168 hours” presents the eventful account of this attempt to siphon EU.” For details, In Hungarian: http://www.168ora.hu/itthon/otmillios-alkotmanyos-koltseg-elore-147697.html As the Orban mafia state is on the roll, the news of corruption grand and and plain… Read more »
August 4, 2016 8:51 am

Jenő Megyesy noted in Eva’s post is one of the members of the Board of Trustees of USA branch of the Friends of Hungary. In November 2012 the Orban government mandated the creation of a new, US-based foundation called “Friends of Hungary” that was to be tasked with “strengthening national identity and cohesion among those in the Hungarian diaspora.” Economy Minister György Matolcsy allocated $15 million to launch the foundation. ( see http://www.politics.hu/20121129/government-to-spend-billions-on-new-friends-of-hungary-foundation-in-us/ ) The larger international Friends of Hungary was created in 2011.

The Friends of Hungary USA also issued a statement attacking Eva on March 8, 2015 arguing she was wrong in writing that effectively the Friends of Hungary was an Orban funded operation and that by 2015 the Friends was funded only by “private and corporate donations.” Yes, some of these private entities are ones created by György Matolcsy. The Friends of Hungary might better be called Fidesz USA.

August 4, 2016 9:00 am

Re: ‘ Fidesz USA’

My sentiments exactly. Not sure if AHF can be described that way but in any case they appear to usually accomodate Fideszian Magyarorszag in the interest of focusing on ‘good relations’. They don’t mind talking that way while they hear the constant banging in the car trunk.

August 4, 2016 11:10 am


Just watched an MP in the hot seat on ‘Hard Talk’ lamenting how UKIP is picking up more and more those who were traditionally with Labor. Sounds very familiar with the Republicans here making themselves bald with the upstart Trump faction. And just waiting for a name of a possible new party. Vlad would love nothing better than that siren song to keep playing on and listened to by the working classes.

August 4, 2016 6:09 pm

For those that read Hungarian, Dávid Lakner in today’s Magyar Nemzet has an amazingly coherent discussion of the growing collapse of Trump see http://mno.hu/kulfold/most-tenyleg-bajban-van-donald-trump-1354740

I read it and thought Lajos Simicska must be laughing his ass off about Orban having just endorsed Trump and then the guy self-destructs.