A CANDID INTERVIEW WITH HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PÉTER SZIJJÁRTÓ.    PART II

Yesterday I covered only about half of the lengthy interview Péter Szijjártó gave to Index a couple of days ago. I talked about Viktor Orbán’s foreign advisers who are attached to the prime minister’s office and described U.S.-Hungarian relations, with special emphasis on Szijjártó’s relationship with Ambassador Colleen Bell and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. It is now time to move on to the Hungarian perception of Russia’s diplomatic and military plans. In addition, Szijjártó described at some length his ministry’s active support of even opposition politicians seeking political or business opportunities abroad. This claim came as news to many of us.

If we take Szijjártó’s comments on Russia at face value, the Orbán government has complete trust in Vladimir Putin. The conversation on Russian-Hungarian relations began with the reporter recalling recent statements about possible military threats from the east as well as the south. Does Szijjártó hesitate “to say that this eastern threat means Russia,” the reporter asked. The answer boiled down to the following. The Hungarian foreign minister “doesn’t think that Russia would decide on any threatening act against any of the NATO countries.” Therefore, the fears of the Poles and the inhabitants of the Baltic countries are based only on intangibles like past experience or geography. They look upon Russia as a “threat to their sheer survival.” Hungary’s situation is different: “we don’t consider Russia an existential threat,” he repeated several times. Therefore, he doesn’t think that “NATO soldiers should come to Hungary to defend us from Russia.”

How fast some people forget. It is true that Hungary, unlike Poland or the Baltic states, didn’t encounter Russian encroachment until 1849, but Hungarian aversion toward the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union has been strong in the last two centuries. The Russian occupation of Hungary after World War II, which lasted almost 50 years, seems to have faded from Hungarian consciousness, and pro-Russian editorials have been abundant in the pro-government, right-wing media. The absence of fear of a Russian military threat can be at least partially explained by the fact that Hungary is no longer a direct neighbor of Russia. As Semjén Zsolt, deputy prime minister, said rather crassly at the time of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, “It is a good thing to have something between us and Russia.” But, of course, the main reason for the current cozy relationship between Russia and Hungary is Viktor Orbán’s admiration of Vladimir Putin and his, I believe mistaken, notion that Hungary can act as a bridge between Russia and the European Union.

Although Orbán often quite loudly proclaims his opposition to the economic sanctions against Russia, time and again Hungary obediently votes with the rest of the EU countries to extend the sanctions. This was also the case at the end of June when the next six months’ extension was approved. So, not surprisingly, Szijjártó tried to camouflage Hungarian action by first saying that “the approval was reached at the level of deputy permanent representatives only and that it had to be accepted without any discussion because that was the expectation.” Soon enough, however, it became clear that the approval of the extension of the sanctions didn’t go exactly the way Szijjártó first described it. It turned out that there was in fact discussion “and at the beginning there were a few of us who were opposed to it, but the opposition melted away and at the end everybody accepted it.”

One segment in particular from this lengthy interview caused quite a stir in liberal circles. The conversation took an odd turn after a question about instructions the foreign ministry gives to Fidesz politicians when they go to Russia. The journalists were especially interested in Antal Rogán’s trip to Russia in May 2013. It was a secret trip to Moscow to discuss ways in which the Hungarian government could accumulate foreign currency reserves in Russian rubles because of the unstable position of the dollar. This trip created a scandal in Hungary. I wrote about it in “Viktor Orbán’s Russian roulette.”

Szijjártó, who at that point had nothing to do with the foreign ministry, couldn’t enlighten the journalist on this particular event, but he offered juicy information on all the assistance his ministry gives to politicians, and not just those who belong to Fidesz. He continued: “Perhaps it is surprising, but the Demokratikus Koalíció indicated that Ferenc Gyurcsány was going to China. It was the most natural thing for me to ask the Department of Chinese Affairs to put together some preparatory material for the former prime minister.”

Eorsi Matyas

That kind of information shouldn’t prompt an extended discussion in an interview, but in Hungary such simple and customary courtesy astounds everybody because it is so unexpected from the boorish lot that leads the country today. Once Szijjártó saw the astonishment on the faces of the journalists, he decided to tell more about the government’s generosity toward its political opponents. “But I can also tell you some breaking news! Recently I had a visit from Mátyás Eörsi, who lives in Warsaw and works as deputy-secretary general of an international organization called Community of Democracies. This organization has 18 members, among them Hungary, and Eörsi would like to run for the post of secretary-general, but he needs the nomination of his government. He asked me whether such a nomination would be possible, and I said: of course. I visited the prime minister and told him that this was a good idea. He said that [Eörsi’s] merits at the time of the regime change deserve respect even if we have since disagreed on many things.” It was at this point that Szijjártó learned that Mátyás Eörsi is actually a member of the Demokratikus Koalíció.

First, a few words about the Community of Democracies, which was established in 2000 at the initiative of Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Its purpose is to bring together governments, civil society, and the private sector in support of democratic rules and to strengthen democratic norms and institutions around the world. As for Mátyás Eörsi, his political career is studded with important positions domestically as well as internationally. The English-language Wikipedia has a shorter and the Hungarian version a longer description of his political importance ever since 1990. Given Eörsi’s solidly anti-Fidesz political activities, his endorsement by the Orbán government is indeed a great surprise.

Eörsi, prior to the appearance of the Szijjártó interview, published an announcement of his nomination by the government on Facebook. Ever since, a fierce debate has been going on both in the media and among people on Facebook about Eörsi’s decision to seek the nomination from the Orbán government. There are those who find Eörsi’s move unacceptable. Among these is Christopher Adam, editor of Hungarian Free Press, and Tamás Bauer, formerly an SZDSZ member of parliament and nowadays a member of DK. Christopher Adam is worried that if he actually becomes the secretary-general of this organization he might not be able to publicly condemn Fidesz’s pro-Russian and anti-EU policies freely. Tamás Bauer argues about the inappropriateness of Eörsi’s decision because, while in democratic countries it is perfectly natural for a government to nominate for an international position someone holding different views, in this case we are dealing with a government that has completely destroyed democracy. Eörsi’s decision, Bauer continues, gives the false impression that Hungary is still a democracy. Thus endorsement is in the interest of Fidesz but not of Hungary. This is what Eörsi doesn’t understand, Bauer concludes. Zsolt Zsebesi in gepnarancs.hu called on Eörsi “not to be Orbán’s useful idiot.”

On the other side, Judit N. Kósa of Népszabadság expressed her dismay that the Hungarian political situation is so distorted that Eörsi had to explain why he turned to Szijjártó for a nomination. She expressed her hope that this is not just a trick from the Orbán government but that they truly mean that even an opposition politician can represent Hungary in the Community of Democracies.

Finally, today Ferenc Gyurcsány himself stood by Eörsi, also on Facebook. He assured Eörsi of his support but admitted that he doesn’t understand the government’s motives. “We shouldn’t doubt our colleague’s obvious decency…. It is not Eörsi who should explain the reasons for his action but Viktor Orbán. He should be the one who ought to explain to his own why he supports one of the symbolic representatives of the liberals, one of the leaders of DK for such an important position.” He added that Orbán may know that under the present circumstances it is unlikely that the board of the Community of Democracies will vote for a Hungarian secretary general because that would be considered an endorsement of Orbán’s regime. His final sentence was: “I would be glad if I were wrong . . .”

August 4, 2016
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
petofi
Guest

Well, for starters, Orban will have peeled off one of the DK leaders from the national political scene…

petofi
Guest

American elections:

As the situation worsens for Trump, he will increasingly ask himself what the hell he’s doing in his present position of embarrassment…and why the hell he should put up with it.

webber
Guest

Trump embarrassed? By nothing, ever.
But real Republicans are embarrassed just watching him.

Guest

‘He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot’

Groucho Marx

It would seem the more Trump talks the more people walk.

petofi
Guest

Not quite, Webber.
Trump may have just discovered the Peter Principle…ie. rising to the level of your incompetence. If so, he knows that an ocean of embarrrassment awaits in the campaign and he may, much as the Pink Panther did…exit, stage right.

After all, it’s one thing to be the center of attention and be found as entertaining…it is completely something else to be found out as an ignoramus and totally out of your depth, even
by your very own supporters..

webber
Guest

petofi
In what you’ve written about the American presidential campaign so far, not a single one of your “visions” has been realized.
I’ll say it again – time to listen to what Americans are saying about the campaign. Not one American (no one person knows). Lots, and lots of them.
I have no idea what Trump will do in the next five minutes, but I’d be willing to bet that bowing out is not something he will do.
On what do I base this? On his behavior of the past thirty years, or so.
The man does not quit.
He is currently tearing the Republican Party to pieces, and apparently enjoying it.
For example, McCain and P. Ryan endorsed him (shame on them), but he refuses to endorse either of them.

petofi
Guest

Yes, I’ve put up several scenarios. Why not? It’s like thinking aloud.
The bull in the china shop is the media geniuses who are used to swaying the ‘public mind’ by a host of tricks. Hilary’s lesbianism has not been unveiled yet to the general public. No doubt the silen majority will be awed by it when it does happen.
There are several other Hillary-isms which will be
unfurled by the Republican media worthies when they deem the time right…that is, if Trump hasn’t thrown in the towel by then.

Guest

Sure, I’ve read it often: Hillary is a Lesbian, Obama is a gay Communist, his wife was born a man …
Maybe you should read this:
http://www.snopes.com/2016/08/05/victor-thorn-death-report/
Here was someone who covered everything with his “constipation theories” – will the right wing lunatics reanimate that creature?
PS:
Can anyone explain why so many Americans are fond of these crazy theories – is it because they are Creationists too? I mean that’s one of the more popular things, like flat earth, Illuminati, Area51, 666 aka the number of the Beast, New World Order and Chemtrails …

webber
Guest

About the same percentage of all humans in Western countries are crazy, regardless of nationality. There is your explanation.

webber
Guest

P.S. If your comment was poetic, I would remind you that Petofi is not American (except in the sense that Canadians are of the Americas).

Guest

My feeling is that there is a higher percentage of lunatics in the USA – maybe that’s “genetic” too?

Someone once said it might be because many left or rather were exiled to the USA from Europe because of their extreme religious ideas …

I have no statistics to prove it, but I really can’t imagine that anywhere in civilised Europe there are 40% Creationists!
Or do you know of a Creation Museum/Park (which shows humans and dinosaurs living together) and a replica of Noah’s ark anywhere outside the USA?

webber
Guest

There are statistics on percentages of people who believe this that or the other in various countries.
Each country is unique, of course. If you look for born-again-Christians in, say, Japan, you will find very few.
And if you look for millennialists in Germany, you will find fewer than in Iowa.
Germans, however, go insane at about the same rate as Iowans – and the majority of mentally ill people are functional in Germany as well as Iowa.

It’s just that Germans go insane in a German way.

webber
Guest

P.S. Your “feelings” seem to reveal a sort of dislike of Americans.

webber
Guest
The idea that Hungary can serve as a sort of “bridge between East and West” is one of the most constant idiocies of post-communist Hungarian foreign policy. It has been harped on by Hungarian foreign policy pundits and practitioners in every government since at least 1991. It is a huge waste of energy, hopes, etc. Whenever I have asked such people to explain what that idea of being a “bridge” means, they have often gotten sniffy, and acted as if the very question were foolish – indicating that they themselves have no idea. Those who do answer are clearly unable to understand that Hungarian “expertise” is neither needed nor wanted. Moscow and Washington can speak with one another at any time without intervention. There are plenty of native Russian-speaking American citizens working for State (incl. scions of this community – who all speak Russian as their mother-tongue: https://sites.google.com/a/lclark.edu/rsco/immigrant-communities/old-believers) In any case, the numbers of those “offering” such “expertise” from the Baltics to the Balkans is very great. I have asked Hungarians who claim some geographical advantage which country is closer to Russia, America or Hungary? They all say Hungary. That is wrong. Alaska is significantly closer to Russia’s borders now… Read more »
Christopher Adam
Guest

It’s my understanding that Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy of DK wrote a very reasonable, level-headed and diplomatic Facebook post, in the form of an open letter to Mátyás Eörsi, raising concerns and questions about this Orbán government nomination. According to István Hell and Dénes Lajos Nagy, Mr. Kerék-Bárczy was asked to delete the post, essentially out of “party discipline.”

I find the way that this controversy is being handled by DK to be disappointing.

Alex Kuli
Guest
Here is an English version of Kerék-Bárczy’s deleted post: Matyi, it is not all right for you to ask – let alone accept – the nomination for the Warsaw post from Szijjártó and – ultimately – from Orbán. It must suffice for you and your friends to know that you would be perfect for such a job. You have done a lot for spreading democracy and peace as well as for strengthening Trans-Atlantic relations in the world, and you will clearly have more such opportunities in the future. I was present at the founding of the Community of Democracies in Warsaw in 2000: This organization strives to achieve outstanding goals. Even today, you are at the forefront of representing the group’s goals and you take part in setting its direction. This, in itself, is a venerable achievement. However, the nomination will not raise your status; rather, it will – in one measure or another – legitimize the System of National Cooperation. It bolsters the disingenuous notion that, after all, this is a democratic and benign system that is capable of extending such gestures. It is not capable of such, Matyi, and you know this. From the viewpoint of a country’s… Read more »
Guest

And just a little reminder on the Hungarian government’s policy:

Yesterday we found the latest “szuperinfo” i e local advertising paper in our letter box – it had again those ominous ads (two of them) – whole pages of orange colour with just one sentence in big letters re Brussels …

What idiotic waste of space and funds!

Guest

Re: Szijjarto and existential threats

At this point for the country he is right. But it appears the foreign policy he is part of is in the throes of a compromising accomodation to realities in the ‘nagy-kicsi’ orszag relationship. One definite accomodation is a slow and evaporating kind of democratic erosion into the ether within the country. It is a bounty paid in the way of defanging the bear when it comes to Russia possibly clawing Magyarorszag to the death again. And the more democracy erodes the more the country will be pulled by gravitational pull into the black hole of Russian influence. Then it will be lights out and on the way down and in they’ll be whistlin’ Dixie.

And if in some near future they try to pull back and reverse its path it would be likely to see a retread of a Ukraine-type of situation and all its portent for Magyar-Russian-European relations. Sijjarto et al just might have to bring back into consciousness a past that allegedly has disappeared. His country apparently can’t relate to a concept of ‘once bitten twice shy’.

Istvan
Guest

I suspect that PM Orban has repeatedly explained to Szijjártó his theory of keeping Hungary neutral in the conflict between Russia and NATO. The reality is a drift into the Russian sphere of influence. An analogy can be made with Eva’s academic analysis of Hungary’s drift towards the axis and full domination by Hitler. A summary of part her analysis can be read at http://www.hungarianhistory.com/lib/bors/bors07.htm

To view Teleki as a moral hero who tried to avoid Hungary’s involvement in World War II, as I think Orban does is foolish. The lessons to be learned are lost on Orban and Fidesz. There is no neutrality in the conflict with Russia, there is only preventative defense. I doubt however if the Russians effectively took control again over Hungary that Orban would seek out Teleki’s personal solution for his own betrayal of Hungarian sovereignty.

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

Putin = TRump? Nah!
Orban -Putin ? Yes
Orban – Trump? probably not, I have a vested interest in Hungary as a concerned descendant of Hungary. Just a concern for the welfare of the Hungarian people. Someone once said that “you have to demand oppression and false prophesy to leave your country.” Freedom is not free to everyone in Hungary or Europe for that matter. Oh! by the way, those who are against Orban’s “endorsement” will remember him in the next Hungarian elections.On a different note alot of you (me) are full of “Hot air” When the hot air balloon bursts we will see what survives.

wpDiscuz