Liberated from Russia? What does Viktor Orbán have in mind?

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó paid a visit to Bucharest on February 5, which the Romanian media described as “strange” and “extremely controversial.” These adjectives may not be an exaggeration since his Romanian counterpart, Teodor Meleșcanu, reluctantly received him only after Szijjártó’s persistent request for an audience. According to Romanian sources, Szijjártó was supposed to meet only Liviu Dragnea, president of the chamber of deputies, and Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, speaker of the senate, in connection with the reopening of a Roman Catholic theological seminary in Targu Mureș/Marosvásárhely.

HotNews, an English-language internet site, also noted that President Klaus Iohannis did not receive Szijjártó, although a few days earlier he extended an invitation to the Polish foreign minister who was visiting Bucharest. The paper reminded its readers that Szijjártó was the “one who banned Hungarian diplomats from participating in Romania’s national day celebrations” last December. Despite these dismal accounts of the trip, by the time Szijjártó landed in Budapest the visit had morphed into a triumphant encounter of historic importance.

According to MTI, Hungary’s official news agency, the foreign ministers of the two countries signed an agreement that will ensure the receipt of large quantities of natural gas extracted from the Black Sea. Szijjártó added that “this is Hungary’s first opportunity in the past decade to buy large quantities of natural gas from a source other than Russia.”

They managed to squeeze out a faint smile

Two days later, however, Teodor Meleșcanu made it clear that “no agreement or other bilateral document has been signed regarding gas export from Romania to Hungary or about other new projects in the energy field.” During a breakfast meeting “issues known to the public were reviewed … with no new elements.” They simply had a friendly or not so friendly chat about a gas pipeline, one of the projects of the “Connecting Europe Facility” which, according to the European Commission’s Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA), is “a key EU funding instrument to promote growth, jobs and competitiveness through targeted infrastructure investment at a European level.”

The project is an onshore “pipeline from Bulgaria to Austria via Romania and Hungary,” known as the BRHA project. The pipeline will extend approximately 1,318 km and will have a delivery capacity of between 6.1 and 52mcm/day, depending on the geographic location. Work on the project began in July 2016 and the first phase of the project must be finished by August 2020. Meleșcanu noted that “the plan states that the interconnection will be made … according to a prescribed schedule, which is a condition for funding, and non-compliance … leads to losing the funds,” which is 40% of the total cost. Each side must finish its work within the prescribed time. The project needs no Romanian-Hungarian negotiations. On the other hand, Hungary might have to explain to the European Union and to Austria why it refuses to extend the pipeline to Austria and why it is instead diverting part of the Romanian gas to Slovakia. Judging from Meleșcanu’s description of his conversation with Szijjártó, the subject of Hungary’s plans for the gas once it reaches Hungary was not discussed.

Meleșcanu’s correction of Szijjártó’s misleading information didn’t deter Viktor Orbán from boasting about an alleged breakthrough in Hungary’s energy supply, something that is a result of his astute policies and his foreign minister’s superb negotiating skills. Yesterday, during the press conference held after his meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, he announced that three Hungarian companies had won a tender in Romania for gas delivery. “Within moments we will sign an agreement that will allow for the next 15 years the import of over 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Romania.” He declared that “the era of Russian gas monopoly will come to an end in Hungary … as we will be able to cover more than half of our imports from other, in this case, Romanian sources.” Orbán acts as if he didn’t know that “according to European regulation, we cannot speak of gas sources or infrastructures dedicated exclusively to a particular country,” as the Romanian Foreign Ministry explained. I’m afraid this is exactly what Viktor Orbán is doing.

The Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since released an explanation that allegedly proves the correctness of the Hungarian interpretation of the arrangement with Romania. “The situation is terribly simple. At the auction for capacity booking held by Romanian and Hungarian pipeline operators, two Hungarian companies booked the Romanian-Hungarian interconnector’s total capacity after 2022 in the direction of the Romanian-Hungarian line. However, gas will be transported not only in this direction but also toward other countries. Therefore, the statement by the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs is meaningless.” My suspicion is that this will not be the end of the sparring between the Orbán government and the Romanians over the pipeline.

But that’s just one aspect of this affair. The other one is the jubilation over being free of dependence on Russia. Keep in mind that after only three months Hungary paid the first installment on the Russian loan, which was €78.2 million, and the first significant tender for the Paks project was won by a consortium of GE Hungary and Alstom Power Systems in competition with the Russian Silovie Mashini. Some people wonder what all this means. Is it a real diplomatic turn, just the usual peacock dance, or chaos in Hungarian foreign policy? At this juncture it is hard to tell, but it is possible that Orbán is contemplating a new strategy.

This morning I read an op-ed in The Washington Post in which the author used Jonathan Swift’s famous line that “falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it,” which led me to read his whole essay on “Political Lying.” There I found another passage that I found most appropriate to the subject of our story. “And my imagination this minute represents before me a certain great man famous for this talent, to the constant practice of which he owes his twenty years’ reputation of the most skillful head in England, for the management of nice affairs. The superiority of his genius consists in nothing else but an inexhaustible fund of political lies, which he plentifully distributes every minute he speaks, and by an unparalleled generosity forgets, and consequently contradicts, the next half hour. He never yet considered whether any proposition were true or false, but whether it were convenient for the present minute or company to affirm or deny it.”

February 10, 2018
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Observer
Guest

Re Political lying.
To put simply the Orbán case – a “gypsy horse trader” on a slightly higher level, although a real gypsy can actually sell you a useful horse.

Observer
Guest

snoopy
PC is not my strong point and I’ll have to live with it.
Swift was eloquent, articles are scientific, but a repartie has to be short and stinging.
You may suggest a shorter, p.correct description of the same stereotype.

Member

Re: “gypsy horse trader” – such language just debases this site. There’s no need to engage in unpleasant racial stereotypes to make your point.

dos929
Guest

Was there ever a single sentence coming from this regime that represented the ‘truth, and nothing but the truth’? Lies and misrepresentations are the hallmark of Orban and his so-called ‘government’ that should be ‘unrecognised’ by all western democracies…

Exhack
Guest

One can’t help but feel that this hot air about gas is just one of the strands of pre-election propaganda by the Orban government, which knows full well that most Hungarians don’t like his cosying up to Putin!

Alex Knisely
Guest

Dean Swift! Unexpected to encounter him in your writings, Prof Balogh, but very welcome, and very apposite. Thank you.

Istvan
Guest

Eva the New York Times article linked by Tappanch on the evolution of Hungary away from democracy yesterday is pretty significant. I assume you will posting a review of it today or tomorrow, this review is in today’s news in Hungary see http://nepszava.hu/cikk/1152535-nyt-hogyan-valt-orban-europa-legfobb-politikai-kihivasava

wrfree
Guest

Just a quick comment on the NYT piece by Novak, Komuves and Karasz

It is noted that Mr. Kovacs apparently was the only one who would go on record for the article agreeing with Mr. Orban’s actions ‘as a determined effort to get rid of the remnants of communism that are still with us, not only in terms of institutions but in terms of mentality’.

From the comment it would appear that we are in the realm of the ‘Kovacs Paradox’ where the ostensible ‘cure’ does not heal anything but rather appears to continue the irrepressible disease. There has to be a short circuit somewhere in mental processes to come to that.

svetlana
Guest

Orban is a Russian agent. No self-respecting intelligence agency can conclude otherwise.

Orban isn’t contemplating any new strategy. This is election time and he’s saying contradictory things all the time usually tailored to his specific constituencies.

Orban just days ago awarded a billion dollar mandate to GE to produce turbines for Paks 2. MET AG in which Orban is a shareholder along with Russian energy investors is making brisk business all over the region.

The Russian’s aren’t worried about Orban’s stupid little statements. Orban is a reliable Russia asset and has been for years.

wrfree
Guest

Great lines from Swift a foremost literary genius of wit and satire! Where liberty was Swift was right there. The epitaph on his tomb in Dublin identifies his place ‘where fierce indignation no longer rends his heart’. Frankly if thngs keep up more and more ‘Swiftians’ will put pen to paper and will add their ‘indignation’ to the stream of dire events iccurring.

Re: ‘energy’ projects

Personal story …bought 2 packages of 2 GE bulbs in each a few months ago. The bulbs were stamped ‘GE Hungary’. Pulled one out and screwed it in …didn’t work. Popped in the second…let there be light.

Same experience a few weeks later. So 2 dead bulbs out of 4 making a 50% failure rate. GE had an old ad line at an earlier time: ‘Progress is our most important product’. Er .. maybe this can’t hold up nowadays. Maybe too many quality control mgrs hang out in the kocsma too long.
And this is light bulbs.

Takeaway:
Whether it be nuke, the lights, the gas, it can be guaranteed Magyars always seem to be in the dark when somebody tries to bring in ‘energy’.

tappanch
Guest

Is something rotten in the state of Serbia ?

Registered mail-in voters by their address.

Country: 2018.01.11; last one month; 2018.02.11

Romania: 139634; 7603; 147237
e-Landia: 104187; 2718; 112225
Serbia: 38730 (12.14%); 11083 (47.80%); 49813 (14.55%)

Total: 319137; 23188; 342325

tappanch
Guest

Deadlines for special categories of voters:

2018.03.24: mail-in ballots (only for ethnic Hungarians with no Hungarian address)
2018.03.31: voting in person abroad (citizens with Hungarian address)
2018.04.06: voting in another electoral district inside Hungary
2018.04.08: switching back and forth between ethnic and party lists.

tappanch
Guest

The above deadlines were the registration deadlines.

Everybody is supposed to vote on election day, except
the ethnic Hungarians who do not have Hungarian address.

They can send their ballots to the “National Election Bureau” in mail any time between 2018.01.11 and 2018.04.07.
OR
they can drop off their ballot at a Hungarian consulate or embassy between 2018.03.26 and 2018.04.08
OR
they can also drop off their ballot in Hungary on 2018.04.08.

tappanch
Guest

Registered voters, as of 2018.02.11:

in person in Britain with Hungarian address: 1030 (2 locations)
in mail from Britain with no Hungarian address: 685

in person in Germany with Hungarian address: 1134 (4 locations)
in mail from Germany with no Hungarian address: 3256

tappanch
Guest

The official data show not only a silent ethnic Hungarian drive in Serbia, but also an ethnic German drive in Hungary to vote:

registered to vote for an ethnic minority list:

2014.03.11; 2018.02.04; 2018.02.11

Gypsy: 11200; 20183; 20182
German: 8100; 18191; 19648
Croatian: 1300; 2057; 2058

Istvan
Guest
At last count there were 174 comments on the NY Times article on the evolution of Hungary to the right. A number came from Hungary, but the ones most interesting to me were from more or less average US citizens who do not read or speak our obscure language. The number of those comments that drew linkages between the Trump administration and Fidesz rule was simply stunning. The American Hungarian Federation which has continually defended the Fidesz government as democratic has yet to make any comment on the story. It would be nice if Réka Szemerkényi came off from her perch in think tank world and actually verified the validity of the Times story. The AHF can either join the forces of the Trump administration declaring the NY Times to be “fake news” or address the issues being presented in my country’s newspaper of record somehow. The AHF can’t deal with the Times like it tries to do with the Hungarian Free Press or Eva’s blog, or even with Applebaum’s articles by dismissing them. The best part of the NY Times article is that it declares Hungary now to be a clear and present danger to European democracy and directly… Read more »
Guest

Ofcourse Trump an Orbán treat theNYT as “fake news” – just like the Guardian which also has something on O and his “Sosros complex”:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/10/brexiters-now-march-with-toxic-conspirators-of-orbans-hungary
In Britain as in the corrupt outposts of the old Soviet empire, the Jewish financier George Soros is credited with the supernatural power to bring down governments and, in a novel combination of antisemitic and anti-Muslim prejudice, to flood Christian Europe with Muslim refugees.
It would be funny if it weren’t so sad – how can grown people believe this kind of cr*p thatTrump, Orbán and their cronies are spouting?

bimbi
Guest

@Istvan, 123:18 p.m.
C’mon Istvan the toxic nature of Orban’s rule in Hungary was obvious during his first stint from 1998-2002. After 2010, we got the “full meal deal” (as I might put it to you). Orban is Leader of the European PPE party (Power and Personal Enrichment) party and we don’t need a NYT article now to tell us about it. (but outside, yes). And yes, it seems that Poland has taken a leaf out of his playbook – but then Horthy aped Mussolini too, didn’t he? In my view it is tragic indeed that the toxicity of these mafiosi will now have another four years to allow their filth to permeate deeper into Hungarian society and the Hungarian psyche.
The ‘conversation’ with Romania as reported by either side is bizarre but Orban tells the people what he wants them to hear and stuff the truth (thanks Svetlana). As to comparisons with Trump, f’get it. Orban is far worse because the USA is able to survive f**kheads. I am much less confident about Hungary – look at its history.

Istvan
Guest
The NY Times was informing an American audience of the evolution of Hungary, one that all of us on this blog are familiar with. We need to realize that 64% of US citizens have never traveled beyond our borders. More traveled and wealthy US citizens may have visited Budapest on their obligatory tour of Europe, however they have only very vague notions of the evolution of most Central European nations since transition from communism. Given the length of the Tiimes article it was quite exceptional, far longer than anything Applebaum has written for the Washington Post for example. I believe many Europeans do not grasp of vast powers of the US president especially in the current situation of Republican majorities in the legislative branch and a fairly conservative Supreme Court. The majority of the US military personnel who vote did vote, voted for Trump. Tomorrow if Trump wanted to he could pardon unconditionally all his former staff that are under investigation by the special counsel and he could also fire the special counsel. He can also even launch a missle assault on North Korea if he wanted to, something apparently General McMaster is advocating for in the NSC. see https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/hr-mcmaster-trump-north-korea/549341/… Read more »
Cujo
Guest
Needless to say, I am following Ms. Balogh’s blog avidly and I wouldn’t go too far in saying that it is indeed a beacon of lucidity and civic awareness in the muddy sea of Eastern European politics (since Hungary cannot be extracted from the regional context and in fact it plays a big part in it). Regarding the recent meeting between Mr. Szijjártó and the Romanian Foreign Minister, it was within the last few weeks that the same Romanian foreign minister Melescanu, shoulder to shoulder at a press conference with his Polish counterpart Czaputowicz, declared that linking the allocation of EU funds to “other elements” would be a “gross violation” of the European Union’s principles. Yes, he was referring to the rule of law as “other elements”. Mr. Melescanu’s government and governing party, PSD, have a dismal record in tampering with the independence of the judiciary, as they are corrupt to the bone. Since their new mandate won at the end of 2016, they have incessantly attempted to tamper with the judicial and penal legislation in essentially no different ways than PiS in Poland. The Romanian ruling party is basically of the same mold: corrupt, authoritarian, chauvinistic, in contempt of… Read more »