It’s amusing to watch an old piece of news reemerge and be heralded as an important discovery. This is exactly what happened a few days ago when the British conservative paper, The Telegraph, published an article with the title “Russia accused of clandestine funding of European parties as US conducts major review of Vladimir Putin’s strategy.”
Suspicions of Russian financial assistance to far-right parties in both Eastern and Western Europe are not new. For instance, ever since Jobbik surfaced as a substantial political force in Hungary, people have questioned the source of the party’s financing. How was it able to spend so lavishly on its 2010 political campaign?
Suspicions were further aroused when articles appeared in Index and elsewhere about Béla Kovács, a Jobbik member of the European Parliament, who was accused of spying for Russia. He is also thought to be the man through whom Russian financial contributions reached Jobbik. Those of you who are unfamiliar with Kovács’s shady activities should check out two of my posts about him, one from April and the other from May 2014. At that time the Hungarian chief prosecutor, Péter Polt, expressed his intention to start an investigation of the case, but for such an action to take place the European Parliament had to lift Kovács’s parliamentary immunity. The European Parliament took its sweet time but finally, more than a year and a half later, on October 15, 2015, the European Parliament acted. Since then Polt has been free to investigate and to question Kovács. To this day, however, nothing has happened.
In December 2014 newspapers were also full of stories about a €9.4 million loan from the First Czech-Russian bank in Moscow to the French National Front. Putin’s goal, it seemed evident, was “to undermine the European Union.” The Guardian called on Europe “to wake up to [Russia’s] insidious means of funding, or risk seeing its own institutions subverted.”
Even the U.S. decision to investigate the funding of far-right parties isn’t exactly new. It was on June 17, 2015 that the Senate authorized “appropriations for fiscal year 2016 for intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the Unites States Government.” Among the long list of “duties” was an “assessment of funding of political parties and nongovernmental organizations by the Russian Federation … in [the] former Soviet states and countries in Europe” since January 1, 2006.
What is new, however, is that The Telegraph’s reporter had the opportunity to see a “dossier of Russian influence activity” which identified Russian operations running in France, the Netherlands, and Hungary as well as in Austria and the Czech Republic.
The Telegraph article was naturally met with great interest in Hungary. Most of the articles simply summarized the story, but there were a few that went beyond Jobbik-Russian relations and focused on Putin’s designs on Europe. For example, Propeller published an article on the subject with the headline: “It is because of Putin that the American secret service is investigating us.” The article talks about Hungary as a “danger zone” of Putin’s designs.
Fidesz is delighted. The party doesn’t even mind that the so-often maligned U.S. intelligence service has extended its activities to the sovereign Hungarian state. According to Szilárd Németh, one of the newly elected vice-chairmen of the party, Gábor Vona, Jobbik’s chairman, “must avow the party’s relations with Russia not only to the people of Europe and of Hungary but also to the American authorities.” Suddenly Viktor Orbán and his party are worried about the future safety of Europe and even care what the “American authorities” think.
The government paper, Magyar Idők, has published two articles on the topic in two days, even though it is ideologically conflicted. On the one hand, the pro-government journalists working for the paper are delighted that Jobbik might be in trouble but, on the other hand, they don’t quite know how to handle the involvement of Putin’s Russia and the United States in such an investigation. Magyar Idők, just as its predecessor Magyar Nemzet, is pro-Russian and anti-American. It must be quite a challenge to combine joy over Jobbik’s troubles with an adoration of Russia and hatred of the United States. In the paper’s second article they solved the problem:
The widening of the Russian sphere of interest is obviously a thorn in the side of the United States and that’s why it is important for the American intelligence services to investigate the activities of the European parties with strong eastern ties. At the same time one ought to note that U.S. authorities haven’t moved a finger against kuruc.info, which uses a server operating from the United States. … It is not the radicalism of Jobbik that worries the leaders of the United States but the possibility of Russia’s European expansion.
May I add that the editors of kuruc.info, an openly anti-Semitic neo-Nazi site, write their articles in Hungary. The Hungarian authorities know full well who they are and could start proceedings against them at any time, but they choose not to.
How did Russia react to the news published in The Telegraph? Finian Cunningham, in a fairly lengthy article titled “Russian Red Scare No Longer Works” in Sputnik International, lashed out at the American and British governments, accusing them of a media campaign to demonize Russia. During the Cold War, “in the good old days,” they could control their public with scare stories about the “Red menace” or the “Evil Empire,” but these old formulas don’t work anymore. So now the U.S. and Great Britain are adopting different tactics. They are portraying Vladimir Putin “as a malign specter trying to break up European unity by funding political parties.” There is “not a scrap of evidence … to substantiate the story of alleged Russian conspiracy to destabilize European politics.” The problem is not Putin but the “massive numbers of ordinary citizens who have become disillusioned with the undemocratic monstrosity,” meaning the European Union.
But the real “problem is that the EU has shown no independence from Washington. The European governments under the harness of the American-led NATO military alliance have blindly joined the US in its disastrous, illegal wars for regime change.” It is clear that “Washington wants to isolate Russia for its own self-interest of displacing Russia as a major energy supplier to the continent. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.” Cunningham’s article didn’t forget about Poland either. According to him, “Europe’s pathetically servile deference to Washington’s economic and foreign policies is manifesting in forms of protest and dissent towards the entire EU project. The rise of Poland’s rightwing, nationalist ruling party is another sign of the times.” The similarities in style and content between Sputnik International and Magyar Idők are striking.
For the time being, Jobbik is facing the attacks with confidence. An English-language communiqué was issued by the party today:
Fidesz welcomes the news that the US Congress has instructed James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, to conduct an investigation into any Russian influence operations or funding of political parties in EU member states…. Jobbik requests the US authorities to reveal the findings of their investigation as soon as possible since the public has the right to know which political parties are funded by external powers. In the meantime, we request Russia to also disclose the findings of its own intelligence services regarding the potential US funding of European political parties. European citizens deserve to see a clear picture.
We attribute a special significance to the US Congress’ initiative in light of the ongoing political farce which was launched by Fidesz against MEP Béla Kovács, a representative of Hungary’s strongest opposition party one and half years ago, and so far has been unable to produce any evidence to support the allegations. We hope that the earliest possible disclosure of the report will reveal the truth and unveil Fidesz’ vicious political game solely designed to divert public attention from the rampant corruption of the government party.