Tag Archives: Hungarian-Russian relations

Putin’s Night Wolves pay a visit to Budapest

The Hungarian public is becoming familiar with the name of a Russian motorcycle club–Night Wolves (Nochnye Volki)–whose beginnings date back to 1989 when a group of rock music fans and motorcycle enthusiasts got together to form a club during the perestroika era of the Soviet Union. It was the first official bike club in the USSR, led by Alexander Zaldostanov, known as the Surgeon. Currently, the club has 5,000 members and seven chapters outside of Russia–in Ukraine, Latvia, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Macedonia.

Zaldostanov and Putin may have known each other from their days in East Germany, where both resided in the 1980s. Some people suspect that Zaldostanov was also a KGB agent. Perhaps because of the supposed relationship between the two men in Germany, Zaldostanov and his club are fervent supporters of Vladimir Putin and Russian nationalism. Putin considers the Night Wolves his friends. At one point he even led their rally on a Harley-Davidson trike. Because of its close relations with the Kremlin, the club is well taken care of financially. According to at least one observer of the Russian scene, the club receives “several hundred million rubles a year.” In return, club members have performed such patriotic duties as fighting on the side of pro-Russian militants during the Crimean crisis and the war in Donbass.

The Wolves are not welcome in too many countries. For example, in 2015 when they were planning to celebrate “Victory Day” in Berlin, their trip was rudely interrupted by the government of Poland, which refused them entry. At that time they were not welcome in Germany either; their Schengen visas were cancelled. Some Wolves who tried to enter Germany by plane were denied entry. In December 2014 the United States announced sanctions against the bikers because of their recruitment of fighters for the war in Donbass. Canada followed suit a month later. I might add that the Wolves are great admirers of Stalin, “who was sent by God” to do great things on earth.

Poland and the Baltic States didn’t soften their hearts when it came to letting the Wolves through their countries to visit Berlin this year. (For some reason Germany relented.) On May 1 they were turned away from the Polish border. A day later another group of bikers was forbidden to enter Georgia. One group drove to Sebastopol, from where they went to Romania by ship. Riders from all seven chapters headed to Budapest. For example, Novorossia Today reported that the Bulgarian chapter of the Night Wolves began their journey in Sofia and met the other contingents in Budapest.

On May 4 the bikers, accompanied by members of the Russian Embassy, visited the famous cemetery on Fiumei út where Soviet soldiers are buried. Here they laid wreaths at the memorial erected in their honor. The ceremony can be seen on this video.

Given the excellent relationship that exists between Putin’s Russia and Orbán’s Hungary, it is not surprising that Hungary allowed the bikers to cross into Hungarian territory and from there move on to Bratislava, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. But the Hungarian public, which has had enough of the overly friendly relations between Moscow and Budapest, was less than thrilled seeing the Wolves in Hungary. The majority of the population opposes the construction of a nuclear power plant in Hungary by a Russian firm and, as a result, Hungary’s being indebted for decades to come to Russia. The encounter between the Chechen-Russian patriot who threatened a Hungarian citizen didn’t go over well either. And now here are these grim-looking bikers carrying red flags with a hammer and sickle and a star. How is it possible that the Hungarian government makes a huge fuss over the red star in the logo of Heineken, the Dutch beer manufacturer, while these guys proudly display the real star (albeit in white), the symbol of the communist Soviet Union? A Hungarian citizen displaying these symbols can receive a jail sentence, according to §335 of the criminal code. So, in no time, an individual paid a visit to the central police station and filed charges. Naturally, the police had no intention of interfering. It was too late in any case. Once the bikers were inside the country, their display of these symbols was inevitable.

The opposition members of the parliamentary committee on national security asked a few questions from the police about their inaction. According to Bernadett Szél, the explanation offered by the police was “horribly embarrassing.” On the one hand, they argued that the cemetery is considered to be private property and therefore the police couldn’t enter the premises while, on the other hand, they explained that the bikers’ refusal to follow Hungarian law was justified by “the special circumstances.” The police report that was issued simply stated that “no criminal offense was committed” and therefore no action was necessary.

Péter Tarjányi, a national security expert and former police detective, told Olga Kálmán, who has a new program on HírTV, that through these Victory Rides the Night Wolves, with their powerful bikes and their frightening demeanor, intimidate the locals. And yet the Hungarian government doesn’t dare stand up to them. On the contrary. The Wolves were allowed to pay homage to the Soviet heroes and to the Great Patriotic War. They can thus be seen as a “communication arm” of a strong and powerful Russia and its leader.

It is hard to say whether Viktor Orbán is afraid to stand up to the Russians as Tarján claims or whether by now his involvement with Putin’s Russia is so extensive that he cannot extricate himself from Putin’s embrace. He committed his country too much to Russia while he practically burned his bridges to the West. To be able to say “no” to Putin could be done only if he were ready to abandon everything he has stood for in the last seven years. Such a reversal at the moment or perhaps ever is unimaginable.

May 12, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s Russian policy is unchanged, at least for the time being

A couple of days ago I saw a fascinating interview with András Bruck, a writer and an astute observer of the Hungarian political scene. Every time a new Bruck article appears, which is not that often, there is great excitement among people whose political views are similar to mine. For a number of years now, I have been an admirer, but this was the first time that I saw him in an interview situation. He didn’t disappoint me.

During the long interview Bruck talked about an interesting characteristic of Viktor Orbán. The greater the pressure, the greater his boldness. As if he were tempting fate. Almost as if he were testing the threshold at the point of no return. This characteristic has become especially pronounced lately as pressure on him, both internationally and at home, mounts. If Hungary’s allies don’t like his policies toward Russia, he makes sure that in every speech, whether the reference is appropriate to the occasion or not, he talks about the soundness of his foreign policy. If there is serious discontent at home because of his government’s corruption and his own questionable business dealings, he flaunts his close connection with two of his front men by attending the opening of their new ill-gotten businesses. Almost like a serial killer who gets bolder and bolder with each new murder, as if he wants to be caught.

Today I’m going to concentrate on one manifestation of that boldness: Hungarian-Russian relations. It is abundantly clear that neither the United States nor the European Union is happy with Orbán’s Russia policy. This unhappiness has been expressed in all sorts of ways, some subtle, some less so. One would expect that Orbán, even if he didn’t heed Western advice, would at least not call attention to his close ties to Vladimir Putin. But not so. In the last couple of days Orbán made it known that in his opinion Hungary’s national interest is his only concern and that a friendship with Russia is of paramount importance to his government.

On November 19 Orbán addressed the Diaspora Council, one of the many new Fidesz creations that is supposed to strengthen “national unity” across borders. He delivered an hour-long speech in which he felt it necessary to explain his position on Russia.

We have a given geopolitical situation…. We have more powerful and bigger neighbors to the East and to the West. Germanic people to the west, Slavic to the east, and a bit father the Russians. Consequently, we will be loyal to our NATO allies even if we do not share even 50 percent of what they say and think… We do not want a new Cold War. I grew up in the Cold War and I have no wish to end my life in another one…. We will express our discontent to anyone when we see our national interests being harmed. We do not want a new Wall to the East.

Two days later, in a speech to an audience of about 150 people at the Stiftung Familieunternehmen in Baden-Baden, he returned to the topic but this time the message was different. After all, he delivered that speech in Germany. Here he showed himself to be a great friend of Ukraine, the sovereignty of which is of the utmost importance to Hungary because “we think that there must be something between Russia and Hungary…. We once had a common border with the Soviet Union and that was quite an adventure.”

Now let’s look at Hungarian-Russian relations from the vantage point of Moscow. On November 19 Vladimir Putin hailed Hungary as one of Russia’s most important partners. “We share the attitude of the Hungarian leadership aimed at growing constructive dialogue, jointly carrying out planned very large investment projects,” Putin announced at a Kremlin ceremony where Hungary’s new ambassador presented his credentials. He said Russia considered Budapest “one of the most important political, trade and economic partners.”

On the same day Péter Szijjártó was in Moscow to talk with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister. As MTI reported, both men were upbeat after their meeting. Lavrov praised Hungary for not being antagonistic toward Russsia, adding that “there are more and more responsible member states in NATO and the European Union” who urge dialogue based on mutual respect. Hungary is certainly one of these, he added. Lavrov especially appreciated the fact that Hungary had confirmed its resolve to build the Hungarian section of the Southern Stream project.

Sergei Lavrov and Péter Szijjártó, Moscow, November 19, 2010

Sergei Lavrov and Péter Szijjártó, Moscow, November 19, 2014

Szijjártó was also upbeat. He expressed his hope for early negotiations between the European Union and Russia over the construction of the Southern Stream. He emphasized that Hungary looks upon Russia as an important partner that plays a key role in ensuring the energy security of Central Europe. The rebuilding of practical and constructive cooperation between Russia and the European Union is in Hungary’s interest, Szijjártó emphasized.

Finally, a piece of information about Hungarian-Russian relations that the Hungarian government neglected to tell the country’s inhabitants. The most widely read Russian news portal, Gazeta.ru, ran an interview with Liubov Shishelina, a Russian expert on Hungary. From that interview we learned that Szijjártó went to Moscow not only to talk with Lavrov and other Russian politicians but also to prepare a forthcoming meeting, the fifth since 2010, between Putin and Orbán. This is not the first time that we learn details of Hungarian foreign policy from Russian sources.