Tag Archives: Kazakhstan

Extradition of Yerzhan Kadesov to Kazakhstan, with Hungarian assistance

In order to understand the ins and outs of today’s post about the extradition of Yerzhan Kadesov, a Kazakh national, from Hungary to Kazakhstan, I’m afraid I have to start with Mukhtar Ablyazov, the founder of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK), a political party which was supposed to be a counterforce against the regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh dictator who has been in power ever since 1984. Soon enough Ablyazov was accused of embezzling $5 billion from Bank Turan Alem (BTA).  He fled the country and settled in France, where he was subsequently detained by French authorities. Russia sought his extradition, but the human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch took up his case. Last December he was released on the grounds that Russia had a political motive in making the extradition request.

Yerzhan Kadesov / Source: Interfax.kz

It was not only Ablyazov who fled Kazakhstan but several of his colleagues, whose extraditions were also sought and denied for the same reason. One of the lesser associates of Ablyazov was Yerzhan Kadesov, who escaped from Kazakhstan in 2009, first settling in Ukraine. After a while, however, fearing that the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych might extradite him, he moved to Hungary in 2012. Two years later Kazakhstan issued a warrant for his arrest, and in 2016 the Hungarian authorities detained Kadesov on the grounds that he was a national security risk. A Polish human rights group called Open Dialogue Foundation moved into action on Kadesov’s behalf. They released an urgent call to stop the extradition, pointing out that there is a good possibility that “Hungary is in the service of the Kazakhstani dictator” in handling the case.

Kadesov’s case is closely tied to that of Zhaksylyk Zharimbetov, Kadesov’s supervisor at BTA, who in January 2017 was kidnapped by Kazakhstani security forces in Turkey, where he enjoyed refugee status. Soon enough Zharimbetov began “to reveal Ablyazov’s crimes.” Based on his testimony, the Kazakh court sentenced Ablyazov to a 20-year jail term in absentia.

The Kazakh authorities seem to be using Zharimbetov to convince other fugitives to return to Kazakhstan. This is what happened in Kadesov’s case. It seems that the Hungarians helped the Kazakhs in their endeavor by allowing telephone calls from Zharimbetov to Kadesov while Kadesov was in jail in Hungary. Moreover, Kazakh diplomats in Budapest were free to visit him. But ODF claims that Hungarian human rights organizations were prevented from providing legal assistance to the incarcerated Kadesov. The Kazakh fugitive steadfastly denied his guilt for about six months, but in the middle of June he confessed and asked to be extradited to Kazakhstan. ODF claims that Kadesov was pressured via threats to his relatives in Kazakhstan “with the knowledge and assistance” of the Hungarian authorities.

Index also got hold of the story, though fairly late in the game. Index’s source, I assume, was the Polish ODF. In the middle of June Index sent inquiries to the ministry of interior concerning the Kadesov case but got no answer whatsoever. This surprised the journalists because in the past they always got answers, even if they were fairly meaningless.

The first thought that came to my mind when reading this story was the Hungarian decision to extradite Lieutenant Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan. During the summer of 2004 NATO’s Partnership for Peace organized a two-month program for officers from the member states in Budapest. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan joined the Partnership when it was established in 1994. The young officers were supposed to study English in the Hungarian capital. Ramil Safarov, an Aziri national, purchased an ax locally, and one night when the Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan was asleep, he brutally hacked him into pieces. He practically severed the Armenian officer’s head. During his trial Safarov freely admitted that his only reason for killing Margaryan was that he was an Armenian. He showed no remorse for his crime. In addition, while in jail he attacked the guards, for which he received two and a half years in a separate trial. In 2006 the verdict was announced: he received a life sentence for premeditated murder.

Between 2006 and 2012 the Azeris tried to convince the Hungarian government to let Safarov serve his sentence in Azerbaijan, but the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments steadfastly refused the request, knowing full well that he would immediately be released since the Azeri government and people considered Safarov a national hero. However, after Péter Szijjártó’s visit to Azerbaijan in June 2012, a deal was struck between the Orbán government and the government of Ilham Aliyev for Safarov’s release from Hungarian custody. And indeed, just as predicted, Safarov was greeted at home as a national hero and immediately received clemency from the president. The minister of defense bestowed on him the rank of major.

A Kazakh fugitive who is extradited today won’t be as fortunate as Safarov. Other countries where Kazakh fugitives sought shelter–Great Britain, Spain, the Czech Republic–have all refused to extradite them to Kazakhstan and/or Russia. Hungary is the odd man out. I assume that by now Kadesov is already in a Kazakh jail, where apparently he can’t expect a fair trial. Of course, this case will not create such an outcry as the Safarov case did. After all, it was a murder case. Safarov’s release by the Hungarian government also had serious diplomatic consequences. After the incident the Armenian government broke off diplomatic relations with Hungary, adding that “the Armenian nation will never forgive” Hungary for what happened. Diplomatic relations between the two countries haven’t been restored since.

On the other hand, Hungarian relations with Kazakhstan have been close ever since 2012. Who can forget Viktor Orbán’s speech during his visit to Kazakhstan: “We believe that we are equal partners within the European Union but originally we were strangers there. When we go to Brussels, we have no relatives there. But when we come to you in Kazakhstan we are at home. This is a strange feeling that people have to go to the East in order to feel at home. Therefore, it is always with great pleasure that the Hungarian delegation comes here.” Surely, one cannot say ‘no’ to such a good friend. Denying extradition might spoil their wonderful friendship.

August 10, 2017

No, Viktor, illiberalism is not the key to economic growth

Today’s post was inspired by an article that appeared yesterday in 444.hu with the intriguing title “We only wanted to open the doors to Eastern dictatorships, but they were blown away by the Curse of Turan.”

What is the Curse of Turan? It is legend according to which Hungarians of the eleventh century were cursed by their pagan shamans when they abandoned their old faith for Christianity. And what about Turan? According to Persian mythical tradition, it was the name of an area which today is known as Turkistan.

We have spent countless hours discussing Viktor Orbán’s firm belief that western civilization and its market-based economy are on the decline while the eastern illiberal, autocratic, dictatorial regimes are thriving economically. They will eventually overtake the West. Orbán projected the recent spectacular growth in some of the Asian countries into a linear trend that might last–well, forever. He kept repeating that we live in a new world which only he was astute enough to discover. And he began making pilgrimages to these thriving eastern countries, courting them, praising their dictators so shamelessly that some Hungarians were outright embarrassed. He went so far as to return an Azeri murderer to Azerbaijan, although he must have known that he would be greeted as a national hero at home for killing an innocent Armenian army officer in Budapest.

This is what happens when someone with limited knowledge of the economic and political complexities of the world acquires unlimited power and begins to implement his idées fixes. Orbán’s theory was based on wrong assumptions and a flawed model. These countries’ economic growth was not due to the illiberal nature of their regimes, as Orbán believed, but to other economic factors–in most cases, to the commodity boom. Most of the countries Orbán so admired were flush with natural resources: oil, natural gas, and important minerals. As long as gas and oil prices were high, the political leadership of these countries was satisfied and did next to nothing to diversify. This is what happens when, as a result of the preponderance of state enterprises, no truly free market economy can develop that would ensure a healthier economic mix.

Viktor Orbán put enormous effort into his “Eastern Opening” project, with few results to show for it. 444.hu examined Hungarian exports to six countries east of Hungary between 2009 and 2014: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, and Russia. Hungarian exports to Turkey grew slightly, the others either stayed the same or actually decreased. 444.hu describes trade with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia as microscopic. Investments from these same countries are so insignificant that the Hungarian National Bank doesn’t even record their size. But even Russian, Chinese, and Turkish investments are minuscule, only a few billion, which is very small indeed as a share of total foreign investments in 2014, which was 2.5 trillion forints.

The percentage of the six Eastern countries in Hungarian export between 2009 and 2014. Source: KSH

Hungarian exports to the six eastern countries between 2009 and 2014 as a percentage of total exports. Source: KSH

In the past Viktor Orbán’s admiration of Azerbaijan’s economic accomplishments knew no bounds. In April 2014 he compared Hungary’s  modest 3% growth to the fabulous Azeri growth of 17% between 2003 and 2010 and, after that, 5-6% percent every year. But a little more than a year and a half later Azerbaijan is in grave economic trouble. On January 28 Bloomberg reported the start of negotiations between Azeri officials and the IMF and the World Bank for a four billion dollar loan. The discussion centered around the liberalization of the economy and the improvement of the business climate in exchange for the money. Although the Azeri finance minister insisted that they are in no immediate need of the four billion dollars, the facts don’t support his claim. “The Azeri central bank moved to a free float on December 21 after burning through more than 60% of its reserves last year to defend the national currency … the manat which nosedived by about half last year and slumped further to record lows this month.”

Orbán also sang the praises of Kazakhstan in June 2014. He found the achievements of the country in the last fifteen to twenty years absolutely spectacular. According to him, “the importance of Kazakhstan in the world economy will grow year after year.” Well, that forecast hasn’t panned out either. Because of falling oil prices Kazakhstan’s export income dropped by two-thirds after 2013. This year analysts predict a recession. The Kazakh currency, the tenge, crashed in a spectacular fashion in the middle of 2015. Bloomberg remarked that “Kazakhstan is a textbook case on why economies must diversify” and added that “powered by natural resources ranging from oil to uranium to copper, including the world’s largest proven zinc deposits, the economy has remained hamstrung by corruption and political controls.” Political control, which Orbán believed to be a necessity for economic growth, is in fact an impediment according to economic analysts.

Orbán was also very enthusiastic about the prospects of the Turkish economy. Western analysts, however, are less sanguine. Al-monitor, in an article written in August 2015, said: “Any one of the following problems would ring alarm bells for an emerging market: a slowing economy, rising inflation, distrustful citizens exchanging local currency deposits for dollars whenever possible, a rising tide of violence scaring away foreign tourists and hurting hard currency reserves, and concerned foreign investors eyeing the exit because of a bearish stock exchange and a possible hike in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve. Not content with just one, Turkey is facing all of those headaches and more.” The Turkish economy is still growing by about 3% per annum, but given the growth of the Turkish population this is considered to be a weak performance.

It was at the beginning of 2014 that Orbán visited Saudi Arabia and, as usual, lauded the greatness of the country and its leadership. Saudi Arabia has nothing but oil to export, and if the price of oil falls precipitously for a longer period of time the country is in trouble. At the moment the yearly deficit is 20% of the GDP. Foreign currency reserves are dwindling, and the Saudi princes are becoming visibly nervous. They are entertaining all sorts of measures that may or may not work. There are analysts who predict that the government of the House of Saud may collapse in the not too distant future.

Russia, which also relies heavily on its natural resources, is in trouble as well. As The Economist said a few days ago: “Russia’s economic problems move from the acute to the chronic.” Between mid-2014 and today Russia’s exports and government revenues collapsed. Its GDP shrank by nearly 4%; inflation was close to 13%. The ruble lost half its value against the dollar in 2014 and, after rebounding somewhat at the beginning of 2015, now stands at 80 rubles to the dollar. In March 2014 the exchange rate was 36 to 1. The latest is that Russia is exploring an international bond issuance, which signals that there is a shortage of funds as the economy heads for a second year of recession.

Finally, 444.hu reminds its readers of Orbán’s words at the Chinese-Central-Eastern European Summit in November 2015: “In the past there were many who had doubts about China’s long-term economic future. It was then widely held that the strengthening of the Chinese economy was only a temporary phenomenon and that the financial crisis would undermine its economic growth. But today we see exactly the opposite of this prediction. China is marching along with a permanent and sustained development, and we all know that it will soon be the strongest economy in the world.” But China’s economy is slowing, and worse may come in the wake of the greatest construction boom and credit bubble in recorded history. As an analyst described that bubble: “An entire nation of 1.3 billion has gone mad building, borrowing, speculating, scheming, cheating, lying, and stealing.” He called it a “monumental Ponzi” scheme. In any case, China’s economic growth in 2015 was the slowest in 25 years, and its economic decline is probably even more serious than its questionable figures indicate.

So much for Viktor Orbán’s belief that illiberal leaders are the only ones who know the secret of sustained economic growth.

Viktor Orbán feels more at home in Astana than in Brussels

After finding out today that the whole story about the new M4 superhighway was bogus, that the European Union hadn’t charged the bid-winning construction companies with price-fixing, I decided to move away from the muck of current Hungarian politics, at least for a day. I find the Hungarian government’s constant lying hard to take.

Instead, today I’m going to re-explore some Hungarian pseudo-science, prompted by Viktor Orbán’s visit to Kazakhstan. The trip was obviously a big deal for the prime minister. For instance, he took his wife along, which rarely happens. And the Hungarian government chartered a Boeing 767-300ER plane from Austria that seats 200.

The chartered plane that took Viktor Orbán to the country of his dreams

The chartered plane that took Viktor Orbán to the country of his dreams

What captured the imagination of the Hungarian media was a short Russian-language quotation from one of Orbán’s speeches while in Kazakhstan in which he said: “We believe that we are equal partners within the European Union but originally we were strangers there. When we go to Brussels, we have no relatives there. But when we come to you in Kazakhstan we are at home. This is a strange feeling, that people have to go to the East in order to feel at home. Therefore, it is always with great pleasure that the Hungarian delegation comes here.” I used the original Russian when translating the above passage; it can be found on the website of the Kazakh Information Service.

Interestingly enough, MTI decided that Viktor Orbán’s gushing might not go over too well with the Hungarian public who, thank you very much, feel quite at home in Europe. It left these sentences out of its report.

Let’s look into this so-called genetic relationship between the Kazakhs and the Hungarians. Since I already wrote a post on the genetic markers in the Hungarian population both at the time of the conquest and now, I will just briefly summarize the latest findings on the subject. A group of geneticists at the University of Szeged did research on the DNA composition of human remains from graves dating from the early tenth century. On the basis of their findings they came to the conclusion that the number of invaders was most likely very small because even in these early graves only 36% of the people had markers indicating Asiatic origin. Fifty percent of them were of purely European origin. Their DNA indicated that their ancestors had lived in Europe for at least 40,000-50,000 years. By now 84% of the Hungarian-speaking inhabitants of the Carpathian basin are of purely European origin, and only 16% carry any Asiatic markers at all.

In 2009, A. Z. Bíró, A. Zalán, A. Völgyi, and H. Pamjav published a study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology titled “A Y-chromosomal comparison of the Madjars (Kazakhstan) and the Magyars (Hungary).” They compared the Madjars with 37 other populations and showed that they were closer to the Hungarian population than to their geographical neighbors. They added that “although this finding could result from chance, it is striking and suggests that there could have been genetic contact between the ancestors of the Madjars and Magyars.” Critics of the study, including Csanád Bálint, director of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology, complained about the authors’ qualifications when it comes to history, linguistics or ethnography. But qualified or not, A[ndrás] Z[s] Bíró is a favorite of those people of extreme right political views who are searching for the original homeland of the Hungarians somewhere in Kazakhstan. I wrote about them in an August 2010 post titled “Turanian tribal meeting in Hungary.”

Nándor Dreisziger, a Canadian-Hungarian historian, wrote an article on “Genetic Research and Hungarian ‘Deep Ancestry'” in which he described the Bíró-Zalán-Völgyi-Pamjav study’s conclusion as most likely untenable. As he said: “Crudely put, the argument used by Bíró and company sounds like this: the Madijars [whom the authors misleadingly called Madjars] are genetically extremely distant from all other populations, and they are very distant from Hungarians: therefore they must be the closest relatives of Hungarians.”

Those who believe in the Kazakh-Hungarian relationship are ideologically extreme, but one mustn’t think that this group includes only people attracted to Jobbik. Far from it. One year László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, was the chief sponsor of the tribal meeting. Sándor Lezsák, who between 2006 and 2014 was the Fidesz deputy president of parliament, was one of the original organizers of the yearly gathering of men and women who play tribal games imitating life as they imagine it to have been in the tenth century or earlier somewhere on the steppes of Eurasia. Naturally, during these gatherings they are also treated to lectures about all aspects of their pseudo-history. Among the lecturers one often finds András Zs. Bíró. Most of the people involved in studying ancient Hungarian history are amateurs, and their research is bogus. But Viktor Orbán must have fallen for their stories about Hungary’s central Asian history.

Of course, propagating a false account of the origin of Hungarians is bad enough, but going so far as to to show a preference for a country where there is a brutal dictatorship takes one’s breath away. I know, I promised that I wouldn’t write about politics today, so I’ll stop on that “breath-less” note.

Viktor Orbán and the gathering storm clouds in the East

Meetings of the heads of EU member states usually last much longer than anticipated. At eight in the evening participants were still discussing who will replace Herman Van Rompuy as European Council president and Catherine Ashton as foreign policy chief.  They finally determined that the former post will be filled by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the latter by Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini.

It seems, however, that the decision on further sanctions against Russia will be postponed for at least a week, although a draft of such sanctions dated August 27 exists which says that the bloc “stands ready to consider further steps” against Russia due to the “reported participation of Russian armed forces in operations on Ukrainian soil.” Petro Poroshenko, who was present at the discussions about his country, indicated that further sanctions are likely. The EU only wants to wait on implementation to see how Russia reacts to his attempt to revive a “peace plan” next week.

If Vladimir Putin’s threatening remarks are any indication, further sanctions and an increased Western military presence in Eastern Europe are indeed likely. Putin told the press that “Russia’s partners … should understand it’s best not to mess with us,” adding: “I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.” Nuclear threat or not, the number of NATO troops in Poland and Romania has doubled already, and NATO is planning to send an additional 1,ooo troops to the region. And Britain and six other states are planning to create a new joint expeditionary force of at least 10,000 personnel to bolster NATO’s power.

map2

Meanwhile a rather frightening map was published by the Russian weekly Expert that showed the sphere of influence Russia is attempting to create. The green line indicates the reach of Soviet dominance, the red the current situation, and the orange Russian hopes for an expanded sphere of influence. That would include Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Observers of Russia and its plans might be also interested in reading a statement by Kazakhstan’s 74-year-old dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev. Let me quote it verbatim from Kazakhstan’s official English-language website Tengri News.

If the rules set forth in the agreement are not followed, Kazakhstan has a right to withdraw from the Eurasian Economic Union. I have said this before and I am saying this again. Kazakhstan will not be part of organizations that pose a threat to our independence. Our independence is our dearest treasure, which our grandfathers fought for. First of all, we will never surrender it to someone, and secondly, we will do our best to protect it.

Of course, he added that nothing of the sort can possibly happen because “there are three representatives from each country [Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan] and three Vice-Prime Ministers. They also make their decisions together.”

Putin’s response to Nazarbayev’s statement called Kazakhstan’s future independence into question. Yesterday he said that Kazakhstan, although large, is only one-tenth the size of Russia. He also explained that Nazarbayev “created a state on territory where no state had ever existed. The Kazakhs had never had statehood. Nazarbayev created it. In this sense, he is a unique person for the former Soviet space and for Kazakhstan too.” But, Putin continued, underscoring his expansionist intentions, Kazakhstan is better off in the “big Russian world.”

Meanwhile Viktor Orbán, as his wont, gave a press conference upon his arrival in Brussels. Interestingly enough, he is usually driven to these meetings in his own Volkswagen minibus, an odd choice for such occasions. According to normal protocol, the hosts provide vehicles for visiting dignitaries, but for one reason or another Orbán insists on his own bus. One must wonder how this vehicle gets to Brussels. Is it driven or transported there ahead of time? Or, perhaps he has several identical vehicles?

It is also hard to know whether only Hungarian reporters are interested in what the prime minister has to say or whether journalists from other countries are also present. I suspect that only Hungarian reporters attend these events. On one of the pictures taken at the press conference I could see the mikes of only MTV and HírTV.

In Orbán’s opinion, today’s meeting was organized only for “the review and correction of the current political situation.”  The discussion centers around whether “the sanctions have reached their desired goals” but for that “we should know what the desired goals are.” He is convinced that sanctions will not work. Sanctions until now have not been successful and it would be self-deception to think that more of the same would end the conflict.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the Conference of Western Balkan States that took place in Berlin on August 28, 2014. Participating were representatives of the European Union, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and the Republic of Macedonia. It was called together by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also chaired the meeting.

The idea for the conference came in response to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The intention was to show commitment to the process of future enlargement of the European Union as well as to shore up relations with Serbia as a strategic partner of the EU, especially in light of the problems in Ukraine.

Serbia has, since the second half of the nineteenth century, been a close friend and ally of Russia. Its negotiations with the European Union for membership have been going on for a long time, but Serbia’s chances have been strengthened by what is going on in Ukraine. Because, as Adelina Marini of euinside.eu points out, “if Serbia becomes part of the EU, Russia will lose its influence in the Balkans or, at least, it will be significantly limited.”

However, Serbia apparently wants to have its cake and eat it too. Although it desperately wants to join the European Union, it also wants to keep its special relationship with Russia. Brussels is unlikely to accept such a “special status” for Serbia. But if Russia becomes a real threat to Europe, Serbia’s membership in the EU might help block the spread of Russian influence.

Diplomacy in Europe and especially in Eastern Europe and the Balkans is a much more complicated enterprise than it was a few years back when these countries did not have to worry about the Russian bear. Orbán’s idea that diplomacy can be pretty much replaced by foreign trade is patently wrong. The current situation is complex, negotiations are difficult, and a bad outcome would be very dangerous for Europe. And even as storm clouds are gathering in the East, Hungarian diplomacy is being guided by Péter Szijjártó, who is totally unfit for the job.