Tag Archives: sovereignty

Furious denial of any wrongdoing and rejection of a European solution to the refugee crisis

I would like to continue with yesterday’s theme for at least two reasons. One is that the report of Human Rights Watch on the brutal treatment of refugees along the Serb-Hungarian border has been confirmed by Nick Thorpe, Budapest correspondent of BBC, who paid a visit to two camps at Horgos and Kelebia where the conditions are, he said, appalling. Apparently, the Hungarian authorities could easily handle the registration of 100 people a day instead of the 15 they do now, so it is obvious that the aim is to slow the process to discourage people from crossing into the European Union through Hungary. A physician from Doctors Without Borders also confirmed “cases of intentional trauma that can be related to excessive use of force.” And Thorpe reported cases where refugees were already as far as 25 km from Budapest and yet were forcibly moved back to beyond the fence hundreds of kilometers away.

As for some of the most brutal acts of violence, they may have been committed by far-right members of paramilitary organizations patrolling the border on their own. This is speculation because the activity of such groups along the border is not officially acknowledged. And yet, although the Serb-Hungarian border is 175 km long, it is hard to believe that if such groups do indeed patrol the border and beat up refugees who cross illegally, officials are unaware of this fact.

The second reason for continuing this theme is that today the parliamentary undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior, Károly Konrát, denied any and all wrongdoing. Human Rights Watch’s accusations are baseless. In fact, Hungary should be praised for its vigorous defense of the borders of the European Union. As for the humane treatment of migrants, again Hungary can only be praised. The government spends 140,000 forints a month on each refugee, more than the average Hungarian worker makes. Refugees receive three meals a day, a hygienic package, and medical treatment and medicine if needed. Of more than 17,000 illegal migrants, only eight filed complaints, and all eight cases turned out to be bogus.

As for the refugees whom Hungary doesn’t want, according to Nick Thorpe “the unofficial leader of the camp” at the border is a 25-year-old Afghan doctor who negotiates with the Hungarian Office of Immigration and Nationality. Then there is the 23-year-old Syrian refugee who, after spending five days in a Hungarian jail, is now studying computer programming in Berlin in a program called ReDi. But it seems that the Hungarian government finds the idea of admitting desirable immigrants “inhumane and contrary to the European ideal.” János Lázár, for example, described such a practice as a “market place for human beings” where each country picks the “desirable” ones. He fears that Germany and other western countries will pick the best, leaving “the rejects” for the East Europeans.

As expected, the Hungarian government is both denouncing and falsifying the European Commission’s proposed reform of the asylum system, released yesterday. In the interest of truth, I think I should summarize its main points.

The overall procedure will be shortened and streamlined, and decisions will be made in a maximum of six months. Asylum seekers will be guaranteed the right to a personal interview as well as free legal assistance and representation during the administrative procedure. A guardian will be assigned to unaccompanied minors. New obligations to cooperate with the authorities will be introduced. All asylum seekers must have the same protection regardless of the member state in which they make their applications. In order to achieve this harmonization, the member states will be obliged to take into account guidance coming from the European Agency for Asylum. As bruxinfo.hu, a Hungarian internet site reporting on the affairs of the EU, pointed out, there is no talk here of compulsory quotas or punishment for non-compliance. Each year member states would announce the number of refugees they could accommodate. They would receive 10,000 euros for each refugee accepted.

rejection

So, let’s see how this was translated into Orbanite Hungarian by János Lázár this afternoon at his regular Government Info. In his reading, according to Dimitris Avramopoulos’s suggestion “Hungary would have to undertake the complete integration of immigrants forcibly brought into the country.” This is a preposterous idea, which “goes beyond the notion of compulsory settlement quotas.” While he was at it, he reminded his audience that the European Parliament accepted a proposal that would include heavy financial penalties if refugees were not accepted. Moreover, George Soros’s scheme of imposing extra taxes and/or other financial punishment on countries that refuse to participate in the program is “still on the table of the European Commission.” Lázár is referring to Soros’s speech, discussed here earlier.

Lázár is convinced that the “leftist delegations” of the European Parliament, together with the European Commission, work daily on their settlement schemes and keep coming up with new suggestions. That is why there is a need for the quota referendum, to be held on October 2. Lázár finds it impossible to believe that the European Commission will simply ignore the results of “direct democracy.” The referendum, instead of decreasing European integration, will actually strengthen it. It will be “a stabilizing factor.” Unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate on this claim. I would have been curious to see how our maverick Fidesz double-talker could possibly make his case.

Lázár, in talking about fines, repeated a piece of disinformation that the Hungarian government has spread far and wide in the last few days. Fidesz accused MSZP, DK, and LMP members of the European Parliament of voting in favor of a motion to fine states that refuse to participate in the migrant quota scheme. In fact, the report the European Parliament adopted says only that “a European approach is needed based on solidarity and a just distribution of the burden to resolve the migration and refugee crisis.” And, as it turned out, not only “leftist” members but also the vast majority of the European People’s Party, to which Fidesz belongs, voted for it.

You may recall János Lázár’s statement last week that he wouldn’t vote for Hungarian membership in the European Union today because of its migration policies. Of course, he said, this is his “personal opinion,” but a high government official, especially the man who is in charge of the disbursement of billions of euros received from the European Union, should not publicly share a “personal opinion.” Today he followed up, saying that “we didn’t secede from the Soviet Union in order to become a member of another union, but we left the Soviet Union so at least we can be independent and sovereign.”

Well, I don’t want to sound like a schoolmarm, but Hungary was never part of the Soviet Union. That, of course, is the least of the difficulties here. Hungarians desperately wanted to belong to the European Union, and at a referendum well over 80% of them voted for membership. Today, 75% still want to remain in the Union. With their vote at that referendum the Hungarian people authorized their government to give up some of the country’s independence and sovereignty. If Lázár, the second most important man in the Orbán government, insists on full independence and sovereignty, he should discuss it with his boss, and they should start making preparations for a Hungxit. And, while they’re at it, for their retirement from politics.

July 14, 2016

Is Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy Jobbik inspired?

In the interview Gábor Vona gave to Magyar Nemzet yesterday, the chairman of Jobbik talked about the foreign policy strategies of the party. He said: “I have been repeating ever since 2010 that Hungary must realize its national interest in a German-Russian-Turkish triangle. Not long ago Viktor Orbán himself admitted that much.”

Vona was referring to the rambling speech the prime minister delivered on March 9 to the Hungarian ambassadors who were called home to be personally instructed by Orbán on the intricacies of Hungarian diplomacy. In this speech Orbán said:

I think that, historically, Hungary’s fate depended primarily on its relations with three countries. I am currently watching what is happening in German-Hungarian, Russian-Hungarian, and Turkish-Hungarian relations. These are the three great powers that have determined what happened to us in the last one thousand years…. This is the network of foreign relations that we must maintain.

A German-Turkish-Russian triangle as the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s foreign policy is new. Or at least this was the first time I heard Viktor Orbán talk about it. I suspect that the idea came from Márton Gyöngyösi, the “foreign policy expert” of Jobbik. The son of a Hungarian diplomat from the Kádár era, he has spent most of his life abroad. He is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and prior to his university studies he and his family lived in several countries, including at least one in the Middle East. He has never hidden his anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli feelings. He is pro-Russian and might be on a list of undesirables in Ukraine because he assisted in the plebiscite in Donetsk.

Following up on Gábor Vona’s interview yesterday, Gyöngyösi gave a lengthy interview to 444.hu that appeared today. The interview was wide-ranging. Here I will concentrate on those ideas I think most closely resemble the foreign policy articulated by the prime minister. Just as with domestic policies, the foreign policies of the two parties overlap at several points.

Márton Gyöngyösi

Márton Gyöngyösi

According to Gyöngyösi, the oft-repeated adage that Hungary must choose between the West and the East is a false dichotomy that has plagued Hungarian thinking “ever since St. Stephen.” Instead, Hungary should adjust its foreign policy to the three great powers: Germany, Russia, and Turkey. He launched into an analysis of foreign policy during the reign of Gábor Bethlen (1580-1629), prince of Transylvania, when, in Gyöngyösi’s opinion, Hungary successfully navigated among the three great powers–the Austrian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires.* In his view, Hungary shouldn’t accept any kind of “one-sided dependence or colonization.” It should keep its independence, especially because of “the duality of Hungarian national consciousness [which is] both western and eastern.” I don’t think I have to remind readers of very similar ideas expressed by Viktor Orbán himself.

Although Orbán is careful not to alienate the western powers by expressing sentiments that would indicate that he stands on Russia’s side in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, he has made it eminently clear that Hungary has no stake in allying itself with either side. Gyöngyösi goes so far as to say that he would seriously consider leaving NATO, thereby realizing the Hungarian right’s desire for neutrality. After all, if a neutral Finland is safe and not threatened by Russia, why does Hungary need the NATO umbrella?

Vona might talk about an “opening to the West” and Gyöngyösi might envisage Hungarian ties to a German-Russian-Turkish triangle, but thus far Jobbik has shown itself to be committed almost exclusively to a pro-Russian policy. Gyöngyösi views Moscow as a peace-loving country that has wanted nothing since the end of the Cold War but a security zone in which “the CIA and NATO don’t operate.”

As far as Hungary is concerned, “the country fell from one dependency into another. The Russian soldiers left and then came a different kind of dependency, which arrived in disguise…. Is this colonization? Yes, it is.” The problem Hungary faces is “the unilateral euroatlantism which results in the loss of sovereignty.” This is familiar text from Orbán’s speeches.

Gyöngyösi has no problems whatsoever with the Russian loan for Paks’s two new reactors. “There is a huge difference between this loan and the money coming from the EU, because Brussels has a say in how it is spent. Russia, on the other hand, does not have a say in what we spend the money on. Russia does not meddle in Hungarian internal affairs.” Viktor Orbán would heartily agree.

When it comes to autocratic regimes like Putin’s Russia or Erdoğan’s Turkey, Gyöngyösi thinks, just like Viktor Orbán, that such regimes suit the Russian and Turkish psyches. He also believes that the Russian and Turkish models, perhaps with some modifications, suit the Hungarians better than unrestricted democracy. Just as Hungary adopted Christianity in a modified** form, so there are different versions of democratic regimes. Hungary surely will have its own, tailored to its needs. Again, this sounds familiar. How often we heard similar sentiments expressed by Viktor Orbán.

And finally, Gyöngyösi “already in 2008 talked about ‘the eastern opening,'” which includes good relations with Russia. Viktor Orbán’s concept of the eastern opening definitely postdates 2008, and therefore there is a good possibility that even that foreign policy initiative was taken over from Jobbik. But, according to Gyöngyösi, there are problems with Orbán’s credibility in eastern countries. The political leaders of these countries remember only too well what Orbán’s opinions of them were in 2008 and 2009. Sure, he is the only one now who can negotiate with them, but Gyöngyösi knows “from first hand” what these people think of him. They think he is a “turncoat.” And “one cannot base a stable foreign policy” on purely short-lived economic interests.


*I suspect that Márton Gyöngyösi’s knowledge of early 17th-century European history leaves something to be desired. In vain did I search for Russian involvement in Austrian-Hungarian affairs during the reign of Gábor Bethlen. Russia was going through one of the most difficult times in its history, the period called “The Time of Troubles” when Moscow lost large parts of its territories to Poland-Lithuania. The Russians had enough trouble of their own; they didn’t need to get mixed up in Austrian-Hungarian affairs.

**I don’t know what kind of modified Christianity Gyöngyösi is talking about.

Hungarian parliament voted on Paks; the Jewish-government dialogue is stalled

Yesterday we all thought that the parliamentary vote on the Russian-Hungarian agreement about financing and building two new reactors in Paks would take place only next Thursday. But, in typical Fidesz fashion, the Fidesz-KDNP majority made a last-minute change in the agenda and opted to hold the vote today. Perhaps the sudden decision had something to do with the revelations of Mihály Varga, minister of the economy, about the financial details of the agreement. Parliament had only four days to ponder the bill, and five hours were allowed for discussion on the floor.

The decision to move the vote forward naturally upset the opposition, but that was not all that raised eyebrows. The figures Mihály Varga revealed were much higher than earlier expected. First of all, Hungary will have to pay back the loan not in 30 but in 21 years, in 2035. In the early years the interest rate will be 3.9%, later 4.5%, and in the final years 4.9%. The Russians will pay the 10 billion euros it is lending to Hungary over ten years, and Hungary will have to pony up 2 billion euros in the final years of plant construction. (That figure, of course, assumes that there are no cost overruns, a highly unlikely possibility.) According to information received from government circles, one reason Viktor Orbán was so eager to push through the vote at the earliest possible date was that he was concerned that even Fidesz legislators would be unwilling to vote for the plant expansion once they knew its true cost. This information had to be revealed because the court so decided. Moreover, according to estimates, the expansion of nuclear capacity would be so costly that it would raise the price of electricity at least 40% and in the first decade perhaps 80%. Népszabadság gave the following headline to its article on the estimates prepared by MVM, the state-owned utility company: “More expensive electricity, brutal losses.” Nice prospects, if MVM’s calculations are correct.

LMP asked for a roll call vote, after which András Schiffer held up a sign: “Hungary sold out and indebted,” while Szilvia Lengyel, also of LMP, held up another placard proclaiming that “We will not be a Russian atomic colony.” Bernadett Szél (LMP) and Katalin Ertsey (LMP) had megaphones that produced the noise of ambulance sirens at full volume. The scene was quite something. I highly recommend the video of the brawl, available on Index. Parliament had to adjourn for over an hour. László Kövér called the protesters idiots and also indicated that the highest possible fine will have to be paid by the four LMP members.

LMP (Politics Can Be Different) / Source Index

LMP (Politics Can Be Different) / Source Index

A quick look at the record of the votes is most interesting. It is striking how many members chose not to be present. Let’s start with Fidesz which has a large 223-member delegation out of which 21 members were absent. Among the missing were Viktor Orbán, Zoltán Balog, Mihály Varga, Tibor Navracsics, and Zoltán Illés and Zsolt Németh, undersecretary for foreign affairs.. Out of the KDNP caucus of 34 members only two were missing but one of them was no other than Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister. Half of the Jobbik members were absent, but those present with the exception of one voted with the government parties. The majority of MSZP members decided to stay at home (32 out of 48). Out of the 27 independents 17 were absent and only one of those present voted for the bill: József Balogh of blind komondor fame.

The other important news of the day was the scheduled meeting between Jewish leaders and János Lázár. If anyone had great hopes for a compromise between the government and the Jewish community, he was mistaken. It turned out that János Lázár was simply a messenger. As he himself admitted, everything depends on Viktor Orbán. His is the final word and at the moment that word is “no go.” The monument will be erected, Sándor Szakály will stay, and the House of Fates “can become a reality only if there is intelligent, correct dialogue that concentrates on the essence of the matter… If there is no cooperation there is no reason to go ahead with the project.” So, if you raise objections and want to oversee Mária Schmidt’s activities, there will be no new Holocaust center in Hungary.

As for the monument depicting Archangel Gabriel and the German imperial eagle, “it would be a falsification of history if we pretended as if Germany didn’t deprive Hungary of its sovereignty on March 19, 1944.” The problem is that most respectable historians dispute the government’s contention of a lack of sovereignty, pointing to the composition of the governments formed between March 19 and October 15, 1944. For example, all ministers and undersecretaries of the Sztójay government also served in earlier Hungarian ministries going back as far as 1933. It is also clear that Miklós Horthy was not entirely powerless, as he demonstrated several times during this period. In my opinion, given the seemingly firm position of the government, there can be no agreement between the two sides.

I very much doubt that Viktor Orbán, who will have the final say on the issue next week, will move an inch. He is not that kind of a guy. As for the Jewish organizations that will sit down to talk on Sunday, they are unlikely to retreat from their position. So, it can easily happen that an international scandal is in the offing: the Hungarian Jewish community will boycott the Holocaust Memorial Year initiated by the Orbán government.