The Hungarian right’s foreign policy offensive

By now Viktor Orbán's "fifty-minute-long private meeting" with Vladimir Putin is the butt of jokes. At least in certain circles. Since I wrote my piece on the alleged meeting, two articles appeared by József Debreczeni, one in Népszava and another in Népszabadság. In the former Debreczeni quotes a Hungarian saying according to which "it is easier to catch a liar than a lame dog." However, says Debreczeni, in the case of Orbán this is certainly not the case. It doesn't seem to matter that the circumstances of Orbán's visit to St. Petersburg are questionable and that according to some people the whole thing is most likely a tall tale, his admirers' faith in his trustworthiness is unshaken.

As things stand now Viktor Orbán's return to power seems pretty well assured, but if I sense things correctly not too many governments are looking forward to his winning the Hungarian elections. They remember the disastrous foreign policy of his last administration when he managed to alienate practically everybody: the neighbors, the European Union, the United States, Russia, and China. He had good relations only with Franjo Tudjman's Croatia and Silvio Berlusconi's Italy.

Surely, he himself must have realized that something had to be done. He must mend fences. So in the summer of 2008 he and his wife visited the United States at the time of the National Convention of the Republican Party, which he attended. There he wholeheartedly committed himself to the Republican cause while talking disparagingly about the other side. He bet on the wrong horse, as he often does.

This private trip to the United States was introduced in Hungary as a triumphant political feat where Orbán would be the guest of George H. Bush at his compound in Kennebunkport. When I heard about this impending visit I was greatly surprised. The Bushes extend very few invitations to Maine, and an opposition politician who wasn't on the best terms with the younger President Bush seemed an unlikely guest. Thus, I wasn't terribly surprised when it turned out that "in the last moment" something came up and Viktor and his wife Anikó didn't make it to Kennebunkport. Again, a very questionable announcement of an important meeting at an important place which was most likely without any foundation. The recent Russian trip bears a certain resemblance to the visit to the United States. In connection with the Russian visit we first heard about Putin's dacha; that was reduced, according to the latest intelligence, to a three and a half minute encounter at a reception. Kennebunkport turned out to be a chance encounter in a hotel corridor between the older Bush and Viktor Orbán.

After St. Petersburg there was a new surprise announcement: Viktor Orbán's visit to Beijing. Mind you, it will be a short one. He left Budapest on Monday night and will be back in Hungary by tomorrow because on Friday the chairman of Fidesz already has an official engagement. Allegedly while in China Orbán "will negotiate about economic cooperation" between the two countries. He will visit the ministry of economics, the foreign ministry, and the ministry in charge of energy and railways in addition to important businessmen. It seems that Orbán didn't go alone. He was accompanied by Sándor Demján, perhaps the richest Hungarian entrepreneur, and Ferenc Bartha, chairman of the Hungarian National Bank between 1988 and 1990, that is before the change of regime. (I don't know whether there were others in his entourage.) Yes, this time there is proof that Orbán not only visited Beijing but conducted political business. The state television Wednesday night (Beijing time) in its evening news informed its listeners that the Chinese Communist party and Fidesz formally recognized each other. The Chinese Communist party was represented by Xi Jinping who is the eighth vice-president of the People's Republic of China and a member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo.

So, what was Orbán's purpose in going to China? He himself emphasized that "the most important result" of the trip was the official mutual recognition of the two parties. Is it possible that the alleged negotiations with the ministries are again exaggerated? Because, after all, for such talks with important persons in the ministries usually one needs the help of the Hungarian foreign ministry. It is hard to imagine that Orbán just picked up the telephone or wrote an e-mail to a Chinese ministry expressing his desire to have a chat with the undersecretary or deputy undersecretary. And the Hungarian foreign ministry wasn't informed.

Extending the Fidesz international overtures, János Martonyi, foreign minister in the previous Orbán government, is in the United States. I'm not familiar with his complete agenda, but last night he gave a speech in the Kossuth House in Washington. He announced that he and Fidesz find "Bajnai's invitation to Washington" unfortunate. In diplomatic circles such a statement is considered a serious faux pas. After all, it was the American government, to be precise the vice president of the United States, who invited the Hungarian prime minister to Washington. One can also add here that it is not customary to say all sorts of negative things about one's own country and its government when traveling abroad in a quasi-official capacity.

Martonyi assured his audience that Fidesz "wants to have good, stable relations with the United States." As far as his good relations with the other side are concerned, he said that he and Gordon Bajnai will be together at a St. Nicholas (Mikulás, December 6) dinner organized by the Hungarian-American Coalition.

How generous of the Hungarian-American Coalition! I remember only too well that in the summer of 2003, that is after Fidesz lost the elections, I read somewhere that at the invitation of the Hungarian-American Coalition a number of Fidesz politicians were visiting the United States, with all expenses paid by the Coalition. I happened to know one of the leading members of the Coalition so I asked him how it was possible that only Fidesz politicians were invited. I was told that the Coalition extended an invitation to MSZP as well but "they answered that they know foreign languages, know the American political system, and therefore they have no need for such a trip." Needless to say, I immediately inquired about this from the head of the MSZP parliamentary delegation and what what kind of answer do you think I got? "Unfortunately, I must tell you that we didn't receive such an invitation." So much for the Coalition's political commitments and its leaders' truthfulness.

Otherwise, I understand that János Martonyi will also give a lecture at Johns Hopkins University. I assume he will repeat what he told his Hungarian audience in Washington: MSZP will receive 15-20% of the votes, Jobbik 8-10%, and the rest will go to Fidesz. But interestingly enough that doesn't mean, according to Martonyi, a two-thirds majority for his party. I know that Hungarian elections are complicated, but not that complicated. Something must be wrong with the gentleman's math. At Johns Hopkins he will also most likely emphasize that Fidesz is a center party while MSZP is as extreme on the left as Jobbik is on the right. He will put the blame for the growth of the far-right on the socialist-liberal coalition. He will most likely minimize the danger of Jobbik to Fidesz. And altogether he will paint a most optimistic picture of Hungary's future under Viktor Orbán. "There will be a great turning point in the middle of next year in Hungary." Even though predictions for global economic growth in 2010 are getting rosier, it is hard to imagine any great economic turning point in Hungary by the middle of next year.


  1. Dear Eva,
    As Thomas Aquinas said (sorry for quoting clerical reactionaries), Timeo hominem unius libri.
    While reading and paraphrasing the most amusing articles written by the ever vigilant sentinel of Hungarian democracy, Debreczeni Jozsef, is always good for our daily dose of clear and present danger, it might be prudent to read some other excellent articles written on the subject that shed light to many of your questions, such as this one:
    It might add a bit more opinions and color to this “spectrum” of Hungarian politics.

  2. The Columbian: “it might be prudent to read some other excellent articles written on the subject that shed light to many of your questions, such as this one:
    Well, let’s see one of these excellent articles. I took your advice and read the article in According to this article “Fidesz didn’t claim that Orbán talked with Putin for hours on end.” Antagonistic journalists “only quoted two sentences by Orbán (and these could be uttered in the men’s room and it seems that this is more or less where it happened.)”
    Well, let’s see what Orbán said not in the men’s room but in MTV’s “Ma Reggel.” The quotation is from the official transcript of the conversation between Orbán and János Betlen, the journalist. When Betlen asked about the duration of the meeting Orbán first answered rather vaguely: “It was long and thorough.” Betlen wasn’t satisfied and asked: “More than half an hour?” Answer: “More, yes. More than that, of course.” Question: “More than an hour?” Answer: Well, perhaps not that long.”
    Surely the excellent author of your excellent article is not too well informed. Try another one.

  3. With apologies to orczi báró Orczy Emma (aka Baroness Emma Orczy) and superb her tale the Scarlet Pimpernel.
    “They see him here,
    They see him there,
    They see Orban Victor every where,
    In Beijing, Washington and Moscow,
    Where the heck will next he go?”
    Orban’s globe trotting is entirely for publicity and designed to establish him, in the eyes of the Hungarian electorate, as ‘a player on the world stage’! This is done to inflate his over bloated ego and make Hungary seem far more important in the world (in Hungarian eyes) than it really is.
    Professor you say that during his last premiership * ”he managed to alienate practically everybody: the neighbours, the European Union, the United States, Russia, and China”.
    When you have problems, or perceived problems, at home, then one way of diverting attention from them, is to start a quarrel with one or more of your neighbours. If you wish to seem strong at home there is nothing like rattling a sabre or two.
    In this Fidesz can stir up the ‘Auslander Hungarian’ question sending his new gendarmerie or “csendőrseg” to the required frontiers to check out all foreigners entering Hungary across that frontier, detaining them for days in unpleasant conditions whilst their ‘documents’ are ‘checked’.
    Hungary cannot refuse entry to European Citizens but they can be delayed for quite a few days. The Csendőrseg could demand to see not just a person’s passport but also his ‘National Identity’ papers etc (So much for the Brits who do not have any National Identity papers). This could be done in the name of ‘Homeland Security’.

  4. Dear Eva,
    I must admit, I’m a tad disappointed. While your abstinence from discussing Viktor Orban’s men’s room conversations is quite admirable, it seems you’ve ignored the excellent article’s many many merits.Not to nitpick, but the article was about Orban’s visit to China. Your thorough assessment only mentioned Russia. Perhaps you need reassess the article, thus far you’ve only shown a (I’m sure temporary) lack of basic reading comprehension- an exercise I’m sure you’re quite familiar with otherwise.
    I’m not sure what to make of your “Try another one” comment. Try another one what?
    Another article?
    Why, since you’ve not managed to glean the meaning of the first one?
    Try to debunk your unfortunate insinuations that Orban is a petty liar? (You’d normally have no quarrel from me about that, but at least do your research- then you would not have to insinuate)
    Oh, but I’ve already succeeded in that I believe, just by linking the excellent article.
    But if you’d like another, I’ll be happy to oblige, since you’ve shown yourself to be such a scholar, I’m sure you’ll find this one stimulating too:
    What little sparrows can teach us, defies comprehension.

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