Orbán on Hungarian foreign policy

Today is one of those days when I could have picked three or four equally interesting topics and reluctantly I had to settle on only one: the yearly gathering of the Hungarian ambassadors. The event, lasting a whole day, is normally attended by the prime minister and the foreign minister who give speeches outlining the direction of Hungarian foreign policy. A meeting of this sort a few months after a government takes office is much more important than at other times. Especially since this government is promising an entirely new foreign policy.

Of course, the most important speech was that of Viktor Orbán and I must say I found his messsage somewhat frightening. It is bad enough that Orbán in his intoxication with his electoral victory tells the Hungarian people that 2010 is "an exceptional year for Hungarians … because they regained their self-determination." But when on the basis of this obvious fallacy he says that because of this "radical change in power relations" Hungarian diplomacy has "new opportunities" one gets a bit worried. I for one don't see the connection between the two. A country's interests don't change with every change of government, and the geopolitical position of a country will not change because there is a new prime minister.

One can certainly shift emphasis in the conduct of a country's foreign policy, but one cannot radically change its course. For example, the fact that Hungary belongs to the European Union or that Hungary's neighbors for historical reasons are suspicious of Budapest are givens. That Hungary belongs to NATO is another given. Therefore, talk of a radical change in Hungarian foreign policy is, I assume, largely empty rhetoric. Of course, if Orbán and János Martonyi, the foreign minister, are planning to go through with truly radical change the results might be regrettable. Just as they were by the end of the first Orbán government in 2002.

How does Orbán see the world? In a peculiar way. According to him "the economic crisis is the result of the formation of a new world order and therefore the [Hungarian] government's goal is not to handle the crisis because in [their] opinion the world by the time the crisis ends will not be the same as before. Therefore the government's pursuit is economic growth, the growth of the GDP and of employment." By definition the world will not be the same tomorrow, next week, or next year as it is today. But that does not mean that one can ignore present reality and hitch one's wagon to an unknown and unknowable future.

What kind of Hungarian foreign policy would Viktor Orbán like to see in this new world order? Hungary needs "a much more courageous, much more aggressive foreign policy; we have to take the initiative more." I'm especially worried about the "more aggressive" (támadóbb jellegű) foreign policy. Aggressiveness is usually met with aggressiveness on the other side and such a foreign policy might result in isolation. Something like what happened between 1998 and 2002 when Viktor Orbán was considered to be "a pariah in western capitals," to quote The Washington Post's editorial of a couple of months ago.

What does Viktor Orbán consider a "courageous foreign policy" to be? The best example he found was breaking off negotiations with the IMF. He repeated that the IMF loan was necessary to save the country economically in the fall of 2008, but the agreement with the IMF was simply a loan contract and not  "economic cooperation" (gazdaságpolitikai együttműködés).  "Such economic cooperation must be concluded with the European Union."

There is only one problem with the economic policy Orbán outlined: it is unlikely that the European Union's attitude toward the Hungarian deficit will be any more lenient than the IMF's was. Most analysts actually claim that negotiations with the European Union will be a great deal more difficult than they would have been with the IMF. Only yesterday an interview with Ollie Rehn, the European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, appeared in which he made it crystal clear that Hungary "can't afford" to delay efforts to narrow its budget deficit. "In a period when the rest of EU-member countries are on the road of fiscal consolidation, Hungary can't afford to deviate from this path." That doesn't sound too promising for what Orbán has in mind.

In comparison to Orbán's speech János Martonyi was the embodiment of sanity, but if one has followed the affairs of the region of late one must conclude that the Hungarian foreign minister greatly exaggerates on several points. For example, he claims that cooperation among the Visegrád countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary) is so close and intimate that "some people within the Union are worried about the creation of a bloc and therefore they consider its existence a risk [to the Union]." Well, I doubt that too many people would consider Slovak-Hungarian relations intimate. Lately there even seem to be serious strains in the relations between the Budapest government and the representatives of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.

Martonyi further emphasized the excellent relations between Hungary and Romania and how important it is for Hungary that Croatia will soon be a member of the Union. "Yet, when it comes to [Hungary's] Central European foreign policy one must always take into consideration the 'national dimension' (nemzetpolitikai dimenzió)." In plain language the question of the Hungarian minorities takes priority in all questions when it comes to relations with the neighboring countries. And that doesn't sound too promising.


  1. You write:
    “In plain language the question of the Hungarian minorities takes priority in all questions when it comes to relations with the neighboring countries. And that doesn’t sound too promising.”
    Say, how do you imagine Hungarian foreign policy if national minorities having priority makes you worry? It is even laid down in the Constitution.
    Views like tell a lot about you and your companions: total and complete ignorance of what we mean under “national dimension”.

  2. Yes indeed, Pásztor Szilárd is right. This article by Eva Balogh says a great deal about the author. I would say that being concerned about the Hungarian minorities, so criminally neglected in the past, should be a legitimate part of the Orbán government’s foreign policy. The Slovaks have been very aggressive in the past even when no one challenged any of their policies. Eva should read the Canadian magazine MacLean’s excellent article about the way the Slovak government handled the Hedvig case. HIgh time that something should be done to defend the rights of minorities.

  3. To the above commenters on “In plain language the question of the Hungarian minorities takes priority in all questions when it comes to relations with the neighboring countries.”
    If only it were done intelligently… they (FIDESZ) don’t care to treat those Hungarian minorities as partners when forming Hungarian foreign policy with neighboring countries. Or at least ask their opinion. This government just uses the issue of Hungarian minorities for their own political purposes.
    Anybody who believes that the Orban government is genuinely representing the best interest of Hungarians (within and/or outside Hungary) and not only Orban’s power ambitions above all else is a fool. Sorry.
    Too bad that in Hungary the conservative ideology was hijacked by Fidesz and its current leadership. Would wish to see a more genuine and democratic conservative party in Hungary.

  4. An: your statements could seem very logic, it’s a pity that reality defies them all.
    See for yourself who the leaders of Hungarian minority consider their allies. See who visit the MÁÉRT (Persistent Hungarian Negotiations) from inside and outside Hungary. Look up who established regular negotiations between Hungarians in minority and Hungary. It’s all Orbán and his party.
    This site, the author, and the whole group she’s linked with, represent severe hatred towards everything that is related positively to Hungary and Hungarians while praising the former prime minister who had the lead in instigating Hungarian citizens against Hungarian minorities outside the borders prior to the voting on 4th of December, 2004.
    And the vast majority of voters got fed up with this this spring, fortunately.

  5. Szilárd – I’m interested to know what you see as the positives and negatives in Hungarian society and wider Hungarian minority policies at the moment? Not a trick question – I’m genuinely interested in your views.

  6. As an ‘outsider’ married into a deeply Fidesz family, it seems to me that Orbán and co have pushed this whole Hungarian minorities issue entirely for their own ends – entirely spinning it for the ‘positive’ effect it gives them within Hungary.
    It certainly doesn’t seem to have done much positive for the Hungarian minorities themselves, and quite probably it’s done them a lot of harm.
    And what exactly does the new legislation offer that wasn’t available before? A great many of my wife’s family have come over from the Ukraine in the last 20 years and taken Hungarian citizen ship – with no difficulty (and some of them are still living in the Ukraine!). Many of her childhood friends have likewise taken Hungarian citizenship, again without any difficulty, even though some of them have a Ukrainian mother or father.
    And, talking to Hungarians originating from Hungarian minorities in other countries, I hear much the same stories. Indeed, it has been so easy to get Hungarian citizenship, that many who still live in neighbouring countries have done it just to get better pensions or healthcare, never intending to actually live in Hungary.
    It seems to me that the Hungarian minorities ‘question’ will be resolved in two ways: in the smaller minority areas the Hungarian population will gradually shrink, as youngsters emigrate and the elderly left behind die out, until the number of Hungarians becomes insignificant, or, in the areas of higher concentration, the nationalities will learn to cooperate and live together and gradually the fact that a Slovak or Romanian (or…) citizen is ethnically Hungarian will cease to be of any great importance – to either side.
    The first is inevitable in areas of low concentration of Hungarians, and, since the accession to the EU, the second was beginning to happen – and looked like continuing to make steady, if unspectacular, progress, until Orbán decided to make political capital out of it.
    Looking at it another way, how exactly does Orbán think his stance is going to help the Hungarian minorities? Is raising the profile and taking an aggressive stance going to help them in the least? It is not, even in Orbán’s power to change the borders or invade neighbouring countries. And trying to force other governments to treat the minorities better by public aggression will just have the opposite effect.
    Orbán knows all this, and yet he carries on regardless. For him, the positive effect it has on his power at home is far more important than the difficulties it creates for the minorities themselves. He doesn’t actually care about the minorities at all, he just cares about how he can spin their predicament for the consolidation of his own power base.

  7. John T: in Hungarian society, within the borders of Hungary, I unfortunately see a high degree of individualism, which is and has been primarily fuelled by people like the writer of this blog. The so-called “left-liberals”, who are neither left nor liberals, do everything in their power to atomize the society, turn one Hungarian against the other, and have been doing so for the last ca. 60-70 years. Currently, Hungarians severely lack natural national pride in its positive sense (which I find bad), even though this is of course deeply rooted in them (which I find good).
    To speak about Hungarian minorities living outside of Hungary, it is important to differentiate between natives and non-natives. Besides the usual concept of non-native minorities, we have natives who live in the surrounding countries, as their families always had, it’s just the borders that were changed forcefully to exclude them out of their own homeland. This legal act of citizenship is ought to ease this long-standing pain and is an absolute necessity. It is completely natural and understandable, most countries simply do the same. It’s just that we (Hungarians) who have a destructive, but fortunately shrinking group of people who try to manipulate vulnerable people into suppressing creative national feelings to weaken the society.

  8. John T: sorry for my confusing style, I’m in a hurry…
    On minority policies: latest practice, by the former 8 years’ governments, was to avoid conflict with our neighbours as much as possible, which in our case means totally giving up our basic national interests. With the slogan “in the interest of our own minorities”, to avoid conflict, they simply put all hands up and accepted everything, whatever humiliating an action it has been, while watching emotionless the suffering of our own minorities. Because neighbouring countries, in contrast, have never shown a gentleman’s behavior – they always did everything they could to suppress Hungarians, and, simultaneously, strengthen the positions of their own nation – because they were serving their own national interests.
    Most countries surrounding us (Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia) have governmentally fuelled, severe hatred towards Hungarians, absolutely bizarre things are even laid down in their education plans (like Hungarians eat their own babies (Slovakia), our land has always been ours, Hungarians invaded us and forcefully assimilated our people into thinking they are Hungarians (Romania)), and anti-Hungarian batterings, attacks simply because of language use are very common in these countries. These countries know that they got huge territories with valuable resources and infrastructure for free with the unjust Treaty of Trianon, and they are in constant fear of losing these territories. This, and the huge difference in historical background, is keeping their hatred against Hungary.
    And to reach for the sky everytime a conflict arises is not an option anymore. We have to stand up for ourselves and it’s finally what the new government is doing.

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