Hungary’s newest strategic partner: Kazakhstan

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s foreign trips are usually announced only a few hours before his actual departure. One understands why U.S. President Obama’s visit to Afganistan was announced only after his arrival, but in other instances his traveling schedule is known well ahead of time. Not so in the case of Orbán. In great secrecy the prime minister’s financial and economic advisers prepare a foreign trade agenda and then suddenly there is the announcement.

This was the case with Orbán’s two-day visit to Kazakhstan. MTI received the news at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, May 2, that the next day the prime minister would be flying to Astana. In case you are not familiar with the name of the Kazakh capital, don’t feel too bad. The city used to be called Akmola and it wasn’t even the country’s capital until 1998. Prior to that date the capital was Almaty or Alma Ata. Yes, that “alma” has something to do with the Hungarian word for apple. I understand that Kazakhstan was most likely the geographical origin of apples.

Kazakhstan’s wealth no longer has much to do with apples. Instead this very large area with only 16 million inhabitants is one of the best endowed countries as far as natural resources are concerned. It is rich in natural gas, oil, chromium, lead, zinc, manganese, copper, iron, and gold. Due to high crude oil prices, Kazakh GDP growth figures are impressive. Between 2000 and 2008 the average yearly figure was 10.1%. Per capita GDP is still relatively low, $13,000, but Kazakhstan has made great strides since independence in 1991.

Kazakhstan is not exactly a democracy. It is listed by the Democracy Index as an authoritarian state, alongside such countries as Belarus, China, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Syria. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a left-over from Soviet times, is normally reelected with over 90% of the votes and with almost 90% of registered voters participating. Currently there is only one opposition member in the Kazakh parliament. In addition to Nazarbayev’s party there is a second party that was founded by his daughter. So, it is a family affair. Elections normally are rigged, and members of the opposition media are beaten, sent to jail, or forced to emigrate. There are daily reports of violations of human rights in Kazakhstan. A long list of such cases was compiled by Zsófia Mihancsik on Galamus.

But back to the secrecy which surrounds these trips. MTI, for example, learned from Gazeta.kz, a Russian-language Kazakh site, that Orbán’s trip also includes “the third session of the Hungarian-Kazakh inter-government committee and a business forum with the participation of businessmen from both countries.” Clearly, this trip has been on the front burner for a while. I might also add that the initiative seems to come from the very large office of the prime minister while the foreign ministry is taking a back seat. For example, it was Mihály Varga, former minister of finance and currently the head of the prime minister’s office, who talked to journalists about Kazakh-Hungarian relations. He emphasized the importance of Kazakhstan and noted that in the last seven years the size of its GDP had quadrupled. He specifically mentioned trade and mutual investments in agriculture and industry, especially in projects connected to gas and oil production.

Viktor Orbán, shortly after his arrival, talked about the importance of Hungary’s “opening to the East,” which is supposed to be his answer to “the changes of global world economics.” He gushed over the fantastic development Kazakhstan has managed to achieve in the last twenty years. According to him “Kazakhstan is living proof that there is no such thing as a world economic crisis. There are parts of the world where there is a crisis and others where there isn’t. We come from a part of the world where there is and have arrived in a part where there isn’t.”

Orbán also played on the alleged Kazakh-Hungarian ethnic relationship. He came to Kazakhstan not only as the prime minister of Hungary to the prime minister of Kazakhstan but “as a western brother to an eastern brother.” As for the Hungarian right’s fascination with Central Asian relatives of Hungarians, you can read quite a few posts on Hungarian Spectrum on that subject

On a more practical level Orbán would like to set up Kazakh-Hungarian joint companies and have funds in place to ensure these companies’ business activities. Orbán said that MOL, which at the moment has a small role to play in Kazakhstan, should be given greater opportunity for expansion.

On the second day of his stay Orbán had the opportunity to meet the great Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of the country for the last twenty odd years. The two must have hit it off well. Originally, the meeting was supposed to last half an hour, but in the end the two men talked for more than an hour. Nazarbayev assured Orbán of his support and, in return, Orbán told the Kazakh president that Hungarians “pay great attention to historical and cultural ties that unite our peoples. I admire the capital of Kazakhstan. This city is a symbol of humanity’s new phase of development. At a time when much of the world stays in a crisis, your country continues to move forward.” What Orbán neglected to mention was that without all the oil and gas Kazakhstan’s horsemen would be still wandering around the arid landscape.

Astana cityscape

The Hungarian opposition media seem to be leery of Orbán’s “opening” toward authoritarian regimes. Népszava’s headline accompanying the article on the Kazakh visit read: “Partner or example?” No question, Nazarbayev is a dictator with practically unlimited powers. But he is also a promoter of private enterprise. The reforms he introduced aimed at limiting the size of government and state ownership. Orbán nationalized private pension funds while in Kazakhstan 16 pension funds exist, all in private hands. In Kazakhstan the banking system is developing rapidly. Several major foreign banks have branches in the country and the Kazakhs don’t tax the banks to the point that they are unable to lend. They don’t nationalize banks either. Orbán is doing everything possible to make the foreign banks bleed out financially and has begun an ambitious nationalization project of some small banks. If he goes on like this, banking will soon be a state monopoly in Hungary.

Orbán may envy Nazarbayev’s enormous political power, much greater than his own, but he doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that the Kazakh president’s policies that helped to create a booming economy have nothing in common with his own ideas of state capitalism.

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32 comments

  1. London Calling!
    Oh! That Kazakhstan?
    “Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,”
    That Kazakhstan?
    Orban is so similar to Borat! – just a ‘t’ in it!
    Orban seems to be ‘collecting’ totalitarian states.
    There are some strangely apposite parallels between them.
    So funny – if it wasn’t so pathetically serious.
    Regards
    Charlie

  2. “Hungarians allegedly come from Kazahstan”
    Hungarians came from New Jersey. There are still many of them there.

  3. This blog has been curiously silent about the Gyurcsány plagiary accusations. It does seem improbably that he would have submitted an identical document, with the same name, at the same university, within four years of the alleged original being written. But Gyurcsány’s denials have been profoundly unconvincing.

  4. OT @Kingfisher, yup, he’d have to have really ballsie to do that
    I’m a bit confused. It seems to me that MOL would want to continue building the second gas pipeline in light of this new found friendship. Yet the reports are they are pulling out of the project though no official word has been sent to the EU. At this point the EU could very easily route around Hungary.

  5. Kingfisher: “This blog has been curiously silent about the Gyurcsány plagiary accusations.”
    A few days ago I explained that I don’t want to be one of those people who make pronouncements without having the texts to compare.
    Of course, it is possible that the Gyurcsány manuscript will never emerge and in that case only the accusation and the suspicion will remain.

  6. @Kingfisher
    Forgive me for my ignorance, but has there been any development in the Gyurcsány diploma case? The only thing I’ve read is what’s on HVG.hu and one interview on ATV – Straight Talk.
    It really would be nice to have this come to light either way. If it’s the case that he plagiarised maybe it’s time for the DK party to reconsider direction.

  7. To those desperate anti-Gyurcsany righties. The way it works is this When you want to attack a politician *you* have to do the work not the other side. Do you remember the HVG whining about the extra-right papers not attacking Schmitt? Stop bugging professor Balogh for not writing about Gyurcsany. it is *your* job.

  8. @ Kingfisher, I am looking and looking, and I come up with nothing. Can you kindly direct us to some factual material on the President’s (sorry the ex-prime minister, current small party leader) plagiarism?
    An other question: WHat will happen if we find out that he cheated? WHat do you want to happen? Please let us know what do you expect to happen if we find out that our previous Prime Minster is cheated? If he did cheat, I expect that he will not be rewarded to become an Ambassador in a country any time soon or to be put in the position of President for our country. I hope that no-one will compare him to Jesus Christ, and no-one in the Parliament will clap in respect for him. I hope that the speaker of the house will not tell those who are not willing to lie down for the crap he has to say while he resigns, that they do not belong to the parliament. I also hope that in the whole process democracy will remain intact and if he wishes to run for an elected position he will be allowed to do so, as after all it is the people who have the right to decide if they want him elected for anything, but he will not be given a reward from taxpayers money.
    And now, why don’t we get back to the real issues that can truly make a difference in Hungary, example the land lease fiasco, the
    independence of the judiciary, Orban’s admiration for countries with questionable human rights issues. Oh KINGFISHER, if you are still here, do you think Nazarbayev’s diploma is authentic?

  9. I don’t know whether Gyurcsány plagiarised or not. And it is clearly is not the same as the Schmitt affair. But in my view, the way Gyurcsány has handled it has been so bad, and creates the impression that he IS guilty, that it is doing untold damage to the opposition. Which is why I think it is a rather more important topic of discussion than some others. Even Magyar Narancs and journalists like Mong Attila (HVG/Átlátszó) are refusing to defend Gyurcsány in this matter.
    One of the curious balancing acts this blog attempts to pull off is to devote most of its efforts lambasting Fidesz for its corruption and ideological bankruptcy (views I agree with), while regarding Gyurcsány as somehow the axiomatic good guy.

  10. Gyurcsany can be guilty. Probably, he copied the paper.
    He is an idiot if stole the paper, and denies the facts.
    He can return his diploma, and his wealth and become a trapist munk.
    He is still not the idiot Schmitt. He is a smart and clever person. Genuinely pleasant.
    I like him, and have a new job for him.
    Unpaid roaming educator in liberalism.

  11. I agree: Gyurcsany has mis-handled the affair. All he needed to say–if it was true–was that he didn’t plagiarize and that will become clear as soon as both works are produced. That’s it. Anything else was complicating the issue.
    But let’s face it, a good many of the degrees in ex-communist countries are just paid for. It’s not even clear who is at fault: I imagine that hungry professors insisted on getting paid to accept doctoral works. It’s a non issue, really. If one was to examine the degrees of someone like Kovacs, I’m sure you’d find a lot less than meets the eye in his doctoral thesis given at that famous centre of football and swimming–Debrecen. Ahhh, the virtues of being a Fideszer!
    What is vile about the Gyurcsany accusation is its childish nature–plainly a revenge attack for the ‘crucifixion’ of Schmitt Pal. The right wing is really like angry 12 year olds without a parent or a guardian in sight. God help us all.

  12. Petofi: “What is vile about the Gyurcsany accusation is its childish nature–plainly a revenge attack for the ‘crucifixion’ of Schmitt Pal.”
    At least they could have come up with some other than a plagiarism case.

  13. @Eva
    They’ve tried and failed, regardless of the ‘new’ Fidesz malleable approach to Law. But I suppose, in a Blikk-reading culture that rarely goes past the headlines, accusations is 8 points of the reality…
    I’m afraid I wasn’t convinced by Gyurcsany–he seemed to lack the requisite amount of righteous indignation when Olga put the question to him. He’s made up for that recently, though.
    I don’t know…I can’t quite get used to living in a world ruled by thieves, morons (I split the credit between Szijarto and Kerenyi) and 12 years olds (Kover) who don’t know any better.

  14. Petofi: “. I’m afraid I wasn’t convinced by Gyurcsany–he seemed to lack the requisite amount of righteous indignation when Olga put the question to him.”
    Honest, I don’t know what to believe anymore. Lying about it contains real dangers. What about if the paper surfaces and the accusation was not baseless. That would be truly terrible for him.

  15. So far what we know about Gyurcsany is that his disertation had the same exact title as his (then) brother-in-law’s, submitted four years earlier Enough to raise an eyebrow, not enough for righteous indignation, calling for resignation from Parlament Let’s hope his paper shows up soon and the case is settled.
    One thing is sure in my mind: if GyF withdraws from active politics, Orban will surely miss him as a reliable vote getter for Orban.

  16. Stop Press:
    Hungarian fascist philanderer kicked out by voters!
    Unfortunately it was only Sarkozy.

  17. The question I am not seeing and why The Felcsutian or the Felcsutian Maradonna is going to Kazaghstan has something to do with potential interest of Hungary or has it.
    I believe that F or FM is now on the payroll or either China or MAV. He is in Kazaghstan to paved the High speed train rail path for China. And I assume he hopes that this line will go through Zahony.
    http://www.railwaypro.com/wp/?p=3489
    See below link relating to news in 2011.
    http://www.bearingo.com/news01/news149.htm
    It make sense an 1 billion loan to MAV. I am interested to know the conditions re. repayment, interest, control, etc? Anybody?

  18. Ron, a high speed railway bed, tracks, power and rolling stock is an extremely expensive investment; before a line from Kazakhstan arrives in Hungary, it would have to go through huge streches of Russia and the Ukraine, much of which have inferior existing infrastructure to Hungary. A passenger service will never be profitable and a freight service could only be profitable if it could compete with an alternative mixed rail and sea route. I don’t believe that is possible, but would be delighted to see a serious calculation to the contrary. Finally, do you seriously think such a project could be handled by MAV without serious ownership concessions to an outside investor, presubmably Chinese? Remember that MAV’s major asset is neither its rolling stock nor existing tracks but its land holdings. If there is any truth to this scheme, it would be mighty ironic if the current government, which is so concerned about other European buying up land, might be in the business of giving a big chunk of land to Chinese investors!

  19. @ Ron: “Karakh potential interest…”
    There is none. Little Victor, to look like a significant ‘leader’ has to appear somewhere! He’s a pariah in all of Europe (well, not in Albania, ok). But he can’t get any press in Europe only when tweaking Barrosso’s nose, or handing out ‘cookies’. So, I see a lot of pique from the little Felcsutian here, running about countries that have zero interest in Hungary; and further humiliating the Hungarian populace by talking about ‘strategic interests’ with China. Who believes this shit?
    Anyway, the Fideszer ‘blindness’ can be further tested in watching Orban’s rapprochement with fantasyland at the expense of connecting to Europe and the EU. Staggering how dumb the average Hungarian can be! But, I guess, in Planet Hungary, it’s not the quality of your thinking but the length of your mustache that counts.

  20. Paul: “Hungarian fascist philanderer kicked out by voters!
    Unfortunately it was only Sarkozy.”
    First of all calling Sarkozy a fascist is an exaggeration (in my opinion).
    Second, when I last checked, he was French.

  21. Paul: “Hungarian fascist philanderer kicked out by voters!”
    Strange comment. Certainly he was punished for being of Hungarian descent by the world-wide anti-Hungarian conspiracy. So let’s hope that OV with his newly found Chinese brothers will take revenge.

  22. He is of Hungarian descent, has a Hungarian name, and is a philanderer – i.e. the same as OV.
    OK, I exaggerated the ‘fascist’ bit for effect, but only a little.
    I honestly didn’t think it was THAT obtuse!

  23. Interesting link from Ron re railway development in and around Hungary. I’d never heard of RailwayPro (the magazine whose website this links to) but, the more I looked into it, the more I thought it should be retitled RailwayFantasy.
    The idea that Hungary is, or could be, some sort of trans-European railway hub could only be proposed by someone who knows absolutely nothing about Hungary or railways, but merely noticed that on the map Hungary is in ‘central’ Europe.
    What use has Western Europe for a trans-Hungarian railway link? Anywhere in the west is already (or soon will be) linked to almost anywhere else in the west by modern, fast lines, often by several, so why go through Hungary?
    To get to Romania or Serbia? Maybe. But that’s hardly high on anyone’s priority list of rail infrastructure projects.
    To get to Russia? Why on earth detour through Hungary, when there are so many more direct routes available?
    And anyone who thinks direct rail links from Russia/Ukraine to Europe are easy obviously doesn’t know that the rail gauges are not only different, but are also very inconveniently different. Western Europe uses standard gauge – 1435mm – whilst Russia and ex-USSR countries use a 1520mm ‘broad’ gauge. Where different gauges meet (e.g at borders), transhipment between different gauge trains adds considerably to the delay and cost of rail travel, so the way round this is to build dual-gauge lines that both trains can use – usually with three rails. But the Russian and European gauges are so close as to make this very difficult. The gap between the second and third rails would only be 8.5cm, which, in practice, means there would be no gap, as the rails are wider than this.
    Anyone who doubts this should check out the shared lines at Csap railway station. Stepped rails are used, with the Hungarian trains running on the lower step and the Ukrainian trains on the higher step. This is a neat solution, but can only work on short sections of track, using this approach for a full railway line would be ridiculously expensive, very difficult to operate and impossible to run at high speed.
    So, the answer is transhipment (e.g. wagon bodies or containers swapped from one set of bogies or waggon to the other), or to build lines of the other country’s gauge across your territory. The first option is expensive and slow, but still far cheaper than building an entirely new line, only usable by ‘foreign’ trains. But the second option does make sense where very specific needs make it worthwhile – for instance with the proposed extension of the broad gauge mineral line that crosses from Ukraine into Slovakia and currently terminates in Kassa) across southern Slovakia and on to Vienna. This is intended to ease the shipment of Russian/Ukrainian mineral traffic across Slovakia, but it will also open up a general rail corridor from Western Europe into Russia, making freight traffic between Russia and the west much quicker and cheaper.
    Such a line will be very expensive to build because of the mountainous nature of the land it has to pass through, so a much cheaper route would have been to pass into Hungary at Csap/Zahony, and run across the northern Hungarian plain and then up through the Duna corridor to Vienna – a route that is practically flat all the way. But note that this option appears never to have been considered.
    So much for Hungary being the railway hub of Europe.

  24. Paul I am not an expert on railways, but from what I know you are right. However, my understanding is that there are three main hubs from Russia into Europe. One in Poland, one in Slovakia and one in at Zahony.
    Currently, the Polish one is the absolute winner as to the Hub to Germany (mainly to Frankfurt), and Slovakia has the second one. The third is in Zahony and for years the Hungarians try to elevate this to a major Hub first via Russia and later via Beijing.
    As to the worldmap railways this make sense.
    http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-maps/major-rail-network-map.html
    In 2015 the first part Almaty and Beijing will be finished. Than the question will be will it go to Moscow or Kiev. For Hungary Kiev will be the best option.
    As to money China seems to be in the best situation to finance this.

  25. London Calling!
    Kirsten!
    “Certainly he was punished for being of Hungarian descent by the world-wide anti-Hungarian conspiracy.”
    Are you serious?
    I always find your posts very thoughtful and penetrating – but this comment hit me from left field! Several or your posts have pulled me up sharply in your gentle and humanitarian comments – but this takes the biscuit!
    Sarkozy lost the election because he was a buffoon – Any President of the Republic who deaclares that “The President has balls – and he certainly used them all weekend” after his marriage to Carla Bruni. His dallying with bling – diamond studded Rolex’s and his laughable standing on tip-toe when being photographed made him the laughing stock of Europe.
    Then of course there were his electoral promises that he never delivered on – and his lap-dog ‘power’ games with Merkal.
    The fact that he was of Hungarian descent – hardly known in my experience by ANYBODY I know – including Francophiles – could not possibly have been a factor of any significance. (Yes we are all that ignorant!)
    What, to me, your comment betrays is you have a real chip on your shoulder! There is NO “world-wide anti-Hungarian conspiracy”. Where is your evidence?
    The only ‘Conspiracy’ is one of serendipity – a communal and instinctive – and intelligent – analysis that what Orban is doing to your country is wrong wrong wrong. Yes it is widely held – but we are not conspirators who have planned a ‘movement’ to diss Hungary. Orban is doing it all on his own!
    Yes – I am telling you off. You are implying that Orban has justification in his attitudes.
    And yes – Orban is running Sarkozy a close second in buffoonary!
    Tell me I’m wrong?
    Regards
    Charlie

  26. London Calling! (2)
    And Kirsten – I forgot to mention the usual B.O.F – (The Bleedin’ Obvious Fact)
    Only the French were allowed to vote in their election!
    (OK Overseas ‘French’ had a vote for the first time courtesy of Sarkozy! – (Very Orbanistic that don’t you think?))
    Regards again
    Charlie

  27. Well, I think both Paul and Kirsten were joking… pretty funny, actually.
    @Charlie: As for evidence on the “world-wide Hungarian conspiracy”… well, too bad Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hirlap are not available in English :-).

  28. Humble-Pie-Eating London Calling!
    Oeuf sur visage!
    Yes really funny An!
    That Kirsten is a vixen! lol!
    I fell for it hook line and sinker!
    Brilliant Kirsten – Brilliant!
    Regards
    Charlie

  29. Charlie, indeed, that could not possibly be meant seriously (thank you, An, for clarifying that). I thought it will be obvious to frequent readers of this blog so I did not mark it as “just a joke”. But I am afraid you are right, it is not entirely impossible to imagine that such comment could be meant seriously. And factually, to my mind also Nicolas Sarkozy has not really shown much interest in the country of his father and I have not read that he could speak Hungarian (even a little). He is French.

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