It was predictable that we would have to return to Azerbaijan. After all, it is still the center of attention in Hungary as well as in Armenian communities all over the world. It is enough to read some of the news items about rather large demonstrations from Los Angeles to Moscow to realize that this problem is not going to go away as quickly and quietly as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán hoped.
Today I am going to write something light-hearted about this deadly serious business. The first topic will be futsal. Yes, futsal. In case you have never heard of futsal, it is a variant of soccer that is played on a smaller pitch and mainly indoors. The game is played on a hard surface with a smaller ball with less bounce than a regular football.
Hungary is not exactly a giant in futsal. I couldn’t find Hungary in the top twenty-five national teams. As of now, Spain heads the list with Brazil, Italy, and Russia following. The best team in Azerbaijan is Araz Naxçivan, which apparently is pretty competitive on the international scene. In 2010 the team reached the semi-finals in the Union of European Football Association’s Futsal Cup, and they repeated that performance at the UEFA European Futsal Championship that was held in Hungary.
It was Zsófia Mihancsik’s article on Galamus entitled “Két kérdés Safarov-ügyben” (Two questions about the Safarov affair) that piqued my interest. She noticed a small MTI item on August 17 to the effect that Ottó Vincze, a well known soccer player, had joined “the office of the prime minister’s futsal team, the Dunakeszi Kinizsi.” Dunakeszi Kinizsi last year received a silver medal in the second string of the National Championship competitions (NB II). MTI added that “the players mostly come from the ranks of the employees of the prime minister’s office … including Péter Szijjártó, undersecretary in charge of foreign affairs and foreign trade.”
A few hours later János Lázár, the new head of the prime minister’s office, announced that “there isn’t, never was, and never will be any kind of football team of the prime minister’s office.” There had to be some kind of misunderstanding here. It is true that many people working for the prime minister participate in sports and that is a good thing, but the prime minister’s office doesn’t give its name or taxpayer money to in-house sports clubs.
Meanwhile Dunakeszi Kinizsi was preparing for the big game with “one of the best futsal teams.” It was a truly special occasion because the match also celebrated the opening of the refurbished sports arena of Dunakeszi Kinizsi in the Miklós Radnóti Gymnasium. Szijjártó’s club made it clear to MTI that this team from Azerbaijan is really tops. The spokesman for the club added that the Dunakeszi Kinizsi lately has also become a serious opponent because some strong players joined the team. The friendly meet, it was announced, will take place on September 10. MTI reported the event under the headline: “The Dunakeszi sports arena will be opened with one of the best futsal teams of Europe.”
Then came the release of Ramil Sarafov on August 31. On September 3 several newspapers reported that the game was still on. But on September 5 we learned from the manager of the futsal club of Dunakeszi Kinizsi that “the club doesn’t want to give anyone an opportunity to use a sports event as a provocation.” The match was cancelled. So Péter Szijjártó, the chief negotiator of the Azeri deal, won’t have an opportunity to show off his I’m sure inimitable skill against Azerbaijan’s best futsal club.
Another story that caught my imagination focused on the Hungarian Foreign Ministry’s Institute of Foreign Affairs (Magyar Külügyi Intézet). The historians and political scientists working for this institute have two main tasks: (1) to prepare background information for the use of the diplomats working for the ministry and (2) to give advice to the government in case of a diplomatic blunder.
Well, you can imagine what happened within twenty-four hours after the news reached Hungary that Ramil Sarafov had received a hero’s welcome upon his arrival in Azerbaijan. The experts at the institute immediately sat down and wrote their recommendations. After they summarized the events and the suspicion abroad that the Hungarian government had exchanged a murderer for 2-3 billion euros, they came out with “sound” advice. Azerbaijan is more important to Hungary than vice versa and therefore the Hungarian government shouldn’t claim that the Azeri president had conned the Hungarian prime minister. Instead, one ought to play dumb.
If you think that I’m exaggerating, I’m not. The chapter that discusses this strategy is entitled “Let’s dare to be stupid!” (Merjünk buták lenni!) The suggestion was to take all the blame. The author/authors of the document suggested that Hungarian diplomats rely on sentences such as: “We believed that the promise coming from the Azeri ministry was sufficient and we didn’t count on the presidential pardon.” The Hungarians were told that they would even have to bear the odium of being considered incompetent: “Azerbaijan is far … there is no true expertise of that region in Hungary…. We had no knowledge of the Azeri legal system.”
Further suggestions included the use of official silence in the first couple of days as proof that the Hungarians were totally unprepared for such a development. At the same time, they wrote, the Hungarians must emphasize that as far as international law is concerned Budapest acted legally. Such a strategy, according to the authors, gives Hungary a way out in the international community while “it doesn’t endanger the Hungarian goals in Azerbaijan.” Through unofficial channels Hungarian diplomats could tell their foreign colleagues that Baku didn’t keep its promise. Such a strategy will work with the Armenians and the Americans. (I guess, because they are naive babes-in-arms.)
The document coming from the Hungarian Institute of Foreign Affairs naturally “wasn’t for the public,” but by September 6 it was in the hands of the editors of Népszabadság. It was leaked, just as the July letter of the IMF/EU delegation and the letter of the European Commission sent to Budapest on August 31 had been. These leaks indicate to me that some of the people working for the Hungarian government came to the conclusion that they cannot support Viktor Orbán’s hazardous games and therefore they are willing to assist the Hungarian opposition by making secret documents that in one way or another reflect badly on the government public.