I don’t keep a close tab on the activities of János Martonyi, Hungary’s foreign minister, because he has become truly irrelevant. He didn’t have much to say about foreign affairs even before June 2012 when he became formally subordinate to Péter Szijjártó, a thirty-four-year-old with no diplomatic experience whatsoever. Péter Szijjártó’s fame lies in his total subservience and devotion to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán; he always had a ready answer to any criticism of his boss or his government. The opposition referred to him as the head of the Fidesz parrot commandos.
I don’t know what it must be like to be supervised by someone half your age whom you most likely consider a dolt. I think that it would be a mighty awkward position to be in. Especially when you realize that you simply don’t matter.
One really wonders by now what János Martonyi actually believes in. Does he believe in Euro-Atlantic integration? He talks about it a great deal, yet he remains the foreign minister of a country whose prime minister wages war against the European Union in the name of sovereignty and talks about a “strategic alliance” with communist China.
It was back in March when I first noticed a call for Martonyi’s resignation. Gyula Magasdi, in an opinion piece in Népszava, called upon Martonyi to resign because his position in the government had become indefensible. Naturally, Martonyi didn’t accommodate.
He also didn’t resign during his tenure as foreign minister in the first Orbán government although he had plenty reason to do so even then. At that time it was his undersecretary Zsolt Németh who was running the show, and Németh’s ideas on foreign policy often ran counter to those of Martonyi. Even then he was running around trying to mend fences with the United States and the EU countries. At the end of four years Hungary had strained relations with all her neighbors and the world at large.
But it seems that Martonyi served Viktor Orbán’s purposes well because it was Martonyi whom Orbán mentioned first as an absolutely certain choice for a cabinet post. Even before he took the oath of office he was sent to Slovakia to negotiate on behalf of Hungary.
Martonyi was a successful civil servant during the Kádár regime as well as during the government of József Antall and Péter Boross (1990-1994). After MDF lost the elections and the socialists and liberals formed a government Martonyi joined the international firm of Baker and McKenzie (1994-1998 and 2002-2009). By now the firm in Hungary is called Martonyi and Kajtár Baker & McKenzie. He is a very wealthy man.
More than two years ago, in May 2010, I drew a portrait of János Martonyi. In that post I said something to the effect that Martonyi was a lousy foreign minister. Today the situation is worse. He is no more than a figurehead. The only thing I don’t understand is how it is that his foreign contacts still believe in him. What is in this man that is so reassuring? Perhaps his gentlemanly upbringing and diplomatic experience is a welcome change from the boorish behavior of people like Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, Péter Szijjártó, Gyula Budai, and the rest. But surely this shouldn’t be enough. Yet some people still trust János Martonyi, who seems to be little bothered about his lack of control over foreign policy. He keeps going on with his ridiculous explanations of events that cannot be convincingly explained.
Three days before the release of Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan, on August 28, János Martonyi in an interview on Magyar Rádió announced that “issuing Turkish or Azeri bonds is not an alternative for Hungary…. We need an agreement with the the IMF and the EU.” I suspect that the Foreign Ministry wasn’t even aware of the negotiations with Azerbaijan that were conducted through the Ministry of Administration and Justice. Martonyi himself didn’t say a word about the case until September 5 after he returned from Switzerland, but then as is his wont he immediately defended the government. Although on August 28 he talked about a financial deal with Azerbaijan, by September 5 he tried to convince the world that the release of the Azeri officer “had nothing to do with finances.”
Way before Martonyi said a word about the Safarov affair, however, the opposition was demanding his resignation. The most potent call came from Szabolcs Kerék Bárczy, formerly spokesman for MDF and subordinate of János Martonyi during the first Orbán administration. Kerék Bárczy remembers him as a man of independence and great intelligence with an excellent sense of humor. But why did Martonyi support the “robbery of the private pension funds and the new constitution, why did he support the appointments of ambassadors who are not fit for their posts, and why is he watching in silence the country’s economic and political downfall?” Martonyi should give a signal, perhaps even with his resignation, that something has gone very wrong. Kerék Bárczy simply cannot imagine that without any outside pressure Martonyi can support this regime. What does he have in mind? Perhaps Martonyi’s past as an informer?
It was a powerful piece of writing but it looks as if Kerék Bárczy misjudged János Martonyi. Without any sign of external pressure Martonyi seems to wholeheartedly support Viktor Orbán and his regime. Zsolt Németh proudly announced during an interview on HírTV that during the first Orbán administration they managed to get rid of 90% of the ambassadors and appoint new ones in their places. And Martonyi doesn’t seem to mind being marginalized. The first government official to make public the release of the Azeri murderer was not the foreign minister but Péter Szijjártó.
A sidenote for those who read Hungarian: an excellent summary of the failures of Hungarian diplomacy in the last two years written by Edit Inotai appeared in Népszabadság: “The Twilight of Hungarian Foreign Policy: Scandal after Scandal.”
By now János Martonyi, following in the prime minister’s footsteps, is resorting to outright lying. Because at the informal meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers in Cyprus Martonyi appears to have convinced his fellow foreign ministers that Hungary acted in good faith and that the release of Safarov happened only after Hungary received a guarantee from Azerbaijan. But we know that there was no guarantee. After all, the Ministry of Administration and Justice released the letter which this alleged assurance was given. Martonyi’s colleagues were able to read it but instead they seem to have believed Martonyi. On September 7, referring to the meeting of the foreign ministers, the German Foreign Ministry released the following statement: “The government of Azerbaijan assured the Hungarian side prior to the transfer that the prisoner will serve out the remaining sentence there. The Federal Government does not doubt the statement of the Hungarian government in the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on September 6, 2012, after which it has completed the transfer of the Azerbaijani offender on the basis of written diplomatic assurances.” So, Martonyi either managed to convince the innocents of the European Union or, if they didn’t believe him, the decision was made to spare Hungary.
Just for the record, let’s republish the letter that allegedly contains the guarantee Martonyi was talking about:
Ministry of Public Administration and Justice of Hungary
Your Ref.: 06.08.2012
The Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan presents its compliments to the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice of Hungary and has the honor to inform the following.
As a response to your inquiry about Ramil Sahib Safarov, who is serving his sentence in Hungary, we inform you that the execution of the courts decisions of the foreign states regarding the transfer of sentenced persons to serve the remaining part of their prison sentences in the Republic of Azerbaijan is carried out in accordance with Article 9 paragraph 1 point a) of the European Convention without any conversion and without having to go through any new judicial procedure.
Please be also informed that in accordance with Article 57.3 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan the punishment of a convict who is serving a life sentence could only be replaced by court with an imprisonment for a certain period or he could be released on conditional parole, only after he has served at least twenty five years of his sentence.
The Ministry of Justice of the Azerbaijan avails itself of this opportunity to express the assurance of its highest consideration to the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice of Hungary and thank in advance for cooperation.
Deputy Minister of Justice
Republic of Azerbaijan
János Martonyi should resign not because he had anything to do with Safarov’s release but because of his immoral, unfettered support of the Orbán regime.