I would like to write briefly about something that is a specifically Hungarian political concept: “nemzetpolitika.” One could translate the word into English easily enough as “national policy,” but that would give rise to misunderstanding. While the English phrase “national policy” means “a broad course of action adopted by a government in pursuit of its objectives” in general, the Hungarian “national policy” means something entirely different. In the Hungarian context it means the government’s attitude toward and subsequent policies directed at Hungarian nationals living abroad, especially in the surrounding countries, areas that belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary before 1920.
I don’t think that it surprises anyone that right- or right-of-center governments are normally much more concerned with issues relating to Hungarian minorities living outside of Hungary. The government formed in 1990 was a coalition of conservative parties whose prime minister in one of his very first official speeches announced that “in spirit he wanted to be the prime minister of fifteen million Hungarians.” And in the constitution adopted in 1989 there was a reference to the Hungarian government’s obligations toward those Hungarians who after 1920 found themselves outside of the new Hungarian borders.
It is perhaps inevitable that Hungarian governments struggle with the policies affecting ethnic Hungarians in the neighboring countries. Throughout the past twenty-two years Hungarian governments have been fairly generous in their support of Hungarian schools, theaters, book publishing, and even political parties in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine. But when conservative governments (1990-1994 and 1998-2002) were in power, relations between Budapest and the Hungarian political parties in the neighboring countries intensified. This was especially the case during the first Orbán administration when the Budapest government wanted to strengthen ties between the Hungarian communities abroad and Fidesz, the party. Viktor Orbán hoped to influence ethnic Hungarians, especially in Romania and Slovakia, to be selective in their support of Hungarian governments. That is, not to support whatever government happened to win the elections in Hungary but only a government led by Fidesz.
The Orbán government was so aggressive in its quest to spread its influence in the neighboring countries that the inevitable happened: strained relations with Bucharest and Bratislava. Yet the Orbán government forged ahead, setting up all sorts of formal institutions. Among them was Magyar Állandó Értekezlet (MÁÉRT, an acronym that means “for today”).
MÁÉRT meets yearly. This year’s meeting held yesterday was their eleventh gathering. The first was held in 2000 during Viktor Orbán’s initial stint as prime minister of Hungary. Representatives of Hungarian political parties, both domestic and in the neighboring countries, get together and hammer out a common program. I might add right here that there were two parties who refused to sign this year’s final document: the Ukrajnai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (Hungarian Democratic Alliance of Ukraine) and MSZP.
Zsolt Semjén, head of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Party (KDNP) and “deputy prime minister” (a position that is alien to Hungarian administrative tradition), is responsible for looking after “national policy.” In this capacity he chairs these meetings. The prime minister is normally on hand to deliver a ringing opening speech full of lofty national ideas.
This time Orbán was fairly specific about Hungary’s role in the Carpathian Basin and brought up Hungary’s resolve to gain an economic foothold in the former territories of Greater Hungary. Earlier I wrote about this so-called Wekerle Plan, which is supposed to provide capital for the expansion of Hungarian businesses in the Transylvanian part of Romania and in Slovakia.
In his speech Orbán talked very critically about “the nationalistic turn of events in Romania” and expressed his sympathy for President Traian Băsescu. He specifically mentioned the forthcoming Romanian elections and didn’t hide his choice of candidates. Despite the fact that Romanian foreign minister Titus Corlatean only a few days ago asked the Hungarians not to get involved in Romanian domestic politics, Viktor Orbán is not a man to stay above the fray.
The Orbán government constantly meddles in the affairs of Hungarian parties in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine. As far as Romania is concerned RMDSZ, the largest Hungarian party, is not favored by Orbán and Fidesz. Instead, some of the Fidesz politicians–for example, László Kövér–supported Jenő Szász (Magyar Polgári Párt / Hungarian Civic Party) while Orbán himself backed László Tőkés, the former Calvinist bishop and now one of the deputy speakers of the European Parliament, who also established a party (Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt / Transylvanian Hungarian People’s Party). Orbán won against Kövér, and the decision was made to remove Szász from the political arena by appointing him to a new organization, most likely created only for Szász. It is called Nemzetstratégia Intézet (Institute of National Strategy). Never mind that it was only in December that the Orbán government set up the Nemzetpolitikai Kutatóintézet (Research Institute of National Policy). A second institute when most likely Hungary doesn’t even need one.
The Orbán government’s divisive politics in Romania only diminish the political clout of the Hungarian minority. Fidesz politicians also made a mess of Hungarian politics in Slovakia. Currently, the largest Hungarian-Slovak party is Most-Híd (meaning bridge in both languages). But Most-Híd didn’t even get an invitation to MÁÉRT because the Hungarian government doesn’t consider Most-Híd a Hungarian party.
Orbán may have been dissatisfied with Romania, but he sang the praises of Robert Fico who “likes straight talk. Hungary also has a government that follows that practice.” Well, we will see how long this honeymoon will last. Knowing Orbán, not for long.