Orbán’s Hungary and Lukashenko’s Belarus

On May 15 Péter Szijjártó, undersecretary in charge of foreign policy and foreign economic relations, received three new jobs from Viktor Orbán. He will be the chairman of the Hungarian-Belarussian, Hungarian-Turkman, and Hungarian-Uzbek bilateral economic councils. Following the announcement, Szijjártó’s spokeswoman emphasized that “economic cooperation with the former Soviet member states are the foundation pillars of the government’s strategy of the Eastern Opening and therefore the government will pay special attention to bilateral relations with Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.'”

Uzbekistan is described by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. Department of State as “an authoritarian state with limited civil rights” in which there is “wide-scale violation of virtually all basic human rights.” Turkmenistan’s record is no better. Its government operates as a single party state. The country has been widely criticized for human rights abuses and has imposed severe restrictions on foreign travel for its citizens. According to Reporters Without Borders 2012, Turkmenistan had the second worst press freedom conditions in the world, just behind North Korea. Belarus is described as a dictatorship and has been barred from the Council of Europe since 1997.

So, these countries are the pillars of Viktor Orbán’s “Eastern Opening.” Nice company Hungary is keeping. Clearly, the Orbán government is ready to cooperate with countries with natural resources. Both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have extensive natural gas reserves and phenomenal economic growth. Belarus, on the other hand, seems to be in constant economic crisis; occasionally Putin’s Russia helps the country out with large loans.

Not much appeared in the Hungarian press about Belarus before November 2012 when HVG reported that Alexandr Lukashenko, the country’s president, announced that “the Hungarians seemed to have had enough of democracy and market economy. They sobered up.” He recalled that in the good old Soviet days the two countries were friends, and he expressed his belief that the two countries will strengthen their ties in the near future. “We cannot lose Hungary.”

That exchange between the Belarus president and the new Hungarian ambassador to Minsk made quite a splash in Budapest. Árpád W. Tóta, a commentator known for his verbal virtuosity and keen sense of politics, had a grand time with Lukashenko’s description of Hungary’s undemocratic ways, adding that Hungary is nowhere close to Lukashenko’s Belarus but “we are coming along nicely.” According to András Giró-Szász, government spokesman, Lukashenko “was only joking.”

Interestingly, at the time the Hungarian government was not eager to inform the public of closer Belarussian-Hungarian relations. Hungarian papers learned about the details from the Belarussian Telegraph Agency. For example, already in October 2012 “Minsk was playing host to the third meeting of the intergovernmental Belarussian-Hungarian commission for economic cooperation and the Belarussian-Hungarian business forum.”  The Belarussian Ministry of Sport and Tourism and the Ministry of National Economy of Hungary signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of tourism.  Working groups were set up for the study of cooperation in the fields of agriculture, industry, and tourism, as well as science and technology. In mid-December 2012 Aleksandr Khainovsky, Belarussian ambassador to Budapest, met with Sándor Lezsák, deputy-speaker of the Hungarian parliament and head of the parliamentary friendship group Belarus-Hungary. “The parties discussed the prospects of Belarussian-Hungarian inter-parliamentary relations and agreed on expanding cooperation in these areas…. The sides also specified projects to promote Belarus-Hungary contacts in culture, education and youth exchanges.”

By February 2013 the Hungarian media learned, again through the Belarussian Telegraph Agency, that Belorussian officials carried on negotiations at the time when the Agro Mash Expo 2013 was being held in Budapest about Hungary’s importing more Belarussian agricultural machinery, especially tractors. Already in 2011 Hungary purchased 973 tractors from Belarus for $16.6 million.

It seems the tractors are exported / www.bbc.co.uk

Belarus agriculture: it seems that the tractors are being exported  www.bbc.co.uk

On May 1, 2013, Fidesz’s official website announced that Péter Szijjártó met Alena Kupchina, Belarus deputy foreign minister, in Budapest. They discussed setting up direct flights (Minsk-Budapest-Belgrade) that would “encourage economic and cultural relations between the two countries.” The two agreed that, as of the coming academic year, Hungarian will be taught at the University of Minsk. Further plans call for close cooperation in pharmaceutical research and development.

I was somewhat baffled that the same Alina Kupchina who met Szijjártó on May 1 was again in Budapest on May 6 when she met with two senior officials of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Zsolt Németh and Péter Sztáray. She came specifically for a “foreign policy consultation.” Németh at least brought up Hungarian concerns over the Belarussian human and political rights situation. He asked for the release of political prisoners because “this would assist Belarus’s more active participation in the work of the Eastern Partnership.”

Tomorrow I will continue with the other two “pillars” of Hungary’s Eastern Opening: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

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20 comments

  1. Need I remind anyone that all three–Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan–are proxy states of Papa P?

  2. You are really desperate. Anything absolute anything Orban does MUST BE BAD.
    So, first of all, as we know foreign politics is based on interest.
    Let’s take a look at USA for example.
    The USA government, rightly so as its duty to serve interest of America, has long list of dealings with the Central Asian nations. It is business of interest, and I am sure that after shaking hands with the Uzbek and Turkmen officials the US diplomats wash and disinfect their hand ….. However the fact of the life is that there is a rational interest of USA that must be served.
    It is not difference with Hungary. Hungarians deal with these mafia states because it is their interest.

  3. BeSmart – will you ever recognize the nation ruining demoralizing features in the acts of Orban?

    Is the freedom in Hungary important to you?

    Can you realize the criminal plots of these turncoats, who were loyal young communists once, and ultra-patriots now?

    Or was is just a youthful error?

    Of course, you are right that the USA is dealing with these mafia states equally poorly. The intellectual preparation is not in the vocabulary of the US State Department.

  4. Nothing strange in this, really.
    Finally the Orbán-Szijjártó duo could feel right at home abroad, where nobody will question their manners and methods – must be a great relief after all those strict fork and knife uses…

    (Eva, I guess you may want to add a hundred years to the date in the third row over the photo…)

  5. “Finally the Orbán-Szijjártó duo could feel right at home abroad, where nobody will question their manners and methods”

    Eva! How pathetic you are! Are you suggesting that Hungary is like Uzbekistan?
    You guys become completely irrelevant. You are losers, aging irrelevant losers with clear signs of senility.
    Perhaps you are not aware of it yet, but this kind primitive propaganda is absolutely obsolete in 2013.
    You are not in your comfortable 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s when you could lie anything at any time and there was way to check it. You lost your monopoly!
    Now everyone can check the FACTS in a few minutes.
    You are nothing else than aging leftist dinosaurs are who are increasingly pathetic and becoming less relevant by day.
    You are ideological mummies buried in your pyramids of lies and self-delusions.
    It is time, just for you own wellbeing, that you seek treatment for your Hungarian hating delirium. I
    Everyone who is under 50 is laughing at you! Old, aging senile losers!

  6. Fidesz Fideles

    Eva S. Balogh :
    Well, this last one did it. I took [@besmart] off the list.

    Good to have left a trace, though, so the real world gets a sense of how the Fidesz Faithful think, and what they sound like.

    For not only are most decent Hungarian citizens deprived — by Orban’s stranglehold over the media — of a sense of how Orban’s Hungary looks to the rest of the world, but the rest of the world is kept in the dark about the level of discourse and mentation prevailing in Orban’s Hungary.

    Let us hope that as Orban goes increasingly psycho, the worldwide press will be able to hold a mirror to Hungary’s spell-bound citizenry, reflecting back to them what this man is doing to them and to their sad land, until they final recover their senses and vote the whole gang out — with, let us hope, the opposition supermajority that will be needed to clean up the unparalleled mess Fidesz has made, practically, constitutionally and morally, in such a short space of time.

  7. Eva S. Balogh :
    Well, this last one did it. I took him off the list.

    I disagree, Eva. Surely we can stand a little name calling. He didn’t curse and his English was passable, although his brain-washed state was thorough…

    How sad to know that the Hungarian young lap up the drivel that Orban serves up! Very sad. But I suppose I can now understand the importance that Fidesz attached to naming principals and teachers in high schools–the level of teaching is to be kept low and ‘national’. Poor saps.

  8. @Steve Harnad

    Sorry Steve, but outside of an ‘act of god’, the situation is well nigh hopeless.
    For one thing, lay no hope in MSZP and Mesterhazi.
    For another, when criminal elements get their clutches into the heart of a nation…they don’t surrender (or release) on the basis of some votes. When these ‘elements’ get the upper hand, they fight to the death. Sadly, Democracy is not equipped to fight dirty, or to the death.
    Last time I checked, a loser in a democracy stepped down. I don’t think the Fidesz faithful–choosing to see all opposition as traitors to their beloved land–will comfort themselves into a modest retreat after a losing election. But we’ll see soon enough…

  9. I took offense in the name of all democratically minded people and all of us on this list. Believe me Petőfi his comments would have gotten worse with time. The sad business is that this guy lives in the United States. By now even Fidesz voters are perplexed but the American-Canadian crowd doesn’t seem to notice that there are serious problems with Orbán’s regime.

    I just read somewhere that on Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page comments of three days were completely wiped out by the administrator. Most likely because they were very critical on account of the tobacco scandal. Normally the comments are gushy on that site but something must be changing in the mood of Orbán’s followers.

  10. Thank you for taking him off, Eva.
    His only point was that Orban is defending Hungary’s interests – other than that, he just kept offending us.

    About him living in the US. We don’t know how long he’s been there, but I noticed in England, as well, how long it might take some Hungarians to “get” democracy. For quite a while, it is all about the English being stupid and Hungarians being intellectually superior. It could be a feeling of inferiority and isolation, coming from the same root as besmart’s “Orban is great, he is not letting Westerners humiliate him and Hungarians”.
    Not every Hungarian in Britain, of course! But I have seen it quite a few times.

  11. @cheshire cat. About the question of how long it takes to “get” democracy for a Hungarian who finds himself in foreign lands. I’m trying to think back of my own experience and I don’t think that I can put my finger on the exact date. However, when I first went back to Hungary to visit my parents in 1965 (nine years after I left Rákosi’s Hungary) there was no doubt in my mind that I’m a citizen of a democratic country with all its privileges and responsibilities. The reason I mention that particular date is because of my sharp recognition of that fact after spending three weeks in Hungary. I was relieved when I got on the plane that I could read the Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and the all the other papers KLM carried. I felt free. I felt liberated. However, the real change most likely took place sometime after five years in Canada when I first felt at home.

    Someone who comes to England, Germany, France, Canada, USA, etc. etc. now it shouldn’t take that long. Hungary is no longer a dictatorship and someone who moves abroad today should have some idea what democracy is all about. My suspicion is that this guy has been living in the United States for a long time.

  12. Petofi1 :
    @Steve Harnad
    Sorry Steve, but outside of an ‘act of god’, the situation is well nigh hopeless.
    For one thing, lay no hope in MSZP and Mesterhazi.
    For another, when criminal elements get their clutches into the heart of a nation…they don’t surrender (or release) on the basis of some votes. When these ‘elements’ get the upper hand, they fight to the death. Sadly, Democracy is not equipped to fight dirty, or to the death.
    Last time I checked, a loser in a democracy stepped down. I don’t think the Fidesz faithful–choosing to see all opposition as traitors to their beloved land–will comfort themselves into a modest retreat after a losing election. But we’ll see soon enough…

    Pascal’s Wager and the Arch-Bishop’s Urologist

    Dear Petofi,

    Consider the alternatives:

    1. Either your pessimism is right, it’s hopeless, and Hungary is doomed to a 100-year Viktorian Reich with nothing anyone can do about it, so there’s no point trying…

    or

    2. Your pessimism is mistaken — hence expressing it over and over is either pointless or, worse, risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, discouraging those who thought something could be done about it from even trying.

    Are you familiar with Pascal’s Wager — that given the scriptural possibility of eternal damnation if you don’t live a virtuous life, you’re better off living a virtuous life either way, whether or not the scripture is true.

    Well, it seems to me we are better off if we keep trying to fix the Carpathian Basement, whether or not your hopelessness is justified.

    (That said, Pascal’s Wager was fof course fallacious — and it also calls to mind the old Hungarian joke about the the Cardinal who went to the urologist with some awkward symptoms. The urologist immediately recognized that it was syphilis and asked the Cardinal how he had contracted it: The Cardinal replied, indignantly “What a question! It must have been from a toilet seat, of course!” The urologist, knowing that one cannot contract syphilis from a toilet seat, and determined to make the old sinner ‘fess up, said: “That is all very well, your Eminence, but I would like you to try to recall as clearly as you can how you might have contracted it, because there are two varieties of syphilis, both fatal if untreated, both curable if treated, but the medicine for the one will not cure the other, and the two medicines are incompatible. Only one is for the variety that is contracted from a toilet seat. So which way would you like to be treated?” The Cardinal replies, with supreme dignity, “As I am a Cardinal, I got it from a toilet seat, but I would like you to treat me as if I had gotten it the other way…”)

    Eppur, eppur, there’s no profit in relentless pessimism, whether or not it is groundless….

  13. Eva: I just read somewhere that on Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page comments of three days were completely wiped out by the administrator. Most likely because they were very critical on account of the tobacco scandal. Normally the comments are gushy on that site but something must be changing in the mood of Orbán’s followers.

    For some time now they have a facebook acount Orbán lapjáról kitiltottak társasága.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Orb%C3%A1n-lapj%C3%A1r%C3%B3l-kitiltottak-t%C3%A1rsas%C3%A1ga/265440083472096

  14. besmart :
    “Finally the Orbán-Szijjártó duo could feel right at home abroad, where nobody will question their manners and methods”
    Eva! How pathetic you are! Are you suggesting that Hungary is like Uzbekistan?
    You guys become completely irrelevant. You are losers, aging irrelevant losers with clear signs of senility.
    Perhaps you are not aware of it yet, but this kind primitive propaganda is absolutely obsolete in 2013.
    You are not in your comfortable 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s when you could lie anything at any time and there was way to check it. You lost your monopoly!
    Now everyone can check the FACTS in a few minutes.
    You are nothing else than aging leftist dinosaurs are who are increasingly pathetic and becoming less relevant by day.
    You are ideological mummies buried in your pyramids of lies and self-delusions.
    It is time, just for you own wellbeing, that you seek treatment for your Hungarian hating delirium. I
    Everyone who is under 50 is laughing at you! Old, aging senile losers!

    I know everyone else has already ridiculed you, but I feel that I should answer you directly, for the sake of someone who might read this later.

    Eva is not suggesting that Hungary is exactly like Uzbekistan or the other dictatorships, but she is suggesting that it is being moved in that direction, and Orbán’s words are right there on the web as evidence to support that. Here, she is highlighting evidence that shows concrete steps in that direction. Just because the U.S. is willing to do business with any country, no matter how odious, does not mean that Hungary should stoop to its level.

    You mentioned that Eva has some kind of monopoly, while insinuating that she is lying, and wrote that anyone can check the facts that refute what she writes. You, however, don’t seem to be aware that she offers links to other websites that support what she puts here, and you don’t offer any facts in your comments that contradict what she writes, other than the irrelevant point about U.S. business practices (or are you talking about U.S. government actions? Your statement is vague). From now on, instead of writing insults meant to display your superiority, try convincing us with those facts that you claim to have. Also, try to engage in a dialogue if you disagree, because you might realize that you don’t understand the point Eva is trying to make in a particular post. Anything other than that is just going to reinforce the stereotype of the bullying, uninformed, dictatorial Fidesz supporter, thus hurting your cause among the readers of this blog.

  15. @besmart “Everyone who is under 50 is laughing at you! Old, aging senile losers!”

    I am under 50 and I think you are a moron.

  16. Tapping those emerging or frontier markets seems like a very good tactical move for Hungarian businesses. OTP bank now gets half it’s revenue from Russia. People seem to forget that China, the growth darling of western investors and funder of the US budget deficit, is a one-party dictatorship with no press freedom, chequered human rights and thousands of political prisoners. How is it better than those central Asian countries? Hungarian business has very few opportunities internationally becuase it’s so small and lacks capital. It has to take what opportunities it can.

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