Viktor Orbán’s “Eastern Opening”: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan

Yesterday I wrote that Péter Szijjártó, undersecretary in charge of foreign policy and foreign trade, has been working to develop close political and economic partnerships with three former Soviet Republics–Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.  The prime minister’s office, a huge administrative unit with hundreds of politicians and bureaucrats, is not exactly diligent about informing the public of Szijjártó’s doings. In fact, the first bit of news I discovered appeared in a paper dealing with sports.

The president of the International Weightlifting Federation is a Hungarian, Tamás Aján, who is also secretary-general of the Hungarian Olympic Committee and a member of the International Olympic Committee. He was visiting Tashkent on the occasion of the world championship of youth weightlifters that was held in the Uzbek capital. Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, invited Aján for a private audience. After a long talk it became evident that the Uzbek dictator would like an arrangement whereby Uzbek athletes could train in Hungary. One of Karimov’s daughters is especially active in promoting education and sports for youngsters. Hence, I guess, the interest.

 Statue that replaced the memorial to the Soviet soldier: Oath to the Motherland, Tashkent

Statue that replaced the memorial to a Soviet soldier: Oath to the Motherland, Tashkent

As for Karimov himself, he is an outright dictator who wins elections with 90-95% of the votes after he makes sure that no other party can participate in the elections. During the Soviet period he was a party apparatchik who eventually became the party’s first secretary in Uzbekistan in 1989. After Uzbekistan became an independent nation, he won the first presidential election in 1991 and has been in that position ever since.

A month after the weightlifting story Magyar Nemzet described the “Eastern Opening” as a “rumbling”  while ” we flirt with Uzbekistan.”  It turned out that Vladimir Norov, the first deputy foreign minister of Uzbekistan, came to Hungary to confer with Péter Szijjártó. According to Szijjártó’s press secretary, the Hungarian side emphasized that Budapest wants to have “close cooperation with the Middle Eastern countries.”  Hungary will extend a loan to Uzbekistan that would enable Hungarian firms to modernize the lighting of Uzbek cities. In addition, the Hungarian government would financially assist the export of Hungarian medical equipment. There will also be student exchanges and stipends to go with them. And Hungary will supply irrigation systems for the Uzbek agricultural sector.

Uzbekistan is a politically isolated country. At the moment Hungary has no embassy, consulate, or even honorary consul in Tashkent. But I have the feeling that it will not be long before Hungary joins the odd assortment of countries with embassies in Uzbekistan.

There has been even less news on Turkmenistan in the Hungarian media. I found that at the end of March Gulsat Mammedowa, minister of education, was in Budapest and conferred with Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources. The topic was cooperation on higher education. Balog emphasized that Hungary is ready to engage in joint projects in education and in the field of science. They agreed that a bilateral agreement will be signed to that effect.  The Turkmen minister of education also had conversations with Rózsa Hoffmann and István Klinghammer, two of the undersecretaries in charge of education within the ministry of human resources.

The history of Turkmenistan since the early 1990s is very similar to that of Uzbekistan. It is a single party state that was ruled by president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov until his death in 2006. Niyazov was a former bureaucrat of the Soviet communist party who in 1985 became the head of the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR. He retained absolute control over the country even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow followed him in 2007. Although he is also a dictator, he’s made tentative steps toward establishing more contacts with the West. The former communist party is now known as the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan and is the only one effectively permitted to operate. Political gatherings are illegal unless government sanctioned. Hungary has no diplomatic relations in Ashgabat. But, once again, I assume there will be if Orbán is around for another four years.

To give you an idea of the kind of country Turkmenistan is, consider this story. The president is crazy about horses and horsemanship. On May 1 there was a horse show where he himself also rode. In the finish Berdimuhamedow fell off his horse. The television station was forbidden to show his fall and pictures taken on the spot by reporters were confiscated. Even ordinary spectators had to hand over their pictures. Security men came and took him away. For half an hour there was deadly silence in the stadium. There were some who cried. However, forty minutes later, as if nothing had happened, Berdimuhamedow showed up dressed in a national costume. Amid great applause he took the top prize money of $11 million as the winner of the race. (By way of comparison, the owners of the Kentucky Derby winner Orb took home $1.4 million.) I can’t ascertain whether he fell before the horse crossed the finish line or after.

Despite the Turkmen officials’ best efforts, the video ended up on YouTube.


  1. Hungary needs EU funds to fix roads and bridges etc.
    So then, I wonder how the EU rationalizes giving Hungary these funds while the country turns around and doles out money (like popcorn) to the most repressive regimes in Asia…

  2. To be honest I believe VO’s efforts are a waste of time.It seems that Islam Karimov has a major hear attack in January of this year and they are expecting that he will be soon replaced. Furthermore, it seems that he is a hted person as well. As there were two assassinate Karimov.

    As to Turkmenistan, you need to see this in light of Kazakhstan and Iran and oil. Recently, these countries went into some kind of co-operation agreement with each other. Has VO something to do with this?

  3. OT
    It seems we were a bit wrong assuming that Angela Merkel will not be bothered about Orban’s “tank-attack” nonsense in his Friday radio speech.
    The Germans interpreted it as Orban likening Merkel to nazi Germany. The German foreign secretary categorically protested, and the media got quite shocked.

    In Hungarian

    Orban has been pulling the whiskers of the lion, assuming he would get away with it – but the lion now thinks otherwise.

  4. I understand even CDU members of parliament are outraged. MTV’s Hiradó got the message and left out Orbán’s offending words from its subsequent reportings.

  5. Cheshire cat, I still would not overemphasise that. Germans have been confronted with Nazi symbols also from other countries, so I think this reaction has to be seen in context. Out of reasons that I would now only speculate about (and probably they are related to an assessment of the relative importance of Hungary in the European context currently), this reaction is much stronger than that relative to Greece, where Nazi symbols have been waved frequently in the past few years. As if the German politicians “finally” started to defend the average German from such accusations, half a year before the next elections. If OV does not continue, I still believe that this will quickly fade out.

  6. Now that I wrote it, he could of course also be a welcome substitute for all the other countries, relative to which responsible German politicians feel the need to be more cautious :-). So, we will see.

  7. Also why Orbán and his friends in foreign relations (whoever these people are) focus on relatively small dictatorships, instead of potentially huge markets.

    I mean from Belarus to Azerbaijan, these countries are small economies when compared to India, China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam.

    Probably they figure that with these countries if you strike a deal with the top politicians, then you can sell even if the product is bad, whereas in Indonesia and the like, there is a market, you can sell only if your product is cheaper or better quality.

    In Germany the image of Hungary is already extremely almost unbelievably bad. It simply can’t get any worse. So in that sense, until Merkel and his pals at the CDU decide to do something tough (which is fundamentally contrary to being German) Orbán will continue to behave as he does as his position politically cannot get any worse.

    The Germans are so weak and reserved that they will never decide on something aggressive, generation after generation internalized that Germany must be seen as weak and toughness is bad.

  8. It’s really hard to stay serious reading about the Orban government’s adventures in foreign affairs … I’m sorry, I just can’t help it. Let’s watch the interview with the president of Republic Of Wadiya:

    Orbans is a dick … tator (joke stolen from the Iron Man 3 movie).

  9. 1. All has been lost. Violence rules.
    2. Freedom is a foreign word. Erased from the Hungarian dictionary.
    3. Wealthy few, lots of poor. EU money to the wealthy, digging for a beggar wage to the poor.

    The drama is not even funny.

  10. More on the tobacco concession scandal:

    The pretext to make these “national” tobacco shops was to make sure no minors can buy cigarettes.

    Today, Fidesz will add ice cream to the list of items that can be sold in these shops…
    and raise the state-guaranteed profit margin to 10% from 4%.

    Naturally, the prosecutors, led by former Fidesznik Polt do nothing.

    Hungary is the first state in Europe completely taken over by a Mafia-like organization.

  11. About Orbán’s psychological make-up:
    Each time I read anything about Orbán I come away with the impression he is wanting to ‘tickle’ or rather, worse: shock and irritate any and everyone like a naughty schoolboy needing and wanting to be at the center of attention…

    And, it seems to me he is upping the ante as he goes along. Nothing is shocking enough for him.

    I’d rather not imagine the future consequences when this schoolboy / now having full military powers at his disposal, goes out of control.

    I’d like to offer this as suggestion topic for a day’s general editorial and comment debate in the Hungarian Spectrum.

  12. Somos Andy – the debate needs imagination.

    Few could imagine the Pravda, Kandahar or Qoms inspired worldwide terror activities.

    Orban is the same. Only surprises of yesterday.

    The tomorrow is in his desk drawer. And in the drawers of his lawyers team.

    20-30% Hungarians take his mental and financial “alamizsna”, are ready to support him, and abuse all opposition.

  13. Kirsten :

    Cheshire cat, I still would not overemphasise that. Germans have been confronted with Nazi symbols also from other countries,

    But they were not called Nazis by the prime ministers of those countries. Big difference.

  14. wolfi :

    For those who missed it:
    Here’s the SPIEGEL article again with that lovely picture of Orbán and Mrs Merkel – pointedly looking away …

    And for those of you you missed “Focus,” a weekly political magazine from Munich received the news first from Hungarian Spectrum

    “Der ungarische Premierminister reagierte einen Tag später in seiner eigenen Radiosendung äußerst genervt und verglich Merkels Ungarnpolitik mit der von Hitler angeordneten Besetzung des Landes („Operation Margarethe“) durch deutsche Truppen im Jahr 1944. Das berichtet der ungarische Politblog „hungarianspectrum“.

    The last sentence in English: Reported by Hungarian political blog “Hungarian Spectrum.”

    I didn’t notice it either until someone wrote from me from Hungary and said “you are all over the German press.” I didn’t get it at all first.

  15. FYI:

    FOCUS is the conservative counterpart to the SPIEGEL – it was founded (much later than the Spiegel) by the Burda family which made their money with magazines for women (à la nölap …), probably because many conservatives were angry that the only political weekly was left oriented ….

    A bit OT re conservatives and extremists – don’t know if that was posted before:

    “People who give in to racism and prejudice may simply be dumb, according to a new study that is bound to stir public controversy.”

    And :
    “Obviously, this doesn’t mean that every single liberal is smarter than every single conservative, or that every single conservative was a rubber cement huffing boogereater as a kid. And this doesn’t mean that being dumb caused all those people to vote for George W Bush’s 2004 reelection (although that may have helped). But this study does provide insight into the link between ideology and intelligence, and it’s an interesting new way to make your Tea Partying uncle get really mad at you at the next family gathering.”

    Really funny and nice to quote …

  16. The Constitutional Court voted for the government and against ombudsman Szabo, who is the very last and limited check on the total Fidesz power and only until September.

    The issue was the 4th amendment to the “Basic Law”. Stumpf was one of the 4 judges issuing minority opinion.

    With this decision, we can safely say that the Constitutional Court now has a pro-Orban and anti-constitutional majority – thanks to Orban’s stuffing of the Court.

  17. wolfi :
    For those who missed it:
    Here’s the SPIEGEL article again with that lovely picture of Orbán and Mrs Merkel – pointedly looking away …

    Of course, there will be repercussions, but I still maintain that we, the general public, are not privy to the big league tug-of-war that’s going on behind the scenes.

    I believe this hapless, mentally-challenged little nation is the focus of a struggle between Russia and the EU; and the EU is trying desperately not to react to Orban’s many provocations to act against Hungary. If they do,
    Orban will throw up his arms and declare that Hungary has no choice but to seek friends eastward, and may even engineer something that might justify calling in our ‘dear friends’ of yore…

    (I hope I’m wrong.)

  18. Tappanch: but note how everybody wants to protect the Constitutional Court, give their powers back and so on. I bet even the EU would protect it, should a new government try to act against them.

    This Constitutional Court must be dissolved, because it is simply a Fidesz-party second chamber. Nothing more.

  19. tappanch :
    “I think we should raise actors in the national spirit in a national culture.”
    Government commissioner Kerenyi.

    He also said that he came out of the Hamlet … and he was like “where is the hero” … Orban’s culture guru. A greek yoghurt is more cultured than this guy.

    But then he was happy, because I quote “the new theatre won’t be about fags but about love”.

    If you ask me Vidnyánszky the new director is also a four star asshole and I’m pretty sure he will grind down the national theatre. Kerenyi already warned the audience that after the leadership changes in a theatre the attendance always takes a dive (right, it will have nothing to do with the lack of talent) and suggested that it will be a patriotic duty to buy tickets.

  20. @Eva: “The last sentence in English: Reported by Hungarian political blog “Hungarian Spectrum.”
    I didn’t notice it either until someone wrote from me from Hungary and said “you are all over the German press.” I didn’t get it at all first.”

    Eva, this just shows how important the work you are doing here on this blog. The level of insanity under the Orban regime wouldn’t be this obvious to the outside word without it.

  21. @Mutt

    I would not care about their banning of bear breasts, but they actually banned bare breasts!

  22. tappanch :
    I would not care about their banning of bear breasts, but they actually banned bare breasts!

    Come on, bare with me, bro …

  23. Andrea Solario 1460-1524

    I would call Fidesz pre-Renaissance or back-to-the-Dark-Age party

  24. tappanch :
    Andrea Solario 1460-1524
    I would call Fidesz pre-Renaissance or back-to-the-Dark-Age party

    Orban is a sick individual but Kover, Pinter, Martonyi, Lazar, Szijarto, and Rogan will be the ones forever confined to the lowest circles of Hell (see Bosch painting) for supporting his madness…Nor should the legions of lesser Fidesz supporters like that smug, inane fellow on TV, escape the torments of Hell and retribution. And finally, the well-heeled conservative who sing Orban’s praises though faced with the most obvious wrong-doing.
    In all this, where does the Catholic Church belong? They’re presently building an even lower circle…I believe it’ll be somewhere below the parliament….

  25. Q:
    Why does Fidesz recreate the Dark Ages in Hungary?
    It is easier to steal in the dark.

  26. The rabbit is running in the woods. He is scared to death. He meets the fox.
    “Hey Bunny? What’s up? Why are you so scared?”
    “The FIDESZ representatives arrived in the forest and they are arresting all the bears.”
    “But you are not a bear …”

  27. Mutt :

    tappanch :
    Female breasts are banned from picture gallery by the order of a local Fidesznik:

    The mayor said: “As a Christian father, he thinks the exhibition is immoral – pictures of bear breasts of black (sic!) women is inappropriate at the times of renewal around Pentecost”.
    Ladies! It’s time to organize the Booby Jihad in Hungary.

    He is not the mayor. He is the “outside member of the Human Affairs Committee”. He had been invited to open the exhibition but didn’t like the pictures. They are against his values as a Christian father. He also prohibited the poems of the painter from being handed out, because there is an association of cancer with the word Friday in one of them, and it is not worthy of the holiness of Pentacost.

    How can an “outside member of the Human Affairs Committee” decide which pictures are not allowed to be shown? The exhibition is not only for him, it is for everybody. Not everybody who wants to see it is 1 Christian 2 a father.
    It doesn’t matter what his tastes are. What is in the law is what matters. Are people allowed to paint pictures of topless black women, or not?

    He is going to tell women not to wear mini skirts next.

  28. “pünkösd idején pénteki gyomorrákkal és a testnevelésórák komolyságának megkérdőjelezésével sem szabad megzavarni “a megtisztulni vágyó nagyérdeműt”.”

    “During Pentacost, the audience wishing to be cleansed must not be disturbed by mentioning Friday stomach cancers and by questioning the seriousness of PE lessons. ”

    Please tell me that it’s not true.
    How is this freedom of religion?

  29. @Mutt

    And the fox joins Fidesz,
    eats the rabbit,
    says it was for national reasons and
    denies that it is his habit to eat rabbits

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