The Russian view of Paks; the right-wing rant on the united opposition

I’m staying with yesterday’s topics: Russian-Hungarian relations and the most important domestic development, the new united opposition. But with a difference. In the case of the Russian-Hungarian understanding, I will take a look at Russian reactions. How does the Russian media view these developments? As far as the gathering of the opposition forces is concerned, I will share some excerpts from the right-wing press, especially Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap.

I was initially skeptical that whatever Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán signed the other day would be more advantageous to Hungary than to Russia, or even equally advantageous. And not just in economic terms. But I became truly concerned this morning when I saw a Hungarian translation of a Russian article that appeared in the well-known Russian daily, Kommersant. The author of the article, Andrei Kolesnikov, called attention to Viktor Orbán’s eagerness to please his Russian partners. The reporter pointed out that the Hungarian prime minister volunteered the information right after the ceremonies were over that Hungary will fulfill all its obligations as far as the Southern Stream project is concerned. There is no formal connection between the agreement signed on the Paks nuclear power plant and the Southern Stream project, and therefore mentioning the controversial arrangement was not at all necessary. Orbán’s reference to the pipeline could serve only one purpose: to make it clear that regardless of EU objections Hungary will go through with the project. He is ready to engage in another fight with the bureaucrats in Brussels, this time over the Russian pipeline.

I became curious about other Russian media reactions and found an incredible number of articles. In addition, I was lucky enough to catch a radio interview with Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a historian of present-day Russia, whom I consider one of the most reliable and knowledgeable students of Putin’s Russia. According to him, Viktor Orbán’s visit was the leading news item on the Russian state television station. Hungary was hailed as “the most independent country in the European Union.” Long opinion pieces appeared about Orbán, who was described as “the ally of Putin within the European Union.” One article’s headline hailed the agreement as a great victory for Russia because, after all, now “Eurasia is at the Danube.” According to another analysis, this Russian-Hungarian agreement is more than an economic act; it is a kind of political alliance. Another reporter described the event thus: “We already bought Ukraine, and now we are buying Hungary.” The goal of Russia, according to Sz. Bíró, is to have an ally inside of the Union, to whom under certain circumstances Russia can turn. To have a country that can be the spokesman for Russia in Brussels.

Of course, there are also critical voices concerning the Russian-Hungarian deal, mostly in the relatively small independent media. Critics don’t understand why Russia has to spend billions and billions when the Russian economy has slowed considerably in the last few years. It was not too many years ago that the Russian GDP grew 6-7% a year. Today, if all goes well, that figure will be 1.4%.

Although we have no idea what interest rate Hungary will have to pay on the loan, apparently the Russian finance minister already indicated that it has to be high enough to equal the interest rate at which Russia would be able to borrow in the market. This would indicate that the interest rate will not be as low as János Lázár would like us to believe.

Today’s Russia is a politically much more oppressive country than it was before the 2011-2012 elections. The election was rigged, the urban middle classes are increasingly dissatisfied with the regime, and in turn the government is clamping down more and more. To have such a close relationship with Putin’s Russia is anything but wise. Andrei Kolesnikov in his article in Kommersant called attention to the similarities between Putin and Orbán: “the Soviet gene is alive in both of them, whether they like it or not,” which makes them kindred souls.

And as long as we’re on the theme of “the Soviet gene,” perhaps it might interest you to know that Ágnes Seszták, who is a regular contributor of opinion pieces to Magyar Nemzet, began her article about the new five-party alliance this way: “The chartered train arrived which brought Comrade Rákosi, Comrade Gerő, and Mihály Farkas to the podium. Comrade Révai is ill-disposed but he will join the group. Oh, what am I talking about? This is not that age. This is the team of today.” The reference was to the joint appearance of Attila Mesterházy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor on ATV. Gordon Bajnai was invited but couldn’t attend. This is how the right-wing propagandists assist the Orbán government’s efforts to equate the present-day socialists and liberals with the the worst figures of the Rákosi regime.

As the Orbán government wants to portray the social democrats and the liberals

The way the Orbán government wants to portray the social democrats and liberals

Another regular, Miklós Ugró, called the left-center gathering “the little nincompoops” (kis idétlen). I guess that is better than comparing it to the Rákosi-Gerő-Farkas-Révai quartet, but Ugró couldn’t resist calling these politicians comrades who “loathe each other”(rühellik egymást). And the style doesn’t get any more acceptable as he goes on. He mentions “the few political traveling salesmen [vigéc] who betrayed LMP.” Solidarity is “a collection of rowdies [tahók].” And his final word is that this team is nothing but the “reconvening of the old MSZP” that naturally ruined the country and would again if given the opportunity.

Zsolt Bayer in Magyar Hírlap also accuses the socialists of all sorts of sins.  They still consider György Lukács and Oszkár Jászi their intellectual heritage–a murderer and a traitor. They dare to adore Béla Kun and the other commissars, although only in secret.  But their real idol is Kádár. As for Gyurcsány, he is “the greatest, the vilest, the most disgusting crook of the regime change.” Yet, the pro-government forces and voters shouldn’t think that Gyurcsány’s presence will take votes away from the present left-of-center alliance. No, he will bring votes “because they are like that.” Thus, the right has to fight doubly hard to win this election because if “the socialists lose in April, they are really finished. For ever and for good.”

Bayer could have given Attila Mesterházy sound advice. If he had decided not to get together with the others and MSZP had run alone at the next election, he would have had a chance to be prime minister in 2018. “But this way he will disappear with the rest of the crooks. Forever!”

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54 comments

  1. Eva S. Balogh :
    As far as I know MSZP does oppose Paks II.

    Éva, I find MSZP opposition highly unlikely in terms of reality, not in rhetoric. I think the previous commenter hit the nail on the head with this:

    “I also think that the Russian diplomacy is pretty smart and thoughtful so they probably had informal talks with top people at the main opposition party, that is MSZP.”

    It is not possible that the Russians would sign this deal knowing that an opposition victory would immediately blow it up. This is not how deals like this work. They have to have enough clout within the opposition to keep the deal going in case they get in power. This does not mean necessarily Mesterházy but it does mean that they have background figures in place already who will guarantee MSZP support of the deal in case of opposition victory.

    MSZP can afford to speak against the deal publicly or criticize it because they are in opposition. Once they get into power they can not afford the same necessarily.

    Just imagine the minute MSZP wants to break up a deal of this size how would Putin react to that?

  2. Putin has got Hungary by the goolies. Perhaps a young fellow will rise up again and chase them out like he did last time.

  3. I did some research and it seems that MSZP is questioning Paks II, though very sotto voce.

    I am not sure what that means, probably MSZP can still go both ways, the socialists seem to keep their options open for the time being.

    But Gyurcsany seems pretty strongly against it. He has some good figures saying that in Ukraine the Russians just bought 2-year government bonds with 5% interest rate (as part of the recent Ukraine-EU deal).

    Hungary is in a better situation compared to Ukraine but it is still rated junk, and will remain so especially with an extra EUR 10bn (at least) burden, plus more importantly the term is supposedly (as told by Fidesz) 30 years compared to 2.

    As a result I would find it implausible that the Russians would demand anything less than 5-7%, probably more on a Hungary-issued 30-year USD government loan (they may even want to purchase bonds instead, which are a more liquid).

    Since even with the most friendly assumptions (most of which will not materialize) the loan would have to carry an interest rate of maximum 2-3% (depending on other financial conditions) for Paks II to break even at current prices (assuming a lot of things such as completion on time and within budget etc.) it is sure: Paks II will have to sell the produced electricity at a price that is 2-3 x higher than today, to break even.

    On the other hand Orban does not care: (besides hoping to make untold billions from the construction) he wants to have Hungary to lose on electricity, if necessary EUR bns, so that he could give the electricity very cheaply (by creating a huge supply) to his hoped German-owned factories.

    It will be essentially a hidden price subsidy in order to attract investors and help Hungarian industry/voters.

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