A footnote to McCain’s visit and Viktor Orbán’s letter to John Lukacs

I’m going to start with a footnote to my post on American-Hungarian relations and the visit of John McCain to Budapest.

I have written about Foreign Minister János Martonyi several times over the years on Hungarian Spectrum. Here I’ll recap briefly.

Martonyi loyally served the Kádár regime as trade secretary in Brussels between 1979 and 1984 when he was promoted to department head at the ministry of foreign trade. He joined the communist party only a few months before its collapse.

In the Antall administration he became undersecretary in the ministry of foreign affairs, but when the socialists and liberals won the election in 1994 Martonyi, for the first time in his life, found himself outside the world of civil service. He became a partner at Baker & McKenzie’s Budapest office. His exile didn’t last long. In 1998 he became foreign minister in Viktor Orbán’s first government where he dutifully played second fiddle to Viktor Orbán, who even then was inclined to conduct his own diplomatic efforts, if you can call them that. While today he has his own undersecretary for foreign affairs and trade located in the prime minister’s office, then he was not so blatant. My impression in those days was that the man Orbán relied on was his old friend, one of the founders of Fidesz, Zsolt Németh, undersecretary under János Martonyi.

Initially I felt sorry for Martonyi for being put in such a demeaning position, but since then I changed my mind. A self-respecting person would have resigned. He didn’t. During Fidesz’s exile, especially during the tenure of April H. Foley, he was the confidant and skillful manipulator of the American ambassador. Perhaps because of his usefulness during this period Viktor Orbán decided that the post of foreign minister would go to Martonyi even though most people thought that the front runner was Németh. But given Zsolt Németh’s decreasing visibility and influence, it looks as if Németh has been dropped while Martonyi is just ignored.

In my post on the McCain visit I called attention to Martonyi’s enthusiastic endorsement of the Orbán government’s anti-American stance, which belies the man’s allegedly pro-western moderate views. Today he gave a telephone interview to MTI in which he explained that he had a private conversation with Senator McCain “who spoke in very positive terms” about his visit to Budapest. Martonyi assured the American politician that the rules of democracy are being followed to the letter in Hungary. He added that “John McCain is still our friend who follows Hungarian affairs with understanding. His visit to Budapest only strengthened his sympathies quite independently of the kind of terminology he used at his press conference.”

So, if I understand it right, according to Martonyi, Senator McCain lied at his press conference and in the press release I shared with you yesterday. Or put another way, those Hungarians who heard McCain and read the newspaper reports on that press conference were misled by the good senator because he, in fact, was mighty impressed with Viktor Orbán and Hungarian democracy and thought that the monument designed to demonstrate that Hungary had no role to play in the Holocaust was a splendid idea. A friend of mine originally from Romania told me that this kind of lying was a favorite trick of the Ceaușescu regime.

And now to something entirely different. I translated Professor John Lukacs’s open letter to Viktor Orbán expressing his misgivings about getting involved with Russia through a long-term commitment on the Paks nuclear power plant. Well, this time Viktor Orbán replied to Professor Lukacs very promptly.

* * *

Mr. John Lukács
Corvin-Chain recipient professor

Dear Mr. Professor:

I am reading your open letter that is also addressed to me and that appeared in the newspaper that once belonged to the communist party. I always looked upon your friendship and attention as one of the gifts of my life. Perhaps because of your books or the liberality of your lectures, or perhaps the genuine Catholic serenity which surrounds you. I don’t really know. Whatever it is, it was easy to be in agreement when we talked about Hungarian history, the state of Christian civilization, and the important questions of the future. This must have been the reason that until now I didn’t notice the differences which divide us and which are most likely due to our different generational responses.

You still see our beloved country’s anchoring in the West as an open question. For our own anti-communist generation hardened during the times of the regime change, it is a closed chapter.  A clearly and splendidly closed chapter. A worthy answer to the Soviet occupation of 1945 and to the decades of communism. It is an answer coming from the Hungarian spirit and Hungarian soul. Two plebiscites connect Hungary to the military and political system of the West. NATO and the European Union. What always belonged together has grown together. We chose our military, political, and economic systems by an overwhelming majority because today’s Hungarians know who we are and where we belong. We here at home already live in that future about which you still worry on the other side of the ocean.

miniszterelnokThe most challenging question of that future is the competitiveness of our West, that is of Europe in the next decades. My own answer can be summarized this way: the future of Europe is western identity and eastern activity. We have to firmly guard our values, including our Christian commitment, and at the same time with full speed we must build our economic ties with the East. This is what Germany, France, and even the United States are doing, and at last we ourselves started on that road.

Please don’t pay too much attention to the left, which is still struggling with its own communist past and Muscovite* role. Its present anti-Russian stance is outright laughable. To hold the view that strong economic ties with Russia are wrong because of its communist past would find its parallel in arguing against the strengthening of our economic ties with the Germans because they were Nazis. All this is only the scummy slough of communism.

As you know, we have an election campaign here and therefore there is more than usual disagreement. But I would bet a lot that on the question of Russian relations the day after the election there will be perfect agreement.

We thank you for your concerns and friendly words. We all of us wish you vigor and good health. We are looking forward to your new books.

January 27, 2014

With friendship,
Viktor Orbán

—–

*Orbán actually uses the word “muszkavezető.” First of all, “muszka” as the equivalent of Russian is dying out in the Hungarian language. Second, “muszkavezető” literally means “someone who leads in the Russians.” One can say all sorts of things about Rákosi and his gang, but not that they themselves were responsible for the presence of the Russians on Hungarian soil.

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69 comments

  1. A few minutes ago I was wondering if the FIDESZ politicians can be more stupid than undersecretary Kovacs …

    Boy! These guys never disappoint. Janos Fonagy also undersecretary of something responded with a dramatic end-of-civilization vision. He went: imagine if we will have no electricity and Representative Schiffer (LMP) will not be able to flush the toilet”.

    Oh no. We need that plant! Imagine Schiffer not doing courtesy flushes …

    Disclaimer: no, not the Onion. Hungary.

  2. The minister of “National Development” [who was exempted from having a degree from a college or university to become a minister], has submitted a a new treaty between Hungary and Georgia.

    I have the bad feeling that neither the minister, nor anyone in her staff know which country they make an agreement with 🙂 ,

    since the Hungarian text contains only the English word “Georgia”, which is called “Grúzia” in Hungarian.

    http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/13632/13632.pdf

  3. I found this part of Prime Minster Orban’s letter extremely interesting, he writes: “The most challenging question of that future is the competitiveness of our West, that is of Europe in the next decades. My own answer can be summarized this way: the future of Europe is western identity and eastern activity. We have to firmly guard our values, including our Christian commitment, and at the same time with full speed we must build our economic ties with the East. This is what Germany, France, and even the United States are doing, and at last we ourselves started on that road.”

    In this section the Prime Minister is effectively arguing that Hungary must hedge its bets in relationship to the EU and economic development. That is without question intelligent given the fiscal realities of the EU and the situation of the Eurozone in particular. The left opposition to Orban is overly reliant on its identification with the EU and leaves itself open to this line of assault. On the other hand economic engagement with the Russian Federation has to be opposed not simply based on fear of the Russian Bear marching into Budapest yet again, but on the actual terms of the deals proposed. I don’t think Oban is correct that the future of Europe in anyway lies with “eastern activity,” there is little evidence that large EU based corporations have been able to make a killing in their investments in the east. The best that can be said is that the lower wage rate in the east has checked wage increases in Germany and France to a degree allowing these companies to maintain their current profit rates.

    Communicating a nuanced policy position which opposes Orban’s economic development strategy, which seems to be based on the best deal of the moment, is no easy thing for the left opposition in Hungary. But close identification with the EU and supposed European values does not appear to be a wining electoral strategy.

  4. A bit OT:

    How is the opposition to win if all we hear and see on the news is the success of Fidesz and the story of what they have been doing, are doing and will be doing for the Hungarian people?

    I used to call Hungarian state tv M1 and M2 “North Korean State TV” kind of jokingly but now it’s become so bad that my wife says we won’t watch it any more …

    It’s really unbelievable!

  5. There is quite a few contradictions in the Orbanian “logic” regarding his great economical achievements what will come, if he will remain at the helm. While he is referring to that other EU countries also increasing their activities toward Russia, he fails to mention that they selling also quite a bit, as opposed to Hungary. Today in a news-clip I heard him saying: “We want to be the economically most competitive country in Europe! Let say it plainly, the cheapest one..! It will create more jobs and appeal to investments…”

    Let me see: if Hungary want to be the cheapest, it necessarily means that there should be the lowest wages in Europe as well, otherwise it won’t work. From low income there is no way to pay the necessary level of taxes, so the income of the state must decrease too.
    If the wages staying low, the commercial capacity of the population will adjust too, not to mention since the majority will have no means to pay even for the milk from Slovakia, let alone something more expensive. It would certainly effect the flow of the W.A.T, which combined with the above-mentioned tax problematic will add up to a nice sum, what missing. So, if he just gets his way, Hungary will be pretty soon the land of eight million beggars, who doing cheap labor – to Russian oligarchy who else because I hardly think that investors who will find Hungary as a right place to put your money, will come from anywhere West.

  6. “Today he gave a telephone interview to MTI in which he explained that he had a private conversation with Senator McCain “who spoke in very positive terms”

    Even assuming Martonyi is telling the truth (and I strongly believe if an Orbanist informs you today is Monday, you should check your diary just to make sure), I am sure Cain is delighted that a “private” conversation has found its way into the public domain.

  7. tappanch :
    The minister of “National Development” [who was exempted from having a degree from a college or university to become a minister], has submitted a a new treaty between Hungary and Georgia.
    I have the bad feeling that neither the minister, nor anyone in her staff know which country they make an agreement with ,
    since the Hungarian text contains only the English word “Georgia”, which is called “Grúzia” in Hungarian.
    http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/13632/13632.pdf

    Indeed, the popular name of Georgia is “Gruzia” in Hungarian. In the 19-th and early 20-th century Georgia was the official name in HUngarian and it is repeatedly and very strongly suggested by the Georgian authorities that it should be made again the official name rather than the Russian-originated Gruzia. See
    http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gr%C3%BAzia

  8. Istvan :

    In this section the Prime Minister is effectively arguing that Hungary must hedge its bets in relationship to the EU and economic development. That is without question intelligent given the fiscal realities of the EU and the situation of the Eurozone in particular. The left opposition to Orban is overly reliant on its identification with the EU and leaves itself open to this line of assault.

    There is only one problem with that but that problem is a big one. Hungary is a member of the European Union and such Hungary cannot hedge its bets in relationship to the EU. If Hungary wants to do that it should leave the Union and play power games. The opposition must stick with its European line because this is the only possible way for Hungary.

    Of course, Orbán can leave but then where he is going to get the dough?

  9. @Istvan: It is one thing hedging economic opportunities and another to use the excuse of economic opportunities in the east to to distance the country from European democratic norms. Because it is not the lack of economic perspective that made Orban turn to the East, but because he found the EU’s insistence on democratic norms too cumbersome.. What Orban finds very appealing in the East are the autocratic political models… exactly the kind of leadership he wants to have.
    Of course, when the previous government was using economic opportunities in the East,(e.g. Malev deal and Southern Stream deals with the Russians), Fidesz was swift in accusing them with treason.

  10. Eva S. Balogh :

    Istvan :
    In this section the Prime Minister is effectively arguing that Hungary must hedge its bets in relationship to the EU and economic development. That is without question intelligent given the fiscal realities of the EU and the situation of the Eurozone in particular. The left opposition to Orban is overly reliant on its identification with the EU and leaves itself open to this line of assault.

    There is only one problem with that but that problem is a big one. Hungary is a member of the European Union and such Hungary cannot hedge its bets in relationship to the EU. If Hungary wants to do that it should leave the Union and play power games. The opposition must stick with its European line because this is the only possible way for Hungary.
    Of course, Orbán can leave but then where he is going to get the dough?

    The Hungarian Govt is perfectly entitled to develop trade with any non-EU country it chooses to (providing of course no particular restrictions apply to this country, and EU members are not discriminated against). The question is, as others have already written, what are Hungarian companies going to sell Russia? Football stadiums? Occupation memorials? Family Tokaji wines? The trade deficit is already huge, and Paks II will only increase it.

  11. @dvhr
    1. The Georgian name of Georgia is Kartli. (Originally, Kartli was the name of the central part of today’s Georgia only)
    2. It belonged to the Russian/Soviet Empire between 1801 and 1991.
    3. The Russian name Grúzia is attested in the Hungarian language first in 1816.
    4. It became widespread from 1900.
    5. The Hungarian foreign ministry announced in 2011 that they will use the word Georgia for Grúzia in the future.

    So this is a fiat of the Orban government that they simply change a word in the Hungarian language.

  12. Istvan, it is also questionable whether Russia is such a growth engine. It has not managed to reduce the importance of oil and other raw materials and because this is so, they are so aggressive now. They need to secure their “markets”. So what exactly does this “eastern option” mean – your business or Russian business. I trust it is the latter, although OV will get his few dollars on it also. Firms in many countries are trying to sell in “more dynamic markets”, but as other contributors wrote here also, for that you need products that are attractive, in price or in quality. The enlightened OV decided that Hungary needs less education and “more manual work”. Certainly Hungary will nevertheless manage to compete in the highest technology business. Just in one thing I think OV will succeed safely: in making Hungary really “cheap”. As far as I know, in wage levels in euro, he has already made quite some progress, in the vicinity it is just the countries far on the Balkans that he has to “compete” with now. What an ambitious goal! (And how revealing that he has not said he wishes to keep the costs of running his office low.)

  13. Is the strange English and structure of this letter down to the translation, or is this an accurate representation of how Orbán ‘thinks’?

    I know only too well how convoluted and hard to follow Hungarian can be in translation, but this really is a tour de force.

  14. tappanch :
    @dvhr
    1. The Georgian name of Georgia is Kartli. (Originally, Kartli was the name of the central part of today’s Georgia only)
    2. It belonged to the Russian/Soviet Empire between 1801 and 1991.
    3. The Russian name Grúzia is attested in the Hungarian language first in 1816.
    4. It became widespread from 1900.
    5. The Hungarian foreign ministry announced in 2011 that they will use the word Georgia for Grúzia in the future.
    So this is a fiat of the Orban government that they simply change a word in the Hungarian language.

    How do you deduce from these that the minister does not know which country she makes an agreement with?

  15. Paul :
    Is the strange English and structure of this letter down to the translation, or is this an accurate representation of how Orbán ‘thinks’?
    I know only too well how convoluted and hard to follow Hungarian can be in translation, but this really is a tour de force.

    Even if some of it was lost in translation, a sentence like “Please don’t pay too much attention to the left, which is still struggling with its own communist past and Muscovite* role. Its present anti-Russian stance is outright laughable.” is a Prime Minister unworthy. It shows how deep Hungarian politics has sank. And shows even more how despicable Orbán is.

  16. tappanch :
    The minister of “National Development” [who was exempted from having a degree from a college or university to become a minister], has submitted a a new treaty between Hungary and Georgia.
    I have the bad feeling that neither the minister, nor anyone in her staff know which country they make an agreement with ,
    since the Hungarian text contains only the English word “Georgia”, which is called “Grúzia” in Hungarian.
    http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/13632/13632.pdf

    Dear tappanch,
    officially Georgia has been used instead of Grúzia for some two years now. When I have first seen that, I had the same shocked feeling, but it is seemingly correct. MoFA officials told me that Georgian authorities have been requesting for a long time. My Georgian friends say they do not give a flying f.ck about it, but so be it. 🙂
    And I guess this terminology change will be noted as the current government’s only undisputed real foriegn policy success at the same time. 🙂

  17. Paul :

    Is the strange English and structure of this letter down to the translation, or is this an accurate representation of how Orbán ‘thinks’?

    I know only too well how convoluted and hard to follow Hungarian can be in translation, but this really is a tour de force.

    I did the translation. I think it is quite accurate.

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