Ukrainian-Hungarian relations during the Orbán years

Today I’m going to survey Hungarian-Ukrainian relations over the course of the last four years, since Viktor Orbán won the election. You may recall that the new prime minister began his diplomatic rounds with a trip to Poland, which was supposed to signal a foreign policy that would put the emphasis not so much on relations with western Europe as on relations with other central and eastern European nations. Of course, he also made several official visits to Brussels, but they were quick trips related to Hungary’s membership in the Union. There is a handy list, compiled by MTI, on Orbán’s foreign visits, showing that Ukraine was one of the first countries he visited. It was on November 12, 2010 that he traveled to Kiev. Shortly thereafter, on November 30, he went to Moscow.

Ukrainian-Hungarian flagsSo, let’s see what Orbán had to say about Hungarian-Ukrainian relations at the time. He claimed that former Hungarian governments hadn’t paid enough attention to Ukraine, but from here on everything would change because “the current Ukrainian leadership stabilized Ukraine” even as he is “working on stabilizing Hungary.” He was looking forward to cooperation between two stable countries, and he expressed his appreciation that Viktor Yanukovych’s government had withdrawn some legislation that was injurious to the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia. A few months earlier, during one of his visits to Brussels, Orbán had a meeting with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of NATO, during which he commented favorably on the new Ukrainian government (Yanukovych became president of Ukraine on February 25, 2010), which he considered to be a “reliable” partner.

Since 2010 Ukrainian-Hungarian relations have been friendly. In fact, behind the scenes they were quite close. Here I will give just one example of how close: the story of Oleksandr Shepelev, former member of the Ukrainian parliament. Shepelev belonged to Yulia Tymoshenko’s party from 2006 until December 2012. The Ukrainian government charged him with three contract killings and one attempted murder. In addition, he was alleged to have embezzled one billion dollars of government funds which, they contended, he pumped into Rodovid, an ailing bank with which he was associated. He fled Ukraine, fearing for his safety. The Ukrainian government went to Interpol asking for his arrest. He and his family were found in Budapest in July 2013 where he was seeking political asylum. The Ukrainian online newspaper Kyiv Post triumphantly announced on September 30 that “the Hungarian authorities have denied refugee status to former Ukrainian member of parliament Oleksandr Shepelev, a diplomatic source told Interfax-Ukraine.” The Hungarian judicial system ordered the Shepelev couple to be incarcerated until the immigration authorities decided their fate. Half a year went by and there was still no decision about the Shepelevs.

According to Indexthe Hungarian government that was asked to extradite the Shepelevs to Ukraine was quite eager to oblige. Vitali Zakharchenko, the just recently dismissed minister of interior, came to Budapest several times to confer with his Hungarian colleague, Sándor Pintér, about the fate of Shepelev. Viktor Pshonka, the prosecutor-general of Ukraine whose garish house we admired online, who since was also dismissed by the Ukrainian parliament and is currently in hiding, also paid a visit to Budapest to confer with Hungary’s own chief prosecutor, Péter Polt. In fact, the Hungarian government was certain that Shepelev would be in Kiev soon enough, and they leaked the impending extradition to reporters. The Hungarian courts, however, intervened. In a December 9 hearing the judge ruled that the reasons given by the immigration office for a denial of political asylum were insufficient. Shepelev, who might have been thrown into jail for life in Ukraine, was temporarily saved by the Hungarian judiciary despite the best efforts of the Orbán government.

The immigration office had to make a decision by January 6 but nothing happened. At this point Galina Shepeleva threatened the prison authorities with a hunger strike. Shepelev’s lawyer, after looking at the documents submitted by the immigration office, came to the conclusion that the office was following the explicit orders of the Hungarian government. In brief, Viktor Orbán was effectively assisting Yanukovych’s thoroughly corrupt government go after a political opponent, possibly on trumped-up charges.

As long as Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych were both in power Viktor Orbán’s situation was easy. He could have excellent relations with both. But now Yanukovych, who according to Orbán brought “stability to Ukraine,” is gone and Putin has sent troops to the Crimea. Orbán, as prime minister of a country that is a member state of the European Union, is supposed to follow the lead of the European Union. The prime ministers or presidents of most European countries, including Hungary’s neighbors, have openly condemned the Russian military action. Viktor Orbán is silent.

The Russian military move is clearly illegal. The reference point is the so-called Budapest Memorandum of 1994 signed by Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin, and Leonid Kuchma, who was then the president of Ukraine. The complete text of the Budapest Memorandum is available on the Internet. The parties agreed, among other things, “to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of kind.” In this light, Putin’s economic pressure on Ukraine was already a violation of the agreement. Point 2 of the agreement states that “the United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

The ineffectual János Martonyi did go to Ukraine with the Czech and Slovak foreign ministers. Poland sent only an undersecretary. They went to Kiev and the Donetsk region where they held most likely absolutely useless talks with Ukrainian leaders. Martonyi subsequently visited the Subcarpathian region where he conferred with leaders of the Hungarians living there who hold conflicting political opinions. Ever since Orbán won the election in 2010 the Hungarian government has given financial help to one faction while it has ignored the other. It looks as if the main difference between the two groups is their attitude toward the Yanukovych government. The Yanukovych government, most likely as a sign of its appreciation for Viktor Orbán’s support, lifted some of the discriminatory pieces of legislation previously enacted. That made some of the Hungarians supporters of the Yanukovych regime. Others sided with the supporters of the European Union. Throughout his visit to the region Martonyi kept emphasizing the need for unity. However, under the present circumstances I’m not at all sure what this means. Supporting whom? The parliament in Kiev rather foolishly abrogated the language law enacted in 2012 but thanks to the intervention of the acting president it is still in force. Therefore it is also difficult to figure out what Martonyi’s silly motto, “Don’t hurt the Hungarians,” which he repeated on this occasion, means in this particular case.

For a good laugh, which we all need today, here is what the sophisticated deputy prime minister, Zsolt Semjén, said about the Ukrainian crisis last night in an interview on HírTV. “It is a good thing to have something between us and Russia.” Let’s hope that this statement, however primitive, means that Hungary stands behind the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

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84 comments

  1. I agree with Some1 that Snowden is not the issue at all. It is misleading to raise him with respect to Ukraine and there is no use in dealing with him, unless Mr. Simonyi just wanted to score points with his audience. In any case, Putin’s potential gain from this matter does not come from Snowden’s revelations per se, but rather from the preexisting hypocrisy of the US and the UK which became apparent from those docs.

    Putin is for real and Orban is for real too. Orban is now betting big on Russia’s continued strength and influence. He thinks he can in his own ways appease and domesticate the bear (luckily Hungary is not too close to Russia, although not too far either) and make a fortune in the meantime. It would be good to see that the NATO stands up to Russia in Ukraine, but I have my doubts.

  2. Mr. Paul :
    “Mr. Paul, do you agree or not agree with Russia’s intervention in Ukraine? Yes or No”
    No I don’t agree with it. Just as I wouldn’t agree with a caged lion biting my hand. Even though I would probably try to think about why did it bit me now in this exact moment and not in the past decades. Maybe the lion is just crazy and randomly attacks. Maybe not.

    Go on. I am not really sure what do you mean by why Russia bites “now in this exact moment and not in the past decades. Maybe the lion is just crazy and randomly attacks. Maybe not.”

  3. Wilhelm :
    Orban is now betting big on Russia’s continued strength and influence. He thinks he can in his own ways appease and domesticate the bear (luckily Hungary is not too close to Russia, although not too far either) and make a fortune in the meantime.

    If they take Ukraine they will not be to far.

  4. Demonstration in Moscow against the Ukrainian fascists and against the American occupation.
    Surreal ? or postmodern ?

  5. Some1 :

    Wilhelm :
    Orban is now betting big on Russia’s continued strength and influence. He thinks he can in his own ways appease and domesticate the bear (luckily Hungary is not too close to Russia, although not too far either) and make a fortune in the meantime.

    If they take Ukraine they will not be to far.

    Nothwithstanding the fact there are already Russian troops in Moldova…

    By Jove. If “luckily Hungary is not too close to Russia”, I should be even luckier if I go back to France. After all who cares about Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Poland… Just what does it mean to be an EU citizen?

  6. @Istvan

    “But what is happening right now in the Ukraine is also a disaster.”

    Sure. But let’s try to assess what role the US may have had here. No doubt this is a PR bonanza for the Americans. It also alerts all of the Baltic States, Eastern Europe (esp. Hungary) and Central Europe to the ever present danger of Russia. In this regard, one has to at least assess the chances that the US (surreptitiously) jump-started the whole thing. After all, where were the warnings from the US and EU about the Ukrainian opposition ‘going slow’
    on violent changes such as the language law? Why were there no appeasing noises to Russia that the new Ukrainian government intends to abide by the agreement of the Crimean port?

    In the past, the US has ‘jump-started’ Saddam into attacking Kuwait. The resulting war damaged one country beyond recognition if one was to compare before/after standing: Japan. It was never the same. Prior to the war, Japan was gobbling up parts of the US and Toyota was set to outstrip General Motors in the sale of cars.

    These subtle influences of wars and tensions are little debated, or realized.

    (All the above should be understood that it is written by someone who, generally, is a great admirer of America.)

  7. @Petofi:

    What I find even more strange – it seems that the USA (and NATO and the EU …) were totally unprepared for all this what happened in the Ukraine, even though they have their spies everywhere and intercept “all” communication. Do we have to believe this?
    I mean they should know what’s going on and build these scenarios – if this party/group wins then, else …
    They do teach these things in war rooms/schools, don’t they?

    At least the reaction in Germany was total surprise afaik …

  8. @wolfi

    “Yet unfortunately, there is sometimes a sense that old assumptions must prevail, old ways of thinking; a conception of power that is rooted in the past rather than in the future. There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another.

    These assumptions are wrong. In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over. As I said in Cairo, given our independence, any world order that — given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game — progress must be shared.” – Barack Obama, July 7., 2009, Moscow.

  9. wolfi :
    @Petofi:
    What I find even more strange – it seems that the USA (and NATO and the EU …) were totally unprepared for all this what happened in the Ukraine, even though they have their spies everywhere and intercept “all” communication. Do we have to believe this?
    I mean they should know what’s going on and build these scenarios – if this party/group wins then, else …
    They do teach these things in war rooms/schools, don’t they?
    At least the reaction in Germany was total surprise afaik …

    Unprepared? The US? You must be kidding. They have thousands of scenarios they play out continually. And what’s more, ‘silence’ is not necessarily ‘unpreparedness’: the big bear had
    been baited and he bit. Now to watch the ramifications play out. One possible ramification is that Russia, guilt in full play, may be a lot easier to deal with in gas/oil negotiations than heretofore.

  10. @kormos:

    What Kim Lane Scheppele wrote in the NYT is nothing new – at least for most people here …

    And that it was translated and published in Hungary before it appeared in the NYT – what’s the big fuss about? She didn’t write this hurriedly one afternoon, it’s a collection of all the problems with freedom in Hungary that have been well known for some time!

  11. @kormos

    Most if not all observations contained in Mz Scheppele’s excellent article have already been debated on this blog in the past months, as the inexhaustible creativity of the current majority generated one absurdity after another.

    Whenever I’m in the streets of Budapest and see the exact same logo and baseline used on every Fidesz booth and poster, as on the Hungarian version of the Government’s website, I have to pinch myself to remind me I’m in the EU.

  12. kormos :
    I was wondering why the latest Scheppele articles did not kick up more dust on this blog. Interestingly the Hungarian version appeared one day earlier in Galamus prior to publishing it in the New York Times.
    Ms. Balogh…Congratulations. Your name is finally well known in your old Country.
    http://mno.hu/fricztamasblogja/o-draga-amerika-o-draga-scheppele-asszony-o-draga-szabadsag-1213775

    Good Morning Kormos! You are a ‘bit late forth conversation about the sneakiness of Fidesz and the anti-democratic measures it employs. We are discussing this here for the last three years also. Ms. Scheppele often contributes to the blog and we discuss items as we go. We do not need orders from above the bring up subjects, if you know what I mean. wink wink
    As far as reading MNO. I would not read that rag even if you would pay for me. I will not increase their readership. We all vote with our finger(s) in this case, and literally.

  13. wolfi :

    @kormos:

    What Kim Lane Scheppele wrote in the NYT is nothing new – at least for most people here …

    And that it was translated and published in Hungary before it appeared in the NYT – what’s the big fuss about? She didn’t write this hurriedly one afternoon, it’s a collection of all the problems with freedom in Hungary that have been well known for some time!

    Zsófi Mihancsik explained quite clearly what happened. It was a very long article and Kim wanted to help along the translator by sending her pieces ahead of time.

    Of course, there is connection between Kim and Galamus because it was Galamus in the past that has published her works into Hungarian.

    And naturally there is a connection between Galamus and myself. I was one of the founders of the Galamus. And naturally, there is a connection between Kim Scheppele and Hungarian Spectrum. After all, she is a reader, commenter, and contributor to Hungarian Spectrum.

    And what? Yes, we share the same ideals and we are all committed to Hungarian democracy. Mr. Fricz has connections to CÖF, András Bencsik, Zsolt Bayer, Gábor Széles, and naturally Viktor Orbán. Birds of a feather flock together! I think it is only natural. The difference is that I’m convinced that we are on the right side and Fricz and his friends, some of whom can be called Nazis, are on the wrong.

  14. Orban spoke up. If you were worried about the Russian-Ukranian conflict, Orban reviled the good news none was aware of. Hungary is not part of the conflict and Hungarians in Hungary and in the Carpathys are safe, and Hungarian government have been working on to keep them safe. Martonyi also happens to be in Brussel to be part of the efforts of “achieve peace, security, and the respect of International law within the framework of the united European crises management.” He still did not let us know who is right and who is not in the conflict. I can’t wait to hear what Martonyi is going to say in Brussel beside all the generalities about the importance of peace and security.

  15. Some1 “As far as reading MNO. I would not read that rag even if you would pay for me. I will not increase their readership. We all vote with our finger(s) in this case, and literally.”

    Fricz, the author, is one of the men behind CÖF and the peace marches. He calls himself a political scientist. In fact, he is a propagandist with quasi-Nazi friends. A despicable man.

  16. Some1 :
    For fairly recent info about how the Hungarians feel across the border in Ukraine, read Karpatinfo (Hungarian only) http://www.karpatinfo.net
    An interesting interview from there also: http://www.karpatinfo.net/cikk/ukrajna/kisebbfajta-panik-kezd-kialakulni-karpataljan

    Very interesting interview, especially the sections that describe Janukovich’s regime as a gang of thieves and how the population in the Ukraine sank into apathy… and the grand plan of Janukovich to inflate the extreme right wing that he, the “moderate” Janukvich can come out as a winner in the 2015 elections against the extremists. I wonder if this script is going around in Eastern Europe?

  17. The more I read about Putin’s Russia, the more obvious it is where Orban is getting his ideas from (e.g. paid marches). So, this one is about today’s Russia:

    ” Last night, frantic calls were made to those who receive salaries from the state, such as teachers, to order them to take to the streets in a rally supporting the sending of troops. They were paid to go. They went to rally for war. ”

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116823/pussy-riots-maria-alyokhina-putins-war-crimea

  18. An :
    The more I read about Putin’s Russia, the more obvious it is where Orban is getting his ideas from (e.g. paid marches). So, this one is about today’s Russia:
    ” Last night, frantic calls were made to those who receive salaries from the state, such as teachers, to order them to take to the streets in a rally supporting the sending of troops. They were paid to go. They went to rally for war. ”
    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116823/pussy-riots-maria-alyokhina-putins-war-crimea

    Trust me, our Peace Marchers (who until now lobbied against the EU) will go on the street as War Marchers if Orban sides with the Russians. Of course Orban makes his look like this is all about the Hungarians across the border, no about the benefits he gets from Putin.
    I do not think the Hungarins across the border are on Putin’s side based on the article you also commented on. In an other article in the same publication is an other snippet stating that some Hungarians already signed up as volunteers in the Ukranian reserve(?).

  19. The liberal world must start a Fox/BBC Wolrd News radio/tv/internet network for Hungary, Ukraine, Iran, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, Venezuela, Peru, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sudan, Russia, Armenia, Moldavia, Bosnia, Belarus, to broadcast the Enlightenment in the local languages.

  20. An :
    Sorry, OT: A story on how a company was bullied into selling out to the state (e.g. visit of armed tax inspectors). The owner signed the sale on Saturday, and died on Sunday (not in the news how).

    I have read somewhere that it was a heart-stroke – or coronary? – anyway, unnaturally and prematurely natural course.
    Lázár could be really persuasive.

  21. Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :
    @kormos
    Most if not all observations contained in Mz Scheppele’s excellent article have already been debated on this blog in the past months, as the inexhaustible creativity of the current majority generated one absurdity after another.
    Whenever I’m in the streets of Budapest and see the exact same logo and baseline used on every Fidesz booth and poster, as on the Hungarian version of the Government’s website, I have to pinch myself to remind me I’m in the EU.

    Pretty soon even the “No Smoking” signs getting uniformed, along with the different other forbidding ones.
    No, I’m not joking:

    http://index.hu/belfold/2014/02/26/szombattol_egyseges_a_tilos_a_dohanyzas_tabla/

    I guess, one of the cronies just bought a sign-making printshop.

  22. After all, we recently ran out of foreign ax-murderers, so its only normal that they will fill the void…

    Seriously, just how low a government can go, in order to ensure its survival..?
    While Orbán keep avoiding to condemn the Russian action, they’ve sent away Martonyi with a “harsh” message – what I’m pretty sure they consulted about with the Russians during the last couple of days.

    “You shouldn’t listen what I say, just watch my acts” – or thereabout.
    Anyone remember?

    And now, even the words should come only from the messenger, while the Great Leader “silent as an Orbán in the grass”.

    (Native Hungarians may get the point – paraphrase of a Hungarian saying otherwise.)

  23. Martonyi is a card, ain’t he?
    Nice shiny pink tie, mustachio waxed and twirled to an inch of perfection; quoting (vetted) words
    of legality, sovereignty, and the dignity of borders….almost as if he was a practiced Foreign Minister!

    (He must’ve been on a refresher course during the Azeri affair…)

  24. An & Spectator: I read the relevant article in index a few hours ago. I wanned to write a separate comment here about it. The story is that a guy about 4 years ago bid legally for a contract with the H. government to produce a computer application which would be able to evaluate the relative value of competing entries to receive EU related subisidies for producing other applications that would be able to deifferentiate the relative merit of submitted applications for certain uses.

    I know it sound complicated but by and large the essence of the company’s product was evaluative in nature.

    The winner of this bid – the procution of the software and its rental for specific uses was an absolute winner. It’s use was unique and it commanded a high price that all that used it, paid for it willingly since it worked excellently.

    After a couple of years various users became jealous of the profits that the company was generating and wanted to buy out the company. The owner knew he had a unique and excellent product and wqas not selling.

    Wham, lo and Behold, out of the many potential offers, Orbans desire to own all that makes a good buck got the better of him. Theres also an evident possibility of MANIPULATING the software by a FUTURE owner to rig the successful candidates.

    Orban saw thorugh this and moved into ACTION. He (his cohorts, that is, evidently at his instigation) decided that the product was too good and sufficiently manipulable to be of interest to the Orban Mega-Conglomerate!!!

    And WHAT did they do? One early morning they sent the NAV (tax authorities) with TEK detail to the companys presmises to seize their copmputers.

    Since the company was not willing to sell the patent to their software, they evidently found some reason by which they could constrain the owner into the corner by finding something with which they could accuse him with potential long-term incarceration or similar hell.

    One day later the owner, after bing taken in for interrogation, came out and publicly stated that his product was to be “bought” by the State.

    He was simply coerced into opting for his lifes safety rather than haning on tom his billion-forint producing enterprise – I guewss for the benefet of his life and his familys future welfare. Remember, behind this is Orban’s effort to put his hand on anything that can become extremely profitable, irrespective opf the social harm it would cause… !!!!!!
    !!!!!!! the owner, according to my sources of Jewish decscent was constrained to sell hsi bleoved enterprise for realtive peanuts compared to its actual value.

    Withion 24 hours after signing the papers finalizing the transaction, the now former owner was DEAD.

    Orbanmisztán 2014.

  25. @Some1

    “Why would Russia need a spy for Hungary when they have Orban?”

    The answer?

    Move a few words around…delete some…and surprise yourself with the result.

  26. petofi :

    Martonyi is a card, ain’t he?
    Nice shiny pink tie, mustachio waxed and twirled to an inch of perfection; quoting (vetted) words
    of legality, sovereignty, and the dignity of borders….almost as if he was a practiced Foreign Minister!

    (He must’ve been on a refresher course during the Azeri affair…)

    I think he looks absolutely ridiculous.

  27. I see more and more articles in the Hungarian media comparing Russia’s behavior toward Ukraine today toward Hungary in 1956. The Russians use the same arguments today, article after article claims, as in 1956. If that feeling wil become widespread Orbán will have a difficult time with Paks.

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