Hungary’s new friend: Turkmenistan’s dictator

The Hungarian media is full of stories about the visit of the bloody dictator of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, to Budapest. The trip has been in the making for a long time. It was Hungary that initiated talks between the two countries when in November 2011 President Pál Schmitt was dispatched to Asgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. In January of this year Péter Szijjártó announced that the two countries had signed an agreement on economic cooperation. It was at that time that it was revealed that the Turkmen dictator himself will visit Hungary sometime in June.

As for the economic ties, Szijjártó claimed that there are hopeful signs that the relatively low level of trade between the two countries will grow substantially in the near future. He revealed that there are already Hungarian “success stories” in the food processing industry and in agriculture. A Hungarian firm is involved with the construction of a large brewery. He also indicated that Turkmenistan intends to modernize its oil and gas sector and would welcome Hungarian participation.

Trade between the two countries is indeed very small: until 2010 it amounted to only 10-15 million dollars a year, but by last year it had reached 110 million dollars. Just to give you an idea of the relative size of this trade relationship, Turkmenistan is not among the top 50 trading partners of Hungary.

Szijjártó also mentioned the possible construction of a gas pipeline, which is currently under discussion between the European Commission and Turkmenistan. Clearly, Hungary’s interest lies primarily in Turkmenistan’s gas reserves, which are the fourth largest in the world.

The opposition loudly protests this cozy relationship between Asgabat and Budapest, pointing out that Turkmenistan is second only to North Korea in having the darkest dictatorship and that the only significant difference is that North Korea is very poor while Turkmenistan is flush with cash from the sale of natural gas to Russia and China. One can read more about the situation in Turkmenistan in the U.S. Human Rights Report of 2013.

Pro-government commentators point out that, after all, Ferenc Gyurcsány also visited Turkmenistan in the summer of 2008. Indeed, he did and apparently had a six-hour talk with Berdimuhamedov. He went there to show the United States that, despite rumors that he was against the Nabucco pipeline, the pet project of the EU and the United States, he was serious about finding a way of getting gas from outside of Russia. Apparently he came back convinced that the Nabucco project would not materialize. He turned out to be right.

The Trans-Caspian project was first conceived in the late 1990s.  Talks between the European Union and two of the five countries surrounding the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, officially began on September 7, 2011, but there was not much follow-through. In the wake of the protests in Kiev and the ensuing Russian-Ukrainian conflict, however, the Trans-Caspian pipeline gained new urgency. In December 2013 it was announced that negotiations between Turkmenistan and the European Union would begin in early 2014. The Russian response was swift. Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, indicated that “external interference in the Caspian region will strain the situation in the region and can have a negative impact on the five-party negotiations,” that is, among Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, and, naturally, Russia.

In earlier Hungarian reports on Szijjártó’s trade negotiations, no mention was made of Turkmen natural gas, but on June 14 Trend, an Azeri site, said that “Hungary is interested in receiving Turkmen gas under transnational projects.” The next piece of information, from MTI, stated that Baymyrat Hojamuhammedov, deputy prime minister for oil and gas, told the newly appointed minister in charge of national economic development Miklós Seszták that Turkmenistan in the next two decades plans to more than triple its production of natural gas and wants to lay pipelines toward Europe, Pakistan, and India.

While Hojamuhammedov was visiting Miklós Seszták, Turkmen Foreign Minister Raşit Meredow was talking with Péter Szijjártó. Note that, flouting diplomatic protocol, the Turkmen foreign minister met only with Péter Szijjártó and not his Hungarian counterpart, Tibor Navracsics.

As for Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, he first met President János Áder in the Sándor Palace. Áder talked about the modernization of Turkmenistan and possible Hungarian participation in the Turkmen economy. It was no more than generalities. Berdymukhamedov’s announcement was, on the other hand, more interesting. He pointed out that “in a political sense the two countries’ points of view resemble each other in many ways. Both find stability and security important.” Turkmenistan is “grateful to Hungary for representing her in the United Nations.” He added that “the foreign ministers of the two countries continue their consultations concerning foreign policy.” He hopes that “Hungarian experts” will help Turkmenistan in its economic and social programs. Finally, he invited János Áder to Asgabat. It looks as if the two got along splendidly. The Hungarian media watched every move of the two men and even noted that their handshake lasted eight seconds!

Source: AFP. Photo Igor Sasin

Source: AFP/ Photo by Igor Sasin

Berdymukhamedov’s official program included a meeting with House Speaker László Kövér. Nothing has been said so far about a possible meeting between Berdymukhamedov and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, although it is hard to imagine that such a meeting would not take place.

Let me add a funny note. Hungary was just admitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries, joining Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghistan, and Turkey. The request came from former deputy-speaker of the parliament Sándor Lezsák, who started his career in MDF but who now can be placed somewhere between Fidesz and Jobbik. He is among those who refuse to accept the Finno-Ugric origin of the Hungarian language and overemphasize the importance of  Turkic loan-words in the vocabulary. Anyone who’s interested in Turanism, which is closely linked to the idea of Hungarian being a Turkic language, can read a fairly good summary of the movement here or, in Hungarian, here.

I also thought that you would appreciate a picture of Berdymukhamedov on horseback. He even participates in horse races. In one of them, he was thrown off his horse but, never fear, just as a good dictator should, he won the race anyway.


  1. There is a genre of operetta that in Hungarian is called vigoperett, I guess in English it would be merry operetta. This one is a sad operetta. I just don’t know what word in a song would rhyme with Berdymukhamedov. In the grand finale Berdymukhamedov and Orban will ride onto the stage on white Arabian horses and embrace each other with a warm kiss while the chorus will sing a song composed exclusively of Hungarian words of Turkic origin .

  2. “STABILITY AND SECURITY” – these are, as one can note observing Russia, or Kazakhstan, the words that the dictators use for slavery.

  3. It would be quite strange and ridiculous if some other finno-ugric nations, especially those living in Russia – Mari, Komi, Chuvash, Permi etc etc., Finnish people or Estonians, would want to join this “Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries”.

    The fact is that so many people in Kazakhstan (that they consider to be a home of Turkic nations) are obsessed with the idea that Kazakhs are ancestors of all the nations of the world, including Hungarians and Native Americans.

    I used to just laugh on it, but lately, with the obvious rise of fascism in the world, supported by Putin, it becomes more and more frightening. Putin would support anyone who would express radical views like these. It is enough to note that Putin’s ideologue, Alexander Dugin, a mad professor and fascist, is promoting the idea of Eurasia, that originate from ideas of Tchinguis Khan.

    What a disaster.

  4. I just read you response, after posting the second comment 🙂
    I guess those two words are key words in their own language – they exchange hidden signs 🙂

    To add to my second comment, I just remembered an article – about Putin, his influence on Nazis in Europe, and, of course, Jobbik – you can see the photo of Gabor Vona talking to Dugin…

  5. these guys use all opportunities and alliances, to enrich themselves.
    poor turkmens, poor hungarians, poor russians, poor ukranians….

  6. Karli the article you linked from open democracy was astute and well worth reading. Thanks

  7. As for “over-emphasizing” the role of Turkic loanwords in Hungarian: I don’t know if this is really the case. From the viewpoint of linguistics, it is difficult to overestimate the role of Turkic influences (for those who read Hungarian, I warmly recommend Klára Sándor’s article and the whole excellent article series, or the book based on it: “Nyelvrokonság és hunhagyomány”). They are well known to us Finno-Ugricists – we know very well, how many elements and aspects of the Hungarian language are NOT Finno-Ugric. And of course, at one point of their history, the linguistic ancestors of the Hungarians were culturally strongly “Turkicized” – just as they were culturally “Slavicized” and “Germanized” a few centuries later. What nationalists in all countries refuse to understand: all cultures and nations have “mixed” origins.

    However, this doesn’t change the main point: from the point of view of language genealogy, Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language, and most if not all of the Neo-Turanists’ attempts to profile Hungarian as a Turkic (or “Altaic”, or what not) language are simply naïve political flim-flam. (There are other sad examples of political misuse of linguistics around now as well.) And, of course, this idea now tragically coincides with the political opportunities to shake hands with Eastern dictatorships.

  8. Modern English is a Germanic language with the largest share (ca 40%) of its lexicon having French origins. Yet all of those lexical commonalities with French do not change the facts that the oldest and most basic parts of the lexicon are Germanic and the grammar and syntax patterns of the Germanic remain features of the language. That Modern Hungarian, given its long geographical isolation from other Fino-Ugric languages, should have acquired lexical items — indeed the largest parts of the lexicon — from neighboring and invading languages, including Latin, Slavic languages, German, Yiddish. Turkish, and English, reducing the share of the lexicon with roots common with other Fino-Ugric languages to about 21%, is simply not surprising, and exactly as the large lexicon share of French origin in English does not make English a Romance language, the share of the Hungarian lexicon with Turkish origins (ca 9.5%) does not make Hungarian a Turkic language.

  9. @GW re English:

    I once read a very interesting book on the history of the English language (based on a BBC radio series) and the interesting fact was that of the 100 most commonly used words around 90% were Germanic! Of course that includes many “trivial words”: I, a, the, that, and, so, for, is …

    Those “French” words are really for the usage of the upper classes.

    Is there a similar statistic for the Hungarian language?

    PS and OT:

    For a German this is often surprising when you read an English text – there’s an old saying:

    So near yet so far …

  10. GW,

    Is it really true that only around 9.5% of Hungarian words have a Turkish origin? That’s somewhat amazing to me, considering the inclusion of Hungary in the Turanism group is based on those words. Still, it’s not very surprising after all, when I think of how little time Hungarians have spent living with Turks at various times in history, percentage-wise. I guess the important factor is not the number of words, but which words in particular. How often these words are used and how important there are to the language probably makes much more difference than the sheer number.

  11. Googly, exactly. Percentages can be counted in a number of ways: Percentages of simple word stems or of all words, derivatives included (considering the richness of Hungarian word-formation, this makes a major difference)? Including or excluding recent loanwords and internationalisms? Percentages of word types (different words in a dictionary – which dictionary?) or word tokens (words appearing in a text – what kind of text?).

    A further factor, of course, is the typological similarity between Hungarian (together with other Finno-Ugric languages) and Turkic. Because these languages (alongside quite a few others around the world) belong to what is often called the agglutinating type, they just happen to share a bundle of similar structural features such as rich suffixal morphology (a lot of endings attached to words) and vowel harmony. This is structurally conditioned and need not have anything to do with relatedness, but of course, in the eyes of a layman, it makes these languages “look similar” – and different from major Western European languages.

  12. Re Hungarian vocabulary. I will quote here from a book published many years ago in English by two Hungarian linguists, Loránd Benkő and Samu Imre: The Hungarian Language (Mouton 1972). Highly technical stuff. So, in the chapter, “The lexical stock of Hungarian,” one can read: “Measured in absolute numbers, the genuine elements inherited from the periods of Uralic, Finno-Ugric symbiosis represent an overwhelming proportion of the Hungarian lexical stock and constitute the basis of intra-lingual developments, i.e., the bulk of the entire Hungarian vocabulary.”

    Further down, they explain that the “ancient stock”–just as in English and German–“these ancient etymologies constitute the very backbone, the most essential material, of the Hungarian vocabulary.” Their number is no more than 1,000 but “they refer to objects, actions, environmental conditions, properties, etc. which have played an unchanging role in the mode of life of Hungarians from the earliest times to the present day.” Further down: “In order to give an idea of the real proportions, we refer to the fact that in current Hungarian texts every second of autonomous formation has an ancient, primitive lexical element as a stem.”

    As an example, here is the word “él” “lives.” It is the base for “several hundred autonomous words.” I don’t want to bore you with the many examples but even the word “élelmiszer” (foodstuffs) comes from this root.

    Finally, Benkő and Imre give the following breakdown of Hungarian vocabulary based on etymology: Ancient stock 8%, foreign 7%, autonomous 81% and uncertain 4%. And as you could see above, half of the autonomous formations comes from the ancient Finno-Ugric stock. As far as loanwords are concerned, the two most important ones are Slavic and German.

    The book mentions “some three hundred Old-Turkic words [which] were adopted by Hungarians during the period from the fifth to ninth centuries.”

    As for Klára Sándor. Actually she is a friend of mine and I think highly of her as a scholar but one must forget that she is a turcologist.

  13. Very interesting, the whole study of languages and their development, several friends of mine went into that at university while for me science was easier!

    As a relative layman in my efforts to “understand” those long and complicated Hungarian words I built myself what we call in German “Eselsbrücken” (donkey bridges), like.

    If a word starts with an “e” it’s about food – or life as I just learned from Eva …

    If a word starts with an “i” it’s probably about drinking like ital, ivovíz etc…

    Some times these simple ideas really help.

    Now even more OT:

    Like other languages Hungarian often has two ore more equivalent words for the same thing like “eb” or “kutya” (slavic origin?) and this can get very complicated because I often don’t know which word to use ..

    But looking at my fat two volume dictionary (1500 pages German/Hungarian and 1000 pages Hungarian/German!) I know I’ll never get it anyway!

  14. Hungary was just admitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries, joining Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghistan, and Turkey. The request came from former deputy-speaker of the parliament Sándor Lezsák,

    By the time the 2018 election comes along, there would be more Hungarian (EU) citizenship granted for those Hungarians who the Magyar Tribes left behind. The fast citizenship can be obtained at every railway stations by reciting ten common Turkic words. Votes can be cast right after. (I am almost not kidding.)

  15. Regarding this topic, please donot forget the US and Saudi Arabia. The elder Bush was very close to the Saudi King. If any closer, they would have been having sex.

  16. Joseph is into kindergarden logic again:

    The other guy did something similar last week – so why am I being punished?

    I think that most people here didn’t /don’t agree with the US/Arab dictatorship friendlyness.


    Are you implying that Orbán and the guy with the unpronouncable name are into something? Sometime I wish we had Emoticons aka smileys here …

  17. Joseph Simon
    June 20, 2014 at 8:10 am
    Regarding this topic, please donot forget the US and Saudi Arabia. The elder Bush was very close to the Saudi King. If any closer, they would have been having sex.

    So, are you saying that Orban is just like the elder Bush? WHat is your point? Bush was in the office 21 years ago. We did nor even have laptops then, or common Internet. Whitehouse went online in 1993.
    In 1992 Orban was still a liberal, and in September he was elected vice chairman of the Liberal International.

  18. Regarding this topic, please donot forget the US and Saudi Arabia. The elder Bush was very close to the Saudi King. If any closer, they would have been having sex.

    when we say Orban is cozying up with all the dictators of any godforsaken country the emphasys is on the the word godforsaken.

    It’s like the Hungarian foreign ministry had a raffle for dictators and the next winner was this Gurbablahblahguly guy …

    His birthday is coming up in a few days by the way which reminds me on Jennifer Lopez who reportedly snagged a cool 10 million (!) US when he sang on his birthday last year.

  19. Hungarians are genetically more european than most slavic speaking people (who contain more Asian mongoloid Y and mt.DNA haplogroup markers), but all Northern Germanic nations (incl. Northern Germany too) have higher ratio of Mongolid haplogroup markers . See the ratio of Central Asian haplogroup „Q” and the other mongoloid haplogroup marker „N” (aka. N1C1) markers in the genetic CHART of European nations:

    And see the ratio of middle-eastern haplogroup markers (various „J”) in all balkan populations (inc. Romania). De facto, these nations populations genetically are less European than Hungarians.

  20. OT Hungarian language

    There’s a funny quote in Kató Lomb’s book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages that learners of Hungarian can definitely relate to:

    “I only became aware of the diversity of our sounds when I heard a German student of Hungarian wailing about how difficult it was for him to distinguish such words as pártalan, páratlan, parttalan, pártatlan, párttalan. It’s also easy to get confused among the words megörült, megőrült, megürült, megőrölt…” (p.43)

    As a non-native Hungarian speaker, I actually I knew all of the “meg” words on this list, but have to admit that the “pár/par” words confused me as well!

    BTW the book is quite entertaining and fun if you are interested in, well, how people learn languages: (English) (Hungarian)

  21. @buddy. Thank you for the link. I did read her book when it came out in 1975 but years ago I had a flood in the garage where I stored my books while moving from one house to another and disaster struck. About half of my library was gone. Lomb’s book among them. I will reread it.

  22. Buddy when I have faced with such linguistic complexities I resort to – kérem, ismét lassú and yet I am still confused the second time. I blame Mrs. Szőcs in Hungarian Saturday school who was most concerned that I understand the correct pronunciation of Urunk, Jézus Krisztus. Concepts like “unrivalled” or “matchless” were possibly unnecessary from her perspective for a proper understanding of the Lutheran Study Bible.

  23. This is on the official homepage of the Forign Office of Germany(!!!):

    the link is

    “Germany is one of Turkmenistan’s preferred partners, along with the Russian Federation, China, Turkey and the United States. Political relations between the two countries are steadily growing in intensity. President Berdimuhamedov paid an official visit to Germany in November 2008. Bilateral political consultations were held for the second time in September 2012.” (This dictator also visited Germany? Who thought it…)

    “Economic relations between the two countries are good but there is still room for improvement. Turkmenistan is a country with great potential. Germany is Turkmenistan’s second largest foreign trading partner in the European Union. ”

    “German exports to Turkmenistan amounted to EUR 398.6 million in 2013” (Yes, money what counts!)

    “More than 50 German companies, such as …, operate there, including 19 with registered offices or German representatives.”

    “The fourth meeting of the German-Turkmenian Intergovernmental Working Group on Business and Trade was held in Berlin in May 2013. The third Day of German Business took place in Ashgabat on 5 December 2013.” (Germans also meet)

    “Since President Berdimuhamedov took office, there has also been a gradual opening in Turkmenistan in terms of cultural exchange.” (What? Whith this dictator??? Horrible…)
    So what are you talking about? Don’t you want to start another blog against the german-turkmenian relationship? Please buy a plain ticket and start protesting in from of the Bundestag.
    Maybe you are the one from far-left…

  24. Berdimuhamedov with…

    …the Obamas (USA):

    …Merkel (Germany):

    …Sarkozy (France):

    What about these visits?

  25. “…is not the same as…”
    Do you know how many times I heared this sentence? There’s no number to express that…

    Btw who spoke about friendship?
    And if you really care about human rights and freedom: don’t you think that a hundreds-of-millions-of-euros-exporting-germany is stabilizing this “dictatorship” in a much stronger way that a “friendly”-Hungary?

    I know, I know…! “This is not the same!” (Was I right?)

  26. It’s called “Realpolitik” – after all Germany has relations with the “Gulash Dictatorship” of Hungary too, even though Mrs Merkel criticised Orbán heavily, you remember?

  27. Germany and its “Realpolitik”. Right… As wiki says: Realpolitik is “…politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors…” So a real german realpolitik was made btw ’33-’45. Thanks, but no. I had enough of german realpolitik.
    Of course Hungary (or other country) does not have the right to have an own “realpolitik”… am I right?

    And what goulash dictatorship are you talking about? If I remember correctly that era ended 1989 and led by MSZMP. The currently very-democratic-and-liberal MSZP is its successor. As you may notice only one letter is missing in its name.

  28. You should have read the complete article, little boy, not just those parts that you like!

    Wiki says ” in Germany Realpolitik has a somewhat less negative connotation, referring to (realistic) politics in opposition to idealistic (unrealistic) politics.”

    That’s what I meant – and again you didn’t get it:

    Btw Gulash Communism is long past, Gulash Dictatorship refers to Orbán’s ideas …

    But iwould be silly any way to take up your diversions – you Fidesz trolls are all very similar with your kindergarden logic! Just read this:

    And btw:

  29. A fidesz troll? I didn’t even say I agree with this visit or with anything. I just asked questions.
    I am amazed how intolerant you are.
    This is the way always ends the famous we-liberals-like-to-argue-and-are-so-colorful-and-there-are-no-democracy-without-discussion attitude/speech.
    You simply cannot face simple questions, not talking about real argument…

    The difference btw me and this blog, that I didn’t favour the ruling goverment in any way, but this blog is a mouthpiece of the far-leftist media. This post is also nearly a word-by-word translation. Even the picture is a copy from one of these articles/TV.

    So pull out your head from your “boss”‘s #a#s#s# and after you finally opened your eyes you’ll see that the world is more colorful outside than “insine”.

  30. @Karli:

    They also sent congratulations to the new Spanish king and others, so this probably doesn’t mean too much.


    I found on this site “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year Address” – that might be a model for Orbán’s next great speech – for a Westerner it’s unbelievably funny …
    Here’s an excerpt:

    ” Dear comrades,

    Dear service personnel of the Korean People’s Army, all the people and other compatriots,

    Having seen out 2013, a year in which we left a remarkable footprint on the road of the sacred march of the Juche revolution, we are seeing in the new year 2014 filled with confidence in the future and revolutionary self-respect.

    Reflecting the boundless yearning and high respect of all the service personnel and people for the great President Kim Il Sung and General Kim Jong Il, I would like first to pay the highest tribute and New Year greetings to them. ”

    You just have to change a few words …

  31. just_a_boy,

    You wrote: “So a real german realpolitik was made btw ’33-’45. Thanks, but no. I had enough of german realpolitik.”

    That is where you showed your true colors, as someone who pretends to want honest discussion and fair treatment of your opinion, yet doesn’t afford others the same. If you insist on condemning all German politicians, left or right, as not deserving the opportunity to practice realpolitik, then you should feel the same about Hungarian politicians. Hungary, as you may remember, was a violent dictatorship under Horthy (invading neighbors, murdering innocents), the Arrow Cross, Rákosi, and Kádár. The degree of harm may have been less than the Germans, but that shouldn’t matter when it comes to trust – Hungarians tried the same tricks, but we’re a small nation, so we can’t be as ambitious.

    You also wrote: “Of course Hungary (or other country) does not have the right to have an own “realpolitik”… am I right?”

    So now we have the moral equivalency argument. What is it about you Fidesz trolls that you think it’s okay to do something if one other country, somewhere, did something similar? Iraq invaded Kuwait and absorbed it, so that means it’s okay for Hungary to invade and absorb Slovenia? The point here is that Hungary should be striving to be better than the rest of the world, not as bad as the worst appeasers in it! I think Germany should be ashamed of itself for cozying up to a brutal dictator, but you seem to think that it’s okay, since Germany’s doing it. Earlier you said you have had enough of Germany realpolitik. That makes you a hypocrite who is contradicting himself in the same comment string. Which is it? Morally repugnant things are okay, as long as Orbán is doing them?

    You also wrote: “And what goulash dictatorship are you talking about? If I remember correctly that era ended 1989 and led by MSZMP. The currently very-democratic-and-liberal MSZP is its successor. As you may notice only one letter is missing in its name.”

    I’m no fan of MSZP, but by trying to link the modern MSZP to MSZMP in that way, you are showing how insincerely you argue. Anybody who knows about Hungarian politics knows that MSZMP still exists in a small form, and that MSZP resembles MSZMP less than Fidesz itself does. By the way, the name of Orbán’s party, Fidesz, is very similar to the name of the party he belonged to back in the early 1990’s, Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége, but the two parties have very little in common. The earlier one was liberal, left wing, and full of idealistic young people, as the name denotes. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that FiDeSz refused to let Orbán use its name, which is why he had to call his new party Fidesz. I’m only partially joking.

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