The following article appeared in the August 7 issue of The American Interest and was summarized in Hungarian in Népszabadság. I should add that the Hungarian Telegraphic Agency (MTI), which in the past has always reported on Professor Gati’s analyses, ignored this article. In it Gati shares his thoughts on the possible steps U.S. policy makers could take in the wake of Viktor Orbán’s admission of his plans for an “illiberal democracy” in the center of Europe. The article has elicited a great deal of interest in Washington as well as in Budapest.
Today Professor Gati was interviewed on Klubrádió’s call-in program Megbeszéljük/Let’s Talk It Over. The approximately twenty-minute interview can be heard during the first and second segments of the program’s archives.
Charles Gati, Senior Research Professor, European and Eurasian Studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, is the author of Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt (2006) and editor of Zbig: The Strategy and Statecraft of Zbigniew Brzezinski (2013).
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Soon after he became Hungary’s Prime Minister for the first time, in 1998, Viktor Orbán visited Washington. On October 7th, at a luncheon organized by Freedom House, Mark Palmer, a former ambassador to Hungary who knew the guest well, and I jointly welcomed Orbán to Washington, calling him a young, promising leader of democratic Hungary. According to notes taken by a member of the audience, Orbán responded by praising both Palmer and me for the role we had played in hastening the collapse of communism in the 1980s. Then he added that “whatever I know about contemporary politics and history I’ve learned from Professor Gati.”
I re-read these words with considerable embarrassment after I watched on YouTube and then read the full text of Orbán’s 35-minute speech of July 26, 2014 about the terminal decline of liberal democracies and the bright future of five countries he held up as examples for Hungary to emulate: Singapore, China, India, Turkey, and Russia. (Why he included India, a functioning democracy, is unclear.) In any case, the speech affirmed what many Hungary-watchers have known since 2000-2001, or at least since Orbán’s second term that started in 2010 and his third term that started this year: that he is no democrat and he is neither a good friend nor a good ally of the West, including the United States. His speech is a surprising admission from the leader of a country in Central Europe that is a member of both NATO and the European Union, and from a politician who in the 1990s was deputy head of that deeply pro-Western group of political parties known as the Liberal International.
Orbán has now dropped his democratic mask. His speech confirms what his domestic and foreign critics have said for years about his managed democracy and what until now his propagandists and loyal followers have heatedly denied. For he has now publicly, and proudly, declared his preference for an “illiberal state.” “Breaking away from dogmas and ideologies recognized in Western Europe,” Orbán said the ideal state should be based instead on something he called “national foundations.” He made no mention of the separation of powers or checks and balances or freedom of the press or minority rights. Quoting a supposedly highly regarded (but unnamed) American analyst, he noted that liberal democracies, as in the U.S., were marked by corruption, lawlessness, sex, and drugs.
The analysis Orbán used to reach these conclusions was quite poor and confused, to say the least. One part of the presentation did not lead to or follow another. Some of the information he cited was inaccurate. And it was not a question of the quality of translation; the original Hungarian text was as unstructured and as rambling as the English version. If an American undergraduate had submitted such a long-winded and pretentious paper for an introductory course on international relations, his grade would have been an “F.”
However, the speech as a political demagoguery worked. The underlying themes almost certainly fell on fertile soil, for Orbán successfully reassured his domestic supporters that he remained ready to “stand up” against Hungary’s enemies, such as the European Union and Western banks. It echoed the same nationalist message his audiences regularly hear on government-dominated radio and television about Western conspiracies against Hungary’s independent existence: That in the aftermath of World War I the victorious Western powers, led by President Woodrow Wilson, robbed Hungary of two-thirds of its territory. That after World War II, at Yalta, Hungary was sold out to the communists. That in 1956, the West did not assist the Hungarians against their Soviet overlords. And that since the collapse of communism, the European Union and Western-financed non-governmental organizations have sought to deprive Hungary of its sovereignty. Thus, in this speech, Orbán offered his audience a simple message as he also promised an end to Hungary’s humiliation and victimhood.
The main reason Orbán believes Hungary should seek a new system of governance has to do with his interpretation of the 2008 financial crisis. “If we look around carefully and analyze the things happening around us,” he said, “[we find] a different world from the one we used to live six years ago.” He blames the United States and liberal values for the uniqueness and global consequences of the crisis. He maintains that Americans, including the President of the U.S., were so frightened by 2008 that they resorted to “ideas that were impossible to talk about only six years ago.” Orbán does not specify what these ideas are or were, but he argues that the defining issue of our time is “to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful.” Then he adds: This is why Hungary needs to adopt political and economic systems “that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies, yet making nations successful.”
The speech includes an almost incoherent outpouring of primitive clichés about the United States. Americans, Orbán observes, live “in a society that is less and less capitalist and more and more feudal.” He asserts that, according to the U.S. president, “America has been engulfed by cynicism.” Alluding to the U.S. whose laws he does not seem to or want to understand, he mocks a “democratic” country where a president is impeached and yet he stays in power. Elsewhere in the speech he claims that the U.S. president “openly speaks about economic patriotism,” and he does so in a way that would have been “unimaginable six or eight years earlier.” Again, one wonders what Orbán had in mind. He makes no mention of America’s gradual if long and partial economic recovery, of unemployment dropping to the six percent level, of the unparalleled global reach of American technology, graduate education, culture, and so on. Unmentioned is that his friend and colleague who wrote Hungary’s new—very restricting and illiberal—basic law or constitution a few years ago did it on his iPad, a product of U.S. inventiveness.
Orbán did not couple his negative commentary about the West by even a single word of criticism of the Russian and Chinese dictatorships, or of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, or of Putin’s ongoing destabilization of Ukraine. His motive, it seems, was to depict the world’s leading liberal democracy as hopelessly deadlocked—not because President Obama or someone else was a poor leader (Obama’s name was not mentioned by Orbán) but because all liberal democracies suffer from such built-in, systemic problems as their emphasis on individuals rather than the collective. For Orbán, this is the principal justification for Hungary’s present practice of centralized, nationalist authoritarianism.
Looking ahead, Orbán’s speech could anticipate a long-term strategy to introduce even harsher, more dictatorial measures on the pattern of Turkey or possibly Russia. Given past behavior, it is clear that he is capable of radically changing his stances. After all, he was a strong advocate of European integration back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, while he is now an equally strong defender of the inviolability of sovereignty. He once made a name for himself as an anti-communist and even anti-Russian, while he now admires Putin’s “efficient” state. He used to favor capitalism while he is now a foe of banks, foreign and domestic, that are not under his government’s control. He was once an atheist; nowadays he mentions Christianity as his guiding light as often as possible.
If the speech was meant to prepare the ground for another new—and radical—departure, what could it be?
The fact that the speech was delivered to ethnic Hungarians in Romania suggests the possibility that Orbán, thinking of some four to five million ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, is fantasizing about a Greater Hungary. He looks at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and sees continuing civil strife and war in Ukraine where—at the Hungarian border—almost 200,000 ethnic Hungarians live. Western analysts tend to dismiss the idea that Orbán could be so delusional as to follow Putin’s example by casting his eyes on Ukraine’s westernmost sub-Carpathian region. They are probably right; it is a far-fetched idea. After all, Hungary does not even have a real military; its yearly defense expenditure is around 0.8 percent of its GDP, one of the lowest in NATO. And yet, if Ukraine is destabilized, it is not unimaginable that Orbán’s Hungary would attempt to fish in troubled waters. There is no better way for him to enter Hungarian history books than to begin the reconstruction of Historic or Greater Hungary.
Whether he does so depends on three factors:
First, Orbán must centralize even more power in his own hands. He would have to rewrite the constitution again so that Hungary is transformed into a presidential system after, or perhaps even before, his current term as prime minister ends. Following Putin’s example, Orbán would then promote himself into the Hungarian presidency.
Second, he would have to deepen his friendship with Russia, the country with demonstrated interest in a weak and divided Ukraine. As Hungary is already almost fully dependent on Russian energy for the next three decades, the best way left for Orbán to please Putin is to echo the latter’s anti-American harangues and weaken the European Union from within.
Third, the European Union and the United States would have to ignore what Hungary is doing or might be planning to do. That would encourage Orbán to pursue his historic mission.
If he is indeed on a historic mission to enlarge the “Hungarian space” in Central Europe, Orbán would also need to be contemplating to withdraw his country from the European Union. For basic economic reasons, he probably is not doing so right now. He needs the almost $30 billion the European Union has allocated to finance Hungarian infrastructure projects in the 2014-2020 period. Even if one discounts an estimated 10-15 percent pocketed by corrupt Hungarian officials and their loyal business associates, this is still a vast contribution to the Hungarian economy. Moreover, trade with such EU countries as Germany, Italy, Austria and others sustains the country’s foreign-trade-oriented economy. For these reasons and others, even the current Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament—Orbán’s political gateway to Jobbik, the country’s neo-Nazi far right party—has shied away earlier this year from explicitly endorsing Jobbik’s call for leaving the European Union.
On the other hand, there is still a chance, however slim, that punitive measures undertaken by the European Union could prompt Hungary to respond by trading its full EU membership for a limited partnership. Orbán would surely enjoy being the first European leader to “stand up” to Brussels this way.
Would the EU give him such a chance? Would the EU go beyond verbal or written reproaches? In the aftermath of Orbán’s July 26 speech, a Wall Street Journal editorial called on Brussels to take the Hungarian case seriously, stating that “Mr. Orbán’s illiberal candor is a warning that free markets and free societies need more forceful defending.” A New York Times editorial on August 2, 2014 urged the European Commission to treat Hungary “with more than the usual admonitions and hand-wringing.” It urged the Commission to reduce the above-mentioned $30 billion infrastructure support set aside for Hungary. “It should also,” said the editorial, “begin proceedings to invoke Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which allows the suspension of voting rights of a member state that is at serious risk of breaching the values listed in Article 2, including the rule of law, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.” In Europe, the Süddeutsche Zeitung voiced similar views.
While the EU, to repeat, is unlikely to implement such recommendations for the time being, its newly elected leaders could replace admonitions with sanctions in defense of “European values.” In the event, it is at least possible that—under such circumstances—Hungary would then “retaliate” in order to free itself from some or all of Brussel’s much-despised restraints. At that point, Orbán’s popularity would skyrocket. He would be widely admired for following in the footsteps of other legends in Hungary’s tumultuous history by pursuing a heroic and defiant act that may be briefly self-satisfying but ultimately self-defeating.
The issues that divide the U.S. and Hungary have little or nothing to do with security or economics. Hungary is not a particularly active member of NATO, though it sent troops to Afghanistan, and it has privately informed officials in Brussels about its willingness to increase its very modest defense budget every year for the next five years by 0.1 percent of its GDP. Unlike Poland, Romania, and the three Baltic states—and apparently the Czech Republic too—Hungary was initially reluctant to support sanctions against Russia, though once Germany changed its course so did the Hungarian government. (Typically, even the attentive Hungarian public is so engrossed in domestic politics that the government’s foreign policy gyrations are barely noticed.)
From Washington’s perspective, what matters most is the Hungarian government’s growing hostility to democratic values—freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom for civil groups to operate. Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. issued several protests, including a confidential demarche that was leaked to a still-independent newspaper. From Budapest’s perspective, American protests constituted interference in Hungary’s internal affairs. The government unleashed a never-ending series of vitriolic attacks in the government-controlled press on Mrs. Clinton and the United States. The attacks on the U.S. have continued since John Kerry took over the Department of State, but the Secretary—quiet on Hungarian issues—has not been subjected to the “Clinton treatment.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Orbán seems eager to alter his government’s image in the United States. With a $15 million budget, he established a lobbying group called the Hungarian Initiatives Foundation in order to bring young Hungarians to Washington where they serve as interns in congressional offices and elsewhere and—more importantly—to influence discussions about Hungary in the city’s think tanks by flying pro-Orbán officials and fellow travelers to the U.S. The group has made grants to several prominent think tanks and plays an active role in shaping the programs it supports.
It was also instrumental in arranging Orbán’s upcoming visit to the United States in mid-October. He is expected to visit New York and Los Angeles, reaching out to Hungarian-Americans and business leaders, but he will not stop in Washington. Apparently, he could not get an appropriate appointment at either the White House or the State Department, and Georgetown University, which invited him for a lecture, insisted on holding an open forum after the lecture.
Whether the Hungarian Initiatives Foundation will be able to continue its activities after Orbán’s July speech is uncertain. Some of its trustees—among them George Pataki, the former Governor of New York and Kurt Volker, the Hungarian-speaking head of the McCain Institute—ought to have a difficult time reconciling their support for Orbán’s Hungary with the prime minister’s anti-American harangue. So should Katrina Lantos—another trustee, head of the Lantos Foundation and daughter of the late Congressman Tom Lantos—who has so far shied away from speaking out in support of her father’s deeply-held democratic values.
What could official Washington do?
- It could actively encourage the European Union—which still vividly remembers its failure to deny a place for Joerg Haider’s extremist right-wing party in the Austrian government in 2000—to put the question of Hungarian membership in the EU firmly on the agenda.
- It could let the U.S. Senate know that there is no urgency in giving final approval to the ambassador designate, Colleen Bell—a capable but not necessarily knowledgable enough political appointee. If necessary, the Obama administration could send a Hungarian-speaking professional diplomat in her stead.
- It could downgrade diplomatic relations by reducing the size of the unnecessarily large U.S. Embassy in Budapest and by assigning a relatively low-level American diplomat to conduct business with the Hungarian ambassador in Washington and his staff.
- It could proudly but politely continue to engage in a cultural war against the anti-American thugs who write and pontificate in the country’s official media. In the process it could reach out, even more than now, to America’s friends among intellectuals and the political elite.
Except for what the EU could do, these are but small, symbolic steps. Soon enough, however, most Hungarians will appreciate that we kept hope alive.
It is apparently considered an undisputed fact that Orban owns the omnipresent gas trader MET through his reliable strohman Istvan Garancsi, who according to many simply does not possess the intellectual and financial capabilities to acquire and manage these assets.
In addition, Olajterv which was recently acquired by another probable strohman, a person named Polonyi, who is also just way too young to be able to shell out tens of billions if the transaction was a real acquisition, is also suspected to be Orban’s personal belonging.
Of course these are rumors, but many people in the know seem to accept these as facts.
Very nicely written. I like how he offers practical advice on what to do and not just his own analysis, even though he concedes that the US has limited scope to influence events here.
I wonder, however, about his comment that if Orbán “stood up” to Brussels in some fashion, then his popularity would “skyrocket.” Are Hungarians really that dumb? I guess I want to believe that we aren’t.
Buddy:”I wonder, however, about his comment that if Orbán “stood up” to Brussels in some fashion, then his popularity would “skyrocket.” Are Hungarians really that dumb? I guess I want to believe that we aren’t.”
Most Hungarian individuals are not dumb. But when it comes what they understand to be national pride, some kind of fog descends on most people’s brains and it does not dissolve.
I obviously meant to say “when it comes to”
I am afraid that Professor Gati’s suggestion of “reducing the size of the unnecessarily large U.S. Embassy in Budapest” will be received with the resistance of the embassy’s present and future personnel. After all Budapest is a nice city, with an intense cultural life and good food and there are no dangers like in Benghazi, for example. And as the Professor implies, they are not very busy either…
“Most Hungarian individuals are not dumb. But when it comes to what they understand to be national pride, some kind of fog descends on most people’s brains and it does not dissolve.”
” Are Hungarians really that dumb? I guess I want to believe that we aren’t.”
As to buddy and gdfxx: Mr. Schöpflin György seems to be a case in point! Old enough and with an outstanding professional career outside Hungary, he is an amazingly blind adherent to and Brussels representative of FIDESZ, as he proved in an interview with Austrian book authors in 2012/13 and in his abusive reactions to critics of Orbán’s speech of July 26 in Romania. Mrs Balogh referred to him here only recently.
Sad, but true! So if people of this “class” fall victims to nationalism what can you expect of the rank and file?
I should “withdraw” the word “abusive” since Mrs Balogh’s reference to G. Schöflin does not justify the use of it.On the other hand his view on Hungary’s course under Orbán seems to prove the traumatic condition of larger parts of the nation. You could hardly offer them a couch treatment, could you?
I suspect, (as I’ve written before), that Hungarian ‘Nationalism’ is the book-end of the psychological grief and guilt of the country’s actions during the War (IInd). Turning on Russia,
a former ally, without good reason was one such action. Psychollogically even more troubling
would have been the Hungarian action of sending 400,000 more jews to Auschwitz than even the Nazis had asked for…only to loot their homes and businesses. In the field of brazen national
brutality, I can hardly think of a like example. So, there’s plenty of reasons for Hungarians to be
‘sick-at-heart’. Nationalism is the means to wash away and cleanse one of such remorse…
Not a bad article, I agree. But not nearly sharp enough.
“His speech confirms what his domestic and foreign critics have said for years about his managed democracy and what until now his propagandists and loyal followers have heatedly denied.” – Hear, hear!
“Quoting a supposedly highly regarded (but unnamed) American analyst, he noted that liberal democracies, as in the U.S., were marked by corruption, lawlessness, sex, and drugs.” – This has already been shown clearly to be a malicious misquote.
“… the 2008 financial crisis” – Nobody should forget that this was a banking crisis that was caused and begun by American and British banks. It was NOT a financial crisis, originally – and still isn’t.
“America’s gradual if long and partial economic recovery…” – The U.S. economy is stagnating. What seems to be growth just accounts for the population growth, not more.
“Soon enough, however, most Hungarians will appreciate that we kept hope alive.” – Is that a prayer? A promise? A forecast? Or just wishful thinking? “Most Hungarians” are just not with it as far as I can see.
As for official Washington, I think it has finally become isolationist – again. The political knowledge about world affairs that came with many European refugees to Washington is on the wane. Just look at Kerry. The traditional “special” relationship – mostly via Britain – died a sudden death under Obama.
In my opinion, Charles Gati underestimates the power of the EU – and probably its new commission, once it is complete. Juncker is not Barroso. The EU was meant for Europeans. They will learn how to handle countries that are not understanding the spirit. This is, however, a general problem: More and more people are too young – and uneducated – to understand the huge peace project the EU is. Imagine, someone who was around 70 when I was born in 1945 (and I’ll be 70 next year, or so I intend) has lived through three major European wars, two of them World Wars. I was spared that experience because of what a single man proposed: It was Schuman and his plan of 1950.
But what am I talking about, when most people don’t even know the name of Kennedy…
Orbán will live with Hungary’s EU voting rights suspended. It will be more difficult to live without EU subsidies. But leaving the EU would mean sudden death, as the Hungarian economy is only kept – barely – afloat by foreign-owned exporting companies. And if Hungary is no longer a participant of the EU internal market, those companies would pack up the next day and leave. Then Orbán will have really driven Hungary against the wall.
Should we or shouldn’t we hope for that to happen soon?
Professor Gati’s essay is maybe overly critical of the incoherence of PM Orban’s Romanian speech, but in many respects it is a truly devastating critique of the speech. I was laughing at first when I read this part of the Gati essay:
“The fact that the speech was delivered to ethnic Hungarians in Romania suggests the possibility that Orbán, thinking of some four to five million ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, is fantasizing about a Greater Hungary. He looks at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and sees continuing civil strife and war in Ukraine where—at the Hungarian border—almost 200,000 ethnic Hungarians live. Western analysts tend to dismiss the idea that Orbán could be so delusional as to follow Putin’s example by casting his eyes on Ukraine’s westernmost sub-Carpathian region. They are probably right; it is a far-fetched idea. After all, Hungary does not even have a real military; its yearly defense expenditure is around 0.8 percent of its GDP, one of the lowest in NATO. And yet, if Ukraine is destabilized, it is not unimaginable that Orbán’s Hungary would attempt to fish in troubled waters. There is no better way for him to enter Hungarian history books than to begin the reconstruction of Historic or Greater Hungary.”
Then my chuckling turned to concern the more I thought about that passage from Gati’s essay. While I agree that PM Orban is delusional to think in anyway Hungary could somehow take back Transylvania, I honestly don’t think the Romanians think so. There are also a few Hungarians here in Chicago unfortunately that think a separatist revolt in Romania similar to what happened in the Ukraine is possible. I got this link from 2012 of the so called Székely-Magyar Nemzetőrség in an email fund raising appeal from one of these pro-separatist Transylvanians living in the Chicago area http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxXKHhcchPI&feature=youtu.be
John R. Haines in April wrote a short essay where he explored how Transcarpathian Hungarian separatist sentiment might be fueled by the Russians. To read this go to http://www.fpri.org/articles/2014/04/karpatalja-europes-next-crimea
The Romanian far right on various blogs now discusses what it calls the “apocalypse of Romania.” The Hungarization of Romania appears to be the highest threat to the Romanian identity according to the Romanian far right. If we believe polling data it appears that some 55.7% of Romanian respondents to an Adevarul poll in October of 2013 had negative feelings about Hungarians, about 29% had favorable feelings about Hungarians. Orban got the world’s attention with his speech, and some of that attention may not be good for Hungarians living in Transylvania or Transcarpathia.
I find that while Mr. Gati is worried about how Orban popularity would grow by standing up against the EU. Mr Gati says “Would the EU go beyond verbal or written reproaches? In the aftermath of Orbán’s July 26 speech, a Wall Street Journal editorial called on Brussels to take the Hungarian case seriously,”
At the same time Mr. Gati states as matter affect “Meanwhile, Prime Minister Orbán seems eager to alter his government’s image in the United States. With a $15 million budget, he established a lobbying group called the Hungarian Initiatives Foundation in order to bring young Hungarians to Washington where they serve as interns in congressional offices and elsewhere and—more importantly—to influence discussions about Hungary in the city’s think tanks by flying pro-Orbán officials and fellow travelers to the U.S. The group has made grants to several prominent think tanks and plays an active role in shaping the programs it supports.”
Well, maybe just maybe the USA should start to worry about the “power” it grants for the followers of Orban, then start to wish for what the EU should do. I do not mean to be nasty here, but having Hungarian interns in congressional offices in the USA hardly sounds like a hard approach.
As Orban unleashed his tax office and police force (of course officially it was not him) on the Civil Groups, maybe the USA could do a little investigation on how is the Hungarian money being spent on USA based Hungarian civil groups.
C. Gati : >>It could actively encourage the European Union—which still vividly remembers its failure to deny a place for Joerg Haider’s extremist right-wing party in the Austrian government in 2000—to put the question of Hungarian membership in the EU firmly on the agenda.<<
I am afraid he overestimates the possibilities of the USA to influence the EU. As long as the European people’s parties defend Orbán, he can continue as a maverick politician who is attacking the EU in Hungary but at the same time taking subventions from Brussels. As long as Mrs. Merkel defends him, he is safe.
Someone wrote in an interesting comment on 444.hu that it is apparently rumored by many that Putin promised the Subcarpathian region to Orban in exchange for Paks and Orban’s political support for Russia in the EU/NATO should Ukraine fall apart. Orban – since he is anyway essentially on the Russian’s payroll given his energy business interests – is just working diligently to get back Karpatalja.
I can well imagine that Orban believes and trusts Putin and if Orban could get back even an square inch from Ukraine, Orban would be more than happy to leave NATO and the EU to keep those square inches. I also think that the Russians must find it extremely easy to play Orban and the Hungarians, he reacts very well to the usual motivations: money and some nationalistic bait.
Orban is a true heir to Horthy (who never stood for an election and yet ruled for more than 20 years) and voters reward him for that. There is literally no price high for trying to get back the lost territories, just as no non-jewish surviving Hungarian was really unhappy after WWII. Sure we lost, but at least we tried and for a couple of years we owned some of the lost territories. This is the rule of unintended consequences: surely the gentlemen of Versailles did not anticipate that politics was going to be motivated by their actions a 100 years down the line (well, they did not see 20 years into the future as we now know).
In Russia, way over 80% supports Putin’s impending invasion of Ukraine, in Israel 95% of the people find the bombings proportionate (despite the extremely disproportionate number of deaths on the two sides). Nationalism, nationalist wars and wars in general are – at least at the beginning – extremely popular. Nationalism is on the rise everywhere, including Asia. Democracy is about the majority, so politicians will use any and all means to obtain the majority, if it’s nationalism than nationalism (and making more than a few bucks on the way also helps).
Ernest, with due respect to your imagination, Hungarians are a small minority in Kárpátalja and the Ukraine is not falling apart. The Hungarian saying is: A hungry pig dreams of acorns (Éhes disznó makkal álmodik)
So probably you should peddle your revisionist mantra elsewhere: >>but at least we tried and for a couple of years we owned some of the lost territories.<<
With all respect, but Ernest is surely not trying to “peddle your revisionist mantra” but warning of the crazy world of Orbán Viktor!
It may well be that he and his cohorts in Fidesz believe that live in an “Eurasian Union” might be better – at least for them, and anyway they don’t care about the simple Hungarians, they’re just cannon fodder for them.
So it will be “interesting times” to see whether they’ll follow this anti-EU behaviour through until the bitter end or whether they’re just testing he waters to see how much they can get away with.
I’m sure they don’t like the current situation where the USA and the EU suddenly got real and proclaimed real sanctions against Russia. Now they have to decide whether to follow the EU’s rules …
My guess is the EPP defends mostly… the EPP’s (relative) majority. Should any kind of action against the current Hungarian government come to a vote in the EP, not only would the group be at risk of losing at least 13 MEPs (Fidesz + MKP), but also of experiencing a major internal crisis.
In several EU countries, EPP member parties are now competing with populist and/or eurosceptic (to say the least) parties: you can be sure that the latter will, nationally, exploit this affair to the maximum. And that a non-negligible number of EPP MEPs from those countries may side, if not ‘with’ Fidesz, at least ‘not against’ for reasons of national politics.
I mentioned the other day that triggering Article 7 TEU would have serious consequences for all member states (‘What if we are next?’). But even the use of smaller guns, in the current context, poses a serious challenge to the EP’s main group.
@Karl Pfeifer, You misunderstood me, it is Orban and his pals who dream about the chopping up Ukraine and the acorns. But they do. It is not relevant how many ethnic Hungarians live there, only what Putin promised him. Russia is strong, they believe, and will spare no sacrifice to show the West that it is still strong and can conquer Ukraine if it really wants to. In fact nothing would make Russia’s stature even bigger than showing that it just does not not care about consequences, but when Russia decides something, it will follow through no matter what. Just like Orban, once he decides he always follows through, and this projection of almost crazyness increases the fear factor among his (would be) adversaries which in turn makes Orban’s or Russia’s position to attain their goals (with less costs)even easier. Russians are happy to endure a bit of inconvenience unlike their Western counterparts in order to reclaim their ancestral land. Meanwhile Western companies and lobbyist are trying in unison to prevent the EU from acting tough, because for the Western European people enjoying their morning coffee is sancrosanct and sactions by the EU (as well as those by Russia) could have costs at such precarious economic times (e.g. Italy is back into recession). Orban is betting on Russia, just like Horthy bet on Germany. He is almost certainly wrong, but the dream is just too tempting and the Russians know well how to hook a Hungarian politician.
“His speech confirms what his domestic and foreign critics have said for years about his managed democracy and what until now his propagandists and loyal followers have heatedly denied.”
Mr Nick Thorpe (Viktor’s poodle at the BBC) and the Hungarian-Brit author Tibor Fischer (Viktor’s erstwhile propagandist in The Guardian and elsewhere) have been noticeably quiet post the Orban speech so… his supporters if not actually the members of the regime know exactly its importance. However, more disturbing is the EU’s silence not just now but to all intents and purposes since the regime came to power in 2010.
The EU has the ultimate deterent to Orban’s setting up of his desired fascist state. Cut the funds or even threaten to cut the funds which keep his regime afloat and the business wing of the Fidesz mafia will damn well make sure that he soon starts obeying the normal rules of democracy. The embassies in Budapest have been constantly reporting back to their foreign ministeries the ongoing creation of the dictatorship and it is noticeable that there has not been one proper diplomatic visit (as far as I am aware) at PM level since early 2011… so the member states know exactly what is going on. What would it take from they do do their duty for democracy- a murdered journalist or human rights activist?
Re revisionist pipe dream. Of course, it is a pipe dream but Orbán’s thinking is not very far from entertaining such ideas. Just yesterday an op/ed piece was published in Der Standard, a liberal Austrian paper: “Ungarns kleiner Putin in der EU” which states: So wie Putin die alte Sowjetunion will Orbán das alte, viel größere Ungarn vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg wiederhaben.” (Just as Putin wants back the Soviet Union, Orbán would like to have back Greater Hungary as existed before World War I.”
As for Putin’s plans. The author here is wrong. Putin would like to restore the Russian Empire rather than the Soviet Union. David Remnick’s Watching the Eclipse in The New Yorker makes a good case for that scenario.
OT. An article about László Krasznahorkai in the NYT
Eva, I do not know the pipe dreams of Orbán. However, one thing is sure, without a war, the borders of Hungary cannot be changed.
“(…) in Israel 95% of the people find the bombings proportionate (despite the extremely disproportionate number of deaths on the two sides).”
The relevance of this (deliberately sneaky?) digression is difficult to grasp in the context of Mr. Gati’s article or the gist of your contribution.
Nonetheless, you may wish to look at this particular issue with an open mind and “sans hurler avec les loups.” It does take courage but, except if you would not want facts to get in the way of your convictions, you could start and be enlightened by reading how the Head of statistics at BBC News analyses these numbers (disclosing sources and methodology). And the BBC is not known, to say the least, for pro-Israel tendencies!
Karl, Of course, you are right but that does not preclude the possibility of the existence of such a pipe dream in Orbán’s head.
OT. Here is an article about NATO and Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary.
I listened at Lunchtime to Ö1 Mittagsjournal. Conservative Franz Fischler ex-agriculture EU commissar made a very clear statement about Viktor Orbán.
qaz: the relevance is the following. Nationalism pays often and especially at times of war or impending war, and nationalism plays into the hands of the nationalist leaders. Thus nationalism pays in Hungary (for Orban) or in Russia or in Turkey or in Israel or in China or in Japan, you name it. The 95% figure is from yesterday’s Financial Times. I seriously recommend the very interesting page-long article titled Worlds apart in which FT (not really a title for left wing subversives) comes across as someone watching the fundamental right shift of the Israeli society with dismay (where e.g. Netanjahu is now considered a moderate politician). Apparently even to criticize the Gaza war, to raise the imbalance in deaths or even to imply that a death of one Israeli is the same as the death of one Palestinian (because ‘of course’ the death of a Palestinian weighs much less) is unacceptable and tantamount to betrayal and especially the younger generations (as the older Europe-born Askhenazi left wing/socialist generations die out) are extremely hawkish. Mind you, Hungary also experienced a right-shift similar to Israel (where fyi currently 60% identify themselves as right wing, about 25% moderate and 15% left wing), though the reasons are probably different.
Fischler says it clearly re Orbán’s illiberal ideas:
“Währet den Anfängen” – of course it should be “wehret”, wonder how the ORF can make such a stupid mistake …
“Nip this in the bud!” might be a good translation.
Reblogged this on hungarywolf.
Ernest, it is wrong to project European ideas and behavior on the Middle East.
The last remnant of extreme leftwing people in Hungary with MGT (TGM) as their leader like to deflect attention from their failure in Hungary by pointing fingers to Israel. However, with all due respect the difference between Israel and Hungary is so big, that no comparison can be made.
1) Israel gets more investment from abroad for its high tech startups in 3 months than Germany in a whole year (see today FAZ, page 26 Rekordinvestitionen trotz Gaza-Krieg)
2) Rockets attack a country and inhabitants have 90 seconds to go to the shelter. Therefore, it is the duty of the government to defend its inhabitants.
3) I challenge all the extreme leftwing >>moralists<< who are upset about Israel defending itself to tell us why protest is not coming from them, when in Syria about 200000 people have been killed and when in Iraq the friends of Hamas massacre those who are not ready to convert. Jezidis, Christians and others. Is this connected with the fact, that in one case the alleged perpetrators are Jews? Or is it the racism of extreme leftwingers, who believe that you cannot demand from Arabs to respect Human rights?
As a matter of fact, I think this is highly relevant.
I guess Hungary’s withdrawal not from NATO but from its integrated military command is a working option. The French did it from 66 to 09, the Greeks from 74 to 80. It would probably be a crowd-pleaser – at least for the Fidesz (and Jobbik) voters.
Well-written, and I agree that the speech was poorly-structured, full of semantic errors in Hungarian, e.g. the strange use of ‘illiberal’ as well as mistaken in its analysis of western democracies. For example, Cameron has only made one statement about the role of Christianity in 21st Century Britain, widely seen as a sop to Anglican supporters of the Tory Party, whom he alienated by pushing through the Bill on same-sex marriage.
PS, about NATO again: I believe the government has announced that the Hungarian Air Force will participate in air policing for the three Baltic States starting next year. As I unfortunately don’t think the tension with Russia will diminish soon, this might prove quite interesting…
What concerns me most, living in Hungary as a member of a Hungarian family, is the last part of the speech, in which he refers to removing the obstacles to his brave new Hungary. These are foreigners, he states, and those who are paid by foreign ‘agencies’. He talks of them as if they are ‘spies’ and ‘agent provocateurs’. Action on this has already begun with the setting up of inquiries into European and Norwegian Funds. He seems to want to bring these completely under state control and administration.
Thank you Mr. Pfeifer!
Obviously Ernest’s convictions are so entrenched that he did not even have the intellectual curiosity to take a look at the very mild BBC piece putting things, very cautiously, into perspective as regard the/his disproportional assertion.
Ernest: The Israeli issue is not one of nationalism but one of survival in a war instigated by those who, in their charter, state their goals as the eradication of the State of Israel. As history has tragically shown, and Hungarians were in the front rows, Jews cannot rely on anybody but themselves. This has nothing to do with “left” or “right,” which nowadays does not means much anyway, nor is it an issue of nationalism.
This is my last comment on the issue as it is off topic and this thread shall not be hijacked.
If I were in the NATO leadership, I would be extremely wary about sharing any kind of secrets or future strategies with any Orbanist representative. That is not to decry the courage or professionalism of the Hungarian soldiers working with NATO just pointing out the logical outcome to be assumed from Orban’s “death of democracy in Hungary” speech last week.
re: sharing Nato secrets with Hungary
I would be surprised if there weren’t levels of secrecy within NATO. I don’t think Hungary would
be allowed into the higher reaches. And I don’t think that Hungary, as an extension of Russian interests, is a secret to most western nations.
I guess the Orbanists could be even useful to NATO as a means by which to feed false information to Viktor’s chums in the Kremlin.
Karl Pfeifer and Qaz:
I of course, now I see it clearly, was foolish to have invoked Israel in any way because it only upsets various readers.
Israel, it seems, is probably in its own league and cannot be compared to any country in the world because it is a completely unique case (sarcasm). That said, I think there is indeed something in this argument (seriously), and this is what makes comparative politics/economics extremely difficult, the some 200 countries are probably more different than alike. Which is why it is almost useless to compare Hungary to the Czech Republic or Slovakia, which in a way seem similar enough — but in reality not (but perhaps the differences would only appear in other categories than what we usually measure).
It is a bit weird, however, to read that I have entrenched convictions, when in fact I have no vested interest whatsoever with respect to the future of Israel and I am not a crazy anti-semite hack who wants to provoke readers. But if the Financial Times *dares* to raise some issues which would seem legitimate (and fascinating) in the case of any other country in the world, then there might, just might be something in those arguments.
I daresay that the lack of ability to get self critical would be an issue in the cases of both Orban and the average reader of this blog. Plus, like I said, the reasons of the right-shift are probably different. Nuff said.
Except that this discussion doesn’t belong here at all. – I have stopped reading FT because it has become a terrible newspaper.
Interesting article about the Ukraine.
Click to access ukraine_imr_a4_web.pdf
Minusio re FT. I heard the same complaint about it. The best paper in that league is The Economist.
Ernest and Minusio,
Countries like Hungary and Israel had such a different history, so it would be advisable to compare countries with a common history.
One could compare Hungary to Austria, a country lucky enough not to have had for 40 years a communist system. On the other hand, Hungary was part of the multinational Habsburg Empire for centuries.
Hungary can and should be compared to the Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland) who went also through 40 years of communism.
Ernest as far as your sarcasm is concerned, Israel is all the time compared to other countries. During the last weeks, I have seen it compared often enough with Nazi-Germany. Since I have experienced both I beg to differ.
romero: There are nice similarities between how the Ukrainians arrange their energy deals and how Hungarians do and how in these shady, middle men companies the ruling families (now Orban’s) are always involved somehow. Why would be Orban any different from Yanukovich?
We Hungarians are not anti american,this platform is a Israel payed Jew propaganda news,full of lies,as usuall,,,,to descredit Hungarians ,,,end of story,,
@Dante@ You use Pluralis majestatis therefore you are a troll. There is no need for >>Israel payed Jew[ish] propaganda<<. Hungarians like yourself are much more efficient.
Don’t feed the trolls.
To join the debate between Ernst, Minusio, Karl Pfeifer (and Wolfi) re HUNGARY (not Israel)
1. Ernst I truly hope that Hungarians do not cherish hopes about receiving Trancarpathia back. The Hungarian ethnic minority is ten something percent there, the area is run down, underdeveloped and poor. Apart from romantic daydreaming, I can’t see any sanity in that, and I dont’t think Orban is thinking any further ahead than just pleasing Putin for financial support.
2. Could any of you maybe sum up in cca 3 sentences what Commissioner Franz Fischler said on the radio? I don’t speak German. Apart from “nipping it in the bud – (for which it is too late anyway…)
3. Karl Pfeifer, are you Austrian? Yes, Hungay could be compared to Austria in many ways, although Hungary was always a little behind Austria even during the monarchy, I think. Or to Slovakia or Czech Republic, for different reasons.
It would be interesting to use East Germany as a control group. I know big brother had the money and all the good will in their case, but do people who grew up in the GDR find it difficult to think and behave in a liberal democracy? with similar problems to Hungarians? did /do they also throw up this “we won’t be a colony” tantrum?
… I mean they were of the same background, traditions and long-term history as the West Germans, did they adapt to the new circumstances better than us Hungarians?
So…if Orban thinks of making Great Hungary…What woluld Hungary do with 5.5 milions of romanians, 2 milions of ucrainiens, 2 milions slovacks? It would be a complete madness. That country would never function. There will be all the time protests from the other ethnic grups. Ethnic grups that would sum more that 40% of the population
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