Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy doctrine: only national interest

Every year Hungarian ambassadors assemble in Budapest to listen to very lengthy lectures by Viktor Orbán on their duties.  I began covering this gathering in 2010, when the prime minister outlined “a much more courageous, much more aggressive foreign policy”  than the one pursued by the socialist-liberal governments. In 2011 he announced his intention to wage a war against the European Union in defense of the country’s sovereignty, and he urged the ambassadors to steadfastly defend all of the government’s unorthodox moves. In July 2012 his speech centered around the protracted economic crisis that was “not made any easier” by the existence of the democratic model. “Europe chose the democratic model after World War II,” so that’s that. This was not a criticism on his part, he added. And a year later, in 2013, he claimed that Europe can remain competitive only if it finds accommodation with Russia. He admitted that this is a difficult proposition because Russia is not a democratic country. “However, we must understand that for Russia it is not democracy that is the most important consideration but rather how the country can be kept intact.”

If anyone thought that after his speech of July 26 Orbán would try to retreat, realizing that foreign reaction was exceedingly critical of his illiberal ideas that are incompatible with the values of western democracies, they were mistaken. Here are the most important segments of his long speech as reported by MTI. It appeared on the government’s website.

Orbán in his 2010 speech urged the ambassadors to defend the Hungary’s unorthodox policies. Today he suggested the opposite. They “should not assume a defensive posture” because “the Hungarian position can defend itself.” They should listen to what other nations’ representatives have to say, but their answers should not be substantive. It should be no more than a polite gesture, “a civilised obligation.” In brief, Hungary needs no advice from anyone.

Source: Népszabadság / Photo: Zsolt Reviczky

Source: Népszabadság / Photo: Zsolt Reviczky

The ambassadors must not represent a country which is constantly criticized and questioned on its economic indicators or on its historical sins. “No one in the whole world has the right to take us to task, especially since Hungary’s democratic credentials are the best in all of Europe.” After all, at the time of the acceptance of the new constitution every possible legal question was answered satisfactorily.

As for Hungary’s place in today’s world order, there is no question that “Hungary’s place is within the western alliance system,” but “we no longer follow a foreign policy based on ideology.” The only consideration is “Hungarian national interest.” In his opinion “clever nations invented foreign policy based on ideology for half-witted nations.” And surely, Hungary is not one of them.

Normally, Orbán does not like question and answer periods. For example, apparently the reason for his recent cancellation of a speech at Georgetown University was the university administration’s insistence on such a format. It seems that on these occasions, however, whether he likes it or not, he has to answer a few polite questions by the ambassadors.

So Csaba Balogh, ambassador to Bratislava, asked him about Hungary’s position on the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. We already knew that Orbán is reluctant to support joint European efforts at containing Putin’s expansionist plans. This time he made his position crystal clear. For him the Russian-Ukrainian crisis has only economic ramifications, and these are obviously negative. Already last year on the same occasion Orbán advocated closer ties between Russia and the European Union. Today he sadly noted that, despite his advice, relations between Russia and the European Union are getting worse and worse. And that is bad not only for Hungary but also for the European Union.

So, what will Hungary do under these circumstances? Orbán’s Hungary will seek out those countries whose interests lie in preventing further rifts between Russia and the EU and promote closer cooperation with them. In plain English, he will try to drive a wedge between the member states in their policy toward Putin’s Russia.

Orbán seems to be convinced that criticism of his “seeking a different political model”–as he euphemistically called his illiberal vision of Hungary’s future– is some kind of punishment for his “different views on Russian sanctions.” Otherwise, there would not be all that fuss.

Finally, Orbán stated that he is “dead against” immigration because he does not consider multiculturalism a desirable end. Homogeneity is a valuable feature within individual countries, and therefore these homogeneous communities should not be broken up. To quote Reuters, Orbán told his audience that “we must fight to keep this issue under national jurisdiction…. I make no secret of this: we will continue with a very tough policy that does not at all encourage immigration … For Europe to have general rules that affect all of us who think differently is out of the question.” I assume he means only extra-European immigration. In plain language, this is a “whites (and probably Christians) only” policy. He called the EU’s immigration policy hypocritical, impractical, and without moral foundation. As Reuters rightly pointed out, that might put Orbán at odds with Brussels.

It is also interesting to note what MTI’s summary left out, which other journalists who were present noticed. The most obvious to me was Népszabadság’s reporting that “one must not overrate the so-called common European values.” The liberal paper considered that sentence so important that it used it as its headline.

So, there is plenty to chew on here, and I am sure there will be more to discuss when the complete transcript is released. In any case, the European Union has a problem on its hands as Wolfgang H. Reinicke, president of the Global Public Policy Institute, pointed out a few days ago. He optimistically predicted that “Europe’s Orbán problem” can be fixed. It all depends on the political will to confront him. Orbán is ready for that fight.

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64 comments

  1. Quote Eva: “ I really don’t understand. Doesn’t Orbán think through the consequences of his political views? It seems that he doesn’t.”
    I do not think so either. I think he is just improvising, one day at a time, no one is ever criticizing him ever anymore within Hungary…and he just follows his personal hatred towards anyone who ever had the courage to be critical.

    I think, he has been taken too seriously. He…(in my opinion) is NOT very intelligent at all, but he is drunk by now by all the power he has, and all he can do, without any opposition at all.

    In other words, he is never corrected and getting delusional.

  2. It is a seriously bizarre comment about immigration, the only “problem” Hungary has with immigrants “flooding” the country is the large number of Transylvanians who dominate certain industries here (eg it seems as almost every second IT programmer hails from Erdely). I guess those weren’t the “foreigners” who were disturbing him. BTW, I don’t see Transylvanians as a problem but then, unlike our disgustingly racist PM, I don’t see other immigrants (regardless of their skincolour or religion) as one either

    Perhaps the likes of Havelaar above are correct; when Orban delivers his speeches now he is generally talking off the top of his not very clever head.

    His present day utterances certainly lack any kind of coherent logic which I don’t think was the case 2 or 3 years ago. He is an intellectual lightweight so I seriously doubt he ever did write his speeches so perhaps it’s simply the case that, as elsewhere in the government, he is now relying on idiots he can bully to write up his speeches?

  3. julio: I think Russia is pretty ‘successful’, not in terms how the Russians live (but who care about them, right?) but in terms of Putin’s position, whom Orban deeply admires and envies.

    I’m not so sure.

    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/08/putin-the-not-so-great-109711.html

    goggly: With his “homogeneity” remarks, he’s basically telling Slovakia, Romania, et al to assimilate their ethnic Hungarians as quickly as possible, or to encourage them to move away. I hope no neighboring country’s leader will listen too carefully.

    That’s a classic problem of ethno-nationalists: their incapacity to provide for a functional international framework. When their model is adopted by their neighbors, they end up waging war instead of enjoying peace.

  4. GW
    August 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm
    Did Orban also skip the vote to join NATO? The consequences of this speech appear to directly contradict the requirements of NATO membership.

    In fact there was a referendum regarding NATO membership. Prior to the referendum only two parties lobbied against the membership, MIEP, and the Workers Party. THe referendum was held on November 17, 1997 with almost 50% turnout, with about 85% yes vote.

  5. Re comment by “cheshire cat”: I can’t say if PM Orban would like out of NATO, because like the EU it provides things to the Hungarian state it simply can’t afford without it given its low military expenditures, in particular training. I do think for security reasons given the penetration of Russian agents, etc, Hungary should at the least be confronted about its position in relation to NATO at the 2014 Summit to be held at Newport, Wales, on 4-5 September. President Obama is going to be there I understand and a few comments publicly made about Hungary and its position on Russian aggression against the Ukraine would go a long way. I personally would go further up to the point of suspension from NATO, but Obama and the NATO leadership are a very restrained bunch.

    In 2013, just four of the 28 NATO members—the United States, Britain, Estonia, and Greece—spent the required 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. France fell below the 2 percent mark in 2011. So Hungary can’t be faulted on that basis, they are unfortunately in good company.

    But Hungary and PM Orban can be what we called in the US Army “smoked out” by forcing several critical issues that will put forward an aggressive stance towards the Russian Federation:
    1. Ensure that the alliance is clear on its mission and purpose. The summit declaration should make it clear that collective security and territorial defense will underpin everything NATO does. That defense explicitly includes the front line states bordering the Russian Federation and the Ukraine.
    2. Establish a permanent NATO ground force presence in Eastern Europe. It makes no sense, either militarily or diplomatically, not to have robust capability in Central and Eastern Europe. It will be far easier to deter threats and defend the region from Russia than it will be to liberate them.
    3. Slowly shift NATO training in Europe from counterinsurgency operations to large scale collective security operations. For the past several years, training has focused on NATO’s counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. A nation which I fear will with the withdrawal of US forces will end up with a Taliban take over. As the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan winds down, NATO should also get back to carrying out regular training exercises for its collective defensive against a land and air invasion of Europe by Russia.
    4. There needs to be a discussion of increasing the stockpile nuclear weapons in Europe and the NATO position adopted in 1990 that nuclear weapons were weapons of “last resort” needs to be rescinded to allow for the tactical use of these weapons against a full scale Russian offensive. This would warn Putin and his generals, in effect, that if any NATO nation was invaded, the choice to use nuclear arms would be forced upon NATO.

    If even several of these steps were taken Putin and his international media operation Russia Today will be howling, I say good! I also suspect that Putin would be on the hot line to Orban pressuring Hungary to adopt an oppositional stance to a hard line anti-Russian position that sees the Russian Federation as a dangerous opponent to NATO. That is good too, which way do you want Hungary to go Orban? The issue must be forced and the sooner the better. I do know this is not Obama’s style, but maybe since Putin has been playing Obama and deceiving him President Obama is capable of being aggressive and audacious for just once.

  6. A little history. The NATO referendum was the very seed of destruction for the Hungarian left.

    Gyula Horn, the MSZPnik prime minster wanted a referendum about joining the NATO, a simple parliamantary vote was not enough for him. So he had to dilute the conditions on the referendum which previously prescribed that at least 50 per cent of the voters had to cast a vote in order for the referendum to be valid. He was afraid that the referendum might not be valid because it was not such a huge issue for voters, neither is it now. So, with the help of SZDSZ, with 2/3s, the rules were weakened.

    Fidesz’ first, but clearly deadly blow to the MSZP came when Fidesz successfully organized the populist referendum against the health care co-payment etc. Although it is true that this referendum was successful even under the old, pre-Horn rules, Fidesz would not even have initiated the referendum in the first place under such restrictive rules because it would have feared that it was not going to be valid. Only because there was a realistic possibility with the diluted rules of a valid and successful referendum, did Orban initiate the referendum. Of course Orban needed the support of the constitutional court but he got it as by that time leftist judges moved towards the more popular party (i.e. Fidesz) which was obviously before its huge successes, while MSZP was clearly on the way out.

    MSZP could never fight in the legal arena, leftists just did not understand how this world operates (mainly because most lawyers are by nature conservative and anti-communist), whereas Fideszniks are all lawyers who understand that in a modern country law is the most important ‘weapon’, both when you attack and when you defend (e.g. against the EU)

    I am not sure MSZP could have averted its historic defeat in 2010, but this referendum certainly sealed its fate. MSZP became the pariah party supporting unpopular policies and by this referendum it became branded a loser, a deadly image in politics (of course MSZP was much more than just the loser, it was corrupt, impotent and amateurish too).

  7. @Bowen: such things have never been NATO’s concern, and I don’t think they should be.

    @Istvan: I share the view that OV won’t quit in the foreseeable future, the worst case scenario being a move à la De Gaulle (but Hungary doesn’t have nukes, and he would have to get rid of Pápa air base… not sure he can walk the walk).

    But suspension? Turkey wasn’t suspended, in spite of three coups d’état and the invasion of Cyprus in conflict with another member state. Naturally, Turkey’s geographic position is highly strategic (even more so now) but NATO moving East of Europe as you suggest (and I agree, while my Govt doesn’t) doesn’t seem coherent with suspending Hungary.

  8. @Bowen. the only thing I can come up with is the Hungarian saying: “megáll az ész!” By the way, Charles Vámossy, the man who is behind the family’s protest against Jobbik’s involvement with the restoration project of the tomb, phoned me yesterday to thank me for making clear that Tibor Vámossy was not a member of the Ragged Guard. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at home. He left a very nice long message about how upsetting this whole thing was for him and his family. I know Charles personally, although we have not been in touch for a very long time. I tried to call him back and thank him for his kind words about Hungarian Spectrum but his old number no longer works. I left him a message on Facebook. I hope to have a conversation with him about this whole thing.

    The Vámossy case clearly demonstrates how the Orbán government is cooperating with Jobbik. The trouble comes only when, as in this case, there is an outside protest and hende et al is caught in between.
    .

  9. Marcel geographically putting forward NATO ground forces on either side of Hungary would be just as strategically effective as pre-positioning forces in Hungary, unless of course Hungary did something crazy like allow Federation troops on its soil which seems unlikely. Poland and the Baltic states want pre-positioned multi-nation ground forces within their borders. A permanent NATO military base on Romanian territory is a strategic objective that Romania will discuss at next week’s military bloc’s summit in Wales, Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta has said today. see http://sofiaglobe.com/2014/08/26/romania-seeks-permanent-nato-military-presence/

    The USA has invested $134 million (€97 million) in the Deveselu Romania air base, built some 60 years ago with the old Soviet Union’s help. Deveselu will be a crucial component in building up NATO’s overall ballistic missile defense system by the end of 2015 when the base will be operational and integrated into the overall NATO system.

    Suspending is not the same as expelling, but that is very unlikely to happen. The reason I like the suspension idea is that it makes the confrontation with Orban more real and causes the Hungarian public to realize there are consequences for Orban , Fidesz, and the Jobbik jumping in bed with Putin. It also might allow NATO to attempt to purge suspected SVR agents out of the Hungarian military as a condition for reinstatement. But that will not happen any time too soon unfortunately. But to use an American sports metaphor, there won’t be a real cost to President Obama if he gets in Orban’s face at the NATO summit and there could be a big payoff.

  10. Istvan, as an example of the current situation in the Balkans: the Hungarian Air Force is policing the skies of Slovenia and Croatia, because these countries don’t have an air force anymore – and I’m afraid their ground forces are also in a sorry state. Austria isn’t in NATO, and I’m not sure Italy can take up the baton (nor that they should either, there are other concerns on their other side of the Mediterranean ).

    I haven’t read the Serbian press in a while, but I’m ready to bet that Putin’s current course has found a favorable echo in a substantial part of the population… and of the political class. Besides, it seems an unfortunate situation is developing in the BiH regarding jihadists coming back from Syria & Iraq (this has become an Europe-wide concern, yet there are doubts on the willingness of Bosnian authorities to deal with it, and it might be very late). I don’t think this part of Europe should be neglected at the moment.

    If at least during the Wales summit the European members could be confronted to their defense spending responsibilities, that would be an achievement. Also, convincing Germany which appears quite reluctant to move East. Therefore, I’m afraid Orbán’s drift will be very low on the agenda.

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