Reactions to Viktor Orbán’s speech to the ambassadors

I simply cannot get over the ineptitude of the Hungarian opposition parties. It is hard to pick the biggest loser among them. Here we are before the Budapest municipal elections where the stakes are high since with good candidates and a good campaign the democratic parties have a chance of replacing István Tarlós and perhaps even receiving  the majority of the district mayoralties. The chief MSZP negotiator was Ágnes Kunhalmi, a young woman with little political experience who, it seems, had difficulties keeping the local party bosses in line. As a result, in several districts the democratic parties will run not only against the Fidesz candidates but also against each other. A sure way of losing.

And what did the brand new party chief, József Tóbiás, do during these tense weeks of constant intra-party negotiations? He went on vacation! In his opinion he has nothing whatsoever to do with local Budapest affairs. The locals will take care of local affairs! As for the common candidate for the lord mayoralty, when asked what he thought of him, Tóbiás without batting an eyelash answered that Ferenc Falus must be a good candidate if all three parties agreed on his nomination. When pressed, he admitted that he does not know Falus, but after he meets him he will form an opinion. As far as I know, the meeting has been postponed several times since. Tóbiás is too busy.

The parties’ reactions to Viktor Orbán’s speech to the ambassadors yesterday were also poor. Perhaps the most feeble was Együtt-PM’s statement. It was penned by Nóra Hajdu, who is not exactly a household name in Hungarian politics. I managed to find her in tenth place on Együtt-PM’s list for the EU election. At that point E-PM was hoping to send three people to Brussels, but in the end they received only a single mandate.

Her statement began by expressing the party’s disappointment over Orbán’s failure to remedy the mistakes he committed in his “illiberal” speech because these mistakes “are accompanied by serious international consequences.” Disappointment? Couldn’t she find a more forceful and apt word for this speech? Hajdu expressed her surprise that Orbán instructed the ambassadors to represent “his mistaken policies.” I don’t know what else Nóra Hajdu expected. That is what ambassadors are supposed to do. At the end she did mention the unacceptable turn of phrase about “the half-witted nations” who follow a foreign policy based on universal liberal values.

Tóbiás wasn’t exactly hard-hitting either. He talked in general about mistaken policies and an alternative reality that exists only in Orbán’s head. But the most surprising part of the announcement was that, in his opinion,”the ambassadors should represent the Hungarian nation and not Viktor Orbán’s parallel world.” I really don’t know what to think. Ambassadors represent the government they serve. If someone cannot in good conscience do that, he should resign.

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy of DK spoke somewhat more forcefully about his and his party’s objections on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd where he stressed the unacceptability of a foreign policy based exclusively on material gain. In his interpretation Orbán “gave the order” to lead Hungary further toward eastern dictatorships.

In addition to these official statements, Viktor Szigetvári, who by now has assumed the leading role in E-PM, wrote a long post on his own blog. Of course, this is not the best place to air his reactions to Orbán’s latest since few people will find it. It is, however, a surprisingly good analysis, which indicates to me that Szigetvári is most likely a better political analyst than a politician. After all, he was trained as a political scientist.

Szigetvári rightly points out that “in all mistaken analyses there are several real and factual elements.” For example, it is true that the European Union struggles with the problems of the protracted economic crisis.

According to Szigetvári, Orbán is also right about the necessity of conducting “intelligent Realpolitik.” In the classical meaning of the word, it means a diplomacy that is primarily based on power and material considerations rather than ideological or ethical premises. Such a foreign policy, however, presupposes individual, absolutely sovereign states who can play a power game on the chessboard of the world. Hungary cannot conduct that kind of Realpolitik since it is part of a larger unit, the European Union, and is a country without complete sovereignty. Therefore, the kind of Realpolitik Orbán advocates is unrealistic and doomed to failure.

Unless, of course, Orbán is contemplating a series of moves that would end in Hungary’s either leaving the European Union on its own or being forced out of it. András Vértes, an economist and chairman of GKI Gazdaságkutató Zrt, is convinced that, in spite of what everybody says, Orbán’s final goal is saying goodbye to Brussels. Orbán suggested in his speech that 50% of Hungary’s exports should go to countries outside the European Union. “That is an astonishing wish…. The overwhelming majority of investment in Hungary comes from EU sources and EU countries, but we send the message that Russian and Chinese capital is more important for us…. That kind of talk will frighten away the few investors who are still interested.”

Thus, there is something very wrong with Orbán’s version of Realpolitik. It doesn’t seem to serve the interests of the country. Orbán urged the ambassadors to entice investors to Hungary, but Vértes is right. Given the political and economic climate in Hungary, the ambassadors’ attempts cannot be successful.

As for the overall assessment of the speech, there seem to be two schools of thought. One is that Viktor Orbán retreated from his resolve to develop an “illiberal state” and the other is that he simply reiterated and strengthened the messages of his speech in Tusnádfűrdő/Băile Tușnad. Given Viktor Orbán’s penchant for delivering talks that are anything but clear, both groups will find plenty to support their contentions. But more about that tomorrow.

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36 comments

  1. “I simply cannot get over the ineptitude of the Hungarian opposition parties.”

    That describes the whole Hungarian political scene, at least to my understanding.

    If it were’nt for you and your blog, I’d given up long ago. And to be frank, I’m not sure if either of us is going to live beyond Orbanistán.

    At least Györgyi will have some asylum here…

  2. Bill Gates usually talks like Orbán at Tasnádfürdő, extolling Singapore, South Korea, etc. , countries to emulate. OV draws attention to the shortcomings of liberal democracies. He is not the only one.

  3. @Joe Simon

    Bill Gates is not Hungarian, he is not a head of state, he is not even the head of a company, so who cares what he says in the context of this blog? Or is Orban hoping that Bill Gates I going to donate his wealth to his fellow illiberal?

  4. Why the surprise, Eva?

    The opposition is already bought off, after all there’s plenty of money to go around and no one has had the audacity to rape the country quite in the manner of Orban (the axe-killer dealer; Paks negotiator…et.et.)

    The opps are probably making better now than they could on their own!

  5. The intention of raising the ratio of exports to third countries (i.e., non-EU) isn’t intrinsically bad. It’s always a good thing for the EU, too. The ratio for Hungary being only 24%, there is room for progress.

    But when you look at the EU members that have raised above the 30% level, be it the big exporters (UK 55%, Germany and France 44%) or countries roughly the size of Hungary (Greece 49%, Sweden 45%, Belgium 32%), you may notice they all share at least one characteristic: they’re often in the world’s top 10 exporting countries for several of their main export products. I don’t think it is a coincidence.

    At the moment, Hungary’s exports have no champions to help build a reputation on the global market. And apart from the ‘energy hub’ plans which seem quite fragile, I haven’t heard of any significant government initiative in that direction. Hence I’m afraid this is only yet another example of blah blah …

  6. I think Viktor Szigetvári is discussing Realpolitik as an intellectual abstraction as Eva in her post suggests. Orban doesn’t have a game here between east and west, Putin wants it all, he wants the soviet multi economic state put back together again on some type of gangster capitalist basis. Putin wants to drag Orban into his web and if Orban thinks he can play games with Putin to maintain the level of autonomy the Hungarian state has now he had better think again.

    Putin is not a student radical lawyer turned politician, he is the real deal – KGB old school. Once Putin gets Orban in his web the poor boy will have to do as he is told or he will be going on a car ride with no return. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  7. Petofi as they say here in Chicago, if it’s a done deal there an’t no backing out. For the sake of Hungary lets hope the spider has not captured his prey.

  8. Report in the Drudgereport: “Nato plans east European bases to counter Russian threat”

    Nato chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen to el Presidente: “Viktor, we know how valiant you were
    on the expulsion of Russians in 1989. This should really please you.”

    The fun begins…

  9. There is no way in hell Hungary can ever increase its exports to third countries. One has to be delusional to think that. This strategy is partly for show (most Hungarian local entrepreneurs who form his voter base tend to dislike the EU, the competition with which they cannot cope, but average voters on the right also dislike the EU), and because it would mean more freedom for Orban himself.

    Two reasons:

    EU is closer and is a much more natural market than any far away countries. So any exporter (which has competitive products, that’s the big issue) would naturally try to sell stuff on closer markets. In any case, Russian or Chinese or Indian or Nigerian markets are no less competitive than Germany or France (but have other issues).

    Secondly, just as we see with Russia, foreign markets of emerging economies are not reliable. Burocratic, arbitrary decisions, political issues render these markets very unreliable. Most of the biggest foreign investors in China never made a dime there (but let their know-how stolen), but giant corporations can live with that. Smaller Hungarian companies (and even the biggest ones are small on a global scale) cannot, it’s just not worth it.

    The only region where Hungarian products may go beyond the their usual markets is the “near-abroad”: Serbia, Ukraine, Albania, Moldavia etc. — but even there Turkey could probably outcompete Hungary easily.

    If one reads the list of businesspeople who accompanied Orban to China (about a year ago, if I remember correctly) it is clear that it is an absolutely hopeless task.

    I have to agree with Vértes, Orban’s plan is to leave any international communities which in his view restricts his political freedom, however feebly (e.g. EU). He is waiting for the best moment, but – if he is still there, but looking at the opposition, Orban can have decades more – he will do it. Remember, the voters, especially his die-hard fanatics (and Jobbik voters) have already been prepared and they are not becoming any more enthusiastic.

    People still delude themselves, “now, this one, he won’t do…no that is impossible, he is bad, but not that bad”. Orban did it, every crazy, bad, vile move which he could do because he had the power to do it, he did it. He will lead Hungary out of EU and the NATO — just as Russia would ‘advise’. The only question is when?

  10. Re selling to other markets:

    When we go shopping here at the Interspar (or Lidl, Aldi etc …) I always marvel at the product descriptions in at least 10, often 20 languages for different countries. Selling to only one of these markets is just not worth the effort.

    The same goes for “hardware products” which we buy at OBI eg.

    How are smaller Hungarian companies (SME) to manage that? You have to be very good and then of course the Chines will copy you and/or steal your knowledge, so it’s a continuous fight for survival.

    And since Hungary chased away many of its brains (and still does …), chances are even less good …

  11. Meanwhile, the EU State Secretariat at the Foreign Ministry has effectively been abolished, with the officers either fired or reassigned. Its former head, Enikő Győri for example has left for Madrid, with no-one succeeding her.

    In Brussels, at the Fidesz EP fraction, professionals like Csaba Őry or Béla Glattfelder have been replaced by ethnic Hungarians from neighbouring countries without proper foreign language skills and civilizational competences.
    One of them is an elementary school teacher from Transcarpathia (Ukraine). She actually sat on a plane for the first time in her life as she travelled to Brussels to take up her position.

    So one can safely conclude that Hungarian interest representation in the EU has been deliberately and fatally undermined. Well done!

  12. @TúróRudolf

    As a matter of fact, the share of Hungarian exports to extra-EU28 countries has been steadily (except for the 2009 bump) growing since 2004. So I guess a 30% share is reachable in the next 10 years.

    However, in order to reach the 40-50% segment, what you write make a lot of sense, though I don’t think it is a foregone conclusion. Except that I don’t see how this Govt is actually having a vision on how to make it happen.

    They talk about ‘work’, but we don’t now what jobs. About ‘exports’, but we don’t now of what. About ‘Russia, China, Turkey’ – but all we can see is their admiration for Putin and Erdogan’s anocratic backlash.

  13. wolfi: And since Hungary chased away many of its brains (and still does …), chances are even less good …

    Entirely agree.

    There was a recent piece on Newsweek about the state of the Russian startup scene. Given the current context it is to be taken with a pinch of salt, yet I’m under the impression there is some truth to it – and that, unfortunately, this is the direction Hungary is taking.

    http://www.newsweek.com/2014/08/29/putin-pops-russias-tech-bubble-266592.html

  14. @Paul

    The investigation began three years ago, when the country was governed … by the same right-wing majority she did belong to as a Minister.

    Now that may be something to meditate for Fideszniks. 😉

  15. @Paul

    re Lagarde

    She referred the case to a panel of 3. In Hungary there’s only one such panel: V. Orban with
    ME, MYSELF AND I.

    Hungary is the most ridiculous case of a country’s development and morality backsliding…known
    to mankind.

    Yes, there’s something to be proud of for Orban and the Fidesznik mice!

  16. The National Bank of Hungary is a crime syndicate. It is official now.

    The NBH established foundations with a total of HUF 200bn (almost one billion USD) seed capital. These foundations will grant well-paying jobs to reliable right-wing (fidesznik) people and on paper will organize unortodox economics education.

    In practice these are only the paperwork, the lepapirozás, the legally plausible (but for the fidesznik prosecution and courts, convincing) denial of the very obvious theft.

    Since these foundations will be private entities, they could do whatever they want and enter into any transactions, even the apparently very lax rules which apply to NBH (it has been ‘legally’ buying hotels and office buildings and spending vast amounts on sponsorship) will not apply to these foundations.

    This is grand larceny pure and simple.

    And this in addition to the payment of HUF 19bn for an office building to various shady off-shor companies which could not be sold for 11bn. (And this is the beginning with the proposed “bad bank” Fidesz will essentially steal another HUF 300-400bn.)

  17. http://hvg.hu/itthon/20140827_Orban_olyat_venne_el_Simicskatol_amit_meg

    Poor Western observers, EU politicians and others still believe Orban’s nice side (because they desperately want to avoid facing the terrible reality that a crazy dictator is in their midst) and the bullshitting of his minions and media guys.

    My theory is that people avoid facing such terrible truth not because it would turn out that Orban is an anti-EU power-mad national socialist and that is a problematic political ideology within the EU, but because all these EU politicians, analysts, advisers would have to face the more personal fact (failure) that they themselves made a huge mistake, that their political skills and personality radars failed thoroughly and that they were so unbelievably naive when it came to Orban. And that personal, professional failure is hard to face indeed.

    Orban is a revolutionary (of course no living Westerner has seen one, so they cannot even understand what that means) who eventually wants to leave the EU and NATO, and is only waiting for the best moment. His ‘changes’ (the quasi-dictatorship he built out) from 2010-2014 were only the very beginning.

    He is a revolutionary just as Stalin or Lenin or Ben Bella or Kenyatta were, having the same kind of messianic drive and firm conviction of his right and the wrong of others (the only concession I give is that Orban does not want to kill people like his fellow Russian revolutionaries did, after all Hungary has always been a gulash-communist country even under communism). But people should used to these ideas, he will do these and people will still love him like god and fidesznik politicians will still be loyal to him until the last bullet.

    Rough translation: “All sources agreed – and it is clear from his speeches too – that Orban is desiring a completely new social, economic system and wants to set Hungary on a completely new course, to which the new constitution and the changes of the political structure during 2010-2014 were only the introduction.”

    “Abban forrásaink egyetértenek – és ez beszédeiből is kiderül –, hogy a miniszterelnök egy teljesen új társadalmi, gazdasági berendezkedésre vágyik, teljesen új pályára akarja állítani az országot, amihez csak felvezető volt a 2010 és 2014 közötti ciklus alkotmányozása, jogalkotása, a politikai szerkezet átalakítása.”

  18. In relation to the Newsweek article Marcel linked to, I think the Newsweek staff fails to understand the deep linkages between what is called the Russian Business Network (commonly abbreviated as RBN) cybercrime organization and the Russian State Security apparatus itself. The best analysis of those links has been done by Dr Mark Galeotti in an essay titled “The Criminalisation of Russian State Security” and on his blog http://inmoscowsshadows.wordpress.com/ If the “brilliant Russian programmers and technologists” discussed in the Newsweek article don’t work for RBN they are as good as dead and so are their families, no wonder they are running out of the country if they can.

    There is massive evidence that the reason the Russian mob is so incredibly talented is due to the fact with the collapse of the Soviet State in the 1990s, a number of ex-KGB cyberspies realized they could use their expert skills and training to make money off of the hacked information they had previously been retrieving for government espionage purposes. Currently the supposed leader of RBN is “Flyman” who is supposedly the nephew of a powerful and well-connected Russian politician. (see http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2007/nov/15/news.crime )

    It is reasonable to assume Putin knows many of these former KGB syberspies now involved in RBN. This is why I often refer to Putin’s Russian Federation as a Mafia state. This is also why Orban is playing with fire when he thinks Russia can be used as any type of legitimate model for economic development. It’s a criminal state run by a master spy, and it is as I have said before far more dangerous in its present form than the Soviet Union ever was. It needs to be confronted and at the least contained by NATO. If Orban and the Hungarians that voted for him, Fidesz, and the Jobbik defend that rotten Russian criminal state, then unfortunately they are on the wrong side of history. But up to now President Obama and other leaders of the West have not made that perfectly clear to the Hungarian people.

  19. “And that personal, professional failure is hard to face indeed.”

    I think you (like Orban himself) greatly overestimates his importance in the grand EU scheme of things.

    Whether Hungary is a member of the EU or not, what the Orban regime does matters diddly squat to the vast majority of the Eurocrats and EU politicians.

    If the EU elite really believed in their own PR and supposed standards then the Orbanists would have been cast out about three years ago. As it is, Hungary joins Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia in the naughty step of the EU.

    In all honesty, it just would cause so much administrative hassle to really take the big stick to him that as long as he doesn’t start bumping off NGOers or opposition journalists there going to let him potter along with his increasingly deranged speeches.

  20. And as long as the German car companies (and others too of course …) have cheap qualified and willing workers and Aldi and Lidl etc can sell their stuff and make some money – who cares?

    For most companies I’d say that the Hungarian market is less than 10% (maybe even 5%) – so it’s really marginal. Take it or leave it …

    It’s sad but true – as long as Hungarians (at least a majority of them …) don’t get up – why should the EU stir up any trouble? It’s the Hungarians which suffer – the typical Austrian/German tourist will be happy that things like restaurants and apartments are still cheap …

    He won’t write to his politician about freedom of the media – because he won’t see any problems there while on holiday!
    And he doesn’t watch Hungarian tv either!

  21. Sorry if this has been posted already:
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/08/21/the_autocrat_inside_the_eu_viktor_orban_hungary_illiberal_state

    “How Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban transformed from a dissident compatriot of Vaclav Havel to a would-be Vladimir Putin.”
    The last paragraph:

    “This year, he announced plans to move into a palace in Budapest’s Castle District: the former residence of kings during the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of Hungary’s nationalist interwar strongman, Miklos Horthy. To many, this is a sign of how Orban views himself — and how he views the control he has managed to assert over his country.”

  22. @D7 Democrat

    I think you misunderstand. The first level of argument, which went unsaid, is obviously that the EU and its politicians, observers etc. deep down don’t really care about Hungary. This is clear to me and to Orban certainly (i.e. “The West never cared and only wanted to usurp Hungary for its own purposes”). Why would they really? I mean, who cares in Hungary about whatever happens in Moldavia or Armenia?

    But those unfortunate souls who had to deal with Hungary, Hungarian politicians on a professional basis, had for the longest time been deluding themselves. Believe me, I know this firsthand. They did not want to understand, it seemed to me almost actively resisted getting who Orban was always (a revolutionary – he has not changed a bit, only went crazy about his ideology) and his people were, what they wanted.

    I think their opinions have mostly changed, but to understand that Hungary’s paramount leader is planning to leave the Eu and/or Nato is again a difficult issue. They as usual argue rationally against these ideas, they downplay the probabilities. I think they are wrong. Of course whatever happens in Hungary, is exclusively for Hungarians to solve, but given that this blog is mostly for foreigners I guess the point had a relevance.

    The HVG article is clear, all trusted people around Orban uniformly think that it is a fact that Orban (is a revolutionary who) wants everything differently than before. And they have no problem with that. Orban cannot accept anything his predecessors did or thought, such as the ideas of the “post-communists” to lead Hungary into the “bondage” Eu and Nato represent for him. The evidence is there for anybody who wants to see it (e.g. Tellér’s articles and so on).

  23. The local elections are coming soon, so today M1 in its “news” had a lot of Fidesz propaganda.

    I didn’t really listen but I heard “Gyurcsany Ferenc” around thirty times (!) in a few minutes – it was really strange …

    Like a mantra.

  24. Sandor: Poor Western observers, EU politicians and others still believe Orban’s nice side …

    You probably noticed that since the Băile Tușnad speech, articles favorable to OV can hardly be found in the Western Press. It’s over, the mask is off.

    And the issues at stake now are certainly not how to deal about past mistakes. There are partisan politics issues (can the other EPP member parties tolerate Fidesz in their midst). There are also global political and institutional issues (does the EU have/want the tools to deal with cases like Hungary and similar ones in the future, is sanctioning such a country the best course of action & for what results etc.). It is a minefield.

  25. @Wolfi, re Gyurcsány. He wrote a lengthy op-ed article in Nëpszabadság today in which he calls for just one Demokrata Párt against Fidesz. But he adds that it will not be any soon that such a formation can materialize.

  26. @Marcel De

    “…articles favorable to OV can hardly be found…”

    Don’t worry, they’ll appear again. Let’s not forget that their are scribes ready to sell…while
    Victor is so very flush that he just has to pick and choose who he’ll honor with his gelt.
    That Stratfor cat didn’t write the fawning piece for nothing, I’d wager.

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