Hungarian foreign minister in Washington: A stalemate

Let’s cut to the chase: neither the Hungarian nor the American position has changed despite Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó’s meeting with Assistant Undersecretary Victoria Nuland in Washington today. So far we have two brief reports on the meeting. The first was published in Magyar Nemzet; its source is HírTV, which sent its own crew to Washington for the occasion. The second is from the Washington correspondent of MTI, which I found in HVG. The former is a more expansive summary of what transpired between Nuland and Szijjártó, complete with direct quotations from Szijjártó himself.

What did we learn from this report? Despite repeated American explanations of why the U.S. government is unable to reveal the names of the individuals who have been banned from entering the U.S., Szijjártó was still hoping for such information. Here is Szijjártó in his own words: “I asked the government of the United States to share with us creditable information on the basis of which they accuse certain Hungarian citizens of corruption.” As long as there is no such information “we cannot move forward…. It is only the United States that can make the first move.” A stalemate. The United States expects the Hungarian government to clean up the country’s thoroughly corrupt behavior toward international businesses while the Hungarian government’s interpretation of the situation is much more narrowly defined. As far as the Hungarians are concerned, there may be some corrupt officials but unless the United States names these people the Hungarian government can do nothing. The only positive development, according to Szijjártó, was that Nuland did not repeat the threat uttered by Goodfriend that “if that trend continues it may reach a level where the United States can no longer cooperate with Hungary as an ally.” I do hope that Szijjártó doesn’t interpret this omission to mean that Goodfriend made an empty threat  because I’m almost certain that if Hungary stonewalls, other harsh steps will be taken against the Orbán government. And for the time being stonewalling seems to be the Hungarian diplomatic strategy.

The MTI report was more upbeat. Who knows why Szijjártó changed his story, but he did. No more talk about who will have to take the next step. Instead, he emphasized his government’s willingness to fight corruption and said that in this fight the two governments can count on each other. Economic and military relations between the two countries are excellent. According to Szijjártó, Nuland was full of praise for Hungary’s decision to supply gas to Ukraine. There was an interesting remark made in passing. It turned out that Nuland brought up some specific criticisms of certain pieces of Hungarian legislation, but Szijjártó brushed these objections aside as being irrelevant because they have been accepted and approved by the European Commission.

György Szapáry, Hungarian ambassador to Washington, and Péter Szijjártó MTI / Ministry of Forreign Affairs and Trade / Tamás Szémann

György Szapáry, Hungarian ambassador to Washington, and Péter Szijjártó
MTI / Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade / Photo: Tamás Szémann

What did the Hungarian government know about the coming storm? It seems a lot, and not only about the corruption cases. One had to be blind and deaf not to notice the growing dissatisfaction of foreign governments with the Orbán regime. One also assumes that Hungarian diplomats do their job and write reports on the current attitude toward Hungary in their host countries. Of course, given the atmosphere in government offices in the Orbán regime, it is possible that the ambassadors don’t dare tell the truth. Still, although there was a stream of denials of any wrongdoing and everything was chalked up to Hungarian liberals’ squealing and turning against their own country, I believe they knew full well that trouble was brewing all around. And yet Népszabadság‘s Ildikó Csuhaj, who seems to have good Fidesz sources, claimed today that Viktor Orbán himself knew nothing about the NAV affair. One wonders how much disinformation from “reliable” Fidesz sources lands on Csuhaj’s desk. This seems to be one of them.

Although there was plenty of evidence of growing U.S. dissatisfaction with Viktor Orbán’s policies, he did not change his ways on issues that seemed important to Washington. He even ignored Zsolt Németh’s warning. I wrote about a conference held in Washington on October 2 where one of the speakers was Németh, an old friend of Orbán–at least until recently, who received a very chilly reception. It was here that Victoria Nuland delivered the speech I republished in Hungarian Spectrum. Today Németh decided to speak and tell the world that he had forewarned Orbán about the impending bomb that might be coming from Washington. The interview with Németh appeared in Válasz. In it Németh expressed his hope that “several of the questions surrounding the [NAV] affair will be cleared up.” (As we know by now they were not.) Hungarian right-wing journalists dismiss corruption as the real cause of the present situation. In their interpretation the reference to corruption is only a pretext. Válasz‘s reporter also wanted to know whether the real reason for the ban on corrupt officials is Viktor Orbán’s relations with Russia. Németh wouldn’t dismiss corruption entirely, but he thinks that in addition to the Russian connection there are other very irritating issues: the NGOs, Hungary’s attitude toward Ukraine, the Russian sanctions, and the speech on “illiberalism.” Németh sensed all that, and on his return to Budapest he informed the foreign minister–still Tibor Navracsics then–and the prime minister of his experience. At the end of the interview Németh indicated that a new chapter should open in U.S.-Hungarian relations: “we are right after the election, both countries will send new ambassadors. Let’s see the good side of this affair: we are at a point from which we can take off.” Although not in so many words, what Németh suggests is an entirely new Hungarian foreign and domestic orientation.

Németh is most likely right. I can see no room for improvement in U.S.-Hungarian relations if the Orbán foreign policy proceeds apace. I even have my doubts about improvement if Orbán makes some adjustments in his domestic and foreign policies. By now Orbán strongly believes in his vision of a new Hungary in which liberalism has no place. This new Hungary is an authoritarian country with pseudo-democratic trappings. He is also convinced in the declining West and the rising East. He will not change course. He really can’t. He is what he is. He can never satisfy the demands of western democracies.

Just to reinforce my point about Orbán’s mindset, here are two pieces of news about the latest Hungarian diplomatic moves. Hungary may be experiencing a serious diplomatic crisis with the United States but the foreign ministry just announced that Hungary will open a cultural and commercial agency in Northern Cyprus, a “country” recognized by only one country, Turkey. This move might make Hungary’s relations with two EU countries, Greece and Cyprus, less than friendly. This is a gesture toward Turkey, whose “illiberal democracy” is a thorn in the side of western democracies.

The second diplomatic move also sends a not too cordial message to the United States. Two days ago the Iranian Tasmin News Agency announced that a Hungarian parliamentary delegation is scheduled to pay an official visit to Iran. The visit will be fairly long. The delegation is headed by deputy speaker János Latorcai (KDNP). The invitation to the Hungarians was extended by the deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament Seyed Mohammad Hassan Abu Torbifard. It is interesting that reports of controversial Hungarian diplomatic moves usually don’t appear in the Hungarian press. Hungarians hear about the events from the other countries’ news agencies. From a later Tasmin News Agency report we learned that Latorcai had a meeting with the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi. According to the report, Boroujerdi made the following comment during their conversation: “the illogical and wrong policies adopted by the US and its regional allies have caused the spread of terrorism and instability across the region and their continuation has turned terrorism into a global concern.” As for Iranian-Hungarian relations, the Iranian politician said that “the two nations have great potential for the enhancement of relations in the political, economic, and cultural fields.” Latorcai, for his part, emphasized that “Budapest is determined to strengthen its ties with the Eastern nations, with Iran in particular.” One must wonder whether these diplomatic moves are the result of inexperience or, as I suspect, are designed to irritate Hungary’s allies and flaunt the country’s total independence. Whatever it is, this attitude will eventually lead to diplomatic disaster. It’s just a question of time.

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88 comments

  1. Rumored, but not yet submitted amendment to the internet tax bill:

    700 forint * (1 mobile + 1 fixed line provider) * 1.27 (VAT) = 1778 forint cap on the consumer.

    But if the providers have to pay tax on the amount of data, the typical “unlimited internet for a flat monthly fee” packages will cease to exist.

  2. I guess the money Századvég (whose boss by his own admission is in bed with Russians) and two other American LLPs received for American lobbying (oh, let’s not forget Friends of Hungary either) in the US is put to good use with our new troll Amerikai Szkeptikus.

  3. Police do not have a suspect in the vehicular homicide of mayoral candidate A. Váradi, whose enemies were Orbán’s close friend, mayor Mészáros and Orbán’s son-in-law.

    He was hit by a car on the eve of the October 12 election.

    Police said, at that time, that Váradi was hit by a unnamed, 84-year old Austrian-Hungarian driver.

    Nobody has seen this driver. According to a rumor, s/he has died since. Another one says that he is safe and sound in Austria.

    My question is: does s/he exist?

    http://nepszava.hu/cikk/1037235-nincs-gyanusitott-varadi-halalanak-ugyeben

  4. Amerikai Szkeptikus wrote “I personally could care less about corruption in Hungary unless I am personally affected then it becomes important.”

    This is a fundamentally false assumption. Corruption means you, as an individual, have to pay more for goods and services. Corruption means you have to buy your cigarettes at shops run by Fidesz clients. Corruption means that your ownership share in a credit union has been sold off to a Fidesz client without a penny’s compensation. Corruption means you soon won’t be able to buy food at Tesco. Corruption means you, as an individual, will be expected to pay an ever larger part of the tax bill in the country in place of those revenues lost to tax evasion. Corruption means you, as an individual, will have to live with roads that don’t get built or repaired on time or in quality, it means that the hospitals and schools in the country will continue to be starved of resources, it means that you will be stopped, as a foreigner by cops without name plates and shaken down for cash, it means that you will be expected to stick a couple thousand Forints in your passport every time you want to receive a package through customs, renew your residence permit, or get your car out of the impound lot. Corruption is a communicable disease, far more contagious than Ebola, or if you believe that you’re not personally affected, then I’d really like to know what Kool Aid you’ve been drinking.

  5. @tappanch:

    Obviously the killer exists because Varadi did not commit suicide. Only nobody will look for the perpetrator. Clean job, at least under Hungarian standards.

    Hungary is beginning to resemble Russia in this respect too. The progress is relentless.

  6. If proof were needed about how unthinking loyalty trumps competence every time in Orban’s regime it is encapsulated in “Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó…. ”

    What still puzzles me is why the Orbanists decided to make the US action public?
    Angela Merkel told the Audi factory in Gyor to stop production in August in order to send a non-too-subtle message to the regime (ie remember who exactly keeps your pathetic economic “miracle” afloat”) but Orban’s puppet media have not muttered a word about this.

    But what exactly has the regime achieved in making the US removal of travel rights public?
    Excuse for another Peace March?

  7. Amerikai Szkeptikus” No Member of Congress has a net worth less than $7 million except for those few who have either gone bankrupt for hazy schemes, embezzled, gambled it away, or had their property confiscated by the courts yet they still remain in power.”

    Well, this is simply not true. If you check this site: http://ballotpedia.org/Net_worth_of_United_States_Senators_and_Representatives , you will see that ” The latest batch of numbers shows that the 113th Congress had a median net worth of $1,008,767.” The average for 2011 is $7,888,502 but if you look at the details, you will see that some of them have a net worth of hundreds of millions, while some others in the tens of thousand. I also would like to point out that the net worth includes one’s house and house prices increased substantially during the last few decades, so if a member of congress purchased a home 30 years ago for $200,000, that house could easily be worth more than a million today.

    I agree with istvan, there is corruption but the press is after it here, even the press that supports one party or another, in this matter there are no party sympathies here.

  8. The management of the Hungarian National Bank gave 200 billion (!) forints of taxpayers’ money to 5 freshly minted foundations.

    They nominated themselves and a few other reliable fideszniks to be the officers, 14 (?) people altogether.

    Some of them give their salaries or part of it to charities, including religious charities.

    http://www.168ora.hu/itthon/fogalma-sincs-mnb-nek-milliardos-alapitvanyai-kolteseirol-131461.html

    The names of the foundations start with “Pallas Athene Domus”

    Scientiae
    Concordiae
    Animae
    Mentis

    Geopolitics

  9. D7, it’s very simple. When Orban and co received info on the issue, they feared that the names will leak anyway (ie. the American will leak the info despite their talk about confidentiality) sooner or later. They needed to act preemptively as you do when you know damaging info was bound to be published, but apparently they made a few mistakes (and of course couldn’t imagine that the Americans will not leak).. Arpi Habony this time wasn’t the miracle worker he is thought to be. Never mind, this is a media blunder, there are no real political consequences as you saw today when Oerban pushed for South Stream despite contrary EU laws (and against the wishes of the Americans, but they are not a real consideration these days, because as we saw they have no real leverage over Orban, someone else has.)

  10. And who is this Ildiko Csuhaj at Nápszabadsag who had of a series of bogus pro Fidesz “scoops” in the last few years? No CV for her is available at all. And how come there is no editing, fact checking above her? It seems that not only Magyar Nemzet but now Nepszabadasg is a reliable Fidesz media. Even Törökgaborelemez has doubts…

  11. @Pharaoh: “and of course couldn’t imagine that the Americans will not leak”

    It’s because they (Fidesz) project their own psychopathic behaviors on everybody else.

  12. Can someone explain this to me, because I still don’t understand. Apparently there are six Hungarian officials who are not allowed entry into the US because of corruption. Who has the list of the six, other than the American authorities? Were those six notified about this restriction? If not, how are they finding out, when they try to buy an airplane ticket? Or when they get to passport control at JFK?

  13. “D7, it’s very simple”

    No, it is not.
    Or, yes, perhaps it is, but not the way you and the Fidesz apologists allege.

    The regime at this present moment in time is a complete and utter shambles in terms of pure day to day operation. Not only does the right hand not know what the left hand is doing, the right hand thumb does not even know what the right hand’s index finger is doing.

    Orban is starting to reap the reward of surrounding himself with sycophantic imbeciles; anyone with half a brain-cell could have prevented this mess but anyone with half a brain-cell (and ergo, a perceived threat to the Dear Leader) has been got rid off or farmed out to Brussels.

    Try finding anyone in the foreign ministry who speaks even one foreign language, try finding someone (with the exception of Varga, perhaps) dealing with finance and economics who can add up more than two numbers in their head and you will be very lucky indeed.

    A dictator ruling a government and bureaucracy of idiots is not a recipe for success anyway you look at it.

  14. M2 news are just showing Szijarto in the USA conferring with GM managers (of course, the Opel factory …) but there was no mention made of him meeting any US government spokesmen…

  15. The government agency KEHI found irregularities in 2% [by value] of the examined cases in the Norwegian funds.

    They charged the Norwegian funds with subjective evaluations in deciding where the money goes.

    The Orban government is much, much more vigilant about the Norwegian than the Hungarian taxpayers’ money.

    What about the Hungarian tobacco shop tenders, the state-owned agricultural land?? [If I remember correctly their secret was that 40% of the points came from subjective evaluation, so the Fidesz leadership gave the lands to whomever they wanted]

    http://nol.hu/belfold/kehi-kontra-okotars-10-milios-nagysagrendet-erinto-feljelentes-1494061

  16. The chairwoman of the Hungarian IRS (NAV), Ms Vida left Vienna for an unknown destination today.
    The television channel RTL Klub caught up with her at the Scwechat airport at dawn.

    “We [in plural] will not say anything”

    http://www.hvg.hu/itthon/20141022_Szora_birta_a_NAV_elnoket_a_becsi_reptere

    Other possible NAV suspects [for the US, because I would be surprised if the Orban’s prosecutors will ever investigate them] are

    vice chair Dezsőné Csillag
    department head: Marianna Dávida

    http://www.hvg.hu/gazdasag/20141022_nav_kitiltasi_botrany

  17. I recommend that Fidesz leaders read David Kilcullen’s book “Out of the Mountains- the coming age of the urban guerrilla” Oxford University Press 2013. Kilcullen is an Australian author, strategist and counterinsurgency expert and is currently the non-executive Chairman of Caerus Associates, a strategy and design consulting firm that he founded. From 2005 to 2006, he was Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department Kilcullen was a senior counter-insurgency advisor to General David Petraeus in 2007 and 2008, where he helped design and monitor the Iraq War troop surge. He was then a special advisor for counter-insurgency to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

    In chapter 5 of that book he discusses the galvanizing impact cutting off access to the internet had on several middle eastern revolutions. In fact he mentions that there were whole groups of people in places like Egypt and Syria who were profoundly not political until the regimes interfered with their access to the internet. It could be that this tax will turn people who have passively submitted to Fidesz rule into opponents.

  18. I also doubt that corruption is the only reason for this move by the US. But it is nevertheless very welcome. The panic on the part of the government makes it clear that they know there is plenty of reasons why other governments might start to be more severe with OV and his circle, that is good news. Contrary to many Hungarians’ beliefs, this government is neither clever nor particularly apt. They get strangled by their ‘smart’ moves and neither Russia, nor Turkey or Kazakstan will help them later. It is also telling that our guests from Fidesz find it hypocrytical that Americans ‘punish’ Hungarians. Yes, to shape the rules of the game you need more than some ‘smart lawyers’ who in actual fact are mainly insidious and who actively diminish the country’s resources and wealth. The Russians in the end will ask all Hungarians to ‘return’ the money lent, and it will not matter that all has ended up in OV’s pockets.
    The comment of Andras was a pleasure to read, what a sane voice.

  19. D7 Democrat:

    Fidesz long long ago gave up on administration. Good governance is a bolshevik trick.

    It has no relevance in Fidesz’ world because people do not vote according to what they encounter in a ministry, in a school, at the doctor (unless it’s about vizit dij). And this has been true.

    Imbeciles abound and it makes no difference to voters, not even to the Fidesz intelligentsia. All is forgiven. You can’t sack the voters, I guess.

    There is a saying (it’s from a famous poem). Nekünk Mohács kell. “It is Mohács that we want”.

    Nothing short of a shock will be enough to change people’s thinking — but anyway first comes Jobbik in the line for power.

    It’s a terrible irony of fate that Mr. Varga can be thought of under any circumstances as a specimen of a moderate, good professional. Look behind the man a little please.

  20. “It has no relevance in Fidesz’ world….”

    Nonsense.
    They need an effective administration to carry out the Dear Leader’s commands.

  21. D7, No. For those purposes the system works mighty fine. I have hard time remembering when the system didn’t deliver.

    From building Sorsok Háza to the German memorial (including preparing the public procurement paperwork overnight, changing local decrees and whatnot), setting up private foundations with 200nb at the National Bank, to building a dozen stadiums on schedule (on schedule, not nothing), to awarding thousands of procurements without fail to cronies, to setting up state organization like the constitutional court so as to serve the government, to get rid of the EU’s burocrats and still keep all the laws you name it, to being able to agree with Russians in secret about Paks and other issues — in each and every case which was important to Orban the administration delivered perfectly, they delivered the results.

    But it has nothing to do with serving the people. That’s what has zero relevance for them.

  22. tappanch, you were quicker. I wanted to call attention to this too. Yes, Orban is slowly preparing as loyalty will be a paramount issue, but not because of the left wing.

    The entire security branch is thoroughly jobbiknik (just as it was very nyilas oriented in 1944, note also the Russian implications of this fact). These folks are essentially working class, conservative people liking hierarchy and discipline. Their natural place is at Jobbik. orban wants to buy them.

    Please also compare the average salary of a policeman (now, pre-increase) vs. that of a teacher.(Hint: an average teacher makes less already).

  23. Coolio,

    “But it has nothing to do with serving the people. That’s what has zero relevance for them.”

    I am not talking about “serving the people” nor indeed commiting crimes and being able to cover them up.

    I am talking about day to day operations of government and even in a dictatorship that is important, You are really telling me that it serves the Hungarian State and by extension Fidesz well that there are idiots at every level of governance?

    You obviously have no experience of the internal (note: internal) havoc being caused by these idiots.

  24. @Tappanch. The police and armed forces are grossly underpaid. This little raise is much needed, but insufficient. It certainly isn’t enough to “buy” their loyalty. Given the erosion of the forint since their last pay rise, salaries should be trebled, at a minimum- some say 6x more would be justified. The same goes for teachers and all sorts of other public employees.

  25. Webber-
    I think this raise was due to the new requirement by NATO (the US) to mandatorily increase military spending to 2% of GDP. This was the simplest way to meet the requirement.

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