Another “strategic partnership”: This time with Azerbaijan, a model to follow

While we have been preoccupied with American-Hungarian and Russian-Hungarian relations, the dictator of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, arrived in Hungary for a visit, his third in four and a half years. Not too many high-level western visitors can be seen in Budapest lately, so Orbán must be satisfied with Azeri dictators and the like. Orbán himself is not welcome in western capitals, and therefore his official trips usually take him outside of the European Union and North America. He visited Baku twice, and I understand he will be going again to strengthen the “strategic partnership” he forged between Hungary and Azerbaijan, two countries that have a lot in common: both are extremely corrupt and both are led by autocratic leaders whom outsiders describe as mafia dons.

In September 2012 I wrote three posts (September 1, 2, and 3) on the Orbán government’s decision to release Ramil Safarov, an Azeri army officer, from the Hungarian jail where he was serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of an Armenian officer in 2004. The crime was perpetrated in Budapest, where both men spent a couple of months in a training program organized by NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program. The Azeri government made several attempts to convince the Hungarian authorities to release him into their custody. But because Safarov was considered to be a national hero the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments, fearing that once Safarov stepped onto Azeri soil he would not spend a minute in jail, denied the requests. Not so the second Orbán government, which in the hope of Azeri goodwill and economic support decided to strike a deal with Aliyev, the Azeri dictator. To this day we don’t know what the Hungarian government got in return for the release of the “ax murderer,” as he is called in Hungary. According to rumors at the time, Viktor Orbán made the decision to extradite Safarov in exchange for the Azeri purchase of Hungarian bonds. The deal was struck under the watchful eye of Péter Szijjártó, and final approval came from Tibor Navracsics, the minister of justice who currently serves as one of the EU commissioners in Brussels. This dirty deal was the beginning of a great friendship between Aliyev’s Azerbaijan and Orbán’s Hungary.

Since then, the Hungarian government has manifested its commitment to closer economic and political ties between the two countries on several occasions. In November 2012 Hungary organized an “international conference” in Budapest to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Hungary and Azerbaijan. In 2013 Hungary opened a Hungarian Trading House in Baku, and yesterday Viktor Orbán and Ilham Aliyev signed a “strategic partnership” agreement. Apparently this agreement encompasses the following areas of cooperation: energy, education, commercial air transport, tourism, veterinary medicine, and youth and sport. Currently trade between the two countries is insignificant and has actually been falling since 2010. Szijjártó himself talks about Azerbaijan only as a “potential economic partner” of Hungary, a partnership that will be realized once Azeri gas reaches Europe. For the time being, one hears only about the hundreds of scholarships offered by Hungary as a goodwill gesture toward these Central Asian countries. Azerbaijan just gratefully acknowledged 200 scholarships.

As usual, in the joint press conference after the meeting and signing ceremony, Viktor Orbán went overboard, praising Azerbaijan as an “example to follow” (mintaállam). By the way, when Orbán is confronted with foreign dignitaries, he is often visibly servile. He bows just a little too low, which in Aliyev’s case was accentuated by the Azeri president’s height and Orbán’s small stature. He did the same thing when the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, visited Budapest in 2011.

In his unbridled enthusiasm for the Azeri model, he even praised Aliyev’s father, Heydar Aliyev, the former KGB agent who became president of Azerbaijan after a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of the country in 1993. His and his family’s corruption was legendary. After his death in 2003, his son, the current president Ilham Aliyev, took over after a fraudulent election. Since then he has been reelected three times, and he can be assured that he will remain president of the country as long as he is alive: the law was changed that barred repeated reelection of the same person to the post. Wikileaks documents have revealed that American observers compared  the Azeri president to a mafia crime boss. Well, perhaps this is what Orbán had in mind when he spoke of Azerbaijan as an example to follow.

President Ilham Alyev and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

In the afternoon there was an economic forum where Orbán made a speech in which he announced that “countries that have political systems that offer clear and unambiguous leadership to a given community are lucky,” indicating that he considers both Azerbaijan and Hungary among the lucky ones. Aliyev immediately picked up on Orbán’s remarks, adding that “both countries are led along a clear strategy. Hungary is defending its national interests, its independence, and its sovereignty.” How should one interpret Orbán’s reference to “clear and unambiguous leadership”?  I, for one, think that he means that in such a regime no opposition forces could possibly alter the strategy of an autocratic leader. This is certainly true of Aliyev as well as Orbán.

Today HVG posted a short note online teasing an article in its print edition tomorrow, according to which there might be “a thread that connects Baku and Budapest” in the U.S. banning of the six Hungarian officials and businessmen. According to the paper, the case involves corruption surrounding Hungarian government bonds offered for sale to Azerbaijan in 2012. My recollection is that the deal eventually fell through. The Hungarians were apparently hoping that Azerbaijan would pay Hungary back for its release of Ramil Safarov by buying Hungarian bonds through ARDNF, the Azerbaijan State Oil Fund. However,  ARDNF announced on October 9 that it had no intention of buying Hungarian bonds and that it did not plan to invest in Hungary. I still remember all the jokes on ATV about “manat,” the Azeri currency. However, there is always the possibility that some secret deal was struck over the Hungarian government bonds and that perhaps some of the money received disappeared either into Fidesz coffers or into individual pockets. The official announcement of ARDNF might have been intended simply to disavow any connection between the Safarov case and payments received by Hungary. We’ll have to see what HVG came up with.

And here is the latest. According to an unnamed Fidesz source, Viktor Orbán realized that he went too far in embracing Russia, ratcheting up his anti-EU rhetoric, and attacking the United States. According to this highly placed individual, Orbán is planning a change of orientation. From here on he will be a model of cooperation with his western allies. Well, his latest moves don’t support this reorientation. First, he just raised RTL Klub’s 40% levy to 50%, presumably to punish them for reporting negative news about the government on their very popular 6 o’clock news. This huge levy is a serious financial blow to RTL Klub, one that its German parent company, Bertelsmann, will have to absorb. Second, he wouldn’t call Azerbaijan “an example to follow” if he is preparing the ground for a change in his foreign policy objectives. And third, if he were trying to show the U.S. that he is serious about ridding Hungary of corruption, he would tell his minions to relieve Ildikó Vida and her co-workers of their duties. I believe that this piece of news is no more than Fidesz disinformation. At best, it is a new round in his usual “peacock dance.”

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79 comments

  1. D7 Democrat:

    I’m only assuming that Orban will solve the problem when (i) I think based on historic examples that he could “solve” the problem and (ii) the potential adversaries have been known to be weak, careless, already on Fidesz’ payroll, having no interest or stake in the outcome of things.

    Since he never surrendered on any issues so far (internet tax, in its original form, is one exception), it’s a safe bet that he won’t this time. With this assumption, you’re right in most cases.

    Unfortunately, you cannot deny the fact that Orban could play supposedly influential serious foreign people of stature like a musical instrument — from the bloodthirsty IMF to Viviane Reading to conservative jewish clowns, foreigners assisted him. Will they continue to do so? Well, I don’t know. But I’m not optimistic (of course it’s not their job to crack Fidesz, but essentially assisting a dictators is quite another issue). Orban has been doing this for very long years.

    The Germans are still paying him (via the EU) like a army officer (as we say in Hungary) and he can apparently do whatever he wants. You yourself admitted that the Americans didn’t want to put much pressure on him, the entire visa issue was self-inflicted. In other words, the US doesn’t really care either. Putting “pressure” by revoking visa means nothing to dictators, I guess he got a loughing fit when he heard about it, are these Americans serious, do they seriously think he will change course by revoking six, but let’s make it 200 visas?

    In addition, he doesn’t even have to be super smart (although he and his lawyers’ mafia are infinitely more canny than anybody on the left field. I can tell you that much) because he has the power (2/3s). That plena potestas power makes up for a lot of lacks and until he wields it, he can afford to be behind the actions a bit. More importantly though as long as the ECB applies QE there will always be clueless investors hungry for Hungarian junk bonds paying 150bp more and he will be kept afloat.

  2. I remember the amazement we felt in 1998 when it was announced that Pintér would be the Interior Minister. He had no prior connection with Fidesz and didn’t seem to fit in with Fidesz image of the time (despite its rightward drift since 1994). It was explained to me that Pintér basically blackmailed his way into the post and has been immovable since.

    If there was ever to be some sort of internal coup against Orbán, my conviction is that it would be led by Pintér who I don’t believe has any deep seated loyalty to Orbán. He really is a state within a state. But so far, he seems content to build his own empire rather than rock the boat.

  3. Some ignorant people may think a phd is “laughable”. Just because they don’t like what a legal scholar has to say. I wonder what qualifications do they have and in what field. Must be something lot higher than a “laughable” phd.

  4. “You yourself admitted that the Americans didn’t want to put much pressure on him, the entire visa issue was self-inflicted.”

    Nope; I admitted nothing of the sort.
    I said the US didn’t make the fact public.

    Given the inbred nature of the regime, it was inconceivable that Orban wouldn’t have got to know that 6 of his corrupt lapdogs were being punished. So, the US was most certainly passing a message to the Godfather; it just decided that it wasn’t tactically astute, at the point, to make the message public. Somebody in the regime decided to do it and messed up bigtime unless you believe the whole episode has been beneficial to the regime?

    “In other words, the US doesn’t really care either.””

    They banned the lapdogs?
    Obama bunched in Hungary with other corrupt and authoritarian regimes?
    Quite probably Orban is not top of their things to do list, but there is no other EU nation outside the top 5 thqt they are devoting so much time to at the moment. Why bother if they didn’t care?

  5. Orban is a dictator, a boss, a strongman, a mafia don. These people only understand and respect raw power. Subtle diplomatic messages just won’t work. He won’t get the message. Orban doesn’t respect subtle people. Subtleness to him implies lack of determination and willingness and ultimately weakness. He detests weak people and especially weak Western European people who have it so easy.

    By the way I wonder which one is paid by Orban? http://graphics.wsj.com/house-of-lords/

  6. I’m sure the government wants to get rid of Goodfriend because he’s too good at his job. Look at how he made government spokesman Zoltán Kovács look like an amateurish buffoon on Twitter. Even the Fidesz-friendly GFG acknowledged that (as well as anyone with the slightest bit of sense).

    No wonder Rogán et al complain about not having an American ambassador in Budapest! They want someone who isn’t nearly as skilled at diplomacy, no doubt, and a political appointee to boot.

    It would be interesting if Obama withdrew Colleen Bell’s nomination and instead nominated a career diplomat to the position. American ambassadors to Hungary weren’t always political appointees, and can have an important role to play in this country (just think of Mark Palmer).

  7. @HiBoM

    What sort of dirt do you think Pintér has on Fidesz? It reminds me of J. Edgar Hoover, who was FBI chief for decades because he had dirt on everybody powerful. US Presidents couldn’t get rid of him.

  8. shame… when I moved back to HU I was pretty sure the country and the people are already willing to be european.
    and now “the nation” is pretty much in the bed with Russia, Azerbaijan, China… shame.

  9. @Gabor, I don’t quite understand why there are so many commenters on Hungarian blogs regarding politics who cry anti-Hungarian-ism when Fidesz is criticized, there is a big difference between not liking a regime compared to not liking a nation. Is it because Fidesz is forever complaining they are not understood or that they are being picked on? Often telling the Hungarian people that the world is against them ingraining the idea that they must defend Fidesz or they are not patriotic to their nation? To make them feel as though it is the people they are against? Even my family is very much like this when discussing politics with them. They get so defensive, not realizing nor caring how much Fidesz is hurting the country. Most didn’t even vote for Fidesz and they are still this way. I must be a taught behavior.

  10. @Gabor “On diplomatic immunity. It is very sad if Andre Goodfriend and other diplomats at the embassy can rape anyone and have immunity for it”

    The Vienna Convention is very important to protect diplomats from legal harassment. It’s mutual. Hungarian diplomats also enjoy the benefits of it. So if Mr Szapary would rape his maid, he would get away with it too. You should ask the Hungarian Foreign Ministry why don’t they protest the Vienna Convention.

    By the way should our Good Friend decide to rape somebody in Hungary, the US State Department could wave his diplomatic immunity and let the host country prosecute him. Diplomats do not have this right. The delegating and the host country decide.

  11. muttdamon:

    I’m afraid wrong argument. Any reader who comes here *feels* that it is totally unjust that a diplomat can just rape and kill without impunity. Or park in the place reserved for the disabled. Defending a law that gives that impunity is thus not very popular. That’s exactly what Gabor (the troll) wants from you: to defend the morally indefensible.

    It’s like the situation Fidesz forces the opposition into. The leftists are forced to argue rationally that the utility rate cuts are bad in the long term or burdening the banks with special taxes is wrong for investments. But guess what? People just love utility rate cuts and idea of taxing the hated banks. Nobody cares about the long-term. Thus the opposition ends up defending the deeply unpopular. Check, mate.

    The answer is that a diplomat – of course – has to abide by the laws of his own country too. Being a diplomat naturally doesn’t mean one has total immunity to be a criminal. So Mr. Goodfriend of course cannot rape without impunity, only he will be tried in the US in such case. Justice will be served, just not in Hungary. That’s all.

  12. Re: Immunity and rape.
    HS is the wrong forum for discussing anything in terms of imagined absurd examples.

  13. Jean, P, why would it be absurd?

    Just today, Goodfriend was accused of committing a crime in Hungary. Goodfriend responded that he has immunity from the Vienna Convention.

    If immunity covers all crimes (it does) then why would the nature of the crime matter? It was Goodfriend himself that responded tauntingly that he is immune from all crimes he commits in Hungary. Now, or in the future. All crimes include: all crimes.

  14. @Gabor, I would like to warn you. I don’t tolerate lies on Hungarian Spectrum. Goodfriend did not commit any crime in Hungary. Zoltán Lomnici, Jr. is an idiot who brings shame to the Hungarian legal profession. If you don’t stop this I will not allow you to post.

  15. I would like to ask you to read more carefully. I nowhere wrote that Goodfriend committed a crime. I wrote:

    “Just today, Goodfriend was accused of committing a crime in Hungary.”

    I wrote “He was accused”, which is completely true. He was accused. He did respond to the accusation by quoting the Vienna Convention. I think “lies” is not appropriate term for a true statements.

  16. I can only admire Goodfriend. You can see he’s doing his job well; the sockpuppets are out in force to try and smear him. Apparently when a diplomat behaves correctly, in a dignified way, that means he must be some kind of criminal mastermind.

  17. Gabor, accused or not accused. Lomnici is an idiot. He is wrong. according to the Hungarian Criminal Code Goodfriend can not be accused of anything. Lomnici is not doing any favor to the Hungarian legal profession by coming out with such nonsense.

  18. “Gabor
    November 13, 2014 at 8:23 am
    Some1

    Why are you so anti-Hungarian? Hungary only transferred Safarov 100% in line with international law. ”

    Well Gabor: I am anti-Orban, because he puts his own interest above the law of his own country, over an over again, and because people like yourself simple refuse to puttheir own country’s interest above the interest of Orban. I am not anti-Hungarin and either those thousand and thousand are not anti-Hungarian who felt that releasing a criminal to be celebrated in his country is against any moral stance. Why are you so anti-Hungarain Gabor? Do you really want me to believe that deep down you really think it is right that this guy went free? How about if he would murdered one of the member of your family? Why do yu hate your family so much Gabor? It is not nice.

  19. “Gabor
    November 13, 2014 at 6:16 pm
    I would like to ask you to read more carefully. I nowhere wrote that Goodfriend committed a crime. I wrote:”

    You are a piece of work. You are implying! Maybe you think the readers of this blog are as shortsighted as those who Orban takes for a ride, but you are on the wrong forum for that. I have an idea: Why don’t you try Magyar Nemzet, and Magyar Hirlap. Everyone would take your word for all that, even if you would let a murderer of their family go.

  20. I know this is an old thread, but I have been too busy to keep up lately, so I apologise for that.

    Gabor,

    The fact that someone accused someone else of a crime, no matter who that person may be, is irrelevant until there are charges or a court case is filed. The fact that you profess otherwise is proof that you are working for Fidesz in some capacity, since that is their stock in trade. How many times have they accused people they don’t like of crimes, then not followed through by doing something about it? Even worse, how many times have they launched investigations through the prosecutors they control, who then are unable to acheive convictions even in a court system largely controlled by Fidesz? The fact that an accusation or even a court case has been lodged against a person is enough to discredit that person in the eyes of most voters (especially those who vote for Fidesz). Such dirty tricks can acheive the aims of you and your masters in Fidesz, but don’t hypocritically cry “unfair” when they start being used against you.

    When or if Lomnici comes up with some evidence of a crime by Goodfriend, I’m sure Fidesz will use that to pressure the US to remove him from his post. If they are successful, the US will surely send someone equally skilled to replace him. The US is a very large and wealthy country, so they probably have a long line of high-quality people to employ in this game. Hungary, on the other hand, is run by a group of people with very little skill in playing such games on the level of the US, and they are pushing the US to fight back. If they are ever successful in this, I’m sure they will wish that they hadn’t brought a knife to a gun fight.

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