middle-east

Sólyom Hungarian Airways

Sólyom Airways, a start-up that was initially treated as a joke, is actually recruiting employees, including pilots. Considering that it currently has but one plane, it is looking to hire only 35 employees. But it took out a full-page ad to recruit them.

Let’s go back to the beginning. It was sometime in early June that news spread that unknown investors are launching a new Hungarian airline. When it turned out that the airline’s CEO in a display of nationalistic zeal was thinking of calling the new company Sólyom Airways, the jokes on Facebook began to pour in by the hundreds if not thousands. Most of the jokes were about the name of the company. After all, no foreigner will be able to pronounce the name, and the meaning of “sólyom” (falcon)  will also be wasted on them. Here is a funny video taken by a reporter for Index. The reporter holds up a large piece of paper and asks tourists at the Budapest Airport to pronounce the word “Sólyom.” Most of them settled for something that in Hungarian orthography could be written as Szólium or Szóliom.

Another wave of jokes began to circulate when the Hungarian public learned that the first leased plane of Sólyom Airlines will be called “Álmos.” You may recall that Álmos was Chieftain Árpád’s father who was allegedly sacrificed by his own men just when the Hungarian tribes entered the Carpathian Basin. Not a good omen, if you ask me. I would also be worried about the current meaning of the word: “sleepy.” The planes will look like this:

Solyom plane2

Back in early July when the mysterious Mrs. Németh, minister of national development, was asked what the government thinks about this new company, she announced that the whole enterprise “lacks seriousness.” I think that the majority of Hungarians would have agreed with her.  Most people would have called it a pipe dream. Starting a new airline is an expensive and very risky undertaking. The public knew nothing about the founder and had no idea whether there were serious investors behind him or not. Why would a serious investor believe that another Hungarian airline could conquer all the difficulties that grounded Malév?

Sólyom will be unmistakably Hungarian, not just in name but also as far as cuisine and hospitality are concerned. Foreign travelers will be welcomed in Hungarian: “Isten hozott!” which Hungarian-English dictionaries translate only as “welcome!” But perhaps the Austrian-Bavarian “Grüß Got!” would give a better sense of “Isten hozott!” Apparently upon landing in Hungary the pilot will announce “honfoglalás,” the Hungarian word for the Hungarian tribes’ occupation of today’s Hungary.

All this sounds a little crazy, but the mysterious CEO, József Vágó, gave a press conference on July 24 and announced that the airline will become a reality very soon. Álmos, the first of the six planes he intends to lease, will take off on September 1. Where is it going? Well, that’s not so clear. He refused to be specific but indicated that the airline will first concentrate on western Europe. His airline will offer full-fledged premier flights at low prices, so he will be able to compete with low-cost carriers like Wizz Air, another Hungarian airline serving 30 some countries in Europe and the Middle East.

József Vágó is a supremely self-confident man, and I hope for his own and his investors’ sake that his bravado is not without foundation.  An interview with him on Egyenes Beszéd (ATV) will give you a taste of his personality. He calls himself a “dragon,” which will also be depicted on the tail of the plane. If we can believe Vágó, he is the only person in the whole world who has developed a model that guarantees rapid profits and expansion.

Initially the airline will  lease only six twenty-year-old Boeing 737-500s which, he admitted, are less fuel efficient than later models. But Vágó emphasized that they are in excellent shape because they flew very little. A European airline used them as VIP planes; they flew between Europe and the United States for a few years. These VIP planes were refitted to imitate private jets in their comforts. He also added that there is a possibility of purchasing outright twenty-two planes in addition to the 737-500s; these will be newer models.

But that’s not the end of Vágó’s business plans. He envisages at least 50 planes flying practically everywhere, including the Far East and the United States. Just yesterday he announced that the Chinese promised 1 million passengers to Sólyom once the company reaches the point of full capacity and has regular flights to China. If I recall, Malév didn’t manage to do well with its Chinese routes but perhaps Vágó will have better luck.

When will Sólyom be profitable? In four months, answered Vágó without any hesitation. Well, I’m an optimistic person. Some of my friends call me Pollyanna after the ever optimistic heroine of a popular American book for girls written in 1913, but even I found it difficult to embrace this guy’s unbounded belief in himself and in the bright future just ahead for him and his company.

It seems that the mysterious backer of József Vágó is Emirates Airlines, which is based in Dubai. It is the largest airline in the Middle East, operating over 3,000 flights per week and serving more than 130 cities in 77 countries across six continents. So, perhaps Vágó has reason to be confident. What I find funny is that the Orbán government has been courting the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries for direct investment in Hungary with no tangible results, and here is this Vágó who was an unknown until a month ago who seemed to be able to make a deal with Emirates Airlines. When Olga Kálmán of Egyenes Beszéd asked him whether he discussed his business plans with the government, Vágó made it clear that he wouldn’t have trusted the government with his plans and that he finds governments not fit to conduct business where decisions must be made fast. Governments are far too bureaucratic to be effective partners of private enterprise.

Now we can wait for the airline’s profitability and eventually the one million Chinese tourists.

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Hungarian move toward the Arab world and a possible assault on the United States

It was only yesterday that I learned from Péter Szijjártó that the “Eastern Opening” also means Hungary’s move toward Africa. Very soon I think they will have to change the name “Eastern Opening” to “Opening to any country outside of the European Union.” Admittedly, it is cumbersome but apt.

You may recall that a few months ago one Hungarian delegation after another made pilgrimages to affluent Middle Eastern countries, targeting Saudi Arabia in particular. They made at least twenty official and semi-official trips to Riyad in the last year and a half, but, as Hetek, the publication of Faith Church, reported, until now with no great results. Prince Abdulaziz, son of King Abdullah, spent a few days last week in Budapest since he is the sponsor of an event called “Saudi Arabian Days” that showcased the culture and history of the Saudi Kingdom. Abdulaziz met Foreign Minister János Martonyi, who was especially eager to establish student exchange programs between the two countries.  From here the next step was to entice the Arab country to invest money in Hungary’s poverty stricken higher education.

Corvinus University was the first to offer the Saudis an opportunity to be generous. The university’s senate decided to establish a Center of Islamic Studies and an M.A. program to go with it. Apparently the suggestion was welcomed by the faculty because the university is so strapped for funds that “it will be a miracle if [they] survive the summer.”  The university also bestowed an honorary doctorate on Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Anqari, Saudi minister in charge of higher education.

The dean of Corvinus, László Csicsmann, is convinced that if Corvinus establishes an Islamic Center “one could speedily agree on a few million dollars of assistance to the university.” He used the expression “strike while the iron is hot.” After all, the minister received an honorary doctorate only recently, the university delegation just returned from Riyad, and here is the occasion of the Saudi Arabian Days in Budapest.

I suspect that Csicsmann is too optimistic about Corvinus’s chances of receiving a few million dollars with no strings attached.  How much say would the Saudi government have in setting up the Islamic Center and how much influence they would demand when it comes to the curriculum?  The dean was unable to give a clear answer, and why should he?After all, Saudi assistance cannot be taken for granted; discussions of the matter haven’t even begun.

According to the students, the new president, Zsolt Rostoványi, is very interested in developing close contacts with Arab countries. Since he took office there have been many conferences and the number of honorary doctorates to Arab officials has multiplied in the hope of some Saudi money coming to the university’s aid.

Corvinus is desperate in the wake of severe budgetary cuts. You may recall that about two years ago there were rumors that Corvinus might not survive a future reorganization of Hungarian higher education planned by the Orbán government. In the end, it seems, Viktor Orbán didn’t dare close or amalgamate into another institution one of the best universities in the country. But he doesn’t like the institution, which he considers to be a stronghold of liberal, “orthodox”  economics. Slowly starving it to death is a perhaps less obvious strategy.

As Hungary seeks alliances with countries in the “East,” it’s burning its bridges with those in the West. Viktor Orbán’s ill-fated words about the German tanks didn’t remain unanswered by the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, who considers Orbán’s statement “a regrettable derailment that [Germany] rejects.” The Hungarian Foreign Ministry is desperately trying to explain away Orbán’s remarks, but this time their job seems especially difficult. Undersecretary Gergely Prőhle, who is usually quite skillful at defending the government’s position, did a poor job today during an interview with György Bolgár on Klubrádió. He is normally diplomatic and can even be semi-convincing; today he was irritated and aggressive.

fight easyway1234.blogspotcom

easyway1234.blogspot.com

But if the troubles with Germany weren’t enough, it seems that the Orbán government is taking on another “enemy,” the United States. On Friday Magyar Nemzet launched a frontal attack in a lead editorial. Magyar Nemzet has taken a consistently anti-American stance, but I’ve never seen such antagonistic writing as the piece by Gábor László Zord.

There is no question that Viktor Orbán is not exactly crazy about the United States. He has been snubbed too many times by successive American presidents ever since September 11, 2001. What did the young Hungarian prime minister do, or rather didn’t do, in 2001? He remained silent while the anti-Semitic István Csurka delivered a speech in parliament in which he stated that the U.S. deserved what it got on 9/11. Later, when there were attempts to make Orbán mend his way and at least belatedly express his sympathy with the United States, he neglected to do so. Subsequently, he tried to get an invitation to the White House but without success. I remember that János Martonyi was certain that Orbán would have an opportunity to make a state visit to Washington sometime in the fall of 2010. As we know, the doors of the White House seem to be closed to him. So it’s no wonder that Orbán carries a grudge against the United States and is irritated by what he considered “lectures” on democracy from Hillary Clinton and others. It seem that Magyar Nemzet’s reporters have a free hand to publish violently anti-American articles.

I don’t know what has happened in U.S.-Hungarian relations lately, but this latest attack on the United States is unprecedented. The reporter latches onto some of the problems currently facing the Obama administration to announce that “the United States doesn’t have the moral authority to tell the Hungarian government anything about democracy. If anyone is guilty of undemocratic acts it is the United States.” He offers a laundry list of sins, from the “murdered millions in pointless wars” to “doing business with representatives of dictatorship.” He is convinced that “if international law would work properly, masses of American officials and soldiers would be dragged to the Hague where they would receive the hospitality of the International Court of Justice.” But, says the reporter, sadly there is no justice in the world. “The truth lies with the powerful.” So, what can we do?

One thing Hungary can do, the reporter writes: “Keep up the list of their sins and always be ready to come back with our own answers. Don’t worry, we have a lot we can be proud of and they’d better huddle in some corner quietly.”

The Orbán government currently has enough problems with the country’s most important ally, Germany. I wouldn’t advise them to pick a new fight, this time with the United States.