Shree Pranab Mukherjee

Viktor Orbán’s state visit in India

What a happy day for Viktor Orbán. He is on an official state visit to India, with all the attendant pomp and circumstance. I can well imagine his pride when he walked down the red carpet accompanied by a Indian officer, dressed all in white, with sword drawn. And that long line of soldiers several rows deep. I suggest that you take a look at the official photos on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Viktor Orbán in his element / Source: Viktor Orbán Facebook page

Viktor Orbán in his element / Source: Viktor Orbán Facebook page

In keeping with the Orbán government’s standard practice, the official word of his three-day visit to India came only yesterday afternoon, after he boarded the plane. The trip was announced both in Hungarian and in English. Mind you, the English version sounds a bit odd because it says that “the prime minister holds official visit in India.” (You see, this is what can happen when politicians buy certificates of foreign language proficiency, as we found out a few days ago. Language professors at the Hungarian Reformed University did a brisk business selling these phony certificates. Among their clients they had a VIP group that was handled separately.)

As soon as the news of Orbán’s trip was out, sarcastic headlines appeared in blogs and other Internet sites. I liked the one that read:  “Viktor Orbán will fight for three days in India.” Actually, ever since August when Péter Szijjártó visited New Delhi one could sense that something was in the offing even though in the past Szijjártó’s extensive travels seldom resulted in an invitation for a state visit. This time he was successful.

Orbán was accompanied by Mihály Varga, minister of economics, Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, and Péter Szijjártó, undersecretary in charge of  external economic relations and foreign affairs. The schedule is rather tight. Today Orbán delivered a lecture at the Indian Foreign Policy Institute entitled “Hungary and Europe in a Changing World,” and later in the day he will address the Hungary-India business forum. After meeting with Shree Pranab Mukherjee, India’s president, he will also “exchange views” with Sonia Ghandi, the chairman of the United Progressive Alliance. Tonight he will be meeting with India’s prime minister, Mamohan Singh, to sign several bilateral cooperation agreements in R & D, medicine, culture, sports, and aviation. Hmmm! Not exactly heavy-weight business cooperation between the two countries. Tomorrow he will open the Mumbai stock exchange and later in the day will inaugurate the opening of a Hungarian consulate in Mumbai.

“More than seventy Hungarian and several dozen Indian businessmen” attended his speech at the Foreign Affairs Institute. Considering that 66 Hungarian firms went along with the prime minister’s entourage, it looks as if Hungarian business interest in India may be greater than Indian business interest in Hungary. I would like to see the list of businessmen who went along with the official Hungarian delegation.

Orbán clearly would like to have more trade with non-European countries. He explained that 82% of Hungary’s exports go the countries in the European Union and three years ago only 8% went to non-European countries. This number by now is 12%, and “by 2018 he would like it to reach 33%.” He was always an ambitious man. He emphasized his own “re-industrialization” project which would provide great opportunities for Indian businessmen. Although the large business contingent indicates that he would also like to increase Hungary’s business footprint in India, the speech emphasized investment in Hungary where there are already a few Indian businesses. I do hope, however, that not too many Indian businessmen remember Apollo Tyres’s attempt to set up a factory in Gyöngyös in 2008, which Orbán managed to wreck.

Orbán spent a great deal of time expounding his long-held belief that European economic success will come only from the Central European region. He claimed that Hungary is one of those countries that have already left behind their economic woes and are on the road to spectacular near-term growth. He asked Indian businessmen and politicians “to put Central Europe on their map.” (The prime minister’s upbeat economic pronouncements came at about the same time a business analyst announced that there are two countries that aren’t following the Central European growth pattern: Hungary and Romania.)

It’s hard to imagine, but he even managed to squeeze into his speech his favorite theory of late: Europe’s past greatness derived from its Christian roots as formulated by Saint Benedict in his rules of monastic life “Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work). Today the old rule is still applicable. Only hard work and a return to its Christian roots will make Europe great again. The Indian audience  must have been impressed considering the religious diversity of their own country where one can find followers of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism, and the Bahá’i Faith, just to mention the most important.

Of course, there will be more speeches and a lot of boasting about the successes of Hungary, but only time will tell how useful this trip was. Similar attempts in Russia, China, and the Middle East have brought only meager results thus far.