Alone Against the World

2014. november 12. 13:25

The Hungarian government's behavior has got us into conflicts where we have little to gain and perhaps much to lose. They simply seem to neglect the possible political price for national and international political actions.

2014. november 12. 13:25
Balogh Ákos Gergely

Even the voices of the moderate, political center and their intellectual companions have resorted to rather unusual expressions to explain the current situation. Referring to the EU, a prominent figure of the ruling party talks about a “slow, cautious, backing out”. Another one provokes the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires on social media by calling him a third-rate CIA agent. And a well-known leader of a civic group threatened to unleash the masses with a peace march, the so-called békemenet, in front of the US embassy.

Hungarian politicians seem to believe that the arrogant manner with which they carry out domestic affairs is tolerated in the international political arena, and that they have the same influence as they do on their home turf. The politics of sheer will – absent the necessary strength behind it - cannot work like this. On the European, not to mention the global stage, Hungary is not like Fidesz in Hungary.

The huge advantage in information that the United States has is not fair, but we have to live with it. Not paying attention to the stronger and stronger American warning signs led to the major issue of banning individuals from the United States. Similarly, it is unwise to dismiss former President Clinton’s – who had a good relationship with Viktor Orbán during his first term – recent criticism simply by stating that it has been a long time since he was in Hungary.

Left Alone

This kind of behavior has got us into conflicts where we have little to gain and perhaps much to lose. For example, we closed the Hungarian Embassy in Estonia, one of only two countries that share a common linguistic ancestry, and one that has considerable geostrategic importance given recent events in Ukraine. Probably we saved a few hundred million forints in the budget. We have also managed to stir up a conflict with Norway, as if they were trying to steal our oilfields and whales with their army.

In our Hungarian way of doing things, we are losing long-time friends and allies. But without them, as a mid-sized European country facing high debt and a demographic depression, we do not have a lot of room for maneuver to drive our unique political agenda. Just consider Tibor Navracsics and his partially unsuccessful hearing in the European Parliament. The outcome was not so much about him personally but more a reflection of the current government’s policies. Sure, we can pay visits to Berlusconi and give a high-level award to Aznar as if it were still 2001 and both leaders were still prime ministers, but in reality we’re not getting anywhere.

Nation and Interest

If things get worse, the decline of Hungary’s strength internationally can also affect Hungarians living outside the country. Based on the past few decades, Hungarians living in neighboring countries can testify to just how bad things can get. Pausing between a few pathetic Albert Wass quotes, it’s worth considering the effects of some international and national political decisions.

For example, there is undoubtedly a correlation between Soros funds and the Norwegian grants. But is it acceptable to attack these civic organizations in such a heavy-handed way, because of tens of millions of forints? What would happen if the Romanian or Ukrainian governments followed our example and started snooping around the Hungarian organizations that operate in those countries and receive funding from Hungary? What would the Hungarian reaction be then? Would we then say, “But this case is different,” and ask the EU for help? Who would stand by us then?

The Eastern Partnership and Business

I agree with the view that the western world is in crisis, economically and demographically, just to name two factors. Pillars previously considered indestructible have begun to decay or vanish in the mist. Take for example the euro. For a long time, the introduction of the euro in Hungary was a matter of broad consensus in our national politics. Unfortunately, a person can be really wise only after the crisis is over. When caught in the middle of a period like this, it is difficult to know if the system has started an irreversible decline or if this is just a temporary slump and an upswing is right around the corner.

Opening up to the East offers a possible solution, however we must be very cautious with the course we take and how our actions could vex those with whom we have business interests and shared values. Another challenge in our venture to the East is that it requires excellent knowledge and familiarity with the given country’s culture, economy, and political diversity, which often depends on the quality and experience of our diplomats assigned there. Advocating Hungarian economic interests is in itself a good idea, but it certainly cannot work alone. Without maintaining cultural and political relations – alongside the economic relations - why would we be interesting for other countries with all our indelicacies?

The relation between Russia and Hungary exposes the most delicate part of the eastern opening. Partly because of our own decisions and partly because of unforeseen events, Hungary has drifted into a difficult, if not impossible, situation. In Ukraine, with respect to the Hungarian minority’s interests, whatever minority policies the Ukrainians put into place for the substantial number of Russians living there, the 150,000 Hungarians who live in Sub-Carpathia were and will be subject to the same policies. People who criticize the Hungarian government’s soft-pedaling on Ukraine, or our reluctance about the stronger EU line on Ukraine, forget this point and that it’s a real factor for Hungary. I would also underline that Ukraine is part of the Russian sphere of influence, from which Russia can’t let them go. In the words of Albert Gazda, “Russia needs Ukraine. The West does not. Ukraine would come at too high a price, so what the West wants is just that it not be part of Russia. Ukraine itself, from every perspective, is terribly weak.”

Russia being Hungary’s main energy supplier makes it a very important business partner; however, we have to reduce our dependency on them. This is why the expansion in Paks is questionable. Because Nabucco’s prospects remain doubtful, building South Stream would be important to our region because it would bypass troubled Ukraine. It would be what North Stream is to Germany. But a year after the annexation of Crimea, the war with Ukraine and the shooting down of the Malaysian aircraft, we have to consider these facts in a fundamentally different context. Today, any settlement reached with Russia will be looked upon with understandably wary eyes. Eventually we will have to let go of certain current policies, of course with compensation and guarantees from the EU.


(This is an edited version of the original post published in Hungarian on Mandiner's blog.)

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