Hungary’s foreign minister gets gushing reception in Tatarstan

The fact that Hungary’s pro-Moscow foreign policy has managed to alienate key partners like the United States, Germany and regional allies within the Visegrád Group isn’t much of a success story for Budapest. But at least Hungary’s 36 year old Minister of Foreign Affairs, Péter Szijjártó, got an admittedly warm reception in Tatarstan this week, where he inaugurated the Hungarian consulate general in the republic’s capital, Kazan. Tatarstan (population: 3.8 million) is part of the Russian Federation and is among the most industrialized regions in central Russia. The region is primarily Muslim (55% of the total population) and some of the republic’s public holidays are tied to Islam as well (such as Eid al fitr), especially following a revival in this form of religious identity after the fall of the Soviet Union. But unlike Chechnya, Tatarstan doesn’t pose a serious separatist threat for Russia. In fact, while Tatarstan claims that it is merely “associated” with Russia, but otherwise “independent,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed to implement a process of centralization which very much questions the notion of “association.” Some scholars argue that the use of asymmetrical federalism in defining Kazan’s relationship with Moscow helped to “resolve” the problem of separatism. Political Scientist Gulnaz Sharafutdinova wrote an insightful study on this question and it’s well worth a read.

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Péter Szijjártó, in Kazan, Tatarstan. Photo: Hungary's MFA.

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Péter Szijjártó, in Kazan, Tatarstan. Photo: Hungary’s MFA.

For Tatarstan, however, an official visit by a Hungarian foreign minister is seen as somewhat of a status symbol and a public relations win. The Government of the Republic of Tatarstan issued three press releases relating to Mr. Szijjártó’s visit. Acting Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov confirmed that “all projects proposed by our Hungarian colleagues will obtain overall support in Tatarstan.” The president then applauded Budapest for strengthening its relationship with Russia.

“Mr. Minnikhanov expressed his gratitude to the leadership of Russia and Hungary for supporting economic and cultural projects between Tatarstan and Hungary. He stressed that the meeting of Russia-Hungary intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation coincided with the opening of the Consulate General of Hungary in Kazan, which should strengthen the relationship between Russia and Hungary,” notes the government’s press release. Apparently, Tatarstan and Hungarian energy companies are “carrying out mutual work today,” but Mr. Minnikhanov trusts that he will be able to deepen and “enrich” his relationship with the Orbán government far beyond energy issues. Tatarstan is a regional leader within the Russian Federation when it comes to the production of automobile parts, and Hungary is exploring partnerships in this field as well. 

Hungary's Mr. Szijjártó enjoying a brunch in Kazan. Photo: Hungarian MFA.

Hungary’s Mr. Szijjártó (right) enjoying a brunch in Tatarstan.

In another pres release issued on April 10th, Mr. Minnikhanov  noted that “Tatarstan appreciates the opportunity to develop cooperation with Hungary within the framework of Russia-Hungary relations.”

For his part, Mr. Szijjártó has high hopes and expectations attached to not only the opening of the new Hungarian consulate general in Kazan, but also to new, direct commercial flights between Budapest and  Tatarstan’s capital, which are being launched by Hungarian discount carrier Wizz Air.

We expect not only a big number of Hungarian visas to be issued by our Consulate-General but a new stage of development of our economic, trade and cultural relations, especially as the competence of the Consulate applies to the whole Volga District,” noted Mr. Szijjártó. The Hungarian foreign minister added that Hungary aims to deepen “pragmatic” relations with Russia. This is generally code for the Orbán government’s efforts to avoid any discussions of western sanctions or other punitive measures against Russia for its aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. In concrete terms, the Orbán government is trying to turn around the 15% decline in Hungarian exports to Russia (which amounts to a loss of $510 million). Additionally, Budapest is hoping to convince Russia of more than doubling the amount of Gazprom gas stored in Hungary. Mr. Szijjártó reportedly also has a commitment from Russia to allow for 22 Hungarian meat processing companies to begin selling their products in Russian markets later this year. 

Earlier this year, it appeared as though Budapest was shifting away from its controversial eastern (pro-Russian) foreign policy to one that focuses on Africa and Latin America instead. But now that the fighting in eastern Ukraine is no longer headline news and the western pressure to have Budapest get in line with overall European and transatlantic interests is no longer as persistent, Budapest’s gaze is focused on the east and on Mr. Putin once again.

14 Comments

  1. Tibor Gergely says:

    Could you explain what the “European and transatlantic interests” are that “Budapest should get in line with”? Or how Hungary benefits from its “alliance” with the US and Canada?

    • Christopher Adam says:

      Within this context, shared transatlantic interests that Budapest should support revolve around stability and security in East Central Europe. These shared interests certainly don’t include the unilateral annexation of a sovereign country’s territory, nor do they include equipping and bolstering militants in another country, or covertly sending in military men to fight in a neighbouring state. And when a country in this region is violated by another country in this matter, then it is becoming of all states that form part of the Transatlantic community, to speak up and take responsible action against the aggressor.

      • Tibor Gergely says:

        My question wasn’t what “transatlantic and European interests…” – let’s cut the you know what and call them what they really are: imperial interests – “revolve around” or what they don’t include, Chris (sigh). I asked you what they are. But, let me add a little background to my question. Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan and the SU’s CoMEcon and WarPac colonies, including East Germany, after a formal agreement with Washington, that it, via NATO, won’t build military bases in these countries, won’t prepare an attack on Russia, and won’t attack Russia. As soon as Soviet troops left, the US broke its promise as usual, and started to build the military bases, from the “stans” through Georgia, where it organized a coup d’état and installed a puppet government, the Baltic states, wherever it promised the opposite, to Ukraine, where it again organized a coup d’état and installed a neo-Nazi puppet government. The pressure on Iran is due to the same objective, and now Russia finds itself in an ever tightening noose, waiting for a NATO attack that could, and probably will, start another world war. Which is a lot worse than just plain “unilateral annexation” – only it’s not Russia that is doing it, it is done TO Russia, and it’s destabilizing the entire region, including Central Europe, and in Central Europe Hungary, that is again asked to commit suicide. How rude of us to refuse it, yes? Nor do I see you “speak up and take responsible action against the aggressor” I see you cheering on and supporting the aggressor. Shame, shame!

  2. Christopher Adam,

    Budapest has clearly stated on countless occasions that it does not support annexation of any sort. Your skewed implication that it in fact does, is mediocre journalism at its best. Budapest is the capital of Hungary, not of Western Europe or the European Union, therefore whilst maintaining its lawful obligation by its Western Allies, it must also look toward its own national, economic, and political interests. This clearly means compromise, and balance. Budapest supported sanctions against Russia despite clear economic ramifications for Hungary. This does not mean that the Russian president is not welcome in Hungary for example, nor that future bilateral cooperation cannot or should not be discussed, or worked on. How can the EU presume to butt in on Hungary’s sovereign decisions regarding whom she decides to do business or not do business with? This is authoritarianism. And in a democratic Europe? You’re certainly mirroring the Western consensus though, but let’s not get into Western “truths”. Excuse my blatancy.

    • Budapest didn’t state anything, it was his Orbanship. But, he also stated publicly “don’t care about what I say, care about what I do.”

      Are we discussing what he said or what he did, after all?

  3. Some sentences that caught my attention.

    “develop cooperation with Hungary within the framework of Russia-Hungary relations.”
    Then, who will be the boss?

    “We expect not only a big number of Hungarian visas to be issued by our Consulate-General”
    To whom exactly, to a selected group of people? How long it is before they start calling the roll?

    Orban seems to be back again manipulating with the help of embassies and consulates. I still remember when he opened a dozen of embassies in haste in the Pacific when competing for non-permanent UN Security Council membership in 2011 and six new missions in 2013. New dance again with the old music.

  4. Dr. Habil. Andras Fodor says:

    I am sad, because the suicidal “Open_To_East” policy is unchanged. Here is the explanation:
    CEPA Roundtable
    CEPA LOGO

    Winning Without Bullets:
    Russia’s Information Warfare

    A Roundtable Discussion with

    Peter Pomerantsev
    Senior Fellow
    The Legatum Institute

    Marcin Zaborowski
    Director
    Polish Institute of International Affairs

    Thursday, April 16, 2015
    10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

    Moderated by:

    Wess Mitchell
    CEPA President

    Location:

    Center for European Policy Analysis
    1225 19th Street NW, Suite 450
    Washington, DC 20036

    Please RSVP by Tuesday, April 14th to Lina Karklina
    at
    lina.karklina@cepa.org or 202.601.4148

    Russia’s fast-moving information war represents a new kind of challenge for Europe and the United States. It is a conflict fought with individual bytes of information instead of bullets. The western, democratic societies which are the targets of Russia’s information war are woefully unprepared to defend against it. As NATO Commander General Philip Breedlove has said, it is “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare.” Worse yet, Russia is winning the fight. How is Russia using this new style of warfare against the West; who are the targets; and what can Europe and the United States do to defeat it?

    Please join us at CEPA for a timely discussion with Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow of The Legatum Institute and Marcin Zaborowski, Director of Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) for a compelling look at the present and future prospects for information war in Europe.
    Center for European Policy Analysis
    1225 19th Street NW, Suite 450
    Washington, DC 20036

  5. György Lázár says:

    Csaba… Actually Hungary indirectly supported the annexation of Crimea. OTP Ukraine has decided to voluntarily withdraw from the Crimean region by April 18 last year. The Hungarian state has indirect ownership in OTP Bank by owning MOL shares.

    • Tibor Gergely says:

      The ANNEXATION of Crimea? The *Russian population* of Crimea and Sevastopol decided by *referendum* to join Russia, for Pete’s sake. Don’t facts bother you at all, Gyurikám?

  6. Charlie London says:

    Cultural Learnings of Hungary for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Tatarstan!

    This is a micro-country. (Pop 3.7 million) How desperate are Orban and Szijjarto for their Eastern opening?

    More getting up the nose of the EU and the US.

    Orban is a snake. He says one thing abroad and a different thing at home.

    Some Hungarian’s (mostly Fidesz) think he is a genius!

    Most informed westerners know he can’t be trusted as he pulls the strings of puppet Szijjarto.

    “Tatarstan is a regional leader within the Russian Federation when it comes to the production of automobile parts, and Hungary is exploring partnerships in this field as well. ”

    Can we now look forward to an updated Trabant?

    And another Sachs Baron Cohen film?

    Tatarstan?

    Why?

    They didn’t even arrange a football match.

    • Tibor Gergely says:

      “SOME” Hungarians think he is cool, Charlie? He was elected by a landslide for Christ’s sake! As for Szijjártó (you can’t even spell his name) ‘visiting a micro-country’, we both know that visiting Tatarstan is actually visiting Russia, just like visiting Quebec is actually visiting Canada. Nor do you know what Szijjártó “arranged” because the (really) Hungarian government is not dumb enough to tell you.

  7. Charlie London says:

    Yes some.

    44% of a 62% turnout.

    Only in Hungary would Fiddeszniks claim this as a landslide.

    Only with a rigged election; with rigged election rules; with rigged electorate (non-Hungarians in Trianon areas); with gerrymandered districts; with rigged media; and with an ignorant electorate – and only in Hungary – would anyone claim this as as landslide.

    And on here only by a Fidesznik troll.

    Of course they need to hold on to hope as they see their popularity haemorrhaging by by-election by by-election.

    • Tibor Gergely says:

      62% is pretty high for Europe, higher than Canada’s 58-60% or the US’s less than 50% for similar elections. So no wonder that everyone, including the “Fideszniks” at the New York Times called it a landslide. Rigged electorate? 🙂 How do you “rig” an electorate. As for “gerrymandered districts… rigged media… ignorant electorate” Ah jeez… where is it different? Or do does “rigged” mean that you people are losing your grip on Hungary (but Szymon said! http://bit.ly/1DqgBy2 :-D)and you hate it? “Troll” (“on here only”? 🙂 too is someone who doesn’t spout your true believer’s dogma in unison with the rest of you supermen, yes? How poor is that syntax, Karcsikám?

  8. Charlie London says:

    Your last sentence is poor syntax.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *