Ákos Gergely Balogh: Alone against the world

The central crisis management of the ‘central power field’ has taken on a rather unique turn. The politicians and their key backers are also displaying mighty strange signs of what they are able to actually process of the world. What we get includes: slow, cautious backing out, the labeling of the American chargé d’affaires as a fifth-rate CIA agent and his official goading, the threat of yet another Békemenet march, uncharitable references to Maidan…and even more uncharitable references to Maidan.

It is a complete misunderstanding of Hungary’s national interests and a total misjudging of Hungary’s political latitude if the country’s politicians think that the often arrogant self-confidence displayed domestically is appropriate internationally, as if they are just as much defining players in global politics, as they happen to dominate politics back home.

Voluntarism — without real political strength to bolster it — does not work in this context. In the European or world league, Fidesz isn’t Hungary.

Although the massive dominance of the United States isn’t fair,  it is still a reality with which we have to live and make do. A series of warnings led to the very serious diplomatic row and denying of entry of six Hungarians. It is pure folly to trivialize this. It is also unwise to dismiss the criticism of a former American president (ie: Bill Clinton) who, while in office was charitable towards the Hungarian prime minister, by simply saying that he hasn’t visited Hungary for a long time and thus can’t form an opinion. (Editor’s note: this is a reference to a comment by newly minted Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó.)

With this behaviour, we have managed to attract a series of conflicts and it is questionable whether we are able to win any of them. But we have all the more to lose. For instance, we have closed the Hungarian embassy in Estonia. Estonian is one of only two languages related to Hungarian that forms the official language of an independent state. Additionally, from the perspective of the events in Ukraine, it isn’t an insignificant place. But, certainly, we will save a few hundred million forints per year by having closed the mission. We have also managed to get into a biting conflict with the even more distant Norway…as if they tried to take away our oil fields or our whales, using force.

The partners and allies of this ‘Hungarian way” are fewer and fewer apart. Without partners, a medium-size, heavily indebted, demographically depressed European state doesn’t have much wiggle room. Let’s just think of Tibor Navracsics’s partial defeat in the European Commission. This wasn’t about his performance in the hearings, but about the performance of the Hungarian government.

Of course, one can go and visit Mr. Berlusconi or give an award to Mr. Aznar  and party like it’s still 2001, and that both are still prime ministers in office. But, in reality, this doesn’t really move us forward.

Nation and Interest

If things turn really sour, Hungary will suffer a loss in position and prestige internationally and our ability to defend the interests of diaspora communities will suffer as well. And Hungarian communities in any of the neighbouring countries can speak about their experience in the past two decades, when this occurs. In between two pathetic Albert Wass presentations, it is worth weighing what impact one or two domestic or foreign shticks can have.

It is undeniable, that there is a correlation between Soros funds and the granting policies of the Norwegian Fund in Hungary. But is it acceptable to launch a remarkable attack against these bodies when only ten or perhaps a hundred million forints are at stake? And what if Ukrainian or Romanian authorities get wind of this and want to share in the experience by deciding to monitor and inspect the support that Hungary gives to Hungarian minority organizations in their countries? What will be Hungary’s position then? We won’t be able to refer to European values…And who would stand by us anyway?

Home Alone / Sandeep Khedkar.

Home Alone / Sandeep Khedkar.

Ostpolitik and Business

I can agree with the premise that in many ways, the Western world is in crisis (such as economically and demographically, just to name two areas). Defining points that were previously thought to have been unwavering now seem shaky or are disappearing in the mist. For instance, one can look at the previous certainty and consensus in Hungary about the importance of adopting the euro. Unfortunately, when it comes to these crises, one is only wise after the fact. When one is in the thick of it, it’s hard to tell whether the system truly is on the path of decline or if it is on a roller coaster ride, where there is hope for another rise.

While Hungary’s Ostpolitik (or opening up to the East) may be an answer to this uncertainty, we must still understand the sacrifices that may come with any one decision, and how these decisions are received by the countries with which we are connected in a thousand ways. We need to look at how opening up one or two windows may close several doors. In-depth knowledge of local realities are needed for Hungarian foreign affairs to even weigh what it can expect with a new relationship. But with badly trained diplomats and ones who are not proficient in foreign languages, our chances don’t look too bright. Putting our economic interests at the forefront is a good idea, but by itself it cannot work. With our own indelicacies, why would we be an attractive partner to anyone, without first cultivating cultural and political connections?

The most sensitive part of this Eastern policy is our relationship with Russia. In part because of its own decisions and also due to unforeseen circumstances, Hungary has managed to maneuver itself into an impossible situation. From the perspective of Hungary’s national policy, it can be argued that what the far more influential Russian minority got from Kiev can be the expected treatment of the much smaller, but from out perspective important, 150,000-strong Ukrainian Hungarian minority. Those who criticize the Hungarian government’s approach by seeing everything from a hardline western vantage point, fail to see this aspect of the situation and the necessary Hungarian-Russian cooperation that it entails. As Albert Gazda wrote: “Russia needs Ukraine, while the West does not. It’s too costly, so the West only wants for Russia not to have Ukraine. And Ukraine, in every regard, is terribly weak.”

Our main supplier of energy, Russia, is an important business partner for Hungary, but we must reduce the scope of our dependence. Within this context, it is difficult to understand the decision around the expansion of Paks. The construction of the Southern Stream, especially as Nabucco pipeline vanishes in the distance, is important in terms of circumventing the continually risky Ukraine, much like how the Northern Stream was important for the Germans. But we must recognize that these separate deals with Russia are seen in a totally different light following the annexation of Crimea, the battles in eastern Ukraine and the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. We must be ready to at least compromise on something, in exchange for acceptable EU guarantees.

Ákos Gergely Balogh
Translated from Hungarian by Christopher Adam


Ákos Gergely Balogh is editor-in-chief of the conservative Mandiner.hu news site.

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