The Hungarian politician hopes that because Germany holds neither revisionist territorial designs nor any general historical animus against his nation, Hungary can serve as a useful and reliable geopolitical pawn for both Berlin and Moscow. This is what happens when the United States is absent; its leadership is missing; and the White House “leads from behind.” This is also the best prism to scrutinize Orban’s foreign policy moves through. He cannot ingratiate himself to Berlin through his conservatism, but he can through Russophilia.
By Marek Jan Chodakiewicz | January 29, 2015
Whereas the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s domestic politics elicit angry denunciations primarily from leftist and liberal quarters at home and abroad, his foreign policy both baffles and infuriates Western observers across the political spectrum. But the key to understanding Budapest’s international maneuvers is rather simple.
Orban claims that his policy of national solidarity – restoring tradition, dignity, prosperity, and faith, as well as de-Communization, vetting of agents, and the defeat of post-Communism and liberalism – challenges the dominant international system which is hostile to small nation states. The inimical context consists of globalism, European federalism, German economic might, and post-Soviet imperialism. The prime minister would like Hungary to survive and prosper.
Because Budapest pursues policies that challenge the reigning paradigm, the Magyar government is ostracized, sidelined, and criticized bitterly both by the European Union and the United States. Leftists and liberals who dominate the West culturally, politically, and economically cannot bear anyone who fails to fall in line. As far as the EU, Germany is not only its most powerful member but, arguably, also most corroded by leftism and liberalism. Therefore, Orban believes he should pursue his foreign policy in alliance with a power which rejects the liberal paradigm most emphatically. Hence, he has chosen Russia.
The Hungarian prime minister holds that, first, Hungary must not be isolated in the international arena. Second, subordinating oneself to the Kremlin voluntarily, Budapest neutralizes any aggressive Russian designs on Magyar freedom and obtains tangible benefits in the economy, energy matters in particular. Third, executing a rapprochement with the post-Soviet empire Hungary indirectly advances Berlin’s policy of closeness to Moscow. By the same token, then, Orban weakens the ire of Brussels vis-à-vis Budapest because the EU lacks an independent policy in the east, instead adopting and pursuing Germany’s Ostpolitik as its own, which dictates how Brussels dances with Moscow.
At the geopolitical level, it is Berlin that broadly impacts the EU’s attitude toward Hungary (and the rest of the post-Soviet zone), subordinating it to its generally Russophilic policies driven by the Bismarckian tradition and energy considerations. Comprehending well these circumstances, Orban has decided that he can get close to Berlin via Moscow. Thus, he can neutralize the liberal sting of the EU. The Hungarian politician hopes that because Germany holds neither revisionist territorial designs nor any general historical animus against his nation, Hungary can serve as a useful and reliable geopolitical pawn for both Berlin and Moscow. This is what happens when the United States is absent; its leadership is missing; and the White House “leads from behind.” This is also the best prism to scrutinize Orban’s foreign policy moves through. He cannot ingratiate himself to Berlin through his conservatism, but he can through Russophilia.
Recently, the Hungarian parliament voted to agree to permit a section of the South Stream energy pipeline to cross Hungary. Thus, the Russian gas was to circumvent Ukraine and Poland on the way to the western part of the EU. However, Vladimir Putin has just shelved the plan and unveiled an alternative option of Blue Stream via Turkey. Instead of the abandoned European Nabucco project, we shall have a Russian delivery system. And Moscow has successfully wooed Ankara, dismissing Budapest (and, of course, Sophia). This was a valuable lesson for Orban that his nation is dispensable from the Russian perspective. The Hungarian prime minister immediately retaliated against Putin by accommodating Kyiv in energy policy.
Nonetheless, Hungary has benefitted from its association with Russia. Following negotiations with Gazprom, the Magyars received preferential prices for energy. They only had “to reverse the reverse,” i.e., cease supplying gas to Ukraine, which they did in September 2014. And the Hungarian state energy company MOL had to synchronize itself with Gazprom, in particular as far as its interests in Serbia are concerned. Further, Russia has agreed to finance Hungary’s purchase of a Russian nuclear reactor. Orban consented to acquire inferior Charnobylian technology because the U.S. and the EU have refused to support Budapest’s plans to secure cheap energy for the Hungarians and a potential source of radioactive material for defense purposes. The Kremlin was happy to oblige. That notwithstanding, in the wake of the South Stream fiasco, as mentioned, the Hungarian government reversed itself again, restarting energy deliveries to Kyiv on January 2015. Budapest stays true to its policy of pursuing the raison d’État.
Orban’s assertiveness on the international scene pertains also to countering what he perceives as nefarious meddling in Hungary’s internal matters. As mentioned, the most egregious operation involved strong-arming the banking industry to achieve debt relief. Budapest also opposes foreign social engineering via NGOs, in particular as far as life style radicals and followers of Marxism-Lesbianism. For example, The Guardian has fulminated that the Hungarian government refused to disburse Norwegian funds earmarked for a local gay organization. My advice: Orban should subsidize Christian missionaries to re-evangelize Norway so that the most popular male name in that country would not be Mohamed anymore. And then Norwegian funds would be directed toward more godly ends.
Last but not least, one should mention that an important plank of Budapest’s foreign policy concerns the Hungarian minority abroad, in particular in countries abutting Hungary. Half a million outside Hungarians have been issued with Hungarian passports and they have a right to vote in national elections in the Mother Country. They can always count on Budapest’s help; their educational system and community institutions bloom. Some even talk about autonomy, e.g., in Ukraine. It emboldens others, for example, the Polish minority in Lithuania. Some observers are frightened because these moves may augur an attempt to revise the borders of Europe. In this instance, it is not the borders from Yalta in 1945, but the borders from Trianon of 1920, which severely truncated Hungary. For Orban, taking care of all Hungarians is a matter of national solidarity. Too bad it may endanger the national solidarity of his neighbors. Too bad Senator McCain fails to understand that Hungary can be a natural ally for the American conservatives. And then, under American leadership, it could serve as a force for stability.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is author of Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.