The biggest problem for Hungarian diplomacy is that foreign policy is always determined by domestic policy, claims Márton Gyöngyösi. According to the Jobbik-delegated Vice Chairman of theParliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, the Orbán government has gone too far, lost the balance and completely damaged Hungary’s reputation in the west, news portal MNO.hu said.
Suppose that your party wins the elections in April and you become Minister of Foreign Affairs. What will be your first steps?
I believe the most important task is to restore Hungary’s prestige in the international scene. Our country has been completely discredited in the past seven years; we have been sidelined, at least in terms of our western relations. The reason why Jobbik announced the “Open to the East” policy in 2010 was because we wanted to remedy the existing imbalance, the unilateral Euro-Atlantic orientation characterizing Hungarian diplomacy at the time. When Péter Szíjjártó took over foreign affairs, the Orbán government made the “Open to the East” idea the cornerstone of its foreign policy but they did so in an utterly crude and counter-productive way, and at the expense of our western relations, too. So it will be the future Jobbik government’s job to create balance and remedy the damages caused in our western relations. Hungary can no longer find allies in the west, even for a good cause. The clearest example is the case of the Ukrainian education act. Even though we were right, the West didn’t support us. But the same applies to the statement made by Romanian PM Mihai Tudose, or autonomy efforts in general, where Hungary is unable to promote its interests.
Do you think the balance is tipped towards Russia?
I’m happy if Hungary has good relations with a major power or if the current Hungarian Prime Minister develops economic, cultural and political ties with Chinese or Russian leaders. But each relationship is worth as much as it contributes to promoting our national interests. Unfortunately, the Hungarian diplomacy’s “Open to the East policy” is characterized by a total lack of concept and transparency. For example, Hungary-China relations are driven only by China’s ideas: China has an Eastern Central Europe concept and knows exactly what it wants and how Hungary fits into that strategy. In contrast, Hungary unfortunately has no concept and has a wrong perception of China, too. It’s clearly revealed by the fact that we have consecutively sent two barely 30-year-old diplomats to work as ambassadors in Beijing. If you have any idea of the East and know a little about China, where seniority is deeply rooted in their traditions, you select your diplomatic corps differently – if your intentions are serious, that is. The Russia situation is similar. The government supports the economic anti-Russia sanctions, which are harmful for us, while it keeps organizing regular but unsubstantial protocol events, which undermines any remaining confidence our western allies have in us. Furthermore, most of the bilateral agreements and grand projects are non-transparent and raise suspicions of corruption, which eventually poses a risk to our Russian relations, too.
Over a year has passed since Donald Trump became president but our relations with the United States have not really improved.
It’s a major problem for Hungarian diplomacy that our foreign policy is determined by our domestic policy. There’s no other country in the world where foreign policy is just considered as the means to gain grounds in domestic policy. Even in the other Eastern Central European countries foreign policy is always characterized by stability, continuity and national consensus. In contrast, whoever is in opposition in Hungary keeps daringly decrying the particular great power presented as the “archvillain” at the time, just so that they could make a 180-degree turn and go to the other extreme as soon as they are in government.
Just remember Viktor Orbán’s Russia policy in 2007-2008 and the about-face he took in 2010!
Or the path that Ferenc Gyurcsány took in the other direction! This is a disaster for Hungary because we show ourselves to the world as an unreliable, unpredictable and abnormal country from the aspect of diplomacy and foreign policy.
Is this why there was an estrangement in Hungary-US relations?
As was his habit, the Hungarian Prime Minister took a huge risk and publicly announced his support for Donald Trump well over half a year before the US elections. It was a daring and risky move but it paid off. I’m quite certain that somebody in Trump’s staff took note of this daring man who was the first to put his political career on Trump’s presidency.
However, Hungary hasn’t even achieved as much as, for example, Romanian diplomacy: while Iohannis has been received by the US president several times, we haven’t even made it to the waiting list.
I have no idea how they could botch it up so bad from there, it takes a real artist, no doubt! One of the likely reasons may be Hungary’s reputation in the current American administration. And now we’re at the problem that the leaders of Hungarian diplomacy don’t know Asia, and they don’t understand the US, either. They are unable to get it into their heads that US governments come and go but certain values are always respected, even by such “atypical” presidents as Donald Trump. For example, you must not attack a university which is funded by American capital, and especially not with a legislation that severely violates the rule of law. It was an utter miscalculation on Viktor Orbán’s part, regardless of what we think about the CEU. After making such a move, you mustn’t be surprised if you’re blacklisted for a long time.
Jobbik has been boycotted by the US Embassy for quite a while. What’s your status now?
It’s a long process but the boycott seems to thaw by now. Ever since Jobbik entered the scene, our party has indeed suffered from a sort of handicap in the west. No matter how good our eastern relations were, the western ones were very weak even though we had some informal channels. Throughout the past four-five years, we have been working to establish good relations with the major western countries. By now we have reached the point when we can state that we are able to deliver the correct information on Jobbik everywhere. In order to do so, we organize briefing breakfasts for embassies where we invite ambassadors who are often represented by a specialist diplomat, as it is the tradition in diplomatic affairs. The scales are balanced here; we have at least as many participants from the west as from the east.
However, it’s quite hard to amend your relations with the European Union since the EU has its most fierce debate with Hungary on the migration issue, in which you largely share the government’s position.
The reputation of a country doesn’t fundamentally depend on what position you represent. It depends on HOW you do it. We can support the government’s position on the migration issue. However, the way they represented it internationally is downright scandalous. The government invested zero effort into explaining the rest of the world why the average Hungarian citizen has a very different view on migration than a Western European dwelling in multiculturalism.
One of the greatest tragedies of Hungarian diplomacy is that it has been unable to present its major issues to the rest of the world in a comprehensible way.
I maintain that you can represent and even achieve all positions in diplomacy. Even the wildest position can be explained if you speak a few foreign languages and if you deliver your message in a style that is comprehensible for your foreign partner. It’s a mistake to presume that French, Belgian or British people automatically understand the historical and cultural roots of the Hungarian position. You have to explain it, you can’t save yourself the effort! The reason why the West is more susceptible to the Romanian, Czech and Slovakian position is not some conspiracy but because these countries conduct a more efficient diplomatic activity. Hungarian diplomacy labours under an utter misapprehension: we don’t speak languages or at least not well enough, we don’t know the world and we believe that a spectacular rant is always more effective than tactful work in the background. A formal meeting or an address at an international forum may be spectacular but an informal conversation with someone over a coffee or lunch, when you can explain the Hungarian position knowing that your partner is the rapporteur in a major issue or simply has an influence on decisions, may sometimes prove more useful in diplomacy. This is the kind of background work that all self-respecting countries conduct in the world of diplomacy. In contrast, Hungary tends to loudly summon the ambassador, bang on the table and send everyone to some place else in an unrefined manner.
Is Jobbik accepted in political circles abroad?
Just look at what the western media says about Jobbik now and compare it with their coverage of the Hungarian governing parties! I dare say that Jobbik is considered as a central people’s party in the international political discourse; a party that represents common sense in contrast with Fidesz which has moved to the far-right. There is a great interest in Jobbik. We have managed to completely reposition ourselves in the international sphere; Fidesz and Jobbik have changed places. The process is greatly driven by the issues our party takes up. Our campaign for a European wage union has been going on for a year and we are looking for international allies for it because it’s an all-European citizens’ initiative, which we want to help succeed through a constructive debate with the EU. The newly-joined member states have been left behind. The kind of migration we are fighting globally is already the reality within the EU: hundred thousands, even millions of employees move from peripheral member states to the EU’s core countries. This is not sustainable in the long run. The EU cannot split apart, it mustn’t allow second-class member states and citizens! If the EU wants to be stable, united and competitive, the economic foundations must be provided, too. If we don’t want the member states to be disappointed in the EU, then we must make membership a positive experience in terms of living standards as well.
In that regard, further EU enlargement might not be the best idea.
The European Union can be enlarged when its foundations are stable. If we could eliminate the competitive imbalances, we could consider expanding the frames and deepening cooperation. You can’t offer a perspective for a candidate country as long as the EU is weak.
Try and tell that to Ukraine!
Ukraine is very seriously far from European norms. The case of the education act clearly shows that Ukraine may write itself off from the European community if it refuses to respect native minorities and to guarantee their rights. By the way, I very much support the idea of an Eastern Central European cooperation. I would invest more energy into helping the countries of our region reach out to each other. Not just to settle our common affairs but to be able to take a united position towards the east and the west, too. Until now, Eastern Central Europe has been a toy of great powers. The closer cooperation could be based on three issues: protection against external migration; stopping labour drain and eliminating the wage gap; and the protection of native minorities, that is, autonomy. In our region so divided along the interests of various great powers, each and every country should agree to respect each other’s minorities because what is happening now is that each state enforces its national interests at the expense of the other’s minorities. And that weakens our region.
We could get support from Western Europe, too, as the autonomies of Catalonia, Scotland and South Tirol are good examples we could wholeheartedly follow in this region as well.
Such matters as the national sovereignty guaranteed by international law, the territorial integrity of national states and ensuring the rights of native minorities perfectly fit together and complement each other. The West has a balanced relationship between the majority national state and the minorities: in return for ensuring collective rights, the national state receives a recognition of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, which helps stability and trust replace distrust and tension. The institution of autonomy is a pre-condition for a stable Eastern Central Europe.
Do you think there is a new cold war unfolding in the front line of great powers?
It’s hard to interpret the Ukrainian processes as anything but a geopolitical battle. Just like it’s happened so many times throughout history, clashes take place at the periphery of civilizations again. This time it’s the Western and the Russian power clashing, the only difference compared to the previous centuries is that they are not directly employing military means now.
Although on a rotational basis, but foreign allied forces have again been permanently stationed in Hungary since last year. Don’t you have a problem with that?
We followed the NATO’s recent decisions with the proper amount of criticism. We are not happy if the conflict between the alliance we are a member of and Russia is intensifying, and if the strategic concept applied does not seem to mellow it. We disagreed with the anti-Russia sanctions, the offensive talk and we also disagreed with the establishment of rapid reaction centres in our region. I would be happy if Hungary could launch a military development process because our current situation is a disaster. I’d prefer to see an army with advanced military technology; an army that could protect Hungary as much as possible while NATO would stand by us as a complementary force.
Of course, I know “how much we weigh in the international meat market” but we must increase our weight within the alliance as much as our size and capabilities allow, so that we would not be completely exposed.
Of course, when you are a member of an alliance it is inevitable that foreign troops may be stationed in Hungary within the framework of certain military exercises or cooperation. But it must be done transparently, both in terms of form and objectives, too.
We could have gained a lot of weight in the “international meat market” if we had recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Did Hungary make a good decision when it didn’t do so and abstained from the UN vote condemning the move?
I cannot interpret the position of Hungary’s diplomacy in this issue. Common sense would demand Hungary to emphasize the importance of the two-state solution. Donald Trump’s move was completely irresponsible since he put the Middle Eastern peace process on hold for quite a while. The correct order for the Israeli and the Palestinian side would be to secure the borders of the independent Israel and the independent Palestinian State based on the earlier UN resolutions. At present, Israel keeps Palestinian territories occupied by way of the illegal settlements, against international law. It’s like as if we were sitting at a table with a pizza on it and while we are discussing how to share, one of us were constantly nibbling at it. It’s the responsibility of the international community to have the two parties sit at the table and agree on the framework for a feasible two-state solution. In contrast, what Hungary does is keeping silent and/or sending mixed messages as Zsolt Németh, for example, clearly supported Donald Trump’s move in the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee while Péter Szíjjártó didn’t really answer the question.
The printed version of this article was published in daily Magyar Nemzet. Date of publication: January 20, 2018