Nobody trusts Orbán in the East

Jobbik is Hungary's second most popular party, and MP Márton Gyöngyösi is in charge of the party's foreign policy.

Invited by a Russian organization, the politician acted as an observer at the election arranged by Ukrainian separatists, after which media sources reported that he was banned from Ukraine.

Jobbik is much more friendly with Russia than the other parties but Gyöngyösi says they are not pro-Russia, instead they want to balance in a triangle of three great empires like Transylvanian Prince Gábor Bethlen did in the 17th century.

The reason why he considers such balanced foreign policy necessary is because Hungary has been colonized by the West in the past 25 years.

Gyöngyösi claims that Fidesz can't even do the Eastern opening policy right, Orbán is regarded as a turncoat there.


444: You went to Ukraine recently to act as an election observer in the separatist Donetsk People's Republic. Then it was reported in the media that you were banned from Ukraine. Is it true?

Márton Gyöngyösi: There were such news in the media but I never received official communication, either from the Ukrainian authorities or the Embassy.

Did you ask them?

I asked if there was such a decision made, and they told me they would inform me if they make a decision. So far I have not received an official notice. Not that I had sleepless nights about it, I am not planning a journey to Ukraine in the near future.

It's a bit strange that you say you didn't plan to travel to Ukraine. Where did you travel then? Wasn't it Ukraine?

I went to Donetsk, the Donetsk People's Republic. As to what the exact current status of Donetsk is, it's hard to say. I think even Ukraine itself does not know what to make of these regions. There was a referendum last year when local people could decide where they want to belong. The people of Donetsk decided that they did not want to belong to a Ukraine that sends its regular army to fire at them. I think it makes sense. If we respect the values of democracy, we cannot apply double standards. Respecting democracy, people's decisions and their right for self-governance in certain cases but not in others is an odd and questionable practice. 

So you as an observer considered these elections to be free of any concerns about fairness?

I was making very clear statements about the elections. My first statement about the referendum was that the conditions were obviously not ideal for holding a referendum as there was a civil war going on. Let me also note that since the civil war broke out, they have held elections out of the separatist zones in other parts of Ukraine in similarly difficult and atypical conditions, yet the legitimacy of those elections was never questioned. Even though a significant part of the country could not cast their ballots because of the ongoing war.

Indeed, but most of the Ukrainian territory is not impacted by the conflict, while there are civil war conditions in Donetsk and Lugansk.

Yes, but they could not hold elections in certain other parts of Ukraine either. Numerically speaking, you could say that the number of eligible voters unable to cast their ballots was insignificant from Kiev's point of view,

but democracy cannot function unless each citizen is given a chance to vote.

Who exactly sent you the request to observe the elections?

The invitation came from Moscow, Russia. They obviously followed the Donetsk and Lugansk elections with great interest, there were several organizations and Parliamentary parties sending observers. Since you cannot enter Donetsk from the direction of Ukraine, the only way to travel into the Donbass area is through Russia. I travelled via the city of Rostov.

I see, but which organization sent you the invitation?

I can't tell you the name off the top of my head, but it was this press agency covering and presenting the Donbass events. Novorossia Press, I think that's their exact name. This was the organization that sent me the invitation and they organized the journey as well.

Were there only pro-Russia European party representatives as observers or did Socialist and Fidesz MPs get such invitations, too?

I don't know, perhaps you should ask them. I myself met representatives of the Bulgarian Ataka, the Belgian Vlaams Belang and a former representative of FPÖ. The Polish Mateusz Piskorski was also there. I was in Donetsk but another contingent went to Lugansk. This cause brought us together, along with our similar opinions about the Ukraine events as well as 

our desire to see the situation developing in the civil war zone with our own eyes, independently from the unilateral Western propaganda.

During the campaign for the mid-term elections in District 4 of Budapest, we asked Gábor Vona what Hungary should do if we were to face a situation in which we had to make a clear choice between Russia and the United States, East and West, the party president answered that even though Russia has harmed Hungarian interests several times in our history, Hungary should still side with Russia in a conflict like that. What's your opinion about that? Can you uphold what Vona said?

I remember that campaign rally but I don't remember this particular conversation.

In my opinion, the choice between East and West must not be an "either-or" issue as it has happened so many times in our history, it must be based on an "East-AND-West" approach. We've been struggling with this false dilemma since our first king, St. Stephen.

Ours is a tiny country which is unable to exert decisive influence on geopolitical events on its own, so we either develop a good foreign policy strategy to adapt to these events or we fall. We expect our foreign affairs staff and diplomatic corps to develop an appropriate strategy so that we don't just cruise to and fro on the ice behind the puck but skate to the point where the puck will come.

In the past 25 years, ever since we began to consider ourselves to be free and independent, we have actually been witnessing a unilateral exposure. Hungary's foreign policy was going along the course of a unilateral Euro-Atlantic commitment while the world was in fact moving away from a monopolar Western world order.

As far as Hungary is concerned, our historical progress has permanently been influenced by three great empires, Germany, Turkey and Russia.

Throughout our history, these three empires and our relations with them have defined Hungary's prosperity, we had to adapt to them. In the era of Gábor Bethlen, for example...

Hungary was split into three pieces at that time.

Yes, but Transylvania had its golden age under Gábor Bethlen and up to this day...

But isn't Bethlen the evidence that this country cannot possibly balance among these three major powers successfully? Transylvania doesn't belong to the motherland now and it was a separate administrative unit at that time, too.

But what would have been the alternative to Bethlen's strategy? To fight until we all die? Or whose side should he have taken?

That's not what we meant, but we think Bethlen's example is the very evidence that if our country wants to meet everybody's expectations at the same time, it splits into three.

I drew an analogy between our difficult geopolitical situations then and now. Hungary was in the grip of the same three empires at that time and there was someone who chose a viable strategy. The question is if we follow his strategy or accept total unilateral dependence and colonization. What complicates the matter even more is that the Hungarian nation has a double identity: Western and Eastern, too...

But how does that enable us to create a balanced foreign policy in practice? Isn't Ukraine's example a clear indication that there is no "East-AND-West" choice, only an "East-OR-West" one?

No. In Ukraine, it wasn't the Ukrainian people who made a choice, the country became the theatre for a geopolitical conflict. In 1989, another geopolitical conflict was concluded in the territory of Hungary by peaceful means, but more and more people begin to feel the ramifications of this economic expansion to Central Eastern Europe.

The nature of warfare has changed greatly in our age, expansion isn't necessarily facilitated by military efforts, it is conducted by political, economic and intelligence means. It's not just armies that fight the wars nowadays, but foreign-sponsored media, press, NGOs...


MPs too, yes. Absolutely. That's exactly how it works. If you look at the line of events as a whole, what happened in Ukraine was a coup d'état resulting in a regime change backed by the West and assisted by the US intelligence service. Let me quote Victoria Nuland who admitted that the US spent 5 billion dollars on stirring up and escalating the Maidan Square demonstrations and then she dictated a list to US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt with the names the US wants to see in the new government of Ukraine.

In light of that, it is not credible to depict the Ukraine events as if the poor Ukrainian people want to distance themselves from the Russian bear and run to the embrace of the US.

I don't question that the Eastern and the Western block are debating over Ukraine, sparing no expense, people and perhaps weapons. Our question is this: which side would put Jobbik Hungary on in this emotionally charged issue?

When there are military exercises going on in our neighbourhood, when missiles with offensive capability are deployed in Poland and Romania, then we have to seriously consider whether it is worth for us to drift into a conflict we have no interest in whatsoever, in return for NATO's guaranteed or presumed security umbrella. It is quite hard to clearly identify the Hungarian interest in a conflict like this. We can have but one interest: not to drift into a war. We must consider if NATO membership is a benefit for Hungary at the moment, or a pain in the neck.

There are a few countries that set an example for us here in this buffer zone on the border of civilizations: Finland, Switzerland and Austria. It's not true that the situation of these countries is so different from ours. Finland has several thousand of kilometres of common border with Russia, yet it is neutral and independent.

Meanwhile, Poland deploys missiles.

Because there is a short-sighted, recklessly pro-Atlantist political elite in power there, who happens to outperform even the Hungarian government in that regard. They should be advised to thumb through certain pages of Polish history. If I lived in a country that had been split up by the neighbouring powers several times, as a Pole I would give a serious thought to the future of my homeland.

But if Jobbik wants to balance between the two major powers, why do you completely identify with the Russian point of view in terms of the Ukraine crisis?

Russia's standpoint is very simple. Ever since the end of the cold war, all they'd been asking for is to have a security zone (from the aspect of Russian security), which is free of CIA and NATO activity. For example, when Saakashvili, with his strikingly strong American accent, grabs power in Georgia through a coup d'état, or when Kyrgyzstan undergoes a similar colourful revolution, or when Ukraine experiences a Western-backed coup attempt over 10 years ago in December 2004, what Russia obviously sees is that the West has aggressively penetrated its sphere of influence and is expanding there, overruling the agreements made at the end of the cold war to...

But there were no such agreements in writing.

I'm not making this up. There is an entire library available about the US' geopolitical goals from Brzezinski to Fukuyama, just to mention the best known ones.

You must not forget that there are millions of people living in this region. You simplify this issue saying that the CIA began an operation here to turn these countries towards the West, but there is another aspect to it as well: these people (including Hungarians in 1989) decided to leave their Ladas and Zaporozhets behind and sit in Fords and other Western cars instead.

I would still ask people what they think about these past 25 years, what their opinion is about the transition and its achievements. I am not convinced that they would judge these past 25 years so fantastic.

So do you think life was better here before 1990?

I did not say that. But we went straight from one dependence into another. Russian troops left, Hungary's spectacular, visible and palpable occupation was gone (hooray), and there came another type of dependence in a completely different form: in disguise.

With the help of a pre-selected political elite, the economic transformation took a neoliberal turn which communicated that the state is a bad owner and kids, if you want to be good and compete with the West, you must privatize everything to either the domestic mob or foreign multinational companies that want to acquire market here. Decentralize and deregulate your strategic industries and you'll see how much better off you'll be.

As long as you keep doing so, you will always receive short-term funding from the International Monetary Fund, which will tell you what economic policy you must follow to be successful, and the basis of this policy is: austerity measures, austerity measures and some more austerity measures. This has been going on in the past 25 years, carried over from one government term to the other. Isn't this a kind of colonization of our country? Indeed, it is. It only has a different look than the Soviet military occupation.

So, are you doing what Jobbik usually does? You tell me what is bad, but you don't tell me what Jobbik thinks we should have done in the past 25 years. What were we supposed to do? Not to join the EU? Not to become members of NATO? What exactly was the problem with the past 25 years?

You can say a lot of things about us, but you can't say we don't communicate our opinion about the past processes and our proposed solutions in our election programmes and in general, too. In short, the biggest problem of the past 25 years is unilateral Euro-Atlantism. Setting no conditions and giving up our sovereignty,

we joined the European Union, led by a subservient political elite group, in a way that had nothing but negative impacts on Hungary, while we can't find the benefits even under a microscope.

Just look outside your window, you'll see the Margaret Bridge. The refurbishment of this bridge is a tangible benefit of our EU accession.

Of course. Excuse me, but the story of this bridge is that the Socialist Party, Fidesz and the Alliance of Free Democrats made a decision in a closed session before the 2010 elections to spend 15 billion HUF on refurbishing this bridge, and they classified the minutes of the meeting for 60 years. Later on, when they realized that they could actually steal more money than 15 billion HUF, they held another closed session, again classifying the minutes, and tripled the budget, spending 45 billion on refurbishing the Margaret Bridge in total. I don't know what you can use 45 billion HUF for, but I think it's a bit too much money for a bridge refurbishment project - perhaps we can agree on that.

Mr. Gyöngyösi, you've just revealed very nicely that the Hungarian political elite is corrupt. But what has it got to do with...

No. This line of thought takes us to the core, the common identity of Fidesz, the Socialists, and the Free Democrats.

Yes, but...

No, if we got into this subject, let me finish. You mentioned an example which, I hope, can help me throw a light on the faults of the change of the political system.

Those committed by the Hungarian side at least. What you see here is three mischievous children taking an enormous amount of money out of the piggy bank, which the parents would never allow them to do if they knew what was going on, but you say it's the piggy bank's fault.

No. This is a political elite which, ever since the mid 1980s, has made the whole country believe that they were the only ones truly serving the national interest.

Governments came and went but one thing never changed: each group continues stealing under the protection of the other, with Western approval, let me emphasize again.

Brussels is not interested in the story of this bridge.

The enhancement of the Paks Nuclear Plant shows that there may be some Eastern approval in the picture, too.

What has it got to do with Russia?

Just as much as the Margaret Bridge with Brussels. The message of what you are saying is that Hungarian politicians are corrupt as hell. But not much else.

That is not true. The difference between EU funds and the Russian loan is that we are EU members so Brussels could have a say in how we spend the EU's money here in Hungary.  If Hungary takes a loan from Russia based on an international contract, Russia has no say in how we spend the money we got this way.

Russia has no say in Hungary's domestic policy.

But isn't Hungary better off with a Western-type democracy than with the Eastern type, - let's call it autocracy? 

It's always wrong to base our thinking on where we import ideologies and political models from...

But that's what we've been doing for a thousand years, we adopted Christianity, too...

I am very happy to live in a Christian country, but the Hungarian nation obviously transformed that ideology to its own image. There are no two countries that could adopt a given system in the exact same way.  Just look at the Western civilization, which considers itself a hell of a democratic and liberal one, yet you see no two countries operating the exact same political model.

We cannot agree in this, but I am sure there is no EU member state that is evolving to become similar to the Russian or Turkish system.

You're right, but what's your point?

My point is that although democracies differ even within the EU, Hungarian democracy is still closer to the Western one...

But the question is not which model is closer to the Western one, but which model is closer to the people... I think it's a justified question whether the current Hungarian system functions correctly or not.

Then let me ask this way: isn't Western style democracy better for the people than the model we see in the East, in Turkey or Russia? 

It's better for some people, some nations, and it's not better for others. Throughout Boris Yeltsin's ten-year reign, the oligarchs and the West nearly drove Russia to dire straits, and the people of Russia were suffering. Russia experienced one of the most severe crises of the country's modern age during Yeltsin's ten years in power. Interestingly enough, Russia always received positive reviews from the West during that time.

You can't even compare the current period with Boris Yeltsin's era which was constantly praised by the West for its transition to democracy. Obviously because they could enforce their interests much better under a weak leader than now under Putin.

It's not my job to decide if Putin is a good or a bad leader for his nation, this is the Russian people's job.

Let the Russians decide for themselves if a political model characterized by Putin fits the people of Russia or not. And as long as President Putin keeps winning elections with a 70-80 per cent of the votes, (how he does it could be the subject of an interesting conversation), we can hardly tell from here what is best for the people of Russia.

If they don't want to live in a democratic model that functions as Washington deems right, but they want to live in a system characterized by Putin, Erdogan or Lee Kuan Yew, or like the one in China, they have every right to do so. If such a system can generate progress, drive economic performance and create prosperity, and the local people are happy with it, too, then they will support it. Believe me, Singaporean people don't contemplate about how the Singaporean model complies with the criteria of American liberal democracy.

You are saying that Russia is in a defensive position, but what they actually do in the territory of another state is...

Let me note here that I have not seen any evidence of that...

The Internet is full of it...

If publishes something it does not constitute evidence.

You based your line of thought on the premise that Russia is in a defensive position, the West penetrates the political elite by any means necessary, you were talking about the CIA and so on... Meanwhile, we've just seen an example of how Russia influenced a government change in Bulgaria recently. The current Bulgarian Prime Minister claims that his previous government was toppled by the Russia-backed Ataka Party on account of the South Stream... Russia uses espionage just the same... 

Moscow does its lobbying, too, but there was no civil war in Bulgaria with thousands of people dying each day, that is a considerable difference. When you imply how the Western world is more civilized than the barbarian East, you seem to forget that politicians are bribed in the great liberal democracies just the same and they are controlled by lobbies just the same.

But doesn't Bulgaria's case show that Russia attempts all kinds of spy story maneuvers to manipulate other countries? published an article about your Béla Kovács, revealing his ties to certain people. 

The article was rather about his wife...

Yes, but did Jobbik investigate the case of Béla Kovács and his wife?

We are waiting for the evidence of the charges...

But isn't it better to be safe than sorry?

Excuse me?

Let's suppose that Béla Kovács works to promote Moscow's interest. Wouldn't it be better for the party to clarify this issue?

What should we have done?

How could any political party, especially such a relatively young party investigate the dealings of the world's most powerful intelligence services?

Counter-intelligence is not our core activity. What we could have done was to look into Béla Kovács' eyes and ask him: "Is that true?"...

Did you?


And what did he say?

He said no. If there are any victims in this story, it's us.

As the party's candidate for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, do you need to cooperate with Béla Kovács? Do you have regular meetings?

Of course, I have an insight into foreign policy issues discussed in the European Parliament, so I have regular meetings with him.

But who calls the shots in foreign policy? 

I do. I am responsible for Jobbik's foreign policy. As far as the EP is concerned, I am not dealing with those issues on a daily basis, but we have regular meetings with all of our MEPs. Béla has been involved with the matters related to Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, so I meet him, too.

Did Béla Kovács intensify the party's relations with Russia?

I don't know, because we came to the party at around the same time. Even before my political career, in 2008 to be exact, I already talked about the importance of an "Eastern opening" in foreign policy, which was also highlighted in our programme in 2010. Béla Kovács' Russian contacts and in-depth knowledge of the region perfectly fitted into this foreign policy concept.

How deep are Jobbik's foreign relations? Could you bring Iranian or Russian factories to the town of Ózd? Do you negotiate with business players who could help stimulate the Hungarian economy?

We do, but the content of any relations is realized if a party is in government. Currently, we are not in power, so our position in the negotiations is obviously different. Our current efforts focus on creating an atmosphere of trust, which can later open the road for such cooperation projects.

I disagree with the official foreign policy line followed ever since Péter Szíjjártó was appointed as Minister for Foreign Affairs. He identifies the acquisition of material gains, financial benefits as the only goal and task for foreign policy.

The purpose of foreign policy is to pave the way for various types of cooperation and project a credible, predictable and long-term perspective. .

Viktor Orbán may be in power, but the Eastern opening means a credibility problem for him,

as even the people with short memories may easily remember his views before he got into government in 2010, what his opinion was about the East, China and Russia as recently as in 2008 and 2009. Obviously, Orbán is the only one who can currently negotiate from a government position, but I am aware - because I am told - how Viktor Orbán is evaluated in the East - with or without his two-thirds majority. In a region where everything is built upon long-term trust, his kind of mentality is not preferred.

Do they consider him a turncoat?

Absolutely. And they don't consider him credible. Of course, this opinion may be overruled by a short-term mutual benefit but it is not a solid basis for foreign policy.



Interview by: Zsolt Sarkadi -