The bullying of Hungary – the country that dared to disobey the US and EU

Reuters / Karoly Arvai

Reuters / Karoly Arvai

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25 years ago, Hungary was being toasted in the West for opening its border with Austria to East Germans, in a move which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now the Western elites are not happy with Budapest which they consider far too independent.

The refusal of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party to join the new US and EU Cold War against Russia, which has seen the Hungarian parliament approving a law to build the South Stream gas pipeline without the approval of the European Union, in addition to the populist economic policies Fidesz has adopted against the largely foreign owned banks and energy companies, has been met with an angry response from Washington and Brussels.

Hungarian officials have been banned from entering the US, while the European Commission has demanded that the Hungarians explain their decision to go ahead with South Stream. That’s on top of the European Commission launching legal action against the Hungarian government for its law restricting the rights of foreigners to buy agricultural land.

The bullying of Hungary hasn’t made many headlines because it’s so-called “democrats” from the West who have been doing the bullying.

Viktor Orban is not a communist, he is a nationally-minded conservative who was an anti-communist activist in the late 1980s, but the attacks on him and his government demonstrate that it doesn’t matter what label you go under – if you don’t do exactly what Uncle Sam and the Euro-elite tell you to do – your country will come under great pressure to conform. And all of course in the name of “freedom” and “democracy.”

Fidesz has been upsetting some powerful people in the West ever since returning to power in 2010. The previous “Socialist”-led administration was hugely popular in the West because it did everything Washington and Brussels and the international banking set wanted. It imposed austerity on ordinary people, it privatized large sections of the economy, and it took out an unnecessary IMF loan. Ironically, the conservative-minded Fidesz party has proved to be much better socialists in power than the big-business and banker friendly “Socialists” they replaced.

One of the first things that Fidesz and its coalition allies, the Christian Democratic People’s Party, (KDNP) did was to introduce an $855m bank tax – the highest such tax in Europe – a measure which had the financial elite foaming at the mouth.

Orban clashed with the IMF too, with his government rejecting new loan terms in 2012, and paying off early a loan taken out by the previous government, to reduce interest payments.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Reuters / Bernadett Szabo)

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Reuters / Bernadett Szabo)

In 2013, Orban took on the foreign-owned energy giants with his government imposing cuts of over 20% on bills. Neoliberals expressed their outrage at such “interventionist” policies, but under Orban, the economy has improved. Although it’s true that many still look back nostalgically to the days of “goulash communism” in the 1970s and 80s when there were jobs for all and food on the table for everyone. Unemployment fell to 7.4 percent in the third-quarter of this year; it was around 11 percent when Fidesz took power, while real wages rose by 2.9 percent in the year up to July.

The man his enemies called the “Viktator,” has shown that he will pursue whatever economic policies he believes are in his country’s national interest, regardless of the opinions of the western elite who want the Hungarian economy to be geared to their needs.

His refusal to scrap his country’s bank tax is one example; the closer commercial links with Russia are another. Russia is Hungary’s third biggest trading partner and ties between the two countries have strengthened in the last couple of years, to the consternation of western Russophobes. In April, a deal was struck for Moscow to loan Hungary €10 billion to help upgrade its nuclear plant at Paks.

Orban’s policy of improving trade and business links with Russia, while staying a member of the EU and NATO, has however been put under increasing strain by the new hostile policy towards Moscow from Washington and Brussels.

Orban again, has annoyed the West by sticking up for Hungary’s own interests. In May he faced attack when he had the temerity to speak up for the rights of the 200,000 strong Hungarian community living in Ukraine.”Ukraine can neither be stable, nor democratic, if it does not give its minorities, including Hungarians, their due. That is dual citizenship, collective rights and autonomy.” Hungary’s Ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Kiev. Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland, the US’s most obedient lapdog in Eastern Europe, called Orban’s comments “unfortunate and disturbing” as if it was anything to do with him or his country.

In August, Orban accurately described the sanctions policy of the West towards Russia as like “shooting oneself in the foot.”“The EU should not only compensate producers somehow, be they Polish, Slovak, Hungarian or Greek, who now have to suffer losses, but the entire sanctions policy should be reconsidered,” Orban said.

In October, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto also questioned the sanctions on Russia, revealing that his country is losing 50 million forints a day due to the policy.

Hungary has made its position clear, but for daring to question EU and US policy, and for its rapprochement with Moscow, the country has been punished.

It’s democratically elected civilian government which enjoys high levels of public support, has ludicrously – and obscenely – been likened to military governments which have massacred their opponents. “From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society,” declared US President Barack Obama in September.

Last month there was another salvo fired at Hungary – it was announced that the US had banned six unnamed Hungarian government officials from entering America, citing concerns over corruption- without the US providing any proof of the corruption.

RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov

RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov

At a certain point, the situation, if it continues this way, will deteriorate to the extent where it is impossible to work together as an ally,” warned the Charge D’Affaires of the US Embassy in Budapest, Andre Goodfriend. The decision and the failure to provide any evidence, understandably caused outrage in Hungary. “The government of Hungary is somewhat baffled at the events that have unfolded because this is not the way friends deal with issues,” said Janos Lazar, Orban‘s chief of staff.

The timing of the ban has to be noted, coming after the Hungarian government had criticized the sanctions on Russia and just before the national Parliament was due to vote on the South Stream pipeline. The pipeline, which would allow gas to be transported from Russia via the Black Sea and the Balkans to south and central Europe without passing through Ukraine, is a project which Russophobes in the West want cancelled.

“I am inclined to think that it is a punishment for the fact that we talk to Russia,” said Gabor Stier, the head foreign policy editor of the leading Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet.

“America thinks that we are corrupt, but we are a sovereign state, and it is our business. Many people in the United States do not like that Viktor Orban is very independent…..Corruption is just an excuse.”

It’s hard to disagree with Stier’s conclusions. Of course, there is corruption in Hungary, as there is in every country, but it pales in comparison with some countries who are faithful US allies and who Washington never criticizes. The 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International, reveals that Latvia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina are all below Hungary, as indeed is Italy. Yet it’s Hungarian officials that the US is banning.

True to form, the attacks on Orban and his government in the Western media have chimed with the political attacks. ‘Is Hungary, the EU’s only dictatorship?’ asked Bloomberg View in April. The BBC ran a hostile piece on Orban and Fidesz in October entitled Cracks Emerge in leading party, and which referred to “government corruption” and “the playboy lifestyle of numerous party officials.”

The piece looked forward to the end of Fidesz rule.

While earlier this week, the New York Times published an OpEd by Kati Marton, whose late husband Richard Holbrooke, was a leading US diplomat, entitled Hungary’s Authoritarian Descent. You’d never guess that the Hungarian government wasn’t the flavor of the month in the West would you?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at their meeting in Budapest (RIA Novosti / Eduard Pesov)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at their meeting in Budapest (RIA Novosti / Eduard Pesov)

The question which has to be asked is: will Hungary be the next country to be the target of a US/EU sponsored regime change?

We all know what happened to the last Viktor who refused to sever links with Russia. Will Orban suffer the same fate as Ukraine’s Yanukovich? There are good reasons for believing that he won’t.

Fidesz did make a mistake by announcing the introduction of a new internet tax last month, which brought thousands onto the streets to protest but they have since dropped the plans and the problem for the US and EU is that Orban and his government remain too popular. In October’s local elections Fidesz won 19 of Hungary’s 21 larger towns and cities, including the capital city Budapest, not bad for a party that‘s been in power since May 2010.

Orban’s brand of economic populism, combined with moderate nationalism, goes down well in a country where people remember just how awful things were when the neoliberal “Socialists” were in power. His style of leadership may be authoritarian, but Hungarians prefer having a leader who has cut fuel bills and reduced unemployment to one who mouths platitudes about “liberal democracy” but who imposed harsh austerity measures and leaves them unable to afford the daily essentials.

Moreover Hungary, is already a member of the EU and NATO unlike Ukraine under Yanukovich and isn’t about to leave either soon. On a recent visit to America Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told the US TODAY newspaper “US is our friend, US is our closest ally.” The US clearly wants more from Hungary than just words, but while both Washington and Brussels would like to see a more obedient government in Budapest, the “liberal” and faux-left parties they support simply don’t have enough popular support for the reasons outlined above. And things would be even worse for the West if the radical nationalist party Jobbik, the third largest party in Parliament, and which made gains in October’s local elections, came to power- or if there was a genuine socialist/communist revival in the country. The fact is that Orban is in a very strong position and he knows it. That’s why he feels able to face down the threats from abroad and maintain a level of independence even though total independence is impossible within the EU and NATO.

We can expect the attacks on Orban and his government to intensify but the more the West attacks, the more popular Orban, who is able to present himself as the defender of Hungary’s national interests, becomes.

Hungary gave the West everything it wanted in 1989, and, as I pointed out here, its “reform” communist leadership was richly rewarded. But in 2014 it’s a very different story. In the interests of democracy and small countries standing up to bullying by powerful elites, long may Hungary’s spirited defiance continue.

Hajra, magyarok! Hajra Magyarorszag! [ Hurrah Hungarians! Hurrah Hungarians! ]

Duma calls for international community to investigate Ukrainian atrocities

A Donetsk bus stop, which was destroyed by a Ukrainian military artillery attack. (RIA Novosti/Gennady Dubovoy)

A Donetsk bus stop, which was destroyed by a Ukrainian military artillery attack. (RIA Novosti/Gennady Dubovoy)

The Russian Lower House is calling on international organizations and national parliaments and governments to investigate crimes against civilians in south-east Ukraine, and to step up efforts to find a peaceful settlement in the region.

The motion was passed by 428 votes in favor with only one abstention.

The proposal draws special attention to the mass graves recently discovered near Donetsk. Russian MPs say that the bodies belong to victims of pro-Kiev forces, and are calling on the international community to give an unbiased assessment of the activities of those who committed the crimes against civilians, and those who gave orders in Kiev and financed the punitive units.

The State Duma calls upon the UN, the OSCE, and the international community to hold an objective, independent and all-sided international investigation of the crimes that have caused numerous victims among the civilian population in the south-east of Ukraine,” the motion reads.

All participants in criminal acts against the Ukrainian people must stand before a court and receive a well-deserved punishment,” it adds.

At the same time, Russian lawmakers asked legislative and executive bodies in foreign countries to step up their efforts to promote peace, and called for a broad international conference about modern threats and the role of parliamentary diplomacy in overcoming these threats.

A Donetsk People's Republic militiaman is at the site of the graves of peaceful residents discovered near Mine 22 "Kommunar" outside Donetsk (still from video courtesy of the Ruptly international news agency.)

A Donetsk People’s Republic militiaman is at the site of the graves of peaceful residents discovered near Mine 22 “Kommunar” outside Donetsk (still from video courtesy of the Ruptly international news agency.)

The State Duma also voiced concern over Western nations sending weapons and military advisors to the Ukrainian authorities. “Such actions can undermine the settlement process and provoke a new round of violence,” the lawmakers warned.

The head of the Lower House Committee for relations with the CIS bloc, Leonid Slutsky, said in a speech that the situation in Ukraine remained exceptionally tense. “The international law is still being violated in Donbass, people continue to perish and more and more mass graves are being discovered. These graves are filled with bodies of people who gave their lives simply for the right to remain Russians, to bring up their children in a free and democratic country,” he said.

Slutsky also said that Russia had repeatedly drawn attention to numerous violations of human rights in Ukraine. “However, the political leaders of the Western nations refuse to see the objective picture of the current events and leave Russia’s requests without attention. Besides, the US and the EU are rendering political, financial and moral support to the Kiev regime since the moment of destabilization.”

Homage to Catalonia: People defy Madrid casting ballots in symbolic independence vote

Catalunya teus fills i filles luchand per la teva independència del jou espanol!

 

 

 

http://rt.com/news/203627-independenc…

High numbers of Catalan voters are determined to take part in the highly-anticipated symbolic poll on Sunday on whether to split from Spain and become an independent country.

“People seem extremely enthusiastic. If you walk through the streets in Barcelona that energy is palpable,” RT’s Marina Portnaya reported, adding that banners, posters and ribbons are being displayed throughout the city in support of Catalonia’s “consultative vote.”

Organizers told RT that over 1,300 polling centers have been set up for what is expected to be a “high turnout.” There’s also been an army of volunteers, up to 50,000 people, making phone calls to people living across Catalonia, informing them where to go and how to vote.

Regional police are on high alert, but organizers believe that officers are unlikely to stand in their way or to block voters from casting their ballots.

There have been several challenges that organizers and volunteers have faced, leading up to the consultative vote, Portnaya said.

“Madrid sent letters to the public schools that are serving as polling sites, threatening them, saying that it’s illegal for schools to take part in an election, even though this is a non-binding unofficial consultation vote.”

Many pro-independence volunteers received robot calls all day long on Saturday, Portnaya reported, in an apparent effort to monopolize their mobile phones and drain their batteries to prevent them from using them.

After Spain’s High Court ruled the independence referendum proposed by Catalan leader Artur Mas unconstitutional last month, the Madrid government has also issued a ban on the informal poll, forbidding Catalans from making any public show of support for independence.

Thousands rallied in front of the National Museum of Catalonia on Friday, however, in an effort to show resolve to stage the November 9 so-called “consultative vote,” despite warnings from Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s government to disrupt it.

People wait on November 9, 2014 outside a school in Barcelona to vote in a symbolic ballot on whether to break away as an independent state, defying fierce challenges by the Spanish government. (AFP Photo/Lluis Gene)

People wait on November 9, 2014 outside a school in Barcelona to vote in a symbolic ballot on whether to break away as an independent state, defying fierce challenges by the Spanish government. (AFP Photo/Lluis Gene)

READ MORE: Catalans gear up for symbolic independence vote Sunday defying Madrid’s ban

Rajoy said ahead of the vote: “The law will be enforced. There will be no referendum that calls into question the sovereignty of the Spanish nation. There will be no division of Spanish territory while I am prime minister.”

However, according to opinion polls, up to 80 percent of Catalans want more autonomy from Spain, with about 50 percent backing full independence. With its own language and culture, the comparatively well-off autonomous region has a population of 7.5 million and accounts for nearly one-quarter of Spain’s GDP.

“According to the organizers…within the first four hours of polls being opened, nearly 1,143,000 Catalans turned out to vote – that’s just in the first four hours. Polls will be open for 11 hours. So clearly that is an indication that many are coming out to cast their ballots,” Portnaya stated.

People take part in a Sardana dance, a typical Catalan dance, near the cathedral in Barcelona, November 8, 2014. (Reuters/Gustau Nacarino)