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! ]

We’ve agreed to Ukraine gas delivery terms’ – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin

Ukraine and Russia agree on $385 gas price for winter

 

Reuters / Gleb Garanich

Reuters / Gleb Garanich

 

RT news

Published October 20, 2014

 

Moscow and Kiev have confirmed the price of Russian gas to Ukraine until the end of March at $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, according to both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“We have agreed on a price for the next 5 months, and Ukraine will be able to buy as much gas as it needs, and Gazprom is ready to be flexible on the terms,” Lavrov said Monday at a public lecture.

Russia’s foreign minister dispelled rumors of two separate prices, one for winter and one for summer.

“At the Europe-Asia summit in Milan, there was no talk of summer or winter gas prices, but just about the next 5 months,” the foreign minister said.

Included in the $385 price is a $100 discount by Russia. Ukraine is still insisting on a further discount, asking for $325 for ‘summer prices’ after the 5-month winter period.

“We talked about how there should be two prices, like how the European spot market has two prices, a winter price when demand is high, and summer when demand is low. Our joint proposal with the EU was the following: $325 per thousand cubic meters in the summer and $385 per thousand cubic meters in the winter,“ Poroshenko said in an interview on Ukrainian television Saturday.

President Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached a preliminary agreement in Milan on Friday for the winter period, but Russia won’t deliver any gas to its neighbor without prepayment.

Gas talks are expected to continue Tuesday in Berlin between the energy ministers of Russia, Ukraine, and the EU. On September 26, the three energy ministers agreed to provide 5 billion cubic meters to Ukraine on a “take-or-pay” contract, to help the country survive the winter months.

The so-called winter plan is contingent on Ukraine starting to repay at least $3.1 billion worth of debt to Gazprom.

Ukraine is still looking for funding to pay for the gas supplies as well as its $4.5 billion arrears to Russia’s state-owned gas company. Moscow reduced the debt from $5.5 billion to $4.5 billion, calculating in the discount of gas, Putin said on Friday.

Moscow believes the European Commission or the International Monetary Fund should provide loans for this purpose.

Russia turned off the gas to Europe via Ukraine in 2006 and in 2009, over similar pricing disputes with Kiev. This poses a risk to Europe, which receives 15 percent of its gas through Ukraine.

 

 

 

 

 

President Vladimir Putin: Russia’s isolation is ‘absurd and illusory goal’

Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Alexey Druzhinin)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Alexey Druzhinin)

RT news

Published time: October 15, 2014 19:03

Trying to isolate Russia with sanctions and restrictive measures is “an absurd and illusory goal,” Russia’s president has said. Moscow intends to “further deepen” cooperation with EU partners, Vladimir Putin told the Serbian newspaper, Politika.

“If the main goal is to isolate our country, it’s an absurd and illusory goal. It is obviously impossible to achieve it and the economic health of Europe and the world can be seriously undermined,” Russia’s president said.

“Attempts to put pressure on Russia with unilateral and illegitimate restrictive measures” is not going to help reach an agreement, but will “rather impede the dialogue,” Putin said particularly referring to the nearly year-long Ukrainian conflict that the international community blames on Russia.

“Washington actively supported the Maidan protests, and when its Kiev henchmen antagonized a large part of Ukraine through rabid nationalism and plunged the country into a civil war, it blamed Russia for provoking the crisis,” Putin said.“Any unbiased person knows that it was not Russia who staged the coup d’état in Ukraine, which led to the grave internal political crisis and a split in society.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland (R) and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt (2nd R) distribute bread to riot police near Independence square in Kiev December 11, 2013 (Reuters / Andrew Kravchenko)

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland (R) and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt (2nd R) distribute bread to riot police near Independence square in Kiev December 11, 2013 (Reuters / Andrew Kravchenko)

Speaking of sanctions, Putin reiterated that Russia will “adopt a balanced approach to assessing the risks and impact” of sanctions imposed by the EU and the US and will “respond to them proceeding from our national interests.”

Certainly, he added, the current situation and “decline in mutual confidence” will have a negative impact on European and American companies operating in Russia as well as on the international business climate in general.

At the same time, Russia is ready to develop relations with its EU partners and “constructive cooperation” with the US.

As for the EU, Russia intends to settle a dispute with Ukraine over gas supplies to European partners, which receive about 15 percent of their energy via Ukraine. In June, Russia’s gas giant Gazprom shut off supplies to Ukraine, but continued deliveries to European neighbors. If there is no agreement reached between Russia and Ukraine, Europe will face serious energy shortages.

“I would like to stress that Russia is meeting its obligations in full with regard to gas supplies to European consumers,” Putin said. “We intend to further deepen our cooperation with the EU in the energy sector, where we are natural partners, on a transparent and predictable basis.”

Putin agreed that “the problem of transit” of Russia’s gas to Europe across Ukrainian territory “remains.”

One of the “obvious solutions,” the Russian president said, “might be to diversify the delivery routes.”

“In this regard, we hope that the European Commission will finally make a decision in the nearest future about the use of the OPAL gas pipeline at full capacity,” he said.

OPAL (Ostsee Pipeline Anbindungs-Leitung) is a 470-kilometre transit pipeline, which links Russia’s Nord Stream and Europe bypassing transit countries as it runs Russian natural gas across Germany to the Czech Republic and further.

OPAL (Ostsee Pipeline Anbindungs-Leitung) (Image from wikipedia.org)

OPAL (Ostsee Pipeline Anbindungs-Leitung) (Image from wikipedia.org)

Gazprom has asked the European Commission to exclude OPAL from the Third Energy Package, which doesn’t allow one single company to both produce and transport oil and gas.

Unblocking the South Stream pipeline will also “significantly contribute to integrated energy security in Europe.”

“It will benefit everybody, Russia as well as European consumers, including Serbia,” Putin said.

President Putin was also asked about relations between Russia and the US. In his response Putin stressed that Russia always aimed for “open partnership relations with the United States.”

“In return, however, we have seen various reservations and attempts to interfere in our domestic affairs,” Putin said.

“Everything that has happened since the beginning of this year is even more disturbing.”

Current bilateral relations between the two states the president described as “nothing but hostile.”

“Now, President Barack Obama in his speech at the UN General Assembly named the ‘Russian aggression in Europe’ as one of the three major threats facing humanity today, alongside the deadly Ebola virus and the Islamic State. Together with the sanctions against entire sectors of our economy, this approach can be called nothing but hostile,” Putin said.

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks while chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council at the 69th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2014 (Reuters / Brendan McDermid)

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks while chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council at the 69th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2014 (Reuters / Brendan McDermid)

At the same time, President Putin noted that “this is not the first downturn in relations between our countries.”

“We hope that our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability,” he said.

For its part, Russia is ready to cooperate “based on the principles of equality and genuine respect for each other’s interests.”