Propaganda Camp

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán prepares to speak at Tusnádfürdő on July 24, 2016 (photo: MTI).

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán prepares to deliver annual speech in Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad) on July 24, 2016 (photo: MTI).

On July 24, 2016, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held his annual speech at the Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp (Tusványos Nyári Szabadegyetem és Diáktábor) in Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad), Romania.

Orbán, both as head of government and opposition leader, has long used the speech he makes at this camp in the predominantly Hungarian-inhabited Székely Land (Székelyföld) region of Romania to explicitly articulate his domestic political vision and his viewpoints on international affairs (see Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State).

Prime Minister Orbán expressed two novel opinions in his 2016 Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp speech: first, he became the first leader of a sovereign state to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States; and second, in answering a question following the speech, he advocated the creation of a common European military.

Below are Orange Files translations of several passages from Prime Minister Orbán’s July 24 speech in Tusnádfürdő (source in Hungarian).

——–

Thank you for permitting me to be here among you again with the passing of another year. The experience of seeing you again is, in itself, valuable and sets one’s heart in motion. This, in itself, would be a sufficient reason and motive for the existence of the free university [the Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp], although the free university has for many years—for more than two decades—performed another function that truly manifests itself here only when the incumbent prime minister of Hungary speaks to you. That is to say, a situation has come into existence, a free-university space in which it is possible to speak about politics in a different way, in which it is possible to speak about difficult and complicated matters in a different way from that which politics, as a profession, forces [one to speak] the other 364 days of the year. Problems arise from this afterwards as well. Because European politics has already made steady use of the form of speaking about politics and major European affairs that maybe nobody other than the speaker understands, but which at least does not bring trouble down upon the heads of the speaker. The world of a free university is, however, different. If we don’t speak frankly here in a way that we, too, can understand about the dilemmas that torment us, which incidentally are not just our dilemmas, but which, as you will hear later, are dilemmas tormenting all of Europe, then the free university isn’t worth anything, then it’s not a free university, but a propaganda camp.

——–

We would not have previously thought this [to be possible], but it is now looking more and more like they have pushed Hungary out of the European mainstream and they have tried to interpret everything that we have done as not being an accepted part of European politics. Be it our constitution strengthening Christian foundations, be it our demographic policies, be it cross-border national unification—now, in retrospect, with the passing of a few years, these look more like advantages than disadvantages. Nobody can at this moment say for certain that over the coming years the European mainstream won’t proceed [along the path] onto which they tried to drive Hungary away from the European mainstream. This is how the black sheep become the flock, how the exception becomes the main direction.

——–

As I was listening to Bishop Tőkés [the previous speaker, Reformed bishop and Fidesz Member of the European Parliament László Tőkés] I realized that I shouldn’t have been at a loss for what to do last night [when I wrote this speech], but I should have called him up on the phone, because he provided the phrase that I should really be talking about here as my point of departure. He quoted Nehemiah: “Do not be afraid, but fight!”

——–

If I told an English, German or French young person that if you abide by the laws, respect your parents, finish your schooling normally and work diligently, you will surely get ahead, get farther and you will live better than your parents did, I am afraid that they would laugh at me. This is the promise of European life that has been shaken, which has been lost—and this will have serious consequences.

——–

Since we are members of the European Union, today I will speak about what the European Union must do differently in order for fear and uncertainty to disappear from the lives of Europeans. First of all, it must quit doing a few bad things. In the West they call one of these things denationalization, presenting in a positive light something which I think is a bad thing. In my opinion reducing national sovereignty in favor of [increased] European spheres of authority represents one of the greatest dangers in Europe today.

——–

The European Union has today become a regional player. At best, it is capable of influencing events that take place in its environment, though slowly we are seeing that [it is capable of] not even this this much, since the main player in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict is not the European Union, but the United States. We see that the European Union doesn’t play the main role in shaping events in the uncertain region of Syria, the Middle East and Iraq, but the United States and the Russians. Thus we must state that today the European Union is deceiving itself when it views itself as one of the global players in the global political space. We must recognize that today, if we even have the ability to influence world events outside our own territory, this is restricted to the region [immediately] surrounding us.  

——–

We [Hungarians] have no identity problem. Not even as much as the British, who don’t themselves know exactly if they are European or not. For a Hungarian, this is not a question: if you are Hungarian, then you are European. We have been, are and will be [European]—this is the motto of the camp.¹

——–

Migration represents a threat, it increases terrorism, increases crime; migration on a mass scale changes the cultural profile of Europe and migration on a mass scale destroys national culture.

——–

I am not Donald Trump’s campaign manager, I never would have thought that the notion would occur to me that among the full-fledged possibilities he would be the best for Europe and Hungary. I never would have thought it, but it is nevertheless the case that I listened to this candidate and I must tell you that he made three proposals to stop terrorism. I could have hardly expressed  better as a European that which Europe needs. He said that the world’s best secret service must be established in America, that this is the precondition to everything. I agree with this. [. . .] The second thing the straightforward [derék] American presidential candidate said was that the policy of exporting democracy must be stopped. I couldn’t have expressed this more precisely, because, in the end, why are a massive number of migrants coming to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea at this moment? Because the Europeans and later the Westerners [Western powers] acting under the auspices of the UN, they successfully—we successfully—managed to crush the undemocratic, though from the standpoint of border defense extremely stable, Libyan system without making sure that a new government capable of providing stability came into being. We did the same thing in Syria, we did the same thing in Iraq too. The notion is true, therefore, that if we continue to place democracy-building in the forefront instead of stability in a region in which the success of this is extremely doubtful, then we aren’t going to build democracy, but cause instability.

——–

This [the failure of democracy building] is a big lesson with regard to the current Turkish events as well, which I naturally do not want to qualify, though if they ask me what our greatest expectation is, what Hungary’s greatest expectation is toward Turkey, then we will put stability in the first place. Of course the quality of political life there is not indifferent for us. Neither are human rights indifferent for us, especially because it is a question of a country that formally still wants to join the European Union, where these are fundamental, expected preconditions, though all in all, from the perspective of current life, it is more important that several tens of millions of people not tumble down upon the European Union with no screening, control or impediment of any kind.

——–

This [data showing the projected population increases in Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia and Nigeria by the year 2050] clearly show that the truly great pressure is going to arrive to the continent [of Europe] from Africa. Today we are talking about Syria, today we are talking about Libya, but really we must prepare for population pressure from the region behind Libya and the magnitude of this is going to be much greater than that which we have experienced so far. This warns us that we must steel our wills. Border defense, especially when fences must be built and people must be stopped there, is a difficult thing to interpret aesthetically, but believe me, we cannot defend borders and therefore ourselves with flowers and stuffed animals. We must face this thing. At the same time, it is very important, and for us also very important from the perspective of the image that the outside world formulates of us, that we make it clear that we are not heartless people, thus we are able to make a precise distinction between migrants and migration. In most cases the figure of the migrant—of course not including the terrorists— is a victim, whom the unfortunate situation, the increasingly difficult possibilities for subsistence at home, bad government, our bad, enticing migration policy and the human smugglers have made into victims. We understand this, we know this precisely. However, migration, as I said, is killing us. And migration is embodied in the person of the migrant, thus no matter how much we empathize with them and see them as victims, we must stop them at our fence and make it clear that whomever enters illegally must, according to the laws, be put in prison or expelled from Hungary. Esteemed ladies and gentlemen, esteemed free university, there is no friendlier form of defense. Of course [it must be] in a human, lawful and transparent manner, but we must resolutely do this.

——–

After all this I must state, summarizing what I have said so far, that Europe has lost its global role, has become as a regional player, is not capable of defending its own citizens, is not capable of defending its own external borders and is not capable of keeping the community together, since the United Kingdom has just left it. What more is needed for us to say that the European political leadership has failed. It cannot achieve a single one of its objectives. Thus when we convene in Bratislava in September, we don’t need beauty spots, sweeping under the carpet and whitewashing, but we must clearly state that we must come together and talk about the future of Europe because Europe’s present political leadership has failed. We must make it clear that our problem isn’t in Mecca, but in Brussels; for us, the Brussels bureaucrats represent the obstacle, not Islam.   

——–

Today “old Europe” means Europe that is incapable of change. They [old Europe] are the founding members of the European Union, they are they are the ones who introduced the eurozone and are very visibly stagnating. And there is another Europe, those whom were admitted to the European Union later, whom are said to be the “new Europe.” This, on the other hand, is viable, full of energy, capable of renewal and is looking for answers to the new challenges and thus forms an important part of our continent. This is why I think that perhaps the differentiation between the old and the new Europe is much less offensive for us now than it was previously.

——–

Today in Poland there is no economic crisis. In Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary—I don’t dare comment on the case of Romania—young people think that the old European dream is still valid: if they abide by the laws, if they respect their parents, if they listen to them and their advice regarding the future, and if they work diligently, then a Polish, a Czech, a Slovak and a Hungarian young person will certainly live better and get farther ahead than his [or her] parents. This is the European dream, this is still valid in the new Europe, in Central Europe.

——–

In response to a question following his speech, Prime Minister Orbán stated that NATO, though an “important and good thing,” is no longer capable of guaranteeing peace in Europe, thus he advocates the establishment of a common European army that could function “without the Anglo-Saxons [the United States and the United Kingdom] and the Russians.”

Orbán also expressed support for the creation of a common Visegrád Group army, though rejected the notion of expanding the number of members in the alliance composed of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

The prime minister said that the prospective common European and Visegrád Group armies were needed to defend Europe in the “east and south” and would be closely connected to defense of the continent against terrorism and migration (source in Hungarian).

 

¹ The motto of the 27th Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp: “We were, are and will be at home here in Europe” (Itthon voltunk, vagyunk, leszünk Európában).

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The Alienator

Prime Minister Orbán (center) arrives for his annual speech at the Tusványos Summer University (photo: Viktor Orbán Facebook page).

Prime Minister Orbán (center) arrives for his annual speech at the Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp (photo: Viktor Orbán Facebook page).

Following his annual speech at the Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp (Nyári Szabadegyetem és Diáktábor) in Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad), Romania, on July 25, 2015, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary put photos of the event on his personal Facebook page (source in Hungarian). These photos included an image of lapel pins being sold at the summer university, some of which depict the Greater Hungary—which included Transylvania and other territories that are now part of Romania—that existed for 500 years during the Middle Ages (until 1526) and reemerged for 50 years at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (until 1918).

Photo from Prime Minister Orbán's Facebook page.

Photo from Prime Minister Orbán’s Facebook page.

On July 27, Romania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested Prime Minister Orbán’s display of these images of Greater Hungary on its Facebook page, declaring that “Unfortunately, only one day after he called for pragmatism and ‘efficent’ Romanian-Hungarian relations, Hungarian Prime Minister V. Orban chose to post on his Facebook account images including symbols of Greater Hungary and of the Székely Land. The Hungarian prime minister’s personal promotion of these revisionist symbols is completely unacceptable . . .” (source in Romanian).

Later on July 27, the Orbán government issued the following response on its website (source in English):

The Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has criticised Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for uploading pictures on his Facebook page which it says depict revisionist symbols. Responding to a question on the issue from Hungarian news agency MTI, Press Chief of the Prime Minister’s Office Bertalan Havasi said that the images are of historical symbols. 

During a television interview later that evening, Prime Minister Victor Ponta of Romania characterized Prime Minister Orbán as “offensive” and “provocative” (source A in Hungarian and source B in Romanian).

One can add the Ponta government in Romania to the long list of national governments and international organizations that Prime Minister Orbán has alienated through his short-sighted nationalism since returning to power in 2010. 

For information regarding Prime Minister Orbán’s 2015, 2014 and 2013 speeches at the Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp see: He Talks Again; Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State; and The Friends You Keep.

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He Talks Again

Picture 5Thick neck sticking up out of his collarless non-Western shirt he talks again at the Fidesz “summer university” in Transylvania about the decline of Europe and the West and the fateful perils that face the Hungarian nation (and against which he, alone, can defend it). This year’s catastrophe: Muslim “illegal immigrants” who threaten to adulterate Hungarian Christian-nationalist culture and commit acts of terrorism and who have caused nothing but problems everywhere they have gone, such as Sweden, where the frequency of reported rape is the second highest in the world (behind Lesotho). “Europe is for the Europeans!” he says in his throaty voice, delivering the same old alarmist message that has had an astounding range of actors over the decades since he began with Li Peng, Pol Pot, Jaruzelski and Rákosi in 1989 (see Fill in the Blanks).

Picture 4But something has changed: in the past he spoke with easy fluency and conviction, as recently as one year ago when he proclaimed the foundation of the illiberal Hungarian state at the very same event (see Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State); now he is reading his speech, not looking up from the text for long periods of time, pausing, using gestures to channel his thoughts in the prescribed direction. Although he tried to make it look like he was speaking his own words, publishing a photo on his Facebook page showing him sitting with pen in hand next to a coffee and a glass of orange juice with the caption “the speech is done,” it was indeed not him talking on this day, but his political strategists, Habony and Finkelstein, trying to regain the old magic with a new boogeyman which might also be able to put a halt to the steady rise of Jobbik and the radical nationalists. Only one memorable quote from the entire speech, this aimed at domestic political foes rather than refugees: “In 2004 the Hungarian left wing incited hatred against the Hungarians living outside Hungary, while today they would embrace illegal immigrants with open arms. . . . These are the people, these are the politcal officials who simply don’t like Hungarians and the reason they don’t like them is that they are Hungarians” (source in Hungarian).

Even in his most mundane speeches his exceptional vigor and intelligence have always shown through. But on this day, billed as one on which he would say something big, he appeared dull, lifeless and lethargic, even somewhat obtuse. An exhausted old political fighter. A spent force.

Glad to get that over with (photo: index.hu).

Happy to be done with it (photo: index.hu).

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Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaking in Tusnádfürdő on July 26, 2014.

On July 26, 2014, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proclaimed during his annual speech at the Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp (Tusványos Nyári Szabadegyetem és Diáktábor) in Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad), Romania that the new state that we are building in Hungary is an illiberal state, not a liberal state.”

Prime Minister Orbán maintained during the speech that “we regard the great financial, global-economic, global-trade, global-power, global-military redistribution of strength that became obvious in 2008 as our point of departure,” citing China, Russia, India, Turkey and Singapore as examples of systems “which are not western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, perhaps not even democracies at all, and nevertheless make nations successful” in the post-2008 world. 
 
Prime Minister Orbán identified the activity of non-government organizations (“the civil sphere”) in Hungary and the control that European Union bureaucracies exercise over the distribution of the country’s EU funding as obstacles to the building of the illiberal state. 
Below are a video of Prime Minister Orbán’s speech and a verbatim Orange Files translation of the portions of the speech (roughly one-half of it) related directly to its main theme building illiberal democracy in Hungary (see transcription of speech in Hungarian). 

The translation begins at the 3:20 point in the above video with Prime Minister Orbán articulating his premise that the global financial and economic crisis of 2008—which he referred to as the fourth “major world system-change” in the past century after the First World War, the Second World War and the collapse of communism—necessitated the transformation of the liberal-democratic Hungarian state into an illiberal Hungarian state.  

. . . 

. . . at the same time, a change of just as much significance is taking place in the world as the experience of the System Change. Therefore the task that stands before us intellectually in connection to the debates regarding an understanding of the future and the designation of the roads leading to the future is to use the System Change as an experience, but no longer as a reference point. Much rather, we regard the great financial, global-economic, global-trade, global-power, global-military redistribution of strength that became obvious in 2008 as our point of departure. . . . Therefore I believe it would be of more use if we would regard the System Change as a closed historical process and a storehouse of experience and not as the point of departure for thinking about the future.

. . . 

The contention that intended to serve as the point of departure for my presentation today is that a change of similar weight and importance is taking place in the world today. We can identify the time when this manifested itself and became obvious as the 2008 global financial crisis, more precisely the financial-West crisis. And the meaning of this change is not so obvious because people perceive it differently than the previous three. It was not obvious at the time of the western financial collapse in 2008 that we are going to live in a different world from this time on. The change is not so sharp as took place at the time of the first three global system-changes. But it is unfolding slowly in our minds, somewhat as when fog settles on the landscape, the awareness is slowly descending upon us that if we really take a look around, if we thoroughly analyze all that it taking place around us, it is a different world from that in which we lived six years ago and if we project these processes on the future, which of course always entails some risk, though it is fundamentally justified intellectual work— if we do this, we see clearly that the changes will be even more vigorous.

. . . 

There is an even more important race. We would put it this way—a race to discover the state that is the most capable of making a nation successful. Since the state is none other than the mode of organizing the community, which in our case sometimes coincides with state borders and sometimes not—I will get back to this later—perhaps the most significant theme in today’s world can be can be expressed as a race that is taking place between community-organization modes to come up with that state which is best able to make a nation, a community internationally competitive. This is what explains, my honored ladies and gentlemen, that today the hit theme in thought is understanding those systems which are not western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, perhaps not even democracies at all, and nevertheless make nations successful. Today the stars in international analyses . . . Singapore, China, India, Russia, Turkey. And I think that years ago our political community correctly felt, correctly put its finger on this challenge and perhaps even processed it intellectually and if we think back to what we did over the past four years and what we will do over the next four years, then it can be understood from here as well. Breaking away from western European dogmas and ideologies, making ourselves independent of them, we are seeking, we are trying to find that community-organizational form, that new Hungarian state, which over a range of decades is capable of making our community competitive in the great global competitiveness race.

My honored ladies and gentlemen!

In order for us to be capable of this in 2010, and especially these days, we have had to boldly utter a phrase similar to those previously quoted that belonged to the category of sacrilege in the liberal world order. We had to declare: a democracy is not necessarily liberal. Just because something is not liberal, it can still be a democracy. Moreover, it was necessary, it was possible to say that, in fact, societies built upon the state-organizational principles of liberal democracy will not likely be able to maintain their global competitiveness over the coming decades, rather they will suffer a reversal if they are not capable of changing themselves significantly. 

My honored ladies and gentlemen!

Things are such that if we look from here at the events happening around us, then we usually choose as the point of departure that until now we have known three forms of state organization: the nation-state, the liberal state and the welfare state. But the question is, what will take place now? The Hungarian answer is that an age of the work-based state can begin, we want to organize a work-based society, which, as I mentioned previously, accepts the odium of declaring that, with regard to its character, it is not liberal in nature. What does all this mean?

My honored ladies and gentlemen!

This means that we must break with liberal social-organization principles, methods and the entire liberal understanding of society. I will only touch upon this in two dimensions, I don’t want to go into a longer presentation, I just want to touch upon it so that the gravity of the situation becomes apparent. The point of departure of liberal social organization with regard to the relationship between two people is built on the notion that we are free to do anything that does not violate the freedom of others. Twenty years of the Hungarian world prior to 2010 was built upon this conceptual-ideological point of departure. Accepting, by the way, a general principle in Western Europe. However, 20 years were necessary so that in Hungary we could express the problem that intellectually this is an exceptionally appealing thought, though it is not clear who will say from what point something violates my liberty? And since it is not a given, somebody has to determine this, to decide this. And since we did not designate anybody to decide this, we continually experienced in everyday life that the stronger decided it. We continually felt that they trampled upon those who were weaker. Conflicts arising from the mutual recognition of one another’s freedom are decided  not according to some abstract principle of justice, but what happens is that the stronger is always right. It is always the stronger neighbor who says where the gate is, it is always the stronger, the bank that says how much the interest rate is, which it changes along the way if necessary. And I could otherwise continue to list the examples that continually impacted the defenseless, the weak, individuals and families with smaller economic defense forces than others as a life experience over the past 20 years. To this we propose and are trying to build Hungrian state life on the thought that this shouldn’t be the organizing principle, the organizing principle of society. This cannot be enacted into law, here we must speak of an intellectual point of departure. Don’t let the organizing principle of Hungarian society be that everything is permitted that does not violate the liberty of others, but that of don’t to do others what you wouldn’t want done to you.  And we will attempt in Hungarian public thought, in the education system, in our own behavior through our own examples to place the world that we can call Hungarian society on this theoretical foundation. If we look at this same idea with regard to the individual and the community—because I was now speaking of the relationship of individual and individual—then we see that the Hungarian liberal democracy built up over the past 20 years was not able to accomplish a good many things. I made a short list of what it was not capable of.

Liberal democracy was not capable of stating openly and obliging—even with constitutional force—governments that they serve the national interest with their work. Whatsoever: to debate the notion of the existence of national interest. It did not oblige governments to recognize that Hungarians living throughout the world belong to our nation, to the Hungarian nation, and to attempt through its work to strengthen this affinity. Liberal democracy, the liberal Hungarian state did not protect communal property. . . . Then the liberal Hungarian state did not  protect the country from indebtedness. And finally, it did not defend families, here one can think about the foreign-currency loan system. It did not defend famiies from debt servitude either. Consequently, the interpretation of the 2010 election—particularly in light of the 2014 electoral success—could admissibly sound like this: that in the great world competition that is taking place in the interest of establishing the most competitive state, the Hungarian citizens expect the Hungarian leaders to find, to form, to forge the new Hungarian state organization that, following the era of the liberal state and liberal democracy—of course maintaining respect for the values of Christianity, freedom and human rights—can again make the Hungarian community competitive and carries out and honors those unfinished duties, neglected obligations that I listed.

So, Honored Ladies and Gentlemen!

Namely, what is taking place in Hungary today can be interpreted as the political leadership having made an attempt to make it so that the individual work and interest of people, which must be recognized, stands closely interconnected to the community, the life of the nation and that the connection endures and that this connection strengthens. That is to say, the Hungarian nation is not a mere agglomeration of individuals, but a community, which must be organized, strengthened and, in fact, built. In this sense, therefore, the new state that we are building in Hungary is an illiberal state, not a liberal state. It does not deny the fundamental values of liberalism, such as freedom, and I could bring up a few more, but does not make this ideology the central element of state organization, but contains a unique national approach that diverges from it.

Honored Ladies and Gentlemen!

After this, I must speak about what obstacles must be overcome in order for this to take place. It may easily be that what I say seems evident within this circle, however when all of this must be elevated to the level of a political program and work, then it is not this way whatsoever. I will not enumerate all of the obstacles, I will just mention few, more precisely two of them, not even the most important necessarily, but the most interesting. The relationship between professional political officials versus those operating in the civil sphere. That is to say, somebody, leaders empowered and elected to do so, must organize and govern the state. However, civil organizations appear at the periphery of state life. In Hungary the civil world is showing a very unique face. Those operating in the civil sphere—contrary to the professional political official—are individuals, are a community that is organized from below, stands on its own financial feet and is naturally voluntary. Now in contrast to this, if I take a look at Hungary’s civil sphere, that which plays a regular role in public affairs—the controversy surrounding the Norway Fund has brought this to the surface—then I see that we are dealing with paid political activists. Activists paid by identifiable foreign spheres of interest . . .

And these paid political activists are, moreover, political activists paid by foreigners. Political activists paid by identifiable foreign spheres of interest about which it is difficult to imagine that they regard this as a social investment, rather the notion is much more justified that through this system of means they wish to exercise influence over Hungarian state life at a given moment and with regard to given issues. Therefore it is very important if we want to organize our national state in place of the liberal state to make it clear that here we are not standing opposite people from the civil sphere, it is not people from the civil sphere coming at us, but paid political activists who are trying to assert foreign interests in Hungary. This is why it is very correct that a committee was established in the Hungarian parliament that is engaged in the continual monitoring, recording and publicizing of foreign influence gathering so that everybody, you as well, can know precisely who the true characters are behind the masks.

I will mention another example that is another obstacle to the reorganization of the state. When I bring up the European Union, I don’t do it because I think that it isn’t possible to build an illiberal state standing upon national foundations within the European Union. I think this is possible. European Union membership does not exclude this. It is true that many questions arise, many conflicts develop, you could follow this over the past years, many battles must be waged, but now I am not thinking of this, but about another circumstance with which you are likely unfamiliar in this form. When the agreement expired between Hungary and the European Union that stipulated the financial relationship between the union and Hungary for seven years, it expired this year, and the conclusion of a new agreement for the next seven years appeared on the agenda, which is taking place right now, then a dispute erupted. . . .Now a dispute has developed between the union and Hungary because we changed this system and the government made a decision according to which it will have control over European Union money, in this new state conception, in the illiberal state conception . . .

. . .

Now the only question is, my honored ladies and gentlemen, though here the answer is not incumbent upon me, that in a situation like this in which anything can happen if we should be afraid or rather if we should be filled with confidence. Since the current order of things in the world does not exactly suit our tastes, I think that we should think that the anything-can-happen age that stands before us, though according to many it carries insecurity and could cause trouble, that it holds at least as many possibilities and chances for the Hungarian nation. Thus instead of fear, withdrawal and crawling into a shell, I recommend courage, forward-looking thought and sensible though bold action to the Hungarian community of the Carpathian Basin, in fact to the entire Hungarian national community spread out across the entire world. It could be that after anything happens, our time will come. 

Thank you for your respectful attention!

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The Friends You Keep

basescu orban szorolap

Campaign leaflet showing Băsescu (left) shaking hands with Orbán at 2009 Tusványos Summer University.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary and President Traian Băsescu of Romania were until not long ago noted for the excellent relationship they maintained in spite of being the leaders of countries that have had a long history of conflict over the issue of national minorities and the mutually coveted region of Transylvania. President Băsescu attended the heavily Fidesz-patronized Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp (Tusványos Nyári Szabadegyetem és Diáktábor) in Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad), Romania in both 2009 and 2010, speaking alongside Orbán on the culminating day of the event both years. During his speech at the annual Hungarian national gathering in Tusnádfürdő in 2009, Orbán voiced support for Băsescu’s reelection bid, while the incumbent president’s party distributed leaflets showing him shaking hands with the Fidesz leader as part of his election campaign in the predominantly Hungarian-inhabited regions of central Romania (source in Hungarian). Their friendship was so prominent, that Băsescu’s domestic political rivals began using it against him: in March 2011, Romanian Social Democratic Party leader Victor Ponta quipped “Let’s not forget who’s friends with the enemies of the country” (source in Romanian). 

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Băsescu (right) with Orbán (left) and Tőkés at 2010 Tusványos Summer University.

Băsescu (right) with Orbán (left) and Tőkés at 2010 Tusványos Summer University.

However, their relationship has soured over the past couple of years. The problem between Orbán and Băsescu starts with former Reformed bishop and Member of the European Parliament László Tőkés of Romania. Tőkés, who became famous as the catalyst of the 1989 Romanian Revolution that overthrew communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, is a member of Romania’s large Hungarian minority and an influential supporter—one might even say member—of the Orbán administration. As the leader of the Hungarian National Council of Transylvania, Tőkés has strongly advocated territorial autonomy in the Romanian counties of Harghita and Covasna, the combined population of which is approximately three-quarters Hungarian. Speaking alongside Prime Minister Orbán at this year’s Summer University and Student Camp, Bishop Tőkés declared (source in Hungarian) to the applause of his audience “I proclaim that we have assembled in an autonomous Tusnádfürdő. . . . I proclaim that we are together in one of the communities of the Székely Autonomous District” (note 1). Speaking in response to a question from the audience, Tőkés asked Prime Minister Orbán to extend his government’s System of National Cooperation beyond the border into Transylvania (source in Hungarian and source in Romanian):

We ask Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the government he leads to build a system of national cooperation in such a way as to provide Transylvania with protectorate status as Austria did with South Tyrol.

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Băsescu (second from left) speaking at the 2013 Summer University—in Izvoru Mureşului.

Băsescu (second from left) speaking at the 2013 Summer University—in Izvoru Mureşului.

Băsescu and the entire Romanian political establishment staunchly oppose revival of the Székely territorial autonomy that Ceaușescu eliminated with the abolition of the Mureş-Hungarian Autonomous Region in 1968 (note 2).  Following a meeting with President László Sólyom of Hungary in Budapest in 2009, Băsescu told the Hungarian News Agency MTI “In answer to the question when there will be territorial autonomy in the Székely lands, I can answer that never, since Romania is a unified, sovereign nation state” (source in Hungarian). Like most Romanians, President Băsescu regards the notion of Székely autonomy as the first step toward territorial revisionism and the eventual return of Transylvania to Hungary (note 3)  On August 1, Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Secretary Radu Podgorean of Romania published the following official statement (source in English):  

It is unacceptable that a political event organized in Romania – the Summer University at Băile Tușnad – should become a platform for promoting revisionist projects that calls into question the unity, integrity and  sovereignty of the state. The statements of the European Parliament member László Tőkés on Szecklerland autonomy in the form of a “protectorate” are the expression of an irredentist vision tracing back to the interwar period.

Speaking on August 12 at the Summer University of Izvoru Mureşului  (Universitatea de Vară de la Izvoru Mureşului), the Romanian equivalent of the Hungarian Tusványos Summer University, President Băsescu reiterated his opposition to Hungarian territorial autonomy, referring to the planned administrative reorganization of Romania into eight, European Union-compatible regions in place of the current 41 counties (source for this and subsequent block quote in Romanian):

You have heard that in Romania a project to administratively reorganize the country is being discussed. . . . I can guarantee that a reorganization based on ethnic criteria will never take place. Those who believe that this is possible have confused us with Stalinists. It was only Stalin that organized the Hungarian Autonomous Region. This is something that will not be done in Romania—an autonomous region.

Though he did not mention Prime Minister Orbán by name, Băsescu then threatened to put an end to the Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp that has served as the venue symbolizing their cooperation and friendship and to open a united front, a tacit allusion to the post-First World War Little Entente, against Hungary (note 4):  

Hungary’s entire political élite is able to stroll about Harghita and Covasna counties and it is likely the last year when they were able to do so in such a relaxed manner. This year the limit was reached when. . . . I tell you from here, from Harghita, that it is too much and it will not be repeated. I believed that decency applied. This year they proved to me that there can be a lack of decency. . . . Hungary has become a hotbed of instability in the region regarding the treatment of minorities. . . . Budapest’s policies have begun to create difficulties. . . . Romania will assume the leadership in bringing Budapest to order. . . . I would like very much that this year’s edition of the Summer University of Izvoru Mureșului not be a reply to Tusványos, because if it takes place as it took place this year, it is possible that it will no longer occur on the territory of Romania.  

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The Székely flag flying at the Hungarian Parliament Building in February 2013.

The Székely flag flying at the Hungarian Parliament Building in February 2013.

For his part, Orbán until now has been careful to avoid personally provoking conflict with Romania and other countries surrounding Hungary that contain large Hungarian-minority populations, engaging his confrontational leadership style instead against the west in general and the European Union in particular. Since becoming prime minister again in 2010, Orbán has used his annual address at Tusványos not to discuss minority issues, but to outline his vision of how Hungary can survive and even thrive within the context of a declining west and a rising east, predicting during his 2011 speech the “collapse” of the western world (source in Hungarian)  and asserting in 2012 that “Europe is staggering toward its own moonstruck ruin” (source, in Hungarian). However, Orbán has either permitted or instructed his closest political ally, National Assembly Speaker László Kövér, to make political gestures over the past year that Romania’s government regarded as interference in its internal affairs: on May 27, 2012, Kövér attended a memorial for Hungarian author and Second World War fascist Arrow Cross rump parliament member József Nyírő in Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc), Romania after the Romanian government banned the planned reinterment of his ashes in the town from their burial place in Spain; and on February 15, 2013 Kövér ordered that the Székely flag be flown from a balcony of the Hungarian Parliament Building in a show of solidarity with town halls in the Székely lands that Romanian authorities ordered not to display the symbol of Hungarian territorial autonomy (source in Hungarian). These initiatives presumably served as evidence to President Băsescu that Prime Minister Orbán is an unreliable ally who is attempting to extend the authority of his government across the border into the Hungarian-inhabited regions of Romania.  

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Since forming his second government in 2010, Viktor Orbán has alienated political leaders throughout western Europe with his contentious, undiplomatic behavior. The end of the prime minister’s friendly relations with President Traian Băsescu of Romania suggests that he has begun to alienate political leaders in eastern Europe as well and, now that Hungary has exited the European Union’s Excessive Deficit Procedure, that he may be preparing to revive traditional conflict with neighboring countries as a means of bolstering his political legitimacy as he approaches his second term in office. The way things are going, Orbán’s only political allies among world leaders will soon be those governing authoritarian countries located outside the European Union with which he is seeking to strengthen relations as part of his government’s Eastern Opening policy. 

notes

1-The Székelys are a subgroup of Hungarians, roughly as Bavarians are to Germans, living in the Harghita, Covasna and Mureş counties of central Romania.

2- The Mureş-Hungarian Autonomous Region was established in 1960 as the successor to the Hungarian Autonomous Region founded during the rule of Romania’s Stalinist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in 1952.  

3- The region of Transylvania was part of the historic Kingdom of Hungary that collapsed with the Ottoman Turkish invasion of the realm beginning in 1526. Transylvania again came under the direct control of Hungary with the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in 1867. The region was officially annexed to the Kingdom of Romania via the post-First World War Treaty of Trianon in 1920.

4- The Little Entente was an interwar (1920–1938) alliance composed of Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia aimed at combating Hungarian revisionism.

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