Orbán sends mixed foreign policy message after meeting Turkish counterpart

February 26, 2015

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán received the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, on Tuesday.  At a press conference held after the meeting, Orban asked why Hungary is constantly being asked to choose between East and West when the country’s interests are best served by choosing both.  Former Hungarian diplomat István Szent-Iványi agrees with the Prime Minister and regrets his administration did not adopt this policy earlier.

Serving as Hungary’s ambassador to Slovenia between 2010 and 2015, the liberal politician recalls Orbán’s infamous “illiberal democracy” speech delivered last summer in Baile Tusnad, Romania, in which he contrasted the “secure economic growth” of the East with the “decadence” of the West.  If he now recognizes that it is necessary to cooperate with both, that is a welcomed development says the former diplomat, pointing out that this has not been the basis of the government’s foreign policy to date.

Szent-Iványi told ATV’s Olga Kalman that the government’s previous tactic off “being here as well as there, but not belonging anywhere” has failed, citing the perfect example of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Hungary and the resulting international repercussions.  It appears as though the government now realizes tthat this cannot continue, because in the end “between the two seats we fall under the bench.”

International opinion with regard to Russia and Turkey are not the same.   Russia is conducting a war in Ukraine without having declared war, and is violating the ceasefire it itself signed recently.  Turkey is a member of NATO and a EU candidate, so it cannot be regarded as a threat to the West the way Russia can.  Regardless, the situation with regard to human rights in Turkey are probably no better than in Russia, says Szent-Iványi.

Turkey occupies a very important position in terms of regional geopolitics.  As the only stable country in a crises region, Turkey places an extraordinarily big role in stabilizing the region.  Responsible politics must take this into consideration even if if the majority of politicans are aware that there are more journalist in Turkish prisons than in China and Iran together.

During his last visit to the Turkish capital, Putin announced the cancellation of the South Stream project and proclaimed Turkey as the distribution hub for Russian gas.  How this plan is to be realized remains to be seen, says Szent-Iványi.

The former ambassador says Hungary’s role in this is a “big question” given existence of two rival concepts in Europe.  Poland believes (and Szent-Iványi agrees) that an energy union is needed, meaning that the European Union would collectively negotiate with Russia and one another regarding energy supplies.  The other camp, consisting of Hungary and Great Britain, believes the quesiton should be addressed on the level of individual countries.

How gas would arrive to Hungary from Turkey remains to be seen. However, friendly relations with Turkey is not something new.  Erdogan visited Hungary two years ago.  Last year Orban went to Ankara.  When when Hungary announced the “eastern opening” policy, Turkey was one of the key countries it had in mind.  Szent-Iványi believes the quesiton is rather one of timing: the meeting strengthens the eastern opening at a time when many expect Hungary to make corrections in this area.