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Azeri axe murderer, and confronting the IMF – last week’s lead stories

September 10th, 2012

The dominant themes in Hungarian politics last week, the extradition of the Azeri murderer and the Prime Minister’s stance on the IMF talks are interpreted along political lines: commentators on the left call Orbán names including “traitor” and “liar”, while the premier’s supporters argue that critics on the left have no national feelings at all.

Ramil Safarov, the Azeri soldier sentenced by a Hungarian court to life in prison for murdering an Armenian lieutenant with an axe in 2004, was handed over to the Azeri authorities on August 31st, where he was immediately released and celebrated as a national hero. The incident provoked strong anti-Hungarian sentiment in Armenia and frowns in several NATO countries, as well as in Russia (see BudaPost September 1, 3 and 5).

The print edition of the left-liberal weekly Magyar Narancs runs a picture of an axe with a price tag of 3 billion dollars on its front cover, under the title “Betrayal – Viktor Orbán and the axe murderer.” An editorial with the same title argues that Mr Orbán acted immorally when he took the decision to hand over the murderer to Azerbaijan. The Hungarian court rejected Safarov’s defence that he had PTSD and was traumatized by the Armenian-Azeri conflict, and, further, that he had acted as a soldier. On the contrary, the court ruled that Safarov’s “perverted code of honour” made his crime even more heinous. Magyar Narancs believes the Prime Minister sent “down the drain” this very sound judgement, relativizing the principle that a murderer should spend his time in prison as ordered by the court. The editor suspects that Mr Orbán wanted to use the loan expected from Azerbaijan to buy time until he can “plunder the currency reserves of the Hungarian National Bank”. (The term of the current Bank Chairman András Simor, who has been at loggerheads with the government from the very start, will expire in March next year.) Magyar Narancs accuses Viktor Orbán of having “abolished” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for the author takes for granted that the Prime Minister did not consult his Foreign Minister. Orbán “in fact dismissed his Foreign Minister and put his brainless and loyal talking machine, (State Secretary for international and economic relations) Péter Szijjártó, in charge of Hungary’s foreign relations. Magyar Narancs does not however find Foreign Minister János Martonyi blameless, as he did not resign when he realized that he could not prevent the “sale of a murderer”. Finally, Magyar Narancs continues, relentlessly, Viktor Orbán “abolished Hungary’s reputation as a respectable nation”, as he did not give a thought to where Hungary would end up in the eyes of “the democratic nations of the world “.

In the moderate pro-government weekly, Heti Válasz, editor-in-chief Gábor Borókai finds such catastrophic rhetoric, echoed by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who complained that Hungary will become a pariah of the world, absurd. Hungary has not murdered anyone, nor has she attacked a friendly country; the transfer was a fully legal move, based on international legal provisions, he argues. Safarov’s story is “becoming boring”, he claims. The murderer was arrested and sentenced by Hungarian authorities, and the Azeri government had been asking for him for eight years before the Orbán government complied. It was the Azeri authorities who acted “in an unusual manner” when they released the killer. The news prompted Armenians, he continues, to suddenly suspend diplomatic ties with Hungary which “they only maintained through their mission in Vienna, anyway.”  In the meantime, “the Hungarian liberal opposition has suddenly become Armenian,” and apologised, implying that Viktor Orbán’s government has brought shame on Hungary. But, asks Borókai, on what grounds could  Hungary have denied the request of a country that had been elected a member of the UN Security Council only a few months previously and had guaranteed in a written statement that it would not release the prisoner? How exactly do these critics, he goes on, who abhor state intervention, imagine a scenario where Hungary takes a patronizing attitude towards a country “which has just been elevated among the most prestigious nations on earth?” Borókai’s conclusion is that the government’s decision can be defended as rational, but if its communications continue to be as awkward as it is, even Hungarians might conclude that Hungary has become an immoral, treacherous nation, although “it is the government’s critics who for the most part cannot even understand what nationhood is.”

PM Orbán’s communication on IMF talks puzzles centrist analyst

Gábor Török wonders what could have moved PM Orbán to make his much discussed statement concerning the IMF demands, first in front of Fidesz MPs then, in his Facebook video, to a more general audience (See BudaPost September 8). There are three scenarios, the political analyst speculates, that could explain the Prime Minister’s communication strategy.  First, he could have aimed at diverting attention from the Azeri issue. But to cover up one scandal with another dangerous move seems somewhat unwise, therefore Török dismisses that option, although he does not exclude a mistaken calculation on the government’s part. The second potential strategy to be considered is an attempt by Mr Orbán to prepare the public for future announcements and actions. Such “priming” seems plausible, he argues, as this would not be the first occasion when government communication foreshadows future moves. When the Prime Minister argues that Hungary will prepare an alternative proposal, he may later claim that compared to the original IMF requirements, the government’s decisions lead to only minor inconveniences. However, he continues, considering that by Thursday major news outlets had cast doubt on the authenticity of the purported IMF list, and the next day several sources refuted its mere existence, the government cannot hope to convince anybody apart from its most committed supporters. According to Török, the third and most rational option would be an attempt to find a favourable negotiating position. Although the Prime Minister was using public channels, he was in fact speaking to partners who know quite well what is and what is not factually true in his statements, but cannot follow him in the arena of public discussion. Therefore the question is not whether the original statement will be refuted, but what advantages such a public move could bring for the government. This is the point, says Török, where speculation starts – did it serve to push the IMF and the EU partners into the open? Or simply to prove that the government is proactive and is ready to challenge the position of the negotiating partners? Although the advantage to be gained is hard to define, concedes Török, this third scenario seems more rational than either of the previous two.

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