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US pressure on Hungary is here to stay

November 10th, 2014

Analysts agree that the American pressure on Hungary is largely motivated by geopolitical considerations and is bound to increase unless the government makes resolute concessions. They admit however that it is difficult for Hungary’s leaders to retreat from positions they have vehemently defended so far.

In its weekly editorial, Magyar Narancs suspects that the government’s “balls are being squeezed” because it is pushing forward with the South Stream Russian pipeline project. South Stream is geopolitically crucial for Russia, as it would allow Russian gas exports to flow uninterrupted regardless of what happens in the Ukraine. In addition it would also offer the opportunity to build “pro-Russian coalitions” in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. It is opposed by the United States for the same reason. Magyar Narancs admits that Hungary would feel safer if an alternative gas pipeline was available. In fact the first agreements on South Stream were signed by past left-wing governments; no wonder the left-wing opposition does not object to the project. They are only too glad not to have to face the tough dilemma of opting either for energy safety or for loyalty towards the Western alliance. On top of it all, Germany has already built her own Northern Stream pipeline with Russia through the Baltic Sea, avoiding both Ukraine and Poland. South Stream on the other hand will also transport gas to Austria and Italy. Hungary is therefore not the only culprit, but while Magyar Narancs suggests the government should retreat from South Stream, it predicts that “unfortunately” it will not.

In Demokrata, Zoltán Kiszelly suggests that Hungary should find a compromise on the disputed issues, otherwise it will be submitted to relentless pressure. The world’s governments and the potentially corrupt businessmen around them, the political scientist believes, are tapped and kept under surveillance by the United States, and therefore Washington has a huge potential for putting pressure on governments whenever it sees its interests in jeopardy. America will not openly attack the Hungarian side on the South Stream project or on the extension of the Paks nuclear power station, he continues. They will rather find topics that are easier to market in America and in Western Europe, like suspected corruption or the plight of democracy. In such a diplomatic conflict Hungary’s room for manoeuvre is narrow, Kiszelly warns. “Our only chance is to find a way to compromise”, because in the long run Hungary cannot profit from “becoming a pawn in the Russian-American game”.

In Heti Válasz, Gergely Prőhle, a former ambassador to Germany and at present Deputy State Secretary for Foreign Relations within the Ministry of Human Resources thinks Hungary should move with great caution in order not to jeopardise her international standing. In his column entitled “We Can’t Make it on our Own,” he recalls, that twenty-five years ago Hungary was largely credited with the fall of the Berlin Wall and fears that her present image might overshadow those merits. Prőhle says it would be mistaken to believe that “all our friends have turned their backs on us” or that we are considered “a drunken relative in the People’s Party family”. But, he adds in a cautiously sarcastic remark, “many people are doing their best to make that happen.” Of course Hungary is not the only country with problems in Europe, he notes, and refers to British discussions about possibly leaving the European Union as well as Italy’s and France’s growing budget deficits. He also believes that Hungary should defend her own interests even at the price of generating conflicts. By if those conflicts spark emotions that put Hungary’s international standing and her relations with her friends in danger, he concludes, then “it is recommended to follow a line of great caution. A proven recipe.”

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