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President Putin in Budapest

August 30th, 2017

Commenting on the Russian President’s short visit to Hungary, a left-wing columnist fears that the government wants to make Hungary part of the illiberal East. A conservative and a centrist pundit dismiss such fears, but also caution against too strong ties with Russia.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a short visit to Hungary. He came to attend the World Judo Championship and met PM Orbán to discuss economic issues. After the meeting, President Putin said the Paks nuclear plant project is secure, and the construction will start next year. Left-wing opposition parties protested against President Putin, accused the government of ’turning to the East rather than the West’, and demanded that all details of his talks with Mr Orbán be published.

In Népszava, Miklós Hargitai interprets President Putin’s visit as an indication of Hungary’s increasingly ‘Eastern’ political orientation. The left-wing columnist contrasts the increasingly authoritarian ‘East’ with the free ‘West’, claiming that East and West represent two diametrically opposed ‘ideologies and empires’. Hargitai contends that Hungarians want to move to the West, but its government pushes the country to the East.

The state of democracy in Hungary has nothing to do with Russia, Gábor Stier writes in Magyar Nemzet. The conservative columnist thinks that the Left’s fears over Hungary’s ‘Putinization’ are highly exaggerated. Stier contends that President Putin needs Hungary to demonstrate that he is not fully isolated in the EU. As for Hungary, Stier suspects that despite its ‘anti-West’ rhetoric, Hungary is unlikely to veto EU economic sanctions against Russia.

Mandiner’s Gergő Illés finds both right-wing and left-wing narratives concerning Russian relations simplistic and tendentious. The centrist blogger points out that Hungary is still dependent on Russian energy imports, thus it needs to maintain good relations with Moscow. Illés, however, finds it problematic that the Orbán government does not seem to follow other European countries in trying to reduce Russian energy dependence. The Paks nuclear plant enlargement is a prime example, Illés suggests. Hungary’s economic interests do not explain why many on the Right have become uncritical towards Russia, he adds. Why has the Debrecen University awarded President Putin with the distinction of Civis Honoris Causa? he asks. The university will train future employees for the two new blocks of of the Paks nuclear power station to be built by Russia’s Rossatom.

In Magyar Idők, Zsolt Hárfás writes that nuclear energy is the best choice for a country like Hungary to ensure at least the base load of electric energy for the forthcoming decades. He reminds critics that solar energy capacity will increase twentyfold in Hungary over the next three years.



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