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Weeklies on sanctions and the war in Ukraine

October 10th, 2022

As the government prepares to launch yet another ’national consultation’ – this time on the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West in retaliation for the war in Ukraine – commentators offer diametrically opposed views on the conflict.

In Élet és Irodalom, Dániel Gyenge blames the West for reacting too late to Russian President Putin’s increasingly autocratic and aggressive policies. He believes that when the United States and the rest of the West practically confined their response to words after the Russian military conquests in Georgia in 2008, they actively encouraged President Putin to act likewise in Ukraine six years later. This time round, however, he acknowledges, their response has been resolute. He puts the war and the sanctions in the context of what he describes as a conflict between a system of free-market international exchange on the one hand, and powers which set out to force smaller countries into economic dependency on the other. The first system thrives in peace, he writes, while the second leads to war. The sanctions, he concludes, serve to punish the aggressor, and deter it from future aggression.

Heti Világgazdaság’s Árpád W. Tóta deems the ‘national consultation’ on sanctions planned by the government a completely useless exercise. He remarks sarcastically that the authorities ‘fortunately’ found the money to conduct it, whilst they ordered the civil service to suspend all payments with the exception of salaries, until the end of October. He also accuses the government of ‘seeking excuses for war criminals as well as doing its utmost to be of assistance to the Russian dictatorship’. He complains that such a deplorable attitude may be exactly the one the Hungarian people expects their government to conduct. If that is the case, Tóta predicts, intelligent people will leave this country and Hungary will be left with the dumb ‘whose only weapon is the national consultation’.

In Demokrata, András Bencsik describes a change in his own attitudes towards the great powers over the past few decades. In the 90s, he writes – in the first-person plural – America was ‘our’ role model, while we were busy getting rid of Russia as quickly as possible. It is painful to admit, he continues, that we now see the Russians less and less as aggressors. ‘We know who attacked whom’, he concedes, but not without quoting Russian president Vladimir Putin who described the Ukraine war as his fight against Western hegemony. Regardless of what one thinks about the war in Ukraine, Bencsik argues, Europe’s golden age is over and the hard winter that is approaching will open people’s eyes to the fact that prosperity now belongs to the past. To survive, countries must be able to declare and protect their own interests, he concludes.

In Mandiner, Attila Demkó writes that, unlike many other European countries, Hungary has no choice but to buy Russian gas, oil, and uranium unless it wants to live without light, heating and with its industry at a standstill. On that and many other issues, he continues, Hungarians are sharply divided into two camps. Nevertheless, he remarks, nothing really tragic happens if such debates degenerate – ‘we might not talk to each other for a while, but that is all’. Such irreconcilable opposition on the international stage, Demkó warns, is an entirely different matter. He reads Vladimir Putin’s latest speech as a virtual declaration of war on the West, while he also deplores a remark by general David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA who warned that in case tactical nuclear weapons are used by Russia in Ukraine, the United States would directly attack Russian forces. The lesson Demkó draws from such developments is that reason is now in short supply and the consequences may be dire.

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