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Weeklies on Hungary’s position on Ukraine and NATO

July 24th, 2023

Opposition-leaning commentators find cracks within the government camp on the correct approach to Ukraine, while pro-government columnists believe that continuing the war is futile for both sides.

In Élet és Irodalom, Lajos Csepi (who was head of the Privatisation Agency in the mid-90s and is now a regular contributor to the liberal weekly) points out that a prominent Fidesz foreign relations expert seems to express views on Ukraine that contradict the position held by Prime Minister Orbán. In a radio interview on the latest NATO summit in Vilnius, Zsolt Németh who served for eight years as Secretary of State at the Foreign Ministry and has been chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee for the past nine years, praised NATO for having ‘reacted well’ to the developments of the war in Ukraine. He described the closing statement adopted at the summit as a ‘big step towards peace in Ukraine’. By contrast, Csepi remarks, the Prime Minister told the members of his cabinet that ‘Westerners want war; the number and the proportion of pro-war people is overwhelming’. One of the two politicians should resign, Csepi concludes, leaving little doubt about whom he has in mind. The one whom he would like to leave the political scene, he suggests could in the future confine himself to just reading the sports news in the newspapers.

In Heti Világazdaság, István Riba quotes another statement by Mr Németh that he interprets as only thinly veiled criticism of the politics pursued by the government. In a recent article on Országút, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee warned that Hungary might lose the trust of its Western allies who ‘see everything through the lens of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine’. That might prove extremely dangerous, he writes, for Hungary’s strategy of catching up with developed countries. What’s more, Mr Németh also urged Hungary to build a strategic partnership with Ukraine while it is ‘conducting a heroic fight for freedom to regain its occupied territories’. Riba doesn’t think that Mr Németh has any chance of convincing the Prime Minister to change his mind. (In the meantime, Mr Németh’s article, but not the headline, has been removed from the Országút webpage).

In Jelen, prominent liberal analyst Péter Krekó lambasts Prime Minister Orbán’s policies over international matters as fundamentally mistaken. His ’Eastern opening’ over the past decade was based on what Krekó sees as the incorrect assumption that the West is in decline. Meanwhile, Krekó continues, Mr Orbán thought that the presence of German investors in Hungary would protect him from being sidelined by the European People’s Party, but that only worked for a certain time, whereupon he was forced to leave the centre-right party group. Similarly, Krekó continues, the Prime Minister underestimated Ukraine’s defence potential and the unity of the West in supporting Kyiv. That support is based on moral outrage over the Russian onslaught, he writes, adding that if Hungary doesn’t follow suit, it must prepare for serious consequences for its international position, namely becoming increasingly marginalised in international relations.

In his usual weekly editorial on Demokrata, András Bencsik suggests that NATO and the United States cannot win the war in Ukraine, because Russia is too strong to be defeated. The only question, he predicts, is whether the future ceasefire or armistice will resemble the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan or will lead to more dignified diplomatic negotiations.

His brother, Gábor (another veteran journalist who represents more moderate views than András and has a weekly column in Demokrata) maintains that the war would end if the United States accepted the current frontlines as a ‘possibly temporary’ border between Russia and Ukraine. At any rate, he believes that the fighting will eventually cease with Ukraine painfully losing territory. The Ukrainians will find consolation in the opportunity to finally join the West including NATO, while Russia, though gaining territories, will be kept out of the Western world for a long time to come, Gábor Bencsik writes.

In Mandiner, György Kerekes hopes that Hungary may find a way to profit from her independent stance on Ukraine. Just as Yugoslavia managed to use its good relations with East and West alike during the Cold War as one of the leading nations of the group of non-aligned countries, Hungary also has to preserve its elbow room in today’s world dominated by the superpowers and their allies, he writes.

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