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Hungary’s strategy amid the changing global order



Balázs Orbán is a Hungarian lawyer, political scientist, and member of parliament who serves as political director to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He is chairman of the board at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, Hungary’s leading talent management institution and knowledge center, and he leads the advisory board of the University of Public Service in Budapest. 

Balázs Orbán is also the author of a critically acclaimed book titled The Hungarian Way of Strategy (MCC Press, 2021). Excerpts of an interview with Orbán follow.

Adriel Kasonta: Hungary has been a staunch supporter of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine from Day 1. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been highlighting the fact that anti-Russian sanctions do more harm to those who impose them than to the country that they are supposed to harm and punish.

What is the logic of Brussels continuing with this failed policy? What is the European Union’s endgame here?

Balázs Orbán: Just like other Western countries, Hungary condemned the Russian aggression and launched the biggest humanitarian action in our country’s history, which has helped more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees so far. Besides, we support the Ukrainian state’s functioning with a package of €18 billion put together by EU member states.

At the same time, we have consistently held a dissenting opinion about the sanctions policy since 2014, and when it came to new round of sanctions, we put Hungary’s interests first. This is why we have not approved any sanctions that would threaten Hungary’s energy security.


Above all, however, we think that the sanctions policy is a failure. The only result so far has been skyrocketing energy prices, but most important, it has not stopped the war or contained Russia. For a similar reason, we choose not to deliver weapons to Ukraine along with the other Western countries.

Hungary denies that war is the only way to bring peace. On the contrary, we need an immediate ceasefire and the start of peace talks, because this is the only way to stop this devastating war.

AK: Despite being the only country in the EU that is getting criticsm from its peers for its stance regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Polish MEP Ryszard Czarnecki has claimed, “Budapest says out loud what Berlin quietly thinks – and does.” Could you to expand on that? Are there other countries in the EU that share Hungary’s realpolitik thinking? If yes, then why do they remain silent?

BO: As of today, apart from Hungary and the Vatican, the whole of Europe is obsessively supporting this war. Even those major European countries, including France and Germany, that were initially hesitant are now pro-war too.

It is true that our position is in the minority in the West, but it enjoys wide support worldwide. In fact, most countries around the world share our conviction that peace is the only way forward, no matter how difficult the road may be.

This is something we are aware of and we are making considerable effort to cooperate with these countries to resolve the war by political means as soon as possible.

AK: When we look from abroad, Brussels seems to be the biggest loser of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine with, as Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó argued in November 2022, the US emerging as “the winner of Europe’s economic weakness.”


In an interview with Politico magazine, a senior EU official expressed a similar view, and accused Washington of “profiting” from this war. Would you agree with Henry Kissinger’s statement that “to be an enemy of the US is dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”? Is there any lesson to be learned from this tragedy for Europe, and if yes, what should that lesson be?

BO: US-European relations have traditionally been close, and together we have formed NATO, the strongest defense alliance in history. At the same time, Europe’s defense is heavily dependent on the US, both in terms of NATO contributions and troop presence. This also means that the US plays a decisive role in the European strategic matters.

However, if American and European interests do not align, it can cause a problem. In other words, when a war breaks out in its immediate neighborhood, Europe cannot really tell the Americans that our interests diverge, even if they clearly do in this case.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, Europe failed to build up its own defense capabilities, which would have allowed it to maintain sovereignty in foreign affairs. The war in Ukraine is a costly lesson for Europe that we must become able to defend ourselves. Only in this way can Europe regain its strategic sovereignty.

AK: Not long ago, Prime Minister Orbán hosted Croatian President Zoran Milanović, who sees the current conflict in Ukraine as a “proxy war” waged by Washington and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization against Russia.

While more sophisticated weapons are being sent to Ukraine as “the way to [achieve] peace” in Kiev, to quote NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s statement made at the Davos summit this year, it is hard to imagine that this will not lead to a further escalation that may turn into a nuclear war – an argument made, among others, by Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

With Poland being keen to push harder against Moscow and Hungary being more inclined toward a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine, what are the chances that relations between Budapest and Warsaw will survive this conflict? The two countries do not see eye to eye on this particular issue.


BO: Over the centuries, the long-standing friendship between Hungary and Poland has endured the test of time, and we still share a common strategic vision. We both want Central and Eastern Europe to be strong, and free of Russia’s physical threats, and to play an independent role in the ideological debates in Brussels.

I think that our differences regarding Russia are purely tactical and are mostly influenced by history. Despite these differences, Hungary values its cooperation and friendship with Poland and we wish our Polish friends the best of luck as they prepare for the upcoming general elections this year.

AK: And what about the future of the Visegrad Group (V4)? The situation there looks, to put it lightly, a bit frosty. Plus, as Professor John Mearsheimer explained [starting at 1:09:00] during a lecture organized by the Századvég Foundation, the US would never allow the group to become a regional hegemon. So what is the purpose of being among countries and people who do not share your strategic vision?

BA: The Visegrad Group is an important regional cooperation, which has played a leading role in strengthening our region. It is the best example of how the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have understood from history that if the region fails to organize itself, another great power will do so, and we will lose our sovereignty.

Accordingly, new forms of collaboration are emerging, and every initiative of this kind benefits our region. There is the Three Seas Initiative, for instance, which aims to increase infrastructure connectivity between North and South.

I could mention as well the cooperation among Budapest, Belgrade and Vienna on tackling illegal migration. Additionally, the Bucharest 9 was formed to improve defense cooperation among NATO members in the region. Each of these cooperations is a tool to become more influential in European politics and to retain our sovereignty.

AK: Hungary’s view on China is also quite unusual, since it runs against the emerging narrative in the US. Budapest does not “see China as a systemic rival” and is open to Chinese investment, especially in the tech domain. Moreover, unlike the mandarins in Brussels, your government is interested in the EU-China investment agreement coming to fruition as soon as possible.


In other words, you are keen to pursue pragmatic relations between East and West. On that note, how are you planning to keep your stance and maintain good relations with Beijing? Is that even achievable?

BO: For more than a millennium, Hungarian foreign policy has been guided by the need to have balanced relations with both the West and the East. Hungary is a Western country, and the values and culture of the West are deeply ingrained in Hungary’s society, but we do not ignore our Eastern roots. All of this led us to conclude that Hungary should maintain pragmatic relations with the Eastern countries.

Moreover, I think this approach is not only in Hungary’s interest, but of Europe as a whole. While it would be hard to deny that China is a competitor in some areas, it is by no means a threat to Europe.

At the same time, China is already among Europe’s top three trading partners, which makes maintaining good relations with it an existential question.

We know that the next big geopolitical struggle may occur between the US and China, and the same old political pressure could come with it. Still, Europe should not repeat the mistakes it made during the war in Ukraine.

AK: According to PM Orbán, “the war in Ukraine is a stage in the transformation of the world’s power dynamics.” On the other hand, Defense Minister Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky believes that “we are witnessing the formation of a new world order.”

Would you be so kind as to tell our readers what Hungary’s strategy is for the next decade, and how your government intends to guide the national ship through the increasingly choppy waters of a changing global order?


BO: Hungary has never been so close to the most advanced economies as it is now, and our goal for the next decade is to close the remaining gap. That’s all well and good. However, the world order has started to change, and the war accelerated these changes even further.

There is a good possibility that a bloc-based world order will emerge. The International Monetary Fund, for example, believes that the era of “geo-economic fragmentation” has begun, and likewise we see trade agreements, diplomatic pressure and secondary sanctions being used to create new blocs.

The problem with this is that in a bloc, almost all economic, political, and cultural transfers are handled by the leading states of each bloc. During the Cold War, Hungary had a very negative experience with political and economic decoupling, especially because we were on the periphery of the Soviet bloc. We know what comes with it. Therefore, we need a strategy that can help boost our economic growth and tackle the geopolitical changes.

For a small, export-oriented country, the name of the game is connectivity. This strategy corrects the mistakes of the previous model of globalization, because it is no longer neoliberal, so states can play a more active role.

Hungary wants to be connected to as many countries and market players as possible. We want to be even more connected within the West, but also to be equally connected to the rest of the world. We want to attract more investment into our strategic sectors, to increase trade, to transfer new technologies and even to make good public diplomacy.

The point is, we want to make both our Western allies and our Eastern partners interested in Hungary’s success.

Source: Asia Times

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