The great game revived – power politics in the ex-East Bloc II.  by Balint Somkuti


Sine ira et studio. – Tacitus: Annales

Description is neither advocacy, nor dismissal. It is what it is. The best possible description of events.

The below essay focuses on foreign powers’ intentions and actions toward the former central European communist countries. The conclusions presented below are solely mine, and do not represent any governmental or other bodies’ views. These are admittedly from a Visegrad 4, or to be more precise a Hungarian point of view, our fellow Czech, polish, and Slovak allies may disagree with some, but definitely not most points.

Ambiguity, and/or lack of clear mutually accepted goals towards this region especially towards Hungary was visibly present in US policy after 1990. Poland was always an exception from US point of view due to the large and well organized polish community, not to mention the influence of Mr. Brzezinski, a polish noble whose family was exiled by the soviets. Going towards the lesser resistance was probably the primary motivating factor like the late General William Odom has said: "The socialists have a sense of guilt (sic!) and are eager to cooperate with the US." – explained.  "This is such an advantage which would be foolish to miss. The ex-communists of Hungary comply to anything we say just like they did with their soviet masters. And are usually surprised that it is easier to come to terms with us."

Based on the above it is obvious why previous conservative govts with a clear intent to have at least some say in the bilateral relations, usually in support of the Hungarian minorities abroad, did not have too much of leverage.  Especially after the govt. of Mr. Antal, the first freely elected prime minister in 1990 won the election against the hopes of a small local party disguised as anti-communist, and clearly an American favourite: Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége (Alliance of Free Democrats). Sporting a clearly neoliberal/human rights ideology, and at the same time representing the biggest eastern-european jewish community (some 100 000 in a 10 million country), they had excellent connections to US decision makers, and after some self-description attempts by the benevolent, but completely naïve and unprepared govt., the cabinet was quickly labeled fascist, and right-wing extremist. PM Antal’s father was a well-known Christian democrat, a minister of interior, an internationally acclaimed protector of refugees in WWII and a Righteous Among the Nations title holder. His son allegedly was an ardent anti-Semite. For sure. Yet this narrative was quickly accepted and US ambassadors acted accordingly, especially after the coalition of the ex-communists with the Free Democrats in 1994. This double standard made all Hungarian conservatives sour. It was a very hard thing to swallow, that our liberators suddenly and completely sided with their sworn enemy the (ex-)communists, and that principles about human rights and protection of minorities were only selectively applied. Of course we were also naïve thinking that principles are more important than interests.

Neoliberalism ran amok after that leading to a small, but decisive conservative victory in 1998. At the peak of the Balkan wars the joy of joining NATO overhelmed the society and the elite alike but sobering was quick to follow. In the effort of getting rid of soviet made weapons, and enhance “alliance ties” a package of aircrafts and equipment was offered to the newly joined members (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland). Slovakia was deemed to be under too much Russian influence at that time. Oh by the way because of this sped up process we were the only land locked NATO member isolated geographically from the alliance until Slovakia joined in 2004. So the offer was evaluated, and it caused some head scratching among experts, when it was realized that these would be ageing, reactivated, early production F-16 A/Bs from the Arizona aircraft boneyard, with capabilities only superficially surpassing the already in service Mig-29s’ acquired from Russia, ex-factory, some 5 years before as a compensation for outstanding debt from soviet times. To add injury to the insult the price of this not really advantageous package was suddenly doubled in the last round of negotiations. To the surprise of the US delegation both the Czech and the Hungarian partners refused these terms, only the poles went along. The long sought successor of the MiGs suddenly became the Swedish Gripen (which uses licensed US engine and weaponry of almost exclusively of US origin, but that is another story). This has clearly outraged Pres. W. Bush, and relations took such a blow that they have not recuperated ever since.

After a surprise defeat the social democrat turned ex-communists and their free democrat partners came back, led by a communist deputy financial minister, who was enamored in the French to such an extent that his services have earned him a French Legion Of Honor. Not too much laurels for American businessmen either. His successor made headlines when in a leaked speech he openly admitted lying, and faking statistics thus rigging the elections. Russian influence peaked when this guy, does not even worth mentioning his name, used Russian operatives to scour after conservative minded members of Hungarian intelligence services. Nobody was really surprised when the opposition has won the 2010 elections. PM Orban’s actions ever since are visibly are based on his previous experiences.

They say your enemy defines who you really are. In that case Mr. Orban is a world stage player since his awowed enemy is nobody less than the world’s biggest, or at least most famous hedge fund manager George Soros. In an odd twist of fate Mr. Soros is of Hungarian origin and Mr. Orban had a Soros scholarship way back in 1989. As the Open Society Foundation’s (OSF) goals are clearly not what the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian voters want it should come as no surprise that PM Orban felt empowered to tilt back the civil society’s seriously left leaning playground. When the Norwegian state’s Norwegian Fund and attached parts of allegedly independent organizations were raided by shock police in 2014 after the second election won by overwhelming 2/3 majority, it came as surprise for both sides. For the Left and the eurocrats such bold moves were unimaginable, for the Right the published names of these Norwegian and EU organizations’ leaders, consisting almost exclusively of US citizens clearly connected to Mr. Soros. The deeply interentwined network of neoliberal controlled governmental, non-governmental and civil society, previously were thought to be a mere conspiration theory has only heightened anti-US sentiment since in most occasions it was really difficult to separate US, or better put Deep State interests from Soros’. If you add that Mr. Soros was named as a global threat (along with Bin Ladin and Pablo Escobar) in a very often overlooked and more often misunderstood book by the Chinese senior colonels Wang and Xiansui titled Unrestricted Warfare you easily come to the local govt’s point, that from then on anything of US origin was treated as highly suspicious. The Obama govt. and especially Hillary Clinton wasted no possibility to bash the officially announced “illiberal trends in Hungary” to be honest with some reason since Mr. Orban has clearly moved away from the western economic-political system, where economy moves politics to a clearly eastern system where politics has supremacy over economy, especially foreign financial interests. Only after the third consecutively won election in 2018 has the Hungarian govt felt himself strong enough to openly confront Mr. Soros, although a billboard campaign was launched in 2016 saying Stop Soros and the illegal migration creating yet another uproar from the Left for allegedly being anti-Semite yet again. Fortunately even the Israeli ambassador and a Hungarian religious jewish community leader stood up against this nonsense. The so called Central European University, the flagbearer of the OSF has functioned on dubious foundations issuing US and Hungarian degrees alike for the same education. Such close is the relation of US and Soros interests, that even after the election of Pres. Trump and the arrival of his personally appointed Ambassador, Mr. Cornstein this issue was causing tensions. Finally the CEU was forced to move, and continue his “beneficial” activities somewhere else.

In a rare peak into true power politics Amb. Cornstein let the janissary school’s (CEU) issue go quite easily in a recent interview, where he stated that even though Pres. Trump and PM Orban has a lot in common some steps from our side are missing to facilitate their personal meeting, developing relations that is. “It could be a defense agreement, a step to decrease unilateral energy source dependence, or helping to solve the Ukrainian situation.” – he said. Yet all of these would require significant sacrifices from us.

  1. Like the 1999 case with the F-16s shows buying American weapons for billions of dollars is a risky business and would put significant strains on the country, which is among the poorest in Europe.
  2. Buying US liquid natural gas would increase energy prices by 50-70% percent obviously leading to popular dissent
  3. Allow the forceful assimilation of 150 000 hungarians in Transcarpathia, because of obscure and unknown American interests or just because we ask. Well that would also cause significant interior uproar and a significant loss of support for the govt.

The above is even more shocking in comparison to Russian way of dealing, especially since it shows that there is no way such a small country may strike a fair deal with the US even in favorable times. Don’t misunderstood me the russian modus operandi also makes you feel the relative positions, your weakness that is. You have to first make a gesture, a bona fide step which they ask of you in advance. In order to prove yourself and to show that they are in a better position. This is usually a small diplomatic support or the selling/giving up some international/national position. If you do that what comes after is usually a mutually beneficial cooperation. In case you are dealing with US officials the terms are dictated and you have the only option of saying yes. Should you say no you are immediately made the consequences felt. Yet advancing one’s interests is not a one way street. The above method may have worked when the threat of an all consuming Soviet Union always loomed on the horizon and more importantly a communist revolution was likely. Not today. Like Human League sings in their song Heart like a wheel: „You can’t make friends with an M-16”.

As of today western alignment serves our interests better but as shown above steps are already made to loosen these ties, as the relation has become too one sided, demanding too much for little in return. This is also true towards our other important ally, the EU and especially Germany whose steps will be discussed in the next chapter.

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