Orban invites illiberal allies to Budapest on national holiday celebrating Hungary’s Western orientation

Orban invites illiberal allies to Budapest on national holiday celebrating Hungary’s Western orientation
Viktor Orban (right) meets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest August 21, 2023

The World Athletics Championships brought a "frenzy of diplomatic activity" to Budapest over the weekend. Among others, the presidents of Serbia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tatarstan, Turkmenistan, and Bosnian leaders paid working visits to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s office in the Buda Castle in what was an unprecedented showcasing of power by Hungary’s illiberal leader. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said fostering economic ties, energy, and security issues were on the agenda.

The premier convened an "illiberal summit" timed for Hungary’s state foundation day. On August 20 Hungarians celebrate the legacy of Saint Stephen, the country’s first king who introduced Christianity after a bloody civil war and anchored the country to the Western world.

Hungary’s illiberal leader has welcomed Asian despots to Budapest to flex his muscle, the prime minister’s avid critic Laszlo Bartus wrote on Amerikai Nepszava. This was a symbolic event as he openly renounced the country's Western orientation associated with the name of King St. Stephen and sided with Eastern dictatorship, he notes.

The emir of Qatar was also scheduled to come to Budapest, but his name is missing from a long list of meetings over the weekend.

444.hu has documented the events in chronological order that began on Saturday afternoon with former Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa.

Hungary’s leader held talks with Savkat Mirziyoyev, the President of Uzbekistan, congratulating him on his victory in the deeply flawed July election, which was held due to recent constitutional changes allowing Mirziyoyev to potentially remain in power until 2040.

Hungary and Uzbekistan are to be connected by a direct flight from Sunday; there will be two weekly flights between Budapest and Tashkent from September, three from January and four from 2025.

Hungary’s top diplomat Peter Szijjarto announced that OTP Bank agreed with the Uzbek state investment fund on setting up joint investment funds worth $100mn and that preparations are underway for a special industrial zone near Tashkent.

"An agreement has been reached that if progress is made in the nuclear project in Uzbekistan, then Hungarian dry-cooling technology will be used, which will mean a Russian-Uzbek-Hungarian cooperation worth several hundred million euros," he added.

Orban closed the first day of a diplomatic marathon with Rustam Minnikhanov on Saturday evening. The leader of the Republic of Tatarstan was on the EU’s sanctions list for reportedly helping to illegally and forcibly deport Ukrainian children to camps in Tatarstan. Budapest has lobbied to have him removed from the list, which appears to have been successful, Telex.hu commented.

The prime minister kicked off the national holiday with a bilateral meeting with Serdar Berdimuhamedow, the President of Turkmenistan. The discussions centered around energy security and the possibility of Hungarian involvement in Turkmen gas exports.

The next guest at the Carmelite Monastery was Orban’s strongest ally in the region, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The sides reviewed political and economic relations between Hungary and Serbia, the situation concerning Western Balkans integration in the European Union, action against illegal migration and joint projects in energy and infrastructure, according to Orban’s press chief.

"Who will be the next in line?", as Orban's staff on Facebook asked jokingly in one of the dozens of posts that appeared on his social media site on the day.

Just before noon, Bosnian Serb leaders, Zeljka Cvijanovic, the Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Milorad Dodik, President of the Republika Srpska, paid a visit to Orban’s office. The three leaders discussed the enhanced measures taken against illegal migration, the strategic importance of the Western Balkans, and its role in securing the stability of Europe.

Orban held bilateral talks with the President of Kyrgyzstan Akylbek Japarov on Sunday afternoon. The parties agreed that the opening of a Kyrgyz embassy in Budapest and the start of visa issuance at the Hungarian embassy in Bishkek fulfilled expectations.

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and  Orban discussed energy supply issues. Hungary's MVM CEEnergy and Azerbaijan’s SOCAR agreed on the delivery of 100mcm of natural gas to Hungary in June for 2023 and an agreement has been signed on the storage of 50mcm of gas in Hungary, with physical gas transport links having been established between the two countries, according to Szijjarto. This is a fraction of the 4.5bcm gas supplied by Gazprom based on a 15-year agreement signed in 2021.

The icing on the cake for Orban’s diplomatic marathon was the meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday night.

The parties announced that talks were finalised between Hungary’s MVM and Turkey’s Botas on the purchase of 275mcm of gas in the next years and a decision has been made on starting talks about the storage of Turkish gas in Hungary for a fee.

Turkey plays an extremely important and indispensable role in securing Hungary’s energy supplies, considering that a significant part of natural gas supplies arrive in Hungary through the TurkStream pipeline, Szijjarto said.

Turkey and Hungary are enhancing their cooperation as the Turkish president will again visit Budapest on December 18 to attend a meeting of the high-level strategic council and sign an agreement under which the two countries would cooperate as key strategic partners and provide mutual aid in emergency situations, according to Hungary’s top diplomat.

The ratification of Sweden’s Nato accession was also discussed and since both the Turkish and Hungarian parliaments are currently in recess, the issue will be returned to the agenda in the autumn.

“We agreed that we would maintain continual consultations and stay in touch, informing each other on the state of parliamentary procedures and their progress,” according to Szijjarto.

Hungary and Turkey are the last two countries to ratify Sweden’s Nato membership.

"Hungarians paid scant notice to the 'frenzy of diplomatic activity' unfolding at Buda Castle during a weekend filled with cultural and musical events." The city centre of Budapest was bustling with activity, restaurants, bars and streets were packed with locals and foreigners arriving for the opening of World Athletics Championships.

Alone in Budapest, there were hundreds of live concerts from folk, to jazz, to rock from Friday till Sunday. The three-day celebrations were capped off with a spectacular firework son Sunday night, what the government claims was Europe’s largest spectacle.

As personally witnessed by  bneIntellinews’ reporter, the diversity and quality of programmes were astonishing.

The government was not frugal when it came to funding the August 20 celebrations, even though the country is suffering the longest recession since 1995, with four quarterly recessions and as many people struggle to make ends. The price tag for the three-day cultural bonanza cost HUF10-11bn (€260-286mn), which is roughly half of the costs of the reconstruction of Budapest’s iconic Chain Bridge. The government is holding back HUF6bn from the city led by liberal mayor Gergely Karacsony.