Tag Archives: Fidesz Party

A Test for the European Union — The Opinion Pages

In a speech on Saturday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary said his country was done with liberal democracy. Mr. Orban cited Russia, Turkey and China as “successful” examples of the kind of “illiberal new state based on national foundations” that he wants Hungary to be.

He boasted that European Union membership was no bar to building such a state. Long an admirer of Vladimir Putin, Mr. Orban has been thumbing his nose at the European Union since his Fidesz Party won election in 2010.

Since then, Mr. Orban’s government has taken steps to undermine the rule of law, gut press freedom, attack civil society groups and increase executive power. When Hungary’s Constitutional Court in 2012 struck down some of the laws that Mr. Orban’s government introduced, the government simply brought them back as constitutional amendments.

A new law imposing up to 40 percent tax on advertising revenue is aimed squarely at crippling the Hungarian unit of the RTL Group, one of the few channels in Hungary that does not parrot the government line.

In June, Hungary’s Government Control Office put more pressure on civil society groups, seeking financing data from them. The government has also criminalized homelessness and stripped some 300 religious groups of their official status.

President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy (left) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (Photo: EPA)

The European Union has condemned these actions, and the Venice Commission, an advisory body on rights to the Council of Europe, published a scathing report on Hungary’s constitutional amendments last year.

On Monday, Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the European Commission who is responsible for the digital agenda, harshly criticized the advertising tax, calling it a threat to a free press that is the foundation of a democratic society. Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, has said that the European Union should consider suspending Hungary’s voting rights in the European Council, a measure the union has been reluctant to take.

Mr. Orban clearly believes he runs no risk. The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, needs to respond with more than the usual admonitions and hand-wringing. The commission could start by reducing the 21.91 billion euros (about $29.33 billion) the European Union has allocated to Hungary to finance infrastructure development from 2014-20.

It should also begin proceedings to invoke Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which allows the suspension of voting rights of a member state that is at serious risk of breaching the values listed in Article 2, including the rule of law, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

The commission would diminish its credibility if it fails to take steps to sanction Hungary for systematically breaching these values.

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Inside Hungary’s $10.8 billion nuclear deal with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban before a joint news conference in Budapest in this February 17, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/Files
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban before a joint news conference in Budapest in this February 17, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/Files

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Its currency is wounded and its economy besieged by sanctions, yet Russia still has money to spare for potential allies overseas. Even as it scrabbles for foreign funds, Moscow is poised to make a 10 billion euro ($10.8 billion) loan to Hungary, one of the European Union members most sympathetic to it.

Budapest plans to draw on the first tranche of the loan this year, a Hungarian government commissioner told Reuters.

Officially the loan is to finance the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant, Hungary’s only atomic power station, which supplies about 40 percent of the country’s electricity. But critics say there is another motive as well: Russia buying favor with a European Union (EU) government.

“This Paks deal is camouflage,” said Zoltan Illes, a former lawmaker in the ruling Fidesz party who was a state secretary for the environment until 2014. “This is a financial transaction, and for the Russians this is buying influence.”

Illes, who opposes the use of nuclear energy, believes the deal is more about pumping money into the economy of Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban faces re-election in 2018, than providing electricity.

For years, Moscow has used commercial relationships – in particular gas sales – to exert influence across Europe. Now those methods are coming under closer scrutiny after the United States and EU imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea and supporting separatist fighters in the east of Ukraine.

In return, Russia is striving to retain ties, commercially and diplomatically, from the Baltic states to Europe’s southern rim. The loan to Hungary, agreed last year, is seen by some as part of that undeclared struggle for influence.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs rejected such claims. “The rationale of the Paks investment is not about election campaigns and chances. It serves the country’s long-term energy security,” he said. He added that Russia was helping to build reactors in other countries and that Russia had less economic influence in Hungary than in other Western European states.

Officials in Moscow and Budapest say the nuclear deal was concluded purely on commercial and energy grounds and was good for both countries.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Reuters the deal was “the business (transaction) of the century.” Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear firm, and the Russian finance ministry responsible for the loan to Hungary did not respond to requests for comment.

Hungary had initially planned to put the contract to expand Paks out to tender, and some Western firms showed interest, along with Rosatom. But Reuters found that Hungary abruptly dropped the idea of a tender.

Specialists in the Development Ministry who had worked on plans to expand the Paks plant were sidelined, said two people familiar with Hungary’s energy sector. Instead, a small group close to Prime Minister Orban chose to award the contract to Rosatom. Russia offered a loan as part of the deal.

Kovacs, the government spokesman, said: “The whole project is being carried out with very serious professional preparations. Decisions of a political nature are naturally made by politicians.”

Since the agreement was struck, Orban has appeared much more friendly towards the Kremlin than his EU peers have done. He has said Europe was shooting itself in the foot by imposing sanctions on Russia, though he did not go so far as blocking sanctions. Orban is also leading a push for a new pipeline to take Russian gas to southeast Europe, bypassing Ukraine.

Last month, Orban hosted Putin in Budapest. He is the only EU leader to invite the Russian president on an official bilateral visit since Malaysian airliner MH17 was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014. Western officials say the plane was most likely brought down by a Russian missile; Russia denies any responsibility.

Standing alongside Putin in the Hungarian parliament, Orban adopted a conciliatory approach to Moscow. He said EU governments were “chasing ghosts” if they believed they could get by without cooperating with Russia.

Asked whether Hungary was being more friendly towards Russia because of the Paks loan, Kovacs said: “Russia is important from an energy aspect, what’s more, it is a strategic partner … But this is not a question of ‘friendship.'”

Budapest HungaryDalene And Peter Heck/Hecktic MediaHungary

PRAGMATIC PARTNER

Orban regularly flouts EU rules with policies that critics label populist. Since he was elected with a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010, Orban has imposed windfall taxes on banks, telecoms companies and retail firms to keep the budget deficit in check.

He’s clashed with Brussels over curbs on the media. And he has consolidated his power with measures that critics say weakened democratic checks and balances – an allegation the government denies.

At the same time, he is not a natural Kremlin ally. As a young student in 1989, he burst onto the political scene with an impassioned speech demanding the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Hungary. He and Putin appear to have little personal affinity; at their Feb. 17 meeting in Budapest, their body language was stiff.

However, people who know Orban say he is a pragmatist. “I think power is incredibly important to him per se,” said John Alderdice, who was a leading member along with Orban of an organization called Liberal International, a global network promoting liberalism. “The issue (for him) is: ‘How can I get into power, and hold onto power.'”

In November 2010, soon after he was elected, Orban met Putin in Moscow for talks on economic issues, including further cooperation at the Paks plant. The plant is a huge concrete structure built in the 1970s by Soviet technicians on a floodplain next to the Danube River. Orban was looking to spur growth in Hungary’s economy, and Russia could help him achieve that.

The two men talked for hours, including over lunch, said a source familiar with the discussions. But no decision was taken on the Paks project.

Instead, a team of energy specialists at the Development Ministry in Budapest prepared for an open tender for a contract to expand the plant, according to a former energy official.

In addition to Rosatom, French company Areva expressed interest in bidding, as did U.S. firm Westinghouse, according to three people with knowledge of the preparations.

In early 2013, the plans for a tender were still on track, according to comments by the chief executive of MVM, a Hungarian state-owned energy group, published in the journal of the Paks power station. Bidders were told then that a tender would go ahead, according to a diplomatic source in Hungary.

Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow January 14, 2014.

SUDDEN CHANGE

Late that year the international context changed. In November 2013, then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich rejected an association agreement with the EU and instead signed an aid deal with Moscow.

Thousands of pro-Western protesters camped out in Kiev’s central square, determined to make Yanukovich stick with the EU agreement or give up power. The stage was set for the biggest standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

In Budapest, too, there was a change of tack. On Dec. 17, the parliament’s economy committee was convened at one day’s notice. Antal Rogan, a lawmaker with the ruling Fidesz party and head of the committee, called the meeting.

Orban’s chief of staff, Janos Lazar, told the committee that the government was in advanced talks with Russia on extending the life of the Paks plant. “It was sudden,” said Bernadett Szel, an opposition lawmaker.

Pal Kovacs, who at the time was state secretary for energy and had a leading role in preparations for the Paks tender, had not been told the tender was being scrapped, according to a person with links to Hungary’s state energy sector. The source said the deal with Russia was concluded by members of the prime minister’s inner circle.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said parliament’s approval of the deal showed it had broad political support.

Asked about the decision to scrap the tender and award the contract to Rosatom, Westinghouse said the decision was “abrupt.” Areva declined to comment. Government spokesman Kovacs said: “Of course, the agreement on concrete conditions was made at a given point of time, but it would be a mistake to say it was ‘abrupt.'”

Attila Aszodi, the state commissioner in charge of the Paks expansion, said the Rosatom deal stood out because the Russians had offered long-term financing for the entire construction project, something he said the other prospective bidders would not provide. He told Reuters in a December interview that a tender is “a good tool; however, it is not the silver bullet.”

The Hungarian government has also pointed out that the existing reactors at Paks were built with Soviet nuclear expertise.

Critics say the deal’s terms are generous. Hungary will begin repayments on the loan only once the new reactors are up and running in 2026 and will repay the loan over 21 years. Until 2026 the interest rate will be just under 4 percent, rising to 4.5 percent afterwards and 4.8 to 4.95 percent in the final 14 years.

The terms compare well to market rates for financing, although conditions in every debt deal are different. The Russian loan finally agreed will cover 80 percent of the construction costs, and Hungary will put up the rest. Hungary plans to start drawing on the loan this year to finance planning work for the new reactors, Aszodi told Reuters.

Vladimir Putin Budapest, Hungary
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (C) attends a wreath laying ceremony at the World War Two memorial for Soviet soldiers in Budapest February 17, 2015.

HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY

Moscow has voiced its happiness with Hungary’s recent support for Russia. In November last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Hungary – unlike other ex-Communist states in the EU – conducts itself “responsibly” and does not succumb to “Russophobic approaches.” At a Kremlin ceremony, Putin called Hungary one of Russia’s most important partners.

Orban’s invitation last month added to the mutual appreciation. During the visit, Putin and Orban agreed that Russia would give Hungary several years’ grace to pay for gas that Budapest had committed to buy but never used.

For Orban, though, the cost of staying close to Russia has gone up as the Ukraine crisis has deepened. Some EU governments are uncomfortable with what they see as a drift by Hungary into the Kremlin’s orbit. The United States has also criticized some of Orban’s policies towards Russia, and one U.S. diplomat said there had been a lack of transparency in granting the Paks contract.

Illes, the former environment secretary, said the Paks deal was typical of Orban’s pragmatic style of governing. In the short term he reaped domestic political benefits against opponents, and in the medium term the project will generate jobs.

But for Orban, he said, “long-term considerations, they don’t exist.”

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Warsaw, Karolin Schaps and Nina Chestney in London, Barbara Lewis in Brussels, Geert de Clercq in Paris, and Vladimir Soldatkin and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow. Editing by Richard Woods and Philippa Fletcher)

Hungarians snap up Warhol-like paintings of leader Orban

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – When Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won re-election in a landslide in April, his dominance over the country’s politics cheered supporters, dismayed opponents and inspired one artist to immortalize him in more than 100 portraits.

Orban, whose center-right Fidesz party has held a two-thirds parliamentary majority since 2010, has consolidated power to become the most commanding politician in post-Communist Hungary.

However, his uncompromising governing style, which critics say has weakened the press and judiciary, also contributed to a deeply divided society.

For artist Kriszta “Tereskova” Nagy, the election result was a jolt. Within a month, she produced 57 paintings of Orban, then 69 more, in a pop-art manner reminiscent of Andy Warhol.

Conservatives, liberals and even Orban’s wife, Aniko Levai, have snapped up the paintings, bringing in about 8 million forints ($34,000).

In Communist-era Hungary, leaders’ portraits were hung in every public building and enormous photographs were displayed at state celebrations, so depicting politicians is a touchy subject for art, Tereskova acknowledged.

“I swore never to do politics, but politics does me. It has come in and sat down on my bed,” she told Reuters at Budapest’s Godot Gallery where her work was exhibited.

“I am provoking right now. Not necessarily Orban, but the whole country and its intellectuals.”

Tereskova has scandalized before, exhibiting her own naked body, performing sexually charged songs and circulating a Photoshopped image of herself defecating in front of parliament at the time of a violent street revolt in 2006.

She says the series, based on a 2010 election poster, is a wakeup call to a divided nation which sees Orban’s rule as either perdition or salvation.

“Lots of people are unhappy, and emotions run high. That’s what I paint: the fact that all this has found its way into the most intimate parts of our lives, dividing families, love and friendships, even though we live in a democracy,” she said.

Orban’s image is printed on canvas and finished with paint, using folk motifs, the Hungarian flag and a marijuana leaf, representing issues Hungary is grappling with.

Levai bought two after visiting the gallery.

“I have seen your exhibitions before, I know your work, and again I expected you as a painter to enable our vision and ask questions of our eyes,” she wrote in the gallery guest book. “I was not disappointed. Thank you.”

In an interview with conservative news channel Hir TV, Tereskova said the creative process had led to a newfound love for Orban.

“Yes, I have fallen for him,” she said. “He brought change into my life, he descended on his wings and defended me when I was down and out financially.”

Tereskova told Reuters the interview was meant as part of an artistic performance that accompanied her paintings.

Hungary to impose world’s first internet tax

Internet users in Budapest

Hungary is preparing to impose the world’s first tax on internet usage in the latest example of the unorthodox economic policies being pursued by President Viktor Orbán and his increasingly dominant Fidesz party.

Mihály Varga, economy minister, on Wednesday unveiled the plans, which include a charge of Ft150 (62 US cents) for each gigabyte of internet data consumed. Mr Varga said the tax – to be paid by internet service providers – was a logical extension of levies on phone calls and text messages the government announced in 2011.

Neelie Kroes, the EU’s outgoing digital chief, told the Financial Times the measures would damage Hungary’s digital economy.

“Unilateral Internet taxes are not a clever idea. It will increase internet access prices for consumers,” she said, noting that Hungary scored below the EU average for internet usage, broadband access and digital regulation.
“This isn’t going to help,” she added.

Opponents called for protests against the measure, which Péter Banai, state secretary, estimated would raise Ft20bn next year. A Facebook group set up to oppose the tax garnered more than 6,000 members within hours of its creation.

The internet tax is the latest among a series of controversial taxes and financial penalties introduced by Mr Orbán’s government in recent years as it seeks to restore the public finances and – critics say – punish opponents.

Earlier this year the government forced banks to compensate borrowers for “unfair” conditions on foreign currency loans issued before the Hungarian forint’s fall during the 2008 financial crisis. The move came after a windfall tax on banks in 2010 and a financial transaction tax introduced this year.

The government also imposed a new levy on advertising revenue in August that provoked accusations of media censorship. Independent TV station RTL Klub last week filed a complaint to the European Commission, alleging that the tax was designed to discriminate against the broadcaster.

Brussels has repeatedly clashed with the Fidesz government. Ms Kroes denounced the media advertising tax as an attempt “to silence dynamic debate” and “an attack on Hungarian democracy”.

Yet the party has continued to rise, despite controversial remarks from Mr Orbán in September about his desire to create an “illiberal state”, alluding to examples such as China, Russia and Turkey. His spokesman later said the remarks were misunderstood.

In municipal elections earlier this month, Fidesz won the mayoralties of all but one of the country’s 10 largest cities. During his victory speech, Mr Orbán promised to further squeeze the banking sector, which he said “must be held to account”.

Magyar Telekom, the country’s largest telecoms operator, said the draft bill implied a potential cost of up to Ft100bn for the sector and warned that broadband development would be “paralysed” by a charge of this magnitude. Shares in Magyar Telekom fell nearly 4 per cent to Ft334 hours after the announcement.

A spokesman for the Hungarian government said opponents of the tax were generating “hysteria” and said that parliament will agree a cap on charges for individual telecoms companies. He also rejected warnings that charging for internet usage would harm Hungary’s digital economy:

“This was the charge we heard about the telcom taxes; ultimately nothing was proved, just the opposite.”

 

MEPs reject Hungary’s Navracsics for top EU culture job

Tibor Navracsics, commissioner-designate

The European Parliament has rejected Hungary’s EU commissioner-designate as unsuitable for the education and culture post.

Tibor Navracsics could still be given a different role in the new European Commission team, MEPs said.

He is the first candidate to be rejected at the hearings, though MEPs have blocked appointments in the past.

He has been in a right-wing government criticised in the EU for allegedly undermining civil liberties.

The vote in the parliament’s education and culture committee went 14-12 against him.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban amended constitutional reforms after sharp criticism from the outgoing European Commission and MEPs.

There were fears that changes to the judiciary, media and minority rights would hand too much power to his ruling Fidesz party.

The new Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, may have to reshuffle his new team in order to get MEPs’ approval. The parliament is set to vote on the whole team on 22 October.

The French nominee Pierre Moscovici, the UK’s Jonathan Hill and Spain’s Miguel Arias Canete have also been grilled by MEPs who doubt their suitability for their designated posts – economic affairs, financial services and climate and environment, respectively.

More Hungarys in eastern Europe?

Flickr/European People's Party. Some rights reserved.
Flickr/European People’s Party. Some rights reserved.

Viktor Orbán is a perfect populist who exploits the chameleon nature of populism like no other, from radical liberalism to his new ‘illiberal state’.

Worryingly his bravado is becoming a source of inspiration for many other European politicians. But what is he after?

There are not so many European politicians who have gone through such an ideological serpentine as Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party did in the last 25 years.

Orbán started his career as a radical liberal at the time of the transition, to become a socially conservative centre-right PM between 1998 and 2002.

After losing power in 2002, he started to advocate for statist-populist positions, and is now shifting toward autoritarianism after his return to the premiership in 2010.

openDemocracy.net - free thinking for the world
Viktor Orbán (right) with Spain’s Prime Minister Rajoy.

In sum, Orbán is a perfect populist politician who exploits the chameleonic nature of populism as described by Paul Taggart, with an ability to adapt to changing social and political circumstances and to new popular demands very quickly.

In his latest speech at Baile Tusnád, Orbán invoked a concept often used by eastern European populists to challenge democratic instutions: the myth of the stolen transition, according to which only a handful of people benefited from the transition while the majority is worse off.

Orbán has been successfully exploiting the discontent with the shift to democracy and capitalism for a long time. According to a 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center, while discontent about the transition has been growing in the last 20 years almost everywhere in the region,

Hungary clearly leads the list, with 72 percent of Hungarians believing that life was better under communism. This disillusionment can partially explain why Orbán, the unquestionably important liberal player of the transition, famous for his harsh anti-Soviet rhetoric, became an advocate of illiberalism and Russian interests.

Fuelling discontent with the transition process is a game everybody liked to play in the post-1989 Hungarian elite.

The exploitation of negative feelings toward democracy and capitalism was used by Orbán to achieve his political aims. He now wants to change dominant views in the Hungarian public opinion to achieve his long-term goals.

Orbán is turning Hungary against the EU – an institution that is still quite popular in Hungarian public opinion – and wants to orient a country that has wanted to belong to the west eastwards.

There is a widespread assumption that Orbán’s national, illiberal, radical shift in recent years is only the consequence of an electoral strategy to win the hearts of radical right voters for Jobbik. But this temptingly simple explanation is false for at least three reasons.

First, Orbán himself did a lot to radicalize a part of the electorate. Second, Orbán knows he benefits from the political presence of Jobbik, and he does not seem to be willing to rid himself of that party.

Orbán knows he needs Jobbik as a scout to explore new solutions and push the terms of the political debate to increase his own room for manoeuvre – in foreign policy, for example, Jobbik was the first proponent of the ‘Eastern Opening’.

Third, Orbán’s ideology and politics are intertwined in serving his long-term strategic goal of establishing a consolidated system – they are not just reactive steps to counter Jobbik’s rise. Orban does not need a radical nationalist ideology to challenge Jobbik, but rather to justify the illiberal system he is slowly creating.

Orbán exerts fascination on international commentators because he is an Anakin Skywalker-like figure who walked from the light side (democratic, liberal, anti-communist) to the dark side (illiberal and pro-Russian). But this response suggests that Orbán’s story is unique, which is unfortunately not true.

Orbán is not the only opportunist populist politician who lost his enthusiasm for western-type democracies. The newly elected Turkish president, Erdogan for example – who began his career as a religious hardliner – surprised many at the beginning of his political career with his moderate, reformist line of governance.

Erdogan established good relations with the US, the EU, and even Israel, and made steps to calm relations with Greece. But he gradually shifted away from this political line and became a populist, nationalist conservative leader, turning against western values and allies, who now wants Turkey to walk its own way instead of belonging to a western alliance.

 

It is symbolic that Erdogan, formerly a good ally of Israel, has just returned the award he received from the Jewish World Congress a decade ago.

This should be a wake-up call for the west: the political attractiveness of the western model is eroding, and populist politicians who have made many efforts to gain the support of the west one or two decades ago are now abandoning the western path. Orbán has openly talked about the “sunset of the west” several times, including in his last infamous Tusnádfürdő speech:

“Societies founded upon the principle of the liberal way to organize a state will not be able to sustain their world-competitiveness in the next years, and more likely they will suffer a setback, unless they are able to substantially reform themselves”. 

Orbán’s story is not only a Hungarian story. For Orbán, ideology was always just an instrument, a justification for crude political and material interests, to cement himself into power and build up a ‘national bourgeoise’.

The myth of the stolen transition is alive and well everywhere in the region. Beforehand, it was the asset of the radical right, but it is becoming more and more mainstream. Populist politicians in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Poland already use it to challenge some democratic fundamentals.

And they’ll be relying on it even more in the future if they see that Orbán’s experiment is politically successful. Robert Fico, the incumbent PM in Slovakia and Jaroslaw Kaczinsky, the ex-, and possible next PM in Poland, regard Orbán as a role model, and can easily adapt some of his policies (for example, his regular attacks against the private economy).

In Romania, Victor Ponta, at the beginning of his premiership, also seemed to rely on these Hungarian experiments. Hungary’s story could thus easily become eastern Europe’s story.

The post-communist democracies are still young and fragile, and they will be further tested in the years to come by politicians who see no negative consequences in weakening democratic institutions and going against key European values.

To challenge this trend, the EU should take its political role as a supranational entity seriously and impact not only on the behaviour of wannabe member states, but on those of member states as well.

While the EU has strict political criteria for accession (stable institutions responsible for democracy, rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities), it does not systemically examine the implementation of the Copenhagen

 

Criteria among its own fully fledged member states. A regular monitoring and enforcing mechanism is needed here as well.

But more fundamentally, the EU needs leaders who have the courage to confront national politicians that seem to have abandoned its key values. The Tusnádfürdő speech, a programmatic attack against the key values of the EU, didn’t generate any appreciable response from a single leading European politician.

The ongoing leadership change in the EU is of course an explanation, but it is definitely no excuse. 

Hungary Sells T-72 Tanks to…?

The Hungarian Ministry of Defence has announced that they’ve sold 58 T-72 tanks to a Czech company, Excalibur Defense Ltd., who has begun transporting them into the Czech Republic.

Under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty), the Czech firm will face resale limitations, and they must also comply with certain Hungarian laws.

The sale is a bit of a mystery, but some local reports suggest a possible explanation…

Hungary has about 30+ T-72M1 tanks in service, and the 58 tanks are likely to be drawn from their reserves of 120 or so T-72M vehicles. This is hardly unprecedented; in 2005, they sold 77 of their T-72s to Iraq. With respect to this sale, the Ministry of Defence adds:

“The customer is allowed to resell the tanks only in compliance with the relevant provisions of the CFE Treaty.The CFE Treaty sets a ceiling on the number of tanks that can be held by any one country and includes further provisions for reduction, withdrawal from service, storage, information exchange and verification.Hungary has acted responsibly as it has sold the disused tanks with the provision that they cannot be sold to a country against which embargo is enforced. After the transportation to the Czech Republic, in accordance with the CFE Treaty, the Czech authorities are under obligation and in charge of authorizing and monitoring the handling, use and resale of military equipment.”

That’s a long disclaimer. Abridged version: “Don’t blame us.”

The buyer is unlikely to be The Czech Republic. Their army has about 30 T-72M4-CZ tanks in front line service, which were modernized locally. They also have about 90 T-72M1 tanks in reserve, so they don’t need Hungarian T-72Ms.

The right-wing Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita believes that the tanks are destined for the Ukraine, which has been looking for compatible second-hand Soviet-era equipment that they can use right away.

The paper based its claim in part on the direction of shipment within Hungary, toward the Ukrainian border. In contrast, Hungary was careful to mention that the tanks are being shipped the opposite way, into the Czech Republic, which removes any common border with Ukraine.

On the other hand, Hungary’s Fidesz Party seems to have come down on Ukraine’s side after their internal debates, despite having a foreign policy that is friendlier than usual toward Russia.

If the treaties can all be observed, could a private sector entity transport the tanks in a less obtrusive way from the Czech Republic through Poland, to the Ukraine?

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