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Viktor Orban’s Harum-Scarum China Gambit

By Dr. Miklos K. RadvanyiFrontiers of Freedom

On July 5, 2021, Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist and politician of Hong Kong, published a Letter to Orban from his London exile in Politico.  In his Letter’s opening paragraph, Mr. Law states that “It’s difficult to imagine how somebody who battled against the brutal repression of a communist party at a young age could later become a staunch supporter of another.”  Then, he continues thus:  “Since assuming power in 2010, your growing intimacy with the Chinese government has made it difficult for the EU to put pressure on Beijing when it comes to human rights violations.  Hungary was the first EU country to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2012, paving the way for Beijing to export its authoritarian model to the world.  And in the years since, your country has served as China’s biggest defender in the EU.”

Nathan Law is absolutely correct.  The second son of an unskilled laborer who became the Communist party secretary at the local gravel mine, Viktor Orban used his personal hatred toward his cruel father to rebel against the Soviet occupation and the resulting one-party dictatorship.  Having entered public life on June 16, 1989, the day of the symbolic reburial of Imre Nagy the failed leader of the 1956 Revolution, Viktor Orban called at Budapest’s Heroes’ Square for free elections and the removal of the Soviet military from Hungarian soil.  

From there on, his journey in the discombobulated terrain of Hungarian politics has been marked by self-induced narcissistic turns in opposition, through leading between 1998 and 2002 an utterly inexperienced as well as woefully incompetent government that failed miserably within four years, to reestablishing the one-party dictatorship of the pre-1990 Hungary in its barely disguised oppression and all-encompassing corruption in his second reincarnation as Prime Minister.  As proof of his sickening egomania, Viktor Orban has repeatedly claimed that his 1989 speech was the reason for the Soviet Union to remove its military from Hungary.  Notwithstanding Viktor Orban’s laughable as well as baseless assertion, the decision about the retreat of the Soviet military was made years before his speech and the actual withdrawal of several military units was already ongoing or partially completed. 

Viktor Orban’s destructive transformation of Hungary from a developing democratic state to a neo-Communist fiefdom has come with a heavy price.  Viktor Orban has become politically a fatally wounded non-entity and personally a persona non grata within the European Union.  His Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto has only exacerbated Viktor Orban’s international misery.  Having proved himself more as a pompous amateur, Mr. Szijjarto has made Hungary with his grossly undiplomatic statements about President Biden and the Democrat Party in the United States of America unwelcome too.  As a result, the Viktor Orban-led Hungary has become a pariah in Washington, D.C. as well as in Brussels.

Thus, Viktor Orban’s epiphany from a young firebrand against Communist oppression to an egomaniacal monster has had its roots in his primitive communist upbringing and the related worshipping of power and money by persons who only knew hardships and destitutions in their miserable youth.  Naturally, so-called scholars like Dorit Gerva are talking and writing about “Orbanism” as a new ideology.  They are all badly mistaken.  For Viktor Orban ideology has always meant an interchangeable and disposable semi-intellectual garbage whose sole purpose has been to conceal his insatiable appetite for power and money.  Moreover, for people with Viktor Orban’s mentality, countries or individuals do not count as supreme political and humanistic values.  Consequently, for Viktor Orban democracy with its glorification of individual rights and its protection of personal freedoms is meaningless platitudes that must be continuously attacked and decisively rejected.  For these reasons, the combination of his ostracism by the leaders of  NATO and the European Union and his personal inclination toward authoritarianism, moving closer to China  has been an obvious solution.

 Domestically, Viktor Orban and his propaganda machine has tried to sell his “Eastern Opening” as hugely beneficial for Hungary.  However, the facts have belied his promises of large investments, preferential loans and new markets concerning China, Russia and many other Asian countries.  Specifically, Hungary’s exports to China in 2020 were $2.04 billion.  On the other hand, Hungary’s imports from China in 2020 have reached $8.72 billion.  This means a trade deficit of more than $6 billion.  Thus, while being up in arms against any foreign interference in domestic affairs, Viktor Orban is quietly and surreptitiously turning Hungary into an economic “Canton” of the People’s Republic of China.  

The Chinese-built Budapest-Belgrade railway’s Hungarian section, a highly ballyhood accomplishment of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, is costing about $3 billion.  Of this amount, 85 percent is financed with Chinese loans, with interest between $500 and $800 million.  This means that the entire project’s cost around $3.7 billion.  Thus, this railway project is wholly financed by the Hungarian taxpayers.  Again, the project is much more beneficial to China than for Hungary.  First, the new railway does not connect Hungarian towns.   Second, tourism from the Balkan region has never been significant. Third, the railway is constructed mostly by Chinese companies.  Fourth, the railway is designed to carry freight more than passengers.  Fifth, the strategic penetration of the European Union’s infrastructure markets will become much easier for Chinese state-owned companies.  Notwithstanding these negative aspects, the railway is being built and the entire project with all the documents connected to the bilateral deal were declared a national strategic matter, and thus top secret.  

Similarly, fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Viktor Orban has never criticized China.  On the contrary, he and his cabinet members have only had the kindest words for Beijing’s efforts to fight the pandemic and its willingness to supply Hungary and the rest of the world with vaccines, masks as well as badly needed medical equipment.  Accordingly, the Hungarian government bought at the beginning of 2021 five million doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccines for $36 (30 Euros) each.  In comparison, the European Union paid only 15,50 Euros per dose for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.  For a dose of AstraZeneca, the European Union paid $2.15, according to Belgium’s budget secretary.  

Even more suspicious is the way the Hungarian government acquired the five million medically absolutely useless doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines.  The intermediary company from which the Hungarian government purchased the vaccines was an offshore company with a registered capital of $10,700 (9,000 Euros).  The net value of the bilateral contract was $179 million (150 million Euros).  Such arrangements clearly raise red flags for anti-corruption watchdogs, as The New York Times article on March 12, 2021, rightly stipulated.  

The Chinese vaccine was aggressively promoted by Viktor Orban himself.  Claiming that he got the Sinopharm vaccine, he encouraged Hungarians of all ages to do the same.  Yet, while promoting and using the vaccine, it lacked full approval even by the competent Hungarian authorities until January 2021.  Adding insult to injury, the European Union and the American FDA have never approved the Sinopharm vaccine for use on humans.  To prove the uselessness of the Sinopharm vaccines, Hungarians who were vaccinated with Sinopharm have never developed antibodies in their bodies. 

The background story of the Shanghai-based Fudan University is equally strange, or more precisely, typical Orbanesque.  This story has started with the forced expulsion of the George Soros-established Central European University from Budapest, Hungary.  This University was accredited in both the United States of America and Hungary.  In addition, it ranked in quality way above any indigenous school of higher education. The ensuing saga of the very personal feud between George Soros and Viktor Orban has been portrayed and analyzed exhaustively by the media in Hungary as well as across Europe and the United States.  

To summarize it, the Central European University rejected government control.  The University’s argument was that in a democracy institutions of higher education must be independent of political influence.  Moreover, the President of the Central European University Michael Ignatieff argued that the Orban government destroyed the independence and the high quality of Hungarian university education by politically as well as professionally crushing their independence, while simultaneously liquidating the free-thinking intelligentsia.  Yet, utilizing his artificially created two-thirds majority in the unicameral Parliament, Viktor Orban’s party adapted a law that made the functioning of the Central European University in Hungary impossible.  The Central European University departed to Vienna, Austria, leaving Viktor Orban and his battered educational system enjoying in their miserable isolation their pyrrhic victory.

This self-congratulatory gloating about the triumph of Viktor Orban’s “illiberal democracy” over the “Leftist liberalism of George Soros” has culminated in the Hungarian government’s sudden announcement about rolling out the red carpet for the Shanghai-based Fudan University.  Preemptively declaring that the Chinese university’s mission would be strictly educational, the ensuing nation-wide protest against the “Trojan Horse” of Communist influence and potential spying expressed the real opinions as well as the anti-Chinese feelings of the Hungarian people.  

Clearly, the pivoting towards China, defined vaingloriously by Viktor Orban as “Eastern Opening,” is extremely unpopular among all Hungarians.  Adding fuel to the already existing popular discontent is the cost and the size of the Fudan University project.  Planned to spread over twenty six acres, with an additional forty acres accounting for the surrounding park, and estimated to cost a whopping $1.687 billion, it would exceed the total cost the Hungarian government spends on the annual operation of its over two dozen state-run public universities.  No wonder that the suspicion of another gigantic government corruption has again raised its ugly head throughout the country and beyond.  

To top this monstrous political and financial ploy, the construction of the campus is carried out exclusively by Chinese banks and Chinese companies, involving only Chinese workers.  More specifically, the Hungarian government agreed that the Chinese only involvement also means that the job must be done by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), the world’s largest construction company.  Again, bribery and corruption suspicions are justified by the tarnished reputation of the Chinese company that has been involved across the globe in numerous scandals and foul plays.  To prove this point, the Chinese company’s financing offer that would cover all expenses only amounts to $1.06 billion.  The difference between the published figure of $1.687 billion by the Hungarian government and the Chinese estimate speaks for itself.  Even more glaring is the Chinese financing proposal of $1,81 billion that is supposed to cover only 80% of the construction costs.  This unprecedented and unjustified overfinancing of the Fudan University project potentially could be another proof of the long-suspected high-level corruption in state-funded construction business deals.

The secrecy surrounding the Fudan University project thickens by its legal construct.  While in the case of the Budapest-Belgrade railway reconstruction an international agreement was executed, the relevant contracts of the Fudan University deal were designed to exclude public procurements and open biddings even in the management of the campus.  The obvious sleaziness of these arrangements was crowned by the establishment of a consortium of two Chinese and a single Hungarian company, in which the latter is wholly owned by Viktor Orban’s childhood friend and straw man, Lorinc Meszaros.

Finally, leaked documents suggest that the Fudan University deal was in the offing for years but assiduously kept away from the Hungarian and the European public.  During his 2019 visit to Hungary, the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi spoke of the Budapest campus of the Fudan University as a done deal, negotiated carefully for some time before.  Designating it a “priority project,” he emphasized the strategic importance of the Fudan University’s presence in the geographic middle of the European continent for Beijing.  Like in the case of the Budapest-Belgrade railway project, the Hungarian government classified the Fudan University deal as a “national security” matter.  The expropriation and even usurpation of great construction projects affecting the entire country by a single yes-men party, namely the FIDESZ, are another proof that Hungary is not a democracy.  Even more unsettling is the state of democracy in Hungary when the one-party legislature and executive do not govern by consensus but political improvisation and greed. 

Demonstrations against the establishment of the Fudan University have been held across Hungary.  The Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karacsony and the opposition called for a nationwide referendum and already proceeded to rename streets around the planned campus “Dalai Lama Street,” “Free Hong Kong Road,” etc.  The Chinese regime that regularly launches vigorous protests against “interference in Chinese internal affairs” has gone ballistic over the free expression of “anti-Chinese” sentiments in Hungary.  Global Times, one of the many subservient mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party, called in an editorial Gergely Karacsony “an enemy of China.”  The Press Secretary of the Chinese Embassy in Budapest released a statement voicing his outrage thus:  “As a diplomat of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Hungary, I have been working in Hungary for nearly a decade and witnessed the deepening friendship between the Chinese and the Hungarian peoples.  Recently, Hungary has gradually overcome the COVID-19, and people’s daily life is beginning to return to normal.  People on the streets are full of joy and laughter again.  As someone who works and lives in Budapest, I am also delighted by this.”  Clearly, such an idyllic description of the general mood in a country is more reminiscent of the Chinese propaganda lies concerning their own country than the reality in Hungary.   

Referring again to the Mayor of Budapest, his long winded nonsense continued with the following hypocritical sentence:  “In broad daylight, it is unseemly to criticize the internal affairs of another country.”  However, in the same breath he goes on wadding into the internal affairs of Hungary:  “The Mayor’s speech was a serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a deliberate attempt to undermine the friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two nation, which is incompatible with the trend of the era of mutually beneficial cooperation.  We firmly protest, resolutely oppose and strongly condemn it.”

To better understand the real Chinese strategic intentions, one should not search farther than the recent spring visit of the Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe to Budapest.  Praising Hungary as a “good brother” and “partner,” Wei stated that China is ready to strengthen cooperation with Hungary in various fields.  He grew agitated about the sanction imposed by the United States of America and the European Union against his country for the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, calling them lies and false accusations made by the West.  Then, turning to the President of Hungary, Janos Ader, he thanked him for Hungary’s firm support of China on Xinjiang and other issues concerning China’s core interests.  Janos Ader, on his part, praised China’s vaccine support, claiming that this support has brought hope to Hungary’s fight against the pandemic.  He also called for a “comprehensive strategic partnership” and the strengthening of cooperation in the economy, trade, tourism and military matters.

In line with these essentially anti-NATO and anti-European Union declarations and actions by Chinese grandees, leading Hungarian politicians have given a slew of irresponsible and derogatory statements about both organizations, in which they have claimed to be loyal members.  Just very recently, exactly on July 11, 2021, the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament Laszlo Kover said on Radio Kossuth that, if a referendum would be held today about Hungary’s joining the European Union, he would definitely vote against it.  And on July 8, 2021, in another interview that he gave to Mandiner, he opined that Hungary will stay a member of the European Union until it collapses.  

Viktor Orban’s dislike for the European Union has been well documented throughout the last nine years as Prime Minister.  Equating any criticism of his government and the Hungarian Parliament that he rules through Laszlo Kover as a condemnation of the Hungarian nation, he has repeatedly insinuated that leaving the organization could be an option.  On September 25, 2020, Reuters reported that he praised Britain’s decision to leave the European Union as a “brave one” and demonstration of “greatness” that Hungary should not follow.  However, signaling his real feelings, he went on to criticize Brussels for its treatment of Great Britain and opined that the 2016 referendum was an act to safeguard the “good reputation” of the British people:  “Brexit is a brave decision of the British people about their own lives…we consider it as evidence of the greatness of the British.”

After years of cutthroat hostility with the overwhelming majority of the European Union’s other member states Hungary’s new legislation that couples pedophilia and anti-LGBT behaviors is the newest bone of contention.  Without descending into the dirty swamp of Hungarian politics, it suffices to state that the values that the Viktor Orban-led government has espoused for the last nine years and the values that the European Union views as compatible with Western civilization have been distinctly different in most of the cases.  While Brussels defends values in general, the Orban government protects its parochial and thus narrow political and financial interests.  For this reason, an ultimate rupture could occur at any time in the future.                

Where does all this leave the Orban regime and Hungary?  It leaves both in an ever widening vacuum full of lies, deceptions, existential corruption, moral depravity and hopelessness concerning the future of the individual as well as the Hungarian nation.  It leaves Hungary hovering between Europe and Asia.  It leaves Hungary in a state of permanent paralysis politically, economically, financially, culturally, morally and existentially.  It leaves Hungary with a government that prioritizes the interests of the privileged one percent to the detriment of ninety nine percent of the nation.  It leaves Hungary with a government that is despotic and inimical to the country’s real interests.  Finally and tragically, it leaves Hungary in a state of utter despondency.

Historically, whenever Hungary has turned away from the West and has attempted to seek its future in the East, stagnation and even backsliding were the results.  Today, when confronted with the uncomfortable facts of his “Eastern Opening,” Viktor Orban’s and his party’s responses rest on two parts.  First, they try to conceal, deny and obfuscate.  Second, when such brazenly authoritarian and shamefully immoral political campaigns fail, they attack with ruthless aggression the motives of their domestic as well as foreign critics.  

Clearly, the worldwide criticism of Hungary has reached a dangerous stage.  Led by Hungary’s incompetent foreign minister, its diplomats call such criticism a shameless plot to slander the country and thwart its progress.  The government controlled media spew ad hominem falsehoods at scholars who analyze Hungarian government statements and documents, as well as open-source materials, describing them as CIA agents or anti-Hungarian fanatics.  Regrettably, such fallacious assertions have had an impact domestically.  It has not been very difficult to meet Hungarians from every walk of life who treat even the mildest criticism of their country as a hostile attack directed against them personally.  

Yet, facts are stubborn things.  Since his election victory in 2010, Viktor Orban has governed Hungary as an elected despot.  The safeguards of democracy have been eliminated gradually.  With his “Eastern Opening,” Viktor Orban is preparing to tear up all pretence of democracy and develop his “illiberal democracy” into a full fledged dictatorship.  The obvious question is why?  The answer is almost self-evident.  Viktor Orban and his associates fear defeat in the upcoming elections in the spring of 2022.  As Nathan Law stated, Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party has betrayed its democratic past for a semi-Feudal and arch-Communist regime, combined with nepotism and dynastic pretensions.  While capturing total control over the legislative, judicial and executive branches as well as vertically the local councils, he has courted the rural population with monies that the European Union has given to Hungary.  Simultaneously, the pliant media are selling in unison Viktor Orban’s “illiberal democracy” as identical with the desires of the whole nation. 

To add political insult to existential injury, the declared election alliance of the thus far fragmented opposition parties might not be enough to stop another triumph at the ballot boxes for Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party.  While the 2018 elections were laden with irregularities, suspicions are rife throughout the country that the upcoming poll might be fraught with more shenanigans.  As in the past, the most contentious issue  will be the voting rights of Hungarians living abroad without registered Hungarian addresses, mainly in the neighboring states of Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania and Serbia.  The emotional manipulation, financial bribery, voting by mail without proper verification, practically ensures that the overwhelming majority of these ethnic Hungarians, estimated to be close to ninety percent, will cast their ballots for FIDESZ.  To illustrate the shocking political nature of courting the ethnic Hungarian votes, the Fuggetlen Nemzet (Independent Nation) revealed that ethnic Hungarians with barely any elementary school education claimed to have been directors of large Ukrainian companies with outlandishly high salaries, collect huge retirement pays from the Hungarian Pension Disbursement Office.  

Such an electoral system clearly distorts the will of all Hungarians who live within the international borders of Hungary.  Leaders of the opposition parties and foreign observers have claimed in 2018 that the voting laws installed by FIDESZ enabled electoral fraud through uncontrollable manipulation of the mail-in ballots.  Hungarian humor has it that being buried in one of the neighboring states as a Hungarian guarantees the dead person’s resurrection and a second life in Hungary proper through elections.

In stark contrast to this extremely liberal treatment of ethnic Hungarians, Hungarians who live in Hungary proper but work or live abroad with real Hungarian residency must be registered on the electoral roll a maximum of fifteen days before election day.  Moreover, on election day they must go to a Hungarian consulate or embassy to cast their votes in person.  Registration has been slow and laden with bureaucratic obstructions.  Consulates and embassies have posed additional hurdles to Hungarians suspected of not voting for Viktor Orban’s party.  The nefarious political intent is clear.  Those Hungarians who live outside the country are alleged of not always agreeing with the domestic situation.  Thus, they must be prevented from voting by dictatorial bureaucratic fiat.  Those who have been bribed by the Hungarian government abroad must cast their votes without any bureaucratic difficulties, because they are presumed to be loyal to Viktor Orban and his regime.  This is ethnic discrimination by voting, plain and simple.     

In these and similar manners, Hungary’s march away from Western values and democracy toward Socialism/Communism with Chinese characteristics is in full swing.  As for the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, creating enemies and demonizing opponents have been the order of political culture for Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party.   Meanwhile, Hungary proper has been torn by deep hatred, unbridgeable divisions and the danger of civil war.  Moreover, the country lacks a large middle class and is divided into the miniscule group of the very rich and the vast majority of destitute survivors as well as hopeless Have-nots.  

Yet, the greatest threat to Hungary’s future is the fatalistic complacency of its people.  To overcome this deadly cultural disease, the Hungarian people must take back their past, present and future.  In doing so, they should be able to rely on the active and decisive assistance of all the member states of NATO and the European Union.  Conversely, the latter should start to take democracy as well as political, economic and cultural morality seriously – meaning that they must enforce the values of both alliances more rigorously.  Otherwise, NATO and the European Union will cease to be multilateral bodies of free nations.  Even worse, they will continue to nurture internal enemies within their ranks that ultimately will destroy both alliances.  Clearly, it is high time to put a stop to the destructive madness of the current Hungarian government by calling it to full account.  In closing, Hungary must be made to understand that membership in both organizations comes with rights and obligations that are inextricably linked.  Joining both organizations was voluntary.  No one forced the competent Hungarian government to join.  However, once Hungary joined, it must fulfill its obligations fully.  Claiming that Hungary has only rights but only selective obligations is unrealistic.  Comparing Washington, D.C. and Brussels to the Kremlin of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, is wrong and self-defeating. Such comparison is simply idiotic.  Yet, Hungarian politicians, with Viktor Orban in the lead, have played the victimhood card often and shamelessly in the last eleven years.  Enough is enough.  Either the Hungarian government will start to play fairly or it must be asked to leave both organizations.  The future effectiveness and unity of NATO and the European Union are at stake.  Time is of the essence.  Before the Orbanesque cancer could metastasize, it must be stopped peremptorily. 


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