Wed Aug 17th, 2005 at 12:50:03 PM EST
A good and instructive diary that had slipped from the radar ~ whataboutbob
On request - this is a re-post of the second of two comments about some funny or strange developments in the recent history of Hungarian politics; with introducion added, and some edits.
The title explains it all. But, to prepare readers who didn't read the older post, the events told about will take place during the 1998-2002 right-wing government (led by the Fidesz party, a right-populist outfit led itself by a cabal of spineless yuppies who used to be progressives) and the 2002 to today nominally centre-left government (a coalition of the post-reformed-communist MSzP and the post-eighties-liberal-dissidents SzDSz parties - itself something that should appear totally absurd to outside observers).
(If you find that the parties, the referred events or names are confusing, read the introducion to Hungary's senseless politics in the older diary entry.)
When Hungary pulled out its troops from Iraq at the end of 2004, it happened only because of another power politics by Fidesz (see a good example of power politics by this populist right-wing party in the first post): they decided humiliating the government is worth more than repairing relations with their ideological brothers and role models across the pond.
Repairing, I say? Let's go back six years.
When Fidesz was newly in government, there was a tender for NATO-compatible fighter jets to replace the MiGs from Warshaw Pact times. There were two competitors: Saab and BA offered the JAS-39 Gripen, and Lockheed offered used F-16s with an upgrade. The Gripen was considered the better option, but everyone assumed a Lockheed win, due to ties with Fidesz. This was reinforced by the most ridiculous corruption scandal in Hungarian history: a string of Fidesz MPs signed a lobbying letter for a Texan Lockheed executive, who was nominated for ambassador to Hungary, and some even signed as "senator" - something that does not exist in our system... and the instigator of this was a female MP who had a liaison with the Hungarian representative of Lockheed. (No, I didn't made up any of this!)
Now, two years later, in autumn 2001, the inofficial campaign season started early. Fidesz was busy putting forth spin to supress its real big corruption scandals, just blowing over in the press. So the leadership thought a Lockheed win could lose them the elections - and decided for Gripen. By then in office in the US, Bush wasn't amused. A few weeks later, when PM Orbán flew to Washington for a campaign photo with Bush at the White House, Bush wouldn't receive him. Suddenly, the US ambassador, Freedom House et al discovered the virulent anti-semitic talk in the right-wing media, and the attempts at state media takeover, and openly criticised this.
All this was real fun to watch for yours truly - until after the elections, until next fall. Then, in the run-up to the Iraq war, during which the new government first kept anxious silence, Hungary suddenly got a lot of US attention - negative attention. When the government visited Bush in Washington, they were openly criticised, after reminders of 'support' in the elections. At the same time, ah I mean 'by accident', there were a string of articles in the WSJ and other papers about Hungary sabotaging the NATO, not spending anything on modernisation and not raising its military budget etc., and of growing intentions of NATO leaders to do something about it*. And, more widely, about various 'signs of crisis' in Hungary. (Yeah, that reminds of certain campaigns against certain other countries a few months later...)
This was in the open; I wonder what went on behind closed doors. And our government took heed, and suddenly, they began to beat the drums of war. They kept to the line against wide popular opposition. Of the parties in parliament, only MDF (original major right-wing party, see party explanations in older post) had a clear line against the war and the following troop deployment, so the required two-thirds majority was there in the summer of 2003, and during the first extension half a year later. The end of it I told of at the beginning.
Since then, the government tried to prove its good vassalness by promising more token supports. The most significant would have been 150 soldiers to guard the NATO training base in Baghdad (this wouldn't require parliament approval). Unreported in the Western press, but leaked to the Hungarian one, this option is now off the table: it is told that the Iraqi semi-puppet government waved off, they are not at all enthusiastic about NATO training. What was reported in the Western press was the Hungarian government's offer to give 77 old T-72 tanks to the Iraqis. However, while this appears something significant, it had strings attached: someone else should pay for the modernisation and transport of these tanks. (It now looks like the Americans agreed to lend money to their Iraqi government to pay for this.)
In other issues, the experience from siding with Bliar against Germany & France left a bitter taste in the government's mouth - and Poland's selfish push during the first EU Council negotiations about the EU Constitution also taught them a lesson, so at the EU level, they now avoid being struck in blocks.
*: Two notes about this. First, many of you will know, what Hungary was accused of was true of, and was thematised a few months or years later, most other European NATO members, too. (To my personal anti-militarist happiness, BTW.) Second, you probably never heard of this press campaign, and don't remember it even if you happened to gloss over said articles - which makes the issue even more ridiculous to me: my government fearing its respect internationally, due to a campaign ignored by everyone outside Hungary...