Hungarian reception of changing political scenes in Bulgaria and Moldova

Review of the Hungarian press and its experts’ say on the neighbourhood

This morning I watched a fascinating interview with Árpád Székely, the former Hungarian ambassador to Moscow, who was asked what he thought of the Orbán government’s foreign policy. “What foreign policy? There is no such thing. There are ad hoc improvisations that lead the country to becoming an isolated pariah,” he answered.

Since I was planning to write about the recent Bulgarian snap election and Bulgarian-Hungarian relations, I was searching for material, mostly in Magyar Nemzet. And I was struck, at almost every turn, by the ad hoc improvisations that Székely was talking about.

Anyone who wants to learn something about Bulgaria and Bulgarian politics should avoid the Orbán government’s media flagship, Magyar Nemzet. First of all, the paper has nobody on its staff who is competent to cover Bulgaria, so when the need presents itself, the paper hires an outsider, Jordán Tütünkov, who teaches subjects related to tourism at the Metropolitan University in Budapest. Tütünkov is a partisan of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and a foe of President Rumen Radev, who, according to our expert, after failing to overthrow the Borissov government on the streets, is trying to achieve the same thing at the ballot box in the hope of “consigning the prime minister to the political dustbin.”

Just as Székely explained, Hungary’s relations with Bulgaria, as with any other country, depend entirely on the personal preferences of Viktor Orbán. Borissov was a useful ally at the conference table in the European Council, and therefore Hungary supported the Borissov regime. By the same logic, after the recent election in which Borissov was defeated, the Orbán government’s attitude toward the country may change drastically purely on ideological grounds.

In the last few months, Tütünkov was preparing the ground for the possible failure of Borissov, making sure that the readers of Magyar Nemzet understood that “a mafia-style series of attacks has been launched against the government, which has exposed the corruption of the left opposition.” This is really amusing. It is well known that the current Bulgarian government is the most corrupt administration in the European Union, just nosing out Orbán’s Hungary for the title. In fact, only recently the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned three Bulgarian individuals for their extensive roles in the corruption of Bulgaria. As 444 wittily put it, “Goodfriend and the [Hungarian] expulsion scandal were a gentle tease compared to what Bulgaria is now getting from the United States.

After some hesitation, Magyar Nemzet admitted that Borissov’s party (GERB) has no chance of forming a government because no other party is ready to form a coalition with it. ITN (Ima Takv Narod), the party that beat GERB by only a few thousand votes, was established a little over a year ago by Bulgarian TV host Slavi Trifonov. Trifonov announced a minority government headed by Nikolay Vasilev, a politician, economist, and businessman who holds several degrees from U.S. universities and, of all places, the Budapest University of Economic Sciences (1994). He speaks English, Hungarian, and Russian and has a basic knowledge of French, German, and Japanese.

The Financial Times noted that “Bulgaria is heading into an uncertain political future,” but the “change in Bulgaria is reason to cheer.” The paper’s editorial castigates the European Union for allowing “the rampant corruption and misuse of EU funds that have held back the bloc’s poorest country.” The election results should be good news for the Hungarian opposition, but I see no sign of any reaction to the Bulgarian events either by politicians or the independent media.

While the Bulgarians voted, even if narrowly, Borissov out of office, the Moldovans sent their former president, Igor Dodon, head of the pro-Russian Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), down to defeat. Dodon had served as president between 2010 and 2020. His opponent, Maia Sandu, of the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), first won against Dodon last December when the communist leader was running for reelection. This time around, in a snap election, PAS won with a resounding 52.5% against PCRM’s 27.2%.

What can be expected as a result of PAS’s victory? Earlier, Sandu gave an interview to Euronews in which she talked about a change in foreign policy. Instead of a pro-Russian orientation, she proposed good relations with Romania, Ukraine, the European Union, and the United States. She indicated her support of Moldova’s integration into the European Union. As for the country’s unification with Romania, at present only a small minority supports the idea, but if the idea were to receive the backing of the majority, she would support it. Western papers uniformly hailed the results of the election, which will set the country on a pro-EU path for at least four years.

As for Magyar Nemzet, the paper turned to István Pataky from Marosvásárhely/Târgu Mureș, who wrote two articles on Moldova, one before and the second after the election. I had the feeling that Pataky, although he obviously knows a great deal about Romanian politics, knows much less about the political situation in Moldova. On the whole, he presented the results with satisfaction, but it seemed that Romania received the electoral outcome in Moldova with reservations. He made a snide remark about President Klaus Iohannis’s congratulatory message to “the former post-Soviet sister republic.”

On the whole, one cannot find extensive coverage of Moldovan politics in the independent Hungarian media, with the notable exception of Azonnali, where in the last few months Gergő Illés has been following the unfolding events of this important political change.

These developments are certainly not welcomed by Moscow, and I also doubt that Viktor Orbán is overly enthusiastic about this dramatic turnabout of political fortunes. As for Moldova, we know that he considers this whole region to belong to the Russian sphere of interest, which should not be penetrated by the European Union or the United States. And Boyko Borissov’s defeat means the loss of another powerful corrupt friend, among the many he has collected over the years.

Photo: The former Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban (source: Hungarian Spectrum)

This article was originally published at the Hungarian Spectrum on 13 July 2021.

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